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Starting summer vacation off right

Bay Bridge
Bay Bridge
Catherine Al-Meten

The long Memorial Day Weekend is over. Backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, and other outdoor activities provide us with some of the first signs of summer. The finishing touches are being put on school projects, presentations, parties, and grades and evaluations, and the end of the school year is near. Plans are already being made for trips up the interstate to campgrounds, lakes, and mountain retreats.

Some Grandparents have their reservations, and are preparing for their trips to visit their children and grandchildren. Some grandparents are looking forward to their children and grandchildren arriving from out of town, or to spending more time with those grandchildren nearby. Parents, teachers, coaches, teacher aides, resource people and school staffs all around town work hard year round to make San Francisco’s schools some of the best anywhere. For everyone who has been working hard all year, there are some ways to give yourself a breather before the next round of preparation, activities, and plans get started. Hopefully, all families will take a few days to set aside for a breather in between the long school year and the summer ahead.

The end of the school year is a time of great anticipation and excitement. Ask any teacher or school principal, and they’ll tell you about the energy level of the classroom as the end of term nears. Teachers too are looking forward to trips to far off places, or time to catch up with themselves after along year. Here are five simple ways to give yourself a break:

Read. Dr. Seuss once wrote, “You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.” For some, you may say, “But I’ve been reading all year.” Read for pleasure. Even if that means getting some magazines and sitting around a pool or on the beach somewhere, just browsing. Libraries are places where dreams are made and discovered. Make a weekly library visit part of your agenda.

My granddaughter and I are heading to the new North Beach Library to check out our ‘just for fun’ books. We make a point during the summer to read together, and to have time just for reading. I read a new book, or reread my favorites over again. She reads one of her chapter books (the big rage with 2nd and 3rd graders), or reads another book she has discovered on the library shelves. When I told her I was coming, she began making a list of all the things we would do together, and going to the library was at the top of the list. It’s a great place to idle away some time during vacation. Local libraries are within a walk of everyone in the City.

Books stores are another favorite destination. Vacation time is also a great time to sort through books we’re finished with so that we can recycle them at used book shops. Rereading old favorite books is also a great summer pasttime. Reading poetry aloud, and writing poetry. Reciting poems and learning new ones is also fun to do. I was sad to hear that the old Red Hill Bookstore in Bernal Heights, recently acquired and changed to Badger Books, has closed down. A favorite for our family, we will be in search of other good, local used bookstores. There are some other fine bookstores, including: Borderlands Books, Kayo Books, Dog-Eared Books, Booksmith, The Green Arcade, and of course, City Lights Bookstore.

Play Music. Haul out those instruments, tune up your guitars, violins, banjos,and pianos, and start playing and practicing. Summer is a good time to develop a routine of practice—just 20-30 minutes at a time will help anyone become better at whatever they are learning to play. Share your musical expertise with your grandchildren and children. Teach one chord on the guitar, or one simple song on the piano. Make drums, and do a family and friends drum circle. Enjoy sitting around playing music, listening and dancing to music, and singing with your family and friends. Go to some of the free outdoor concerts at Yerba Buena Gardens, or attend a play in the park or at one of the local theaters. Start vacation off with a visit to the San Francisco Youth Ballet performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. or enjoy Pink Martini perform with the San Francisco Symphony. Parents, teachers, students, grandchildren, children, and grandparents—everyone benefits from a musical interlude in life.

Walk and Ride. Get outdoors and walk and ride your bike around the park, the Embarcadero, or around your neighborhood. Find places to explore the City, and to get a healthy dose of exercise. Head out to the beach to watch a sunset, and walk along the shore, or take an early morning hike as the sun is rising. Take one of the designated walking trails for an urban hike. Trails include: the Battery to Bluffs Trail, Marin Headlands Trail, Muir Woods and Tourist Club Loop, one of the Mt. Tamalpais trails, Mt Diablo Trail, Cataract Trail in Marin, Presidio Bay Area Ridge Trail, and Presidio Ecology Trail. Also the Land’s End Trail, California Coastal Trail, Crissy Field Exploration, and a couple of Angel Island trails. There are plenty of local hiking trails, so make sure to explore what is available so near to home. Check the Every Trail website for more ideas.

Plant a Summer Garden. The beginning of vacation comes at the end of spring, and it is a good time to plant a summer garden. Visit a local nursery, get some cuttings and seeds from neighbors and friends, or start your own plants. Plant seeds in a container garden (pots, planters, window boxes), and set a time in the early morning and evening to tend to plants and enjoy them. Last summer we built a little meditation garden, and we will begin the summer replanting with some new seeds, starters, and home-grown avocado, garlic, celery, and potato starters. Make a terrarium using an old aquarium or fish bowl. Plant seeds in a glass jar so you can observe the roots growth. Teach your grandchildren a little about ‘deadheading’, whispering to your plants, and preserving ecosystems by adding to the green output. Plant a tree together, join a community garden, or go for a stroll through the local public gardens.

Create. Get out your paints and canvases, and set up an easel. Do some plein air painting, or take your sketch book and pencils to the local museums, boardwalk, or ocean front. Sketch the world you see around you—the skyline from your window, the park where you played as a child, the local wharf and harbor. Sketch and draw your house and the block you live on. Paint, draw, and sketch over and over— not in search of the perfect painting or drawing, but for the sheer pleasure of creating something, and practicing a skill. Bake a birthday cake and decorate it for a friend, or have a tea party and invite friends over to join you. Prepare the refreshments, and set and decorate the table. Plan and produce plays, and if you want, put them on for family and friends, or neighborhood friends or have one of your friends video tape it. There are more ways to be creative that there is space or time to fill this page. Be creative in your cooking. Be creative in the way you live and dress and approach life. Have fun breaking out of the routines and ruts that come with working long and hard on a project.

Find time to be creative, to read, to play and practice music, to get outside and get moving, and to enjoy living and living things. Get your hands dirty, feel the sand and grass between your toes, and get in touch with the Earth. Make your summer a time for, at least in part, relaxing, refreshing, and regenerating. Slow down a bit, do less and have more fun. Try leaving space and time for doing nothing, and letting yourself discover that place within you that is full, satisfied, and content with being you just as you are. Spend time with those you love, and let there be spaces in your time together to simply enjoy being in one another’s company. And have a lovely last week of school and a great start to your summer. No matter who you are, what age or stage of life, summer vacation is time to enjoy life just a little bit more than usual. Start your summer vacation off right with some time to enjoy what you love best.

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