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  • Laurie Bergman

Summer's Here! How to Savor a Free Day

Two laughing women take a selfie inside a car

Ah, the freedom of a summer’s day stretched out before you like a road ready for adventure! These days, life is busy and full of commitments all year long, but summer is a gilded few months of the year when you might find yourself with a totally free day. What to do with that day? Oh, you might have a to-do list that stretches from here to wherever. Maybe crossing one or two small items off that list first thing will set you up to revel in the remainder of the day’s wide-openness! After all, that’s what a free summer day aspires to be about: relaxing, doing what you want to do, and basking in the memories of carefree summer days gone by. 


But, you're thinking, it’s too dang hot to even go outside! Maybe your day is such that you can get away briefly but need to stay close to home. Whatever your situation, plenty of opportunities exist to squeeze the most out of either a long-planned or a spontaneous free summer day. I’ve gathered a dozen ideas, split between indoors and out, to spark your thinking. 


When Heat or Storms Keep You Indoors 

Revisit a favorite book from past summers or take on the newest titles. One of my favorite summer memories is reading “Gone With the Wind” from my grandmother’s bookshelf after afternoons spent swimming at her apartment complex pool. On a blazing hot day, there’s something utterly refreshing about finding a cool, cozy space with a good book in one hand and an ice-cold drink in the other. While I like a good “beach read” (and have the last Elin Hildebrand book in my library queue), summer is when I relish a legal thriller; my 2024 summer pick from that category is David Baldacci’s latest. For more summer book ideas, see Heather and Jodi’s recent TBT post, “Prepping Your Summer Reading List”. I’ve added “Listen for the Lie” from their roundup to my own “to read this summer” list.  

Plate with salad of lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and strips of grilled chicken

Prepare your favorite salad or easy no-cook meal. I like to cook and I like to eat, but when it’s hot, I do NOT like to cook, yet I still like to pull a light meal together. When dinner rolls around, I want something that hits without a lot of complication or appliance action. A main dish salad often fills the bill: fresh, cool greens topped with shredded carrots, chopped broccoli, sliced green onions, a small scattering of corn kernels, a sprinkle of sesame or pumpkin seeds, maybe a few strips of cooked chicken or beef, and a drizzle of spicy Tex-Mex or Asian-inspired dressing. Or maybe we put all of those same ingredients in a tortilla and call it a wrap. Actually, anything I can make into a salad or sandwich is my summer menu default. If I want something hot, we’ll grill if the temps aren’t too oppressive; otherwise, I’ll get something going in my slow cooker early in the day or make something quick in the air fryer. As for that little bit of something sweet, nothing says summer to me like a slice of Jello® chocolate pudding pie or a small dish of a favorite ice cream (homemade or store-bought) with chocolate sauce, fresh berries and a little whipped cream on top. 


While away a hot, too-bright afternoon in a dark, cool movie theater. Whether you’re seeing a bargain flick or the latest blockbuster, submerging yourself in an engrossing movie is a great way to spend a summer afternoon. I’m sure many of us can remember dollar (or less!) summer shows growing up; as much fun as it was playing outside, those breaks watching movies were welcome diversions. If you have an indoor or outdoor home theater set-up, this getaway is mere steps away. To help you whittle your “what to watch” list, Entertainment Weekly has a comprehensive guide to Summer 2024 movies, while Town & Country outlines The 54 Best Summer Movies of All Time

Two older men and two older women holding green bowling balls at a bowling alley

Gather some friends and reserve a lane or two at the local bowling alley. It might take a little planning, but it gives friends a great reason to gather. You get to visit, move around and stretch a little, show off your bowling skills, enjoy a few drinks and snacks, all while making the outing as short or as long as people’s schedules allow. On a day that’s too hot to be outside, a couple hours of bowling with friends is a fun, chill way to get together inside. Use the GoBowling search function to find an alley near you. 


Take refuge amongst the stacks. When I feel like breezing through a few magazines for creative inspiration, I head to my local library to catch up on both favorites and new-to-me titles. I could (and do) read magazines online, but it’s very satisfying to hear the rustle of paper and see the vivid colors in print. Plus, I can find the latest best-seller on my reading list and borrow movies, audio books, board games, and puzzles. My most recent interesting checkout is a pickleball set! I also sign up each year for the adult summer reading program and, as part of fulfilling its requirements, recently attended a free class on herb-growing in the Midwest offered by the local herb society in one of my local branch’s meeting rooms. (Read on to see how this activity ties into one of my later suggestions.) See what your own library system offers.

Two of my friend Nina's MakerSpace gift creations: an etched tumbler and an engraved cutting board. (Photos courtesy of Nina Ladd.)

Friend Nina’s library system in the greater Kansas City area has a dedicated MakerSpace; by booking time on a laser engraving machine, she has made several delightful gifts, including custom-engraved tumblers and laser-engraved treasured hand-written family recipes onto wooden cutting boards. 


Evaluate your summer wardrobe. Now this may be veering a little more towards “to do'' list territory, but if it’s too hot to enjoy being outside, taking stock of what you wear in the summer is a constructive way to make the proverbial lemonade out of that basket of lemons. To me it seems like summer clothes wear out faster than their cooler weather counterparts. They’re subject to more sweat and dirt, and the fabrics are lighter weight and perhaps more fragile. I looked at my warm weather clothes a few weeks ago and had to admit some had seen better days. I also unearthed a few in-great-shape accessories that didn’t feel like “me” anymore. Those I donated to charity and the more shabby items I carted to a local fabric recycler. After this exercise (which made a hot, steamy afternoon fly by), I found that I could use a pair of linen pants and a lightweight short-sleeved jacket in my summer clothing rotation. This post from “A Well-Dressed Life” offers more guidance on cleaning out your summer closet


When the Outdoors Calls and the Answer Is “Let’s Go!” 

Spend time when you can in your own “out of doors.” When it’s blast-oven hot, I soak up my outside time early or late. I like to take my coffee and some reading out to my patio in the morning, enjoying the shade, a little bit of sun and birds singing. I often return in the evenings with a cool drink and a Bluetooth speaker and sit with the fireflies and maybe some fairy lights as the night lengthens. Whether you have a patio, a balcony, a yard or need to walk to your greenspace, getting some fresh air helps recharge your batteries, gives you some Vitamin D, and offers a reminder of what simple summer pleasures really are. 

Two mixed couples playing pickleball on a court

Get a little action in. Whether as a participant or spectator, sports are a big part of summer for a lot of people. Now that I have a pickleball set on loan, I’ll head with my husband to the nearest pickleball court (which happens to be at a public park close to home). Some friends really enjoy playing golf or tennis, a couple of team-oriented friends play softball, and I have happy memories of playing mini golf at courses around town with my boys. Of course, there’s always the water! Whether it’s a pool or a nearby river or shore, immersing yourself in a body of water is the quickest ticket to cooling off. 


Take in an outdoor concert or play. So many communities maximize the use of their outdoor spaces for theatrical or musical productions. We love attending the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival each year, and always try to hit a few shows at any number of free concert series in our area. Sitting under the stars with friends listening to music or a play once the day has cooled off is blissful. (Plus, the people-watching can’t be beat!

Colorful cheery farm stand
A cherry stand in Mosier, Oregon. The grower offered four different varieties (Bing, Royal Ann, Rainier and Chelan) and all were delicious!

Visit a farmer’s market or stand. I mentioned above that my favorite summer dinner is a big green salad with plenty of fresh vegetables, followed by chocolate pie with fresh berries. There’s a bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables to choose from at the grocery but, when possible, I like to stop by a farmer’s market or stand and pick produce that was likely in the ground hours before. Last year, on our family trip to Washington and Oregon, we were just in time to take advantage of cherry season. Find a farmer’s market near you with this handy FDA Farmers Market Directory


Aerial view of a terra cotta pot with herb plants
My patio pot of herbs: cilantro, basil and a little bit of lemon thyme.

Dig in … to the earth, that is. Gardening, whether it’s a big patch in your yard or a pot of herbs on a plant stand, connects you to nature and yields beauty (and maybe some food). My green thumb isn’t very pronounced, but I love fresh herbs and am not a fan of paying big bucks for the little plastic trays of fresh herbs in the grocery store. So, this year, I bought a few seed packets, planting some in a large, shallow pot and others straight into the ground. Seeing these seeds sprout has been very gratifying; it won’t be long before I’m sprinkling my home-grown cilantro on my grilled chicken salad and a few basil leaves on my air-fryer pizza. Part of my morning patio time includes my newly acquired habit of watering my herbs in the morning while I’m already out enjoying my coffee. Whether you love flowers or fruits and vegetables, tending something and waiting for it to spring from the earth gives you something to anticipate each day of summer. 


Indulge in a change of venue. Sometimes a day trip can give you and your daily routine a needed refresh, whether it’s a solo expedition or one taken in friendly company. Explore the main street shops and restaurants of a nearby small town, visit a state park for a day hike (or an overnight camping trip), or find an interesting close-to-home attraction like this lavender farm my friend Karen and I recently visited. Out-of-the-ordinary jaunts provide such fun memories and can leave you feeling recharged. 


A Free Summer’s Day Truly Is What You Make It! 

I hope some of these ideas have inspired you to seize the summer day! I would love to know in the comments your favorite way to spend a summer day or the ingredients you combine for your own ideal day, whether it’s a favorite recipe, destination or activity. Shine on, and cheers to a splendid summer! 

Laurie Bergman, guest blogger

Laurie White Bergman is a recently retired public relations professional taking the first exhilarating steps into her “next act” armed with an extensive list of places to visit, activities to explore, and skills to learn or rediscover. She lives with her family in St. Louis County, Missouri. You can connect with her on X (Twitter): @LaurieBergman


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1 Comment

Jun 29

Great list, Laurie! As a new retiree, I'm inspired to be a bit more more thoughtful and intentional in activity planning (though careful to not make it feel too much like work! :-) BTW, you mentioned chocolate pie . . . my new fave comes in a box at Dierbergs for $1.

Sally B.

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