Punch List: Projects to enhance your summer lifestyle

When George Gershwin wrote the song “Summertime” in 1935, summer was indeed a time when people enjoyed a different pace. As days grew longer and temperatures climbed higher, people took to the outdoors to catch a passing breeze, lounging on porch swings, sipping ice-cold glasses of lemonade. Those were simple times and
people were content with simple pleasures…the livin’ was easy.

Today, we live in different times. Our homes are kept at a comfortable 70 degrees year-round. The only sweating we really endure is when we walk from our cars into the mall, and sipping an ice-cold beverage doesn’t require squeezing juice out of a bushel basket of lemons. Our lives don’t really slow down in the summer if we have kids, either. In fact, the days might be busier. Toting kids and bags to camps, ballgames and lessons can fill our days. With no break, we slip from the school year schedule to the summer schedule…weeks fly by in a blur and before we know it, summer is over!

As my kids get older, the days of summer camp and Little League are gone and the thought of a summer without a schedule is something I haven’t had in a long time. Frankly, it’s a little intimidating. Even so, I’m going to like this summer! I’ve come up with some great ways to while away my days. Here are some ideas that might just inspire you, too.

Perfect the Patio
Last fall we put in a new patio. We haven’t had a chance to properly enjoy it yet, so I’m on a mission to “furnish” my new outdoor room. Creating a conversation area is high on my priority list and I’ve been combing home magazines for photos of outdoor spaces I like. I love the eclectic look of old, repurposed furniture painted in fun colors and I crave a table that comfortably seats 10. My search has taken me to salvage warehouses and antique shops, to home stores and garage sales. Each store yields a fun “find” and I’ve enjoyed talking to store clerks and outdoor aficionados alike. My search for furniture inevitably led to plastic dinnerware, clay pots and patio umbrellas, too. I don’t see this project being completed anytime soon—and that’s fine with me! It’s definitely a work in progress.

Plant a Recipe Garden
I’ve never planted a vegetable garden, but my new outdoor space has inspired me. Lately, I’ve read about gardens planted with certain cuisines in mind. My boys love to make salsa, so we planned a salsa garden complete with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. I’ve also seen plans for the perfect pot roast garden (basil, oregano, garlic) and even bruschetta gardens. My favorite plant nursery is offering classes on gardening and container design, where you bring your own pots and take home the finished product while learning a little about flowering plants and vegetables. Farmer’s Markets are great places to gain some insight into gardening and I’ve gotten to know a couple of people who are willing to share some tips (and even recipes) with me. Most of all, I’ve learned that gardeners must have patience—a great lesson for my kids and me.

Summer Soirees
Even though my patio isn’t perfect (yet) and my garden hasn’t grown (yet) I love the thought of a summer supper outside. Fretting about achieving perfection has a lovely way of slipping away while sitting in a wicker rocker- and steak goes great with the smell of citronella. My goal is to “get together” with my family whom I haven’t seen nearly enough this spring, and with my dinner group which disbanded two years ago. I love the idea of trying new cocktail recipes and recently noticed an article on how to infuse beverages with simple syrups made with herbs and spices (see page 52). It seems like there is an endless variety of new marinades and rubs for the barbeque grill and giving over the cooking of the main entrée to my husband frees me up to enjoy the party, too.

To Do List
For years, I have forgone hours at the gym, hairdresser and library because I was busy, busy, busy. I hardly had time to complete a thought, let alone a book. My life, as many other moms’ lives, revolved around others. This summer, even though I will still attend twice-weekly baseball games, I might get to do other things, too!
We’ve been paying monthly dues to a gym for fifteen years now, and I have yet to see the new aerobics area—remodeled about seven years ago. I would love to get into the habit of exercising regularly again. Whether it’s walking, running or Zumba classes, summer is a great time to try a new exercise routine and by fall, you may not want to stop!
My book club is a never-miss night out once a month, even if I haven’t totally finished (or started) the book. Another summer goal is to finish the books I didn’t finish and read ones that I’ve meant to start. There’s a great list on amazon.com of the Top 100 Books of All Time. I may not finish them all, but maybe I could start with the top 10!

Time for Others
Finally, one of my goals this summer is to give back to my community. I would love to volunteer more—serving in our church soup kitchen, tutoring at our elementary school or by assisting at the many charitable organizations that need a helping hand. We can all learn something about ourselves by focusing on others.
This summer, as the days grow longer and the temperatures get warmer, sit back, relax and enjoy…then get up and do some things you’ve been intending to do! After all, before we know it, summer will be over!

Herbal Infusion
I’ll have mine with a twist!

Simple Syrup is an easy-to-make solution you can stir into any beverage as a sweetener. By infusing the flavors of herbs, spices and even fruits into the syrup, you can add a whole new flavor profile to your favorite summertime beverages. Simple Syrup can also be used as a glaze on a fruit salad or pound cake, as a flavoring for plain yogurt or a topping for ice cream. Experiment with your favorite flavors to spice up ordinary refreshments.

Herb-Infused Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
A hearty handful of any fresh herb or spice such as basil, lemon verbena, mint, rosemary, thyme
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; add herbs. Cover and cool completely.

Strain syrup through a sieve into a container, discarding the herbs. Stir in lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

INTERESTING IDEAS:
Herbal Soda: Fill tall glass with ice; add 2-4 Tbsp syrup; top with club soda and stir. Why yes, a top shelf distilled gin could be a delicious addition!

Pineapple-Ginger Agua Fresca: Infuse simple syrup with 2 Tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger. Add to 5 cups unsweetened pineapple juice and serve over ice. Kick it up a notch by adding a cup of premium white tequila or vodka and garnish with fresh pineapple.

Sunny Tea: Brew 2 quarts of tea in the sun for two hours. Sweeten with lemon verbena and mint-infused simple syrup. Or, for a different vibe, add a pint of ripe blackberries to the simple syrup infusion, pressing on the blackberries as you strain the syrup to release every bit of their juicy goodness. When serving, you could even top each tea glass with a shot of best-quality bourbon.

Thyme for Lemonade: In your favorite 2-quart recipe for homemade lemonade, substitute thyme-infused simple syrup for plain sugar and water. Add 1 cup of gin or vodka for an optional adult flair. Serve over ice and garnish with additional thyme sprigs, if desired. Also tastes great with lavender or rosemary.

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