One problem makers and producers have that consumers don’t is summer. The kids are out of school. Everyone and his dog are at the beach, out on the lake, or planning to go to the cottage. Everyone that is except you and your family. You have a garden. You have a hay field, or a grain field, or milking does, a 4H project, or chickens. And all your family and friends that live in the city just called to say that they are coming to your home for vacation. Tomorrow.
Add to that sense of overwhelm the fact that you are up with the dawn and you don’t finish chores until the sun is setting at 10pm (or later if you live in the north.) How can you manage your own needs for a productive garden and homestead, and at the same time fulfill the conflicting expectations of “summer vacation”? Where can you find the time to actually “enjoy” the summer season when there’s so much work that has to be done?
I know the frustration. As a homeschooling mom, in a single income family, there were things that we needed to do during the summer, like growing and preserving food and tending a garden. Yet, the neighborhood kids were tubing down the river or swimming at the lake, and my kids didn’t want to miss out. Every day there was something to draw me away from the priories I made, to meet someone else’s expectations.
The Ant and the Grasshopper
Aesop knew the tug of this conflict. He described it in the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper. Do you remember that fable? The ant scurries around all summer working hard to store food for the winter. Over in the field the grasshoppers are playing with abandon. The grasshoppers laugh at the hard working ants. But when the cold comes, the grasshoppers are knocking at the ants door, begging for food. The ants don’t have anything to spare though. It took all their industry just to preserve enough food for the needs of their nestlings.
When you are an ant or a busy bee and all your friends are grasshoppers, it sets up an internal conflict.
You can’t do it all. You can’t be everything to everyone. There are choices to be made. The choices I make and the choices you make are different than the choices and priorities of your neighbors. That’s okay.
As a maker and a producer your greatest asset and your best resource is time. You can always make more money but you can’t make more time. Protect it. There’s no such thing as a time credit card. If you squander it, it’s gone for good.
Today, at the beginning of the summer season put structure in place to preserve your time. Divide your time into blocks of creative work, mundane work, family care, self-care, and rest. And then guard that time judiciously.
It’s not that you have to say “no” to every opportunity to visit with friends and neighbors, entertain family, or just hang out at the beach. But plan those times ahead of time, so that there is room in your life for creativity, gardening, and preserving.
Here are 25 ways that I’ve found helpful to ensure that summer is without conflict between the needs of a Maker’s life and the expectations of our culture. This helps me stay sane and flexible while at the same time keeping my own priorities and expectation at the forefront.
Take a Sabbath rest every week
When I first started homesteading there never seemed to be time to take a day off. I felt like I was on a treadmill and I could never get a moment to catch up. If you had said to me then, you need to take a day off; I would have thought that was a crazy idea. So if you are reading this and saying to yourself, that’s impossible, I get it.
But then we decided to take a day off from Friday night to Saturday night. We planned meals that could be put in the slow cooker on Friday and kept hot though Saturday evening. We organized our schedule and animal care around the priority of a Sabbath rest.
It wasn’t easy at first. The world seemed to conspire against our desire for a set apart time. But then something changed. We changed. And that day of rest became a retreat that we look forward to each week. If you make a day of rest a priority in your home the rest of your time will fall into place. I promise.
Get the garden work done in the morning before the heat of the day
There is no end to the garden work. The season is so short here, that we could work in the garden all day and never come to the end of the work. Instead of a time of joyful expectation the garden becomes a slave master. Don’t let it happen.
Mulch well in the early spring. As soon as you weed the garden, mulch it well with hay or chipped tree branches or other mulch. Don’t let the weeds get away on you. Then do the daily weeding or harvesting early in the morning.
Plan to put the harvest up immediately so that it doesn’t go to waste. If you have too much lettuce or zucchini, give it away to the local food bank, homeless shelter, or your neighbor, while it’s still in its prime.
Clean as you go. If you are weeding, take the weeds to the chickens. If you are weeding herbs, get them into the dehydrator for green supplement powder or nourishing infusions. Clean the kitchen as you go.
Ask for help in the garden. Now is the best time to teach your children the difference between a plant and a weed. Kids like to weed with you in the same garden area. This is a great time to connect with them. Make it a game. Have a race. See how many weeds you can name. Who can get their bucket filled faster? Include your children in your work now, so that they will want to help when they get older.
Set a timer. The weeding might never end. So give yourself one hour or two and then stop. You’re more likely to want to come back tomorrow, if you didn’t get heat stroke today.
Set goals with rewards
When you accomplish the hard thing or your kids help you get a certain amount of work done, reward them with time. A story read aloud on the porch swing, a walk in the woods to find trilliums, or a swim in the river can give the message of “work before play” and “it’s not all work.” These are two important concepts for the producer lifestyle.
Plan festive time with family
Family reunions, religious celebrations, birthdays, civic holidays all fall in the summer time. Take the time to celebrate. Bake a cake. (This book has some healthy recipes.) Take the day and make a party of it. An intentional day of celebration is more meaningful when the other days are productive and fruitful.
Neighbors that drop in unexpectedly, co-workers that come to stay on their vacation, and even extended family from out of town that shows up for an overnight stay because they were driving through, these can create chaos with your summer plans.
Instead of despairing about lost productivity, put them to work. Shell peas while you have tea with your neighbor. Get your sister-in-law in the garden pulling sow thistle. Ask your co-worker to rip the seams on your upcycled project, while you stitch by hand. You may find that your co-worker has always wanted to join you in your maker lifestyle but just didn’t know where to begin.
If your family and friends don’t enjoy being part of your daily activities, it may be good to set some boundaries early. On the other hand, you may find that they are kindred spirits and were just waiting for you to invite them.
Create routine where there is none
It’s easy in the summer, when you have so many extra hours of daylight, to frit away the time. While you may have more hours of daylight, you have exactly the same number of hours in the day. Don’t fall into the trap of letting life happen. We humans need structure to accomplish our goals.
You can have a routine while still being flexible.
Eat from the garden and pantry
When you eat from your garden and your pantry, you won’t have to run to the store as often. A trip to the store may seem like a 30 minute jaunt but in reality it takes more time because you need time to prepare and time to recuperate once your get home. Realistically for me, a trip the store is 4 hours out of my day.
By eating from my garden and pantry, I can minimize the unnecessary trips, saving both time and gas.
Plan excursions other than shopping
If the only time you get away from home is to buy groceries or shop for school supplies you’re missing out. Plan trips close to home. Visit museums, art galleries, and local attractions. Get to know your area and your neighbors. Set down roots. You don’t need to do this every week, but plan a few days out of the summer to be a tourist in your home town. When was the last time your kids watched the parade?
Get together with friends for canning and preserving
When you have a lot of canning and preserving to do, invite a friend over and do it together. When I was a young mom, apple sauce making was an all-day affair. I’d invite a friend over and we’d have two pots going on the stove to cook down apples that came from my old apple trees. One of us would trim and core apples while the other one put the apples through the apple sauce mill. We’d do 50 quarts in a day and each take home half. It made a long, hot job more fun. Try this with someone who wants to learn how to can. You’ll pass on the skills and make a new friend.
Include your kids in the gardening, preserving, and building activities
Don’t leave the kids out. No matter how young they are they can help. Each year that they help they will gain more skills and be more help. When they leave your home, they will have the skills to be makers and producers, too. Be patient with their clumsy learning. It won’t be long before you wonder how you managed without their help. I promise.
Create a “Mom, I’m bored” jar with job lists
In the summer, when kids aren’t going to school, they may want more to do. Sometimes Mom, I’m bored is a ploy to get our attention. Sometimes there is a genuine emptiness. Take advantage of this moment to get the kids actively involved in a project, either a work project or a creative project. Every, “mom I’m bored” moment is a teachable moment.
Put the kids to work rather than entertaining them
Makers and producers are not a captive audience. They don’t need entertaining. They entertain themselves. If your child is under 2 they may need to be talked to or sung to. Once they are 2, work becomes play. Train them when they are young to join you in your work.
Create an afternoon or evening read aloud time that frames your scheduled activities
Summer doesn’t have to be all work and no play. My family loves a regular read aloud time. This is a time to read an age appropriate book and discuss ideas together. It should be matched to the attention span of your children. 15 minutes is enough time for younger kids, up to an hour for older kids or adults.
On very hot days, do this in the middle of the afternoon. It is time to gather in a cooler part of the house and connect with each other. If you are homeschooling this can be a time to continue themes that were started during the active school year.
If you have older children, you can have a silent reading time. The idea is to be still and quiet and bring some rest into the business of the summer days.
With younger children this quiet time might be the introduction to a naptime.
Watch for sun stroke and heat exhaustion
Nothing will cramp your style faster than getting heat exhaustion or sun stroke early in the season. First of all it can be deadly. Second of all, once you’ve had it you are more susceptible to reoccurrence. Be vigilant to protect yourself by wearing a hat, staying hydrated, and finding shade before you feel dizzy or headachy. You can succumb to heat stroke even on overcast days so be sure to drink lots of fluids and watch your stamina in the garden.
Drink herbal tea, switchel, and nourishing herbal infusions rather than plain water
Plain water lacks the electrolytes that your body needs when you are working hard outside. Nourishing herbal infusions, herbal teas, and sour-sweet switchels can replace the sodium and potassium that you are losing through sweat. Drink lots, but skip the soft drinks, which can be dehydrating.
Spend time in nature every day
Don’t spend your time in the air conditioned indoors every day. Get outside. Walk in the park. Dig your fingers in the dirt. Hike in the woods. Sit under a shady tree and read a book. Move your productivity outside if you can.
Be observant of nature
Go for leisurely walks to observe and delight in the flowers, the bounty, and the seasonal changes. You only get one summer every year. Let it be a time of growth and renewal in your spirit, too. This is a great journal activity. How long has it been since you sat under a tree and drew a flower or watched a bumble bee? Let this be the summer you renew your acquaintance with these delights.
Plan star gazing into your summer routine
Summer days are so long that we sometimes forget to look up at the stars. Find a star gazing rock or move your trampoline to where you have an unencumbered view of the stars. Lie down and just look up. If you have a telescope, find out where Jupiter and Saturn are right now and plan to have a look through the telescope. Share it with your kids. The Perseid meteor shower is August 13th to 15th in 2016. Save the date. While this year it is during the gibbous moon, there will still be some shooting stars to marvel at.
Take inventory of the time wasters and take steps to avoid those
Spending too much time on the telephone or on Facebook? Are you flipping through magazines looking for dinner ideas instead of cooking from scratch? Is every meal a from scratch masterpiece but you’re spending so much time in the kitchen your are missing out on summer? Consider plugging in the crock pot for week day dinners and only looking at emails or facebook once or twice a day. Unplugging from social media can actually give you more time to accomplish the things that are really important to you. (But if I won’t see you on Facebook, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss the cool maker-stuff I’m sharing every week.)
Pay attention to your budget for winter stores
While you are juggling your time, you’ll also need to juggle your budget. Summer is when you’ll want to pay for the fire wood you need next winter, and the hay or animal feed you’ll want. Add to this the extra food for canning and putting by, and your budget takes a hefty hit. Every expense now is money you will save next winter, but it can still feel harsh. Saying “no,” to Dairy Queen™ treats now may mean you can say “yes,” to moving to your homestead sooner or “yes” to a vacation next winter.
While the kids at school brag about the summer camp they went to, my kids live summer camp all year round. If summer camp is an important part of your summer, fit it into your plans and budget early. Saying “yes” to summer camp, is saying “no” to another opportunity. Honestly, our experience with summer camp has been less than stellar. But that’s my family. Your yields may be different. I like to think we are living a lifestyle that no one needs to escape from.
Declutter and organize now to prepare for the incoming bounty
Now is the time to clean up the pantry. Toss last summer’s squash to the chickens. Wipe down the shelves. Clean out the fridge and the freezers. Get ready for the bounty that’s about to come into your home.
This is a good time to check your pressure canner and make sure it’s in good working order. Check your store of canning lids and rings and be sure that you have enough for the canning season ahead. If you are short, stock up at the beginning of the season. When the tomatoes are ripe you may not find wide mouth lids available. About once every 4 or 5 years there is a canning lid shortage. Plan now.
Work together with friends on bigger projects
Big jobs are more fun with friends. If you have a big project coming up, a building project, or a quilting project plan an olden days work bee and gather the neighbors or your church friends together. Just be sure to show up when one of your friends calls a work bee, too.
Plan your family vacation after the harvest but before the snow flies
You don’t have to take your vacation in the summer. The best time for vacation is in the fall, after the harvest season. It’s cooler. The trees are in their glorious colours. The mosquitoes are gone. And the school kids are back to school so things are a little quieter. If you homeschool, you can take your vacation anytime. If your kids are in school, you may need to get special permission to take them out of school for an educational trip. Plus, travel fares are lower in the autumn.
Homeschool through the summer and integrate your projects with the curriculum
Summer is the very best time to do the science fair projects for the following year. Summer is filled with so many science opportunities it seems a shame to limit schooling to the winter months. Instead of learning about butterfies and bees from a book, you can learn by actually watching them on the flowers in your garden. Create a children’s garden, a butterfly garden, or even a sunflower tower with your kids and teach them how to do the scientific method, by documenting the observations they make.
Summer is a really good time to learn music, art, and DiY skills too.