Make this summer your best ever!

Get more time for you this summer, plus easy entertaining tips and great ways to truly escape

Make this summer your best ever!

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2008; Photo: Masterfile

We wait months for its return. We daydream about how we’ll fill the days. And then when summer finally comes, it whizzes by in a calendar-crammed blur of barbecues, cottage commutes and overbooked weekends. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to make this summer your best yet.

Indulge yourself

When it comes to the restorative benefits of winding down, there’s just no substitute for taking time out for yourself. About a third of Canadians don’t take all of the vacation time they’re entitled to, but a time out from work is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. “Stress just wears you down,” says Dr. Claire Wheeler, an expert on stress management and the author of 10 Simple Solutions to Stress. “It ages you faster and makes you more irritable.”

Kathleen Goldhar, a single mother of two, took a lot of heat from friends and family last summer when she splurged on the ultimate “alone” toy—a motorcycle. But when she feels the need to get away from it all, Goldhar, 37, hits Toronto roads on her Suzuki Savage. “So much of my day is wrapped up in my job and taking care of Nathan, who’s 18 months, and Kelvey, who’s five. When I’m riding my motorcycle, it’s just so lovely and freeing.”

Getting some down time with girlfriends is a priority for Karen Blackwood, 39. She and seven long-standing friends, who are scattered throughout Nova Scotia, spend a weekend each summer at Blackwood’s home in Halifax. “We catch up and shop and eat, and sometimes we spend a night downtown bar-hopping like 20-year-olds, and book ourselves into a hotel,” she says of these weekends with no husbands, partners or kids. “We call ourselves the Seaside Sisters because we grew up together in a small town by the ocean.”

Fanning the flames

With all the demands on our time, it’s easy to let our love lives wane. It’s something most of us struggle with, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid last fall. It found that 54 percent of Canadians in a committed relationship had not vacationed as a couple in the previous year. But no price can be put on the payoff of nurturing our relationship with our mates. Eight in 10 of those surveyed said vacationing together reminded them of their partner’s best qualities. “It’s critical to maintain those primary relationships,” says Wheeler. “For men, it keeps them healthier and they live longer. For women, a healthy relationship makes us resilient to all sorts of stresses life throws our way.”

If a vacation isn’t possible, steal some time mid-week. Ottawa mom Karen Eck, 43, and her husband, Claude, book a day off from work to reconnect with one another. “The kids are in day camp, so we don’t have to stress about a sitter,” says Eck. “We go for a nice lunch at our favourite chi-chi restaurant, where the food is amazing.”

If finding sitters is an issue, Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Parenting Books, advises looking to those around you. “So many people are willing to help. You may not want to inflict your screaming family on them, but they may find your rambunctious toddlers hilarious, and really enjoy their time with them.”

Even if you don’t have kids to work around, it’s easy to lose touch with your partner if you’re booking every summer weekend away with friends or family. Keeping some blank space on the calendar helps guarantee free time for each other.

The great escape

Whether you rent, own or borrow, getting to a summer cottage for a break from it all can be a nightmare to organize. “It’s such a big production,” says Wheeler. She advises sharing a place with friends or family as a great way to cut down on the workload. “It makes all sorts of things easier. You can split meals, and decide in advance who will bring what. So it’s easier to shop, easier to pack.”

Trish Magwood, owner of Dish Cooking Studio in Toronto and author of Dish Entertains, suggests packing a portable barbecue if you’re renting a place for the first time. “You just don’t know what you’ll have when you get there. You can get a pop-up barbecue for $30, with those little butane tanks. We had to do that last year,” she recalls. When it comes to stocking the pantry at your summer retreat, the key is getting organized. “Sit down with a pen and paper and map out what you need,” Magwood suggests. “The planning and the shopping are the most unbearable parts of getting away, but organizing ahead really helps you relax once you’ve arrived.”

Susan McCarthy, 45, a working mother of two, recently had one of her best summers ever. She took every Monday and Friday off, which made the mad dash from Moncton to the family’s cottage in Cape Spear, N.B., a breeze. “It really stretched out my leave and helped me get ready for the weekend getaways. The kids were occupied the other three days of the week, and they still talk about it as the time I had the whole summer off!”

Easy entertaining

Summer and simplicity go hand in hand, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed. Magwood kicks off the season by ensuring that her cupboard is full of tea lights, napkins and other whimsical, inexpensive décor. She also plans for potential impromptu get-togethers, which helps to cut down on last-minute shopping and stress. “Stock up on all the summer goodies—nice crackers and nuts, pop and drinks. Basically, all the supplies that will last a long time in the pantry.”

And what’s easier to have on hand in the summertime than fresh fruits and vegetables? Backyard grilling season is a great time to introduce these healthy foods to young kids, says parenting expert Douglas. “Most kids like at least a couple of fruits and vegetables, and they also like barbecued foods,” she says. “So lightly grilling something different is a way to get them to try new things.”

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