Ahh summertime! Like many of you, I wait all year for the lazy, hazy days of June, July, and August. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the seasons and feel blessed to experience each one living on the east coast. In the fall, we enjoy warm weather with a slight evening chill and the magnificent ruby red and golden hues of changing leaves. We look forward to winter’s frigid temperatures because it means snow days and ski trips with our kids. Spring offers hope in the form of new life and growth, with beautiful blooms dotting the landscape like confetti. However, there is something enchanting about summer that I yearn for all year long. Maybe it’s the way the ocean waves sparkle under the brightest sunbeams. Or maybe it’s the nightly light show the fireflies perform in our twinkling backyard. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because there really is a bit of magic in the air each summer.

Loose bedtimes, spontaneous plans, and casual gatherings with friends and family are what this season is all about. Alfresco dining, the fragrance of sunscreen (you know you love it), and even the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm make it that much better. Long days and even longer nights are a sure sign we are doing summer right. So, to pay tribute to quite possibly my favorite time of year, I am listing my top 5 Summer Favorites!

#1 The Beach

For anyone who knows me, this is no surprise. I have been fortunate enough to spend almost every summer at the beach. My parents bought a home in the sleepy town of South Bethany, DE over 40 years ago. I was a mere 6 weeks old when I first ventured onto the sandy shore, and dare I say it, my love affair with the beach began. My family would load up the station wagon and drive from Pittsburgh to Delaware, with hits by the great Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen, and the Eagles rocking out of the roll-down windows. I enjoyed every minute of those 7 hour car rides.

When I was a little older, my sister, cousin, and I lived at the beach house with my grandmother, and my parents visited on the weekends. Our neighborhood was filled with kids our age, so it was like going to summer camp, only better. After chores (picking up pine cones was a daily battle), we all rode our bikes to the beach and spent the day splashing in the ocean, eating sandy PB&Js, orange cheese curls, and strawberry-banana snoballs from Melvo, and mastering the incredibly competitive card game of hearts. There was no computer, and we watched whatever show my grandmother had on TV, usually Golden Girls or Murder She Wrote. Casual sunset strolls along the boardwalk or lively games of flashlight tag and capture the flag capped off the night.

The beach was where I worked my first job and learned independence. It was the place I watched the waves break and wondered what my life would look like in the future. I feel unbelievably lucky to have grown up with those summers and am grateful to my parents and late grandmother for providing us with such an incredible opportunity.

Now, as a mother, I take my kids down as often as I am able so they can begin their own love affair with SBBP. There, we are surrounded by our “beach family,” people who love us and look out for one another. There’s almost no need for a car because we can walk or bike everywhere. We frequent our favorite restaurants, such as Bluecoast and Lombardi’s Pizza, where the owner still greets each customer as he walks through the door. When I name “the beach” one of my summer favorites, it is not just any beach. It is my home-away-from-home, South Bethany Beach, DE. If you are ever there visiting, please stop by and say hello! I’ll be sitting by Stand 2.

#2 Ice Cream

In our household, as it is for many, Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. During this glorious three-day weekend, I have but one small request: we must get ice cream!  “But Liz, you can get ice cream any time, anywhere, any day of the year,” you say. While true, ice cream does not taste nearly as good in mid-February as it does on a steamy summer day. There’s something about a summer ice cream cone that is much more satisfying than a spring, fall, or winter ice cream cone. For one, it melts a lot faster, drips all over my hand, and inevitably, I end up eating it in a cup with a spoon. Better yet, they erupt all over my children too. I can still feel their sticky little fingers as they paw at me for more napkins. I love it all, including the mess.

Furthermore, not many foods, when announced, are greeted with such exuberance by all. “Let’s go out for ice cream!” always evokes joy. Even standing in line outside the ice cream parlor in anticipation of what’s to come is exciting. These glorified booths remind me of simpler times, and I am happy to wait in the soupy humidity, scoping out the artful scoops and deciding my ice cream fix. Sugar cone, cake cone, or waffle cone? Pick your poison. I’m a sugar cone kind of gal. Jimmies or sprinkles? I call them jimmies. As for flavors, here are my top 3! Drumroll please…

1) Mint chocolate chip, and it must be green. Bruster’s is the best. Always has been, always will be.

2) Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. After a long day at work, I would walk down to Candy Kitchen where my sister and cousin worked. They would fill up the largest cup they had with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and that’s what I ate for dinner. Those were the days!

3) Coffee Chocolate Chip. I’ll admit, this last flavor came much later in life, but I now have a hard time passing it up. It celebrates life’s best; coffee and chocolate, what more could I ask for?!

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

#3 The Garden

Taken several years ago.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, we did not have a garden. I thought gardens were for farmers and never gave them any thought or consideration. That is until my husband Mike and I had our first child and moved out to suburbia. Blessed with about an acre of land and a husband who has a green thumb (who knew?), we decided to plant our first garden when baby Michael was just 9 months old. Because of our wooded location, we only have enough sunlight for a small garden, so we were careful to plant only what we love: several kinds of tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and plenty of lemon basil. As a novice, I watched Mike till and prepare the soil. We sowed the seeds and made sure to stake out where everything would grow with popsicle sticks.  My job was to water and weed, something I still enjoy doing 8 years later.

Did I mention we live in the woods? We came home from vacation that first year eager to pick our fresh tomatoes and peppers only to find that the deer had a feast in our absence, and the entire garden was lost. Needless to say, we learned our lesson and now have a fence.

If you tend to a garden, you know there is nothing better than picking and eating your own food. The tomatoes taste sweeter, the peppers crisper, and the cucumbers crunchier and more flavorful. We taught our kids how to prune the vines, pull the weeds, and discern when the vegetables are ripe for picking. I think they take as much pride in our garden as we do. (Note in the photo above Scarlett and Michael beaming with quite possibly the largest cucumber in the world!)

For lunch I’ll often have a fresh summer salad of cucumber, avocado, onion, and cherry tomatoes, all sprinkled with feta cheese. Roasted zucchini makes for a quick and easy side dish at dinner. Still, my very favorite thing to make from the garden is a caprese salad. It’s actually one of my all time favorite things to eat, and I enjoy it almost every day in the summer. Ina Garten is a master, and her recipe is a real crowd pleaser.

Now, if I could only figure out how to grow mozzarella cheese… 

#4 Road Trips

There’s something about getting in the car and driving for hours and hours that is therapeutic for me. Trained early in life by my parents, we would drive from Pittsburgh to Myrtle Beach, SC, or Disneyworld, or up to Vermont for ski trips. Those 19 and 20 hour trips made the 7 hour drive down to Delaware a breeze. But even as an adult, I love hitting the road for a little adventure. Luckily, my husband and kids also love these excursions, and maybe that’s why they are so special. We play the license plate game, the alphabet game, count Jeeps, and all argue over who saw what first.

I do some of my best thinking in the car too – always have. The novelty of driving has not worn off, and if anything, I appreciate the freedom of the open road even more now.

A good road trip has a few unplanned stops along the way, lots of gas station snacks, the windows down, radio loud, and time to spare. There is a rush of accomplishment and excitement when crossing into a new state, even if we still have 4 states to go. I imagine what it would be like to live in said state and how different my life would be.

My husband and I have grand plans to take our kids RVing across the country in a few years. The kids will be in those precious preteen years where they don’t want to be with us or talk to us, let alone spend two weeks trapped in an RV with us, but we are going to give it a whirl. We talk about it all of the time and are already planning our must-see sites. We’ve found these travel tips and suggestions helpful and welcome any you have too!

I have heard from many parents that the car is where the best conversations happen and although my kids are still young, I do believe it is a place where relationships strengthen and grow.

In our overscheduled and hurried lives, a road trip has the power to slow us all down again. Traffic jams, weather, or a duck crossing; all things out of our control that make us scream, pound on the steering wheel, and curse. But in reality, these forces of nature teach us to cope, take a deep breath, and just roll with it. Who knew a little road trip could be so transformational?

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway

#5 Little League Baseball

I’ll be honest, I struggled with this last summer favorite. Not in the thinking of one, but rather, if Little League Baseball should make the list. In many ways, summer baseball goes against my very favorite part of summer, the beach. It’s like oil and water; they don’t mix. Why? Because Little League Baseball starts at the end of March and goes until the end of July/early August, leaving very little time for anything in between, let alone a summer at the beach.

And there it is. We, all 4 of us, spend nearly every weekend for 4 months at the ballfield. It is a huge part of our lives, not just my sons, but mine, and my daughters, and certainly my husband’s, who is an assistant coach. It extends to my in-laws who attend every single game and to my parents who watch faithfully on Game Changer. It is the single greatest source that keeps the 4 of us together each weekend, without devices or any sort of schedule, all in the same place at the same time rooting for the same team. Now that’s magic.

When my son was asked to tryout for this team 3 years ago, I was very hesitant. At the time he was only 6 years old and I was not about to give up our summers at the beach for the ballfield. Like any supportive parent, I kept my mouth shut and let the chips fall where they may. It took me a solid season or two to understand just how much Michael loves to play, and somewhere in between my kicking and screaming, I began to love it. I made friends with the other parents on the team, and somehow, by the grace of God, there were two other sisters of players on the team, both Scarlett’s age.

As Michael got older, it became clear that we could not make any plans during the summer and our baseball schedule ruled the calendar. Rain-outs lead to rescheduled games and practices, which meant Michael could play on any given night of the week. Crazy, right? Yes it is, and we fully embrace it. Michael is fortunate enough to play with an extremely talented group of kids with some of the best coaches I have seen. And Mike, Scarlett, and I are fortunate enough to spend every weekend with our very good friends and family.

This team has become like a family. We are incredibly blessed to have the nicest, most genuine parents who are always looking out for one another. Kid needs a ride to practice? No sweat. Splitting time between siblings at other fields? We’ll make sure your son eats and has plenty of water. A lot of times, a win translates to more games, and there are many a frantic trip to the nearest WaWa to make sure the kids and coaches have enough food and drink. These parents make it all happen every single weekend, and we are all in it together.

Baseball is a game of failure, and my son is learning invaluable life lessons every time he takes the field. Scarlett plays in the rocks and dirt and builds tiny little forts with sticks and stones, using every square inch of her imagination. My husband is the first base coach and I swear that he is having the time of his life. As for me, I get to sit in the sun, talk with my friends, and not worry about a damn thing (well, unless the game is tight, and then I’m a complete stress ball!). For 6 innings nothing else matters, and it is a wonderful and very liberating feeling.

As I write this we are entering our last week of 9u Little League Baseball, and I have to say, it’s bittersweet. To the Upper Providence 9u Lightning coaches and parents, thanks for another great season. It has been a pleasure watching you all season long. I’m already looking forward to next spring!

There you have it, my 5 Summer Favorites. You might have noticed from my list that I am an old soul and you would be right. I revel in the nostalgia of days gone by. My husband makes fun of me for watching the Golden Girls, itching to get down to the beach, and putting my car windows down when it is 95 degrees outside. Oh well, that’s just who I am. What are your 5 Summer Favorites? I would love to hear from you!