Tag Archives: Summer

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year.

Now it’s the middle of July.  Instead of having a high temperature of -25 C (-13 F) like we did when I published that post last January, it’s supposed to feel like 40 C (104 F) today including the humidex. I’m lucky enough to have air conditioning, but our home air conditioner does have some trouble keeping up when the weather grows that hot and humid.

Luckily, there’s something about leaping into a good book that helps me forget even the strongest heat wave.

My summer reading preferences tend to veer off into two different directions. I either want to read serious classic literature or lighthearted beach reads that don’t require much analyzing at all. (So much depends on exactly how humid it is outside and how well my brain cells are swimming around in my skull. Ha!)

I have no idea why my brain has made the connection between these two types of stories and summer. All I know is that these were the sections of our local public library I’d often visit first after school let out and I needed something to occupy my time for a few months.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters was the first Judy Blume tale I read that wasn’t meant for kids. I stumbled across it a couple of decades before I reached the target age range, but I still loved the idea of making a childhood friend who remained with you throughout your life.

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The friends I made once we finally settled down for good turned out not to be people I had anything in common with at all in adulthood. This gives me a soft spot for people who were able to maintain their childhood friendships twenty, forty, or even sixty years later. It must be incredible to have such a long, rich history with someone like that.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

The first thing I’m going to tell you about this book is that you should never try to fry green tomatoes. My one and only attempt at making this dish did not end deliciously. Fried tomatoes have such an odd texture that I don’t ever want to taste them again.

The storyline itself was well done, though. It was about an unlikely friendship between a sad, middle-aged woman named Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode, a lonely nursing home resident. As they got to know each other better, Mrs. Threadgoode began telling Evelyn a complicated story about two friends who grew up together and ran a restaurant in Whistle Stop, Alabama that served coffee and occasionally might have been the scene of a violent crime or two.

Summer makes me feel nostalgic, so reading about what life was like from roughly the early 1900s to the1940s tickled my imagination.

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Some middle grade books can be just as appealing to adults as they are to their intended audience. If you ask me, this is one of them.

Winnie, the main character, had to decide whether or not to drink water from a spring that had the power to make someone immortal. I loved the descriptions of the water in that spring, especially since Winnie visited it during an uncomfortably warm portion of the year from what I can recall. There’s nothing as refreshing as a glass of cold water on a hot summer day, although I don’t know that I’d be interested in living forever.

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Okay, so technically My Sister’s Keeper wasn’t set during the summer. I first read it during such a hot and humid portion of this season that it still feels like a summer read to me.

The dilemma the characters dealt with was one that I thought could have been solved much more quickly than it was. Anna was a young girl who had been conceived specifically to be a donor for an older sibling who had leukaemia. She’s endured numerous medical procedures over the years in order to keep her sister alive, and by the time she turned eleven she’d had enough.

I formed my opinion on the ethics of this (fictional) case almost immediately. That didn’t mean I was any less interested in seeing if Anna could become legally emancipated from her family or what would happen to her sister after Anna was no longer forced to give away parts of her body to her sibling.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not a huge fan of Faulkner’s writing style. His descriptions remind me of a few people I know who will take ten minutes to recount a story that could have easily been shared in one or two. My patience for that sort of thing is limited to days when I have all the time in the world to read (or listen) and don’t mind getting lost in a long description of what someone’s wagon looked like before the narrator eventually sees fit to tell me who is riding in that wagon and where they’re going.

Without giving away any spoilers, the journey on said wagon was a deeply emotional one. I simply need to be in the right frame of mind in order to properly enjoy it (and to keep the 15 narrators straight in my mind!)

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

As someone who had mixed feelings about Romeo and Juliet, I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream like I did. There’s something about a warm summer night that makes falling in love – or, in some cases, lust – just a little more appealing than it would be at other times of the year.

If possible, I highly recommend watching this play outdoors on a warm evening. I was lucky enough to do that once, and it made the storyline come alive for me. There was something about feeling the humid air against my skin and hearing crickets chirping in the distance that made me feel like I’d been transported hundreds of years ago to when this story was first performed.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know I’ve talked about this book several times before in previous posts. One of the things I liked most about the earliest scenes were their descriptions of what summer was like in the 1930s before air conditioning was invented. This was a very small part of the plot, of course, but people back then came up with all sorts of inexpensive and inventive ways to remain as cool as possible. I enjoyed reading about their solutions, and they made me very grateful to live in a world where air conditioning exists.

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

 Not only is The Bluest Eye set during the summer, I first read it over summer vacation as well. The sharp contrast between the warm setting and the cold descriptions of a young girl who had endured terrible abuse made me very curious to see how it ended. This book does include descriptions of the after-effects of rape, so reader be warned.

Do your reading preferences shift from one season to the next? What genres do you like to read during the hottest part of the year where you live?

Mindfulness and Summer Allergies

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about summer?

For me it’s seasonal allergies.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are many things I enjoy about this time of the year. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably noticed my tweets about enjoying the sunshine and all of the local fruits and vegetables that are ripening now. It’s definitely not all bad news.

With that being said, this is still a pretty sniffly season for me. A field of flowers might look picturesque to someone who isn’t allergic to them, but I’d sneeze my way through that sort of experience if I were to go wander around in that meadow. Breathing in that much pollen isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Unfortunately, this has been a particularly bad year for my seasonal allergies so far. Whether it was the unusually warm periods of this past winter we had or some other factor, the plants in Ontario have been growing wildly since spring began.   I’ve been taking medication for my allergies as often as possible for the last couple of months, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is how it changes my approach to these itchy, sneezy days.

Acknowledgement without Judgement

Right now my nose is congested, my eyes are itchy, and I have a mild headache.

It took me a long time to learn how to acknowledge the things my body was feeling without immediately putting negative labels on them and jumping to conclusions about what would happen with them next. Honestly, I didn’t see how doing such a thing could possibly make a difference when I first heard of it.

The transition was so gradual that the only thing I can say about how it happened is that it started when I began to compare my assumptions about the future with what actually occurred.

Often, I was completely wrong about how a particular situation would turn out. A mild headache would fade away instead of becoming more painful. One particular itchy day didn’t necessarily mean that the entire week would pass by under a haze of sneezing fits.

This isn’t to say that acknowledging discomfort without jumping to conclusions is easy. There are still times I struggle with noticing molehills without assuming they’re going to turn into mountains any second now, but the more I practice this the easier it does become.

No Such Thing as a Perfect Time of the Year

My seasonal allergies activate during some points of the year and (obviously) cause few if any symptoms during those times when it’s cold and snowy outside.

Strawberries, one of my favourite foods, are in season and on sale at the grocery store from May to July. Other fruits and vegetables make appearances on my dinner plate when they’re in season. I relish the chance to eat as much of them as I can before the local supplies of those crops end for the year. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to eat fresh produce year-round, there is something special about the taste of a fruit or vegetable that was grown much closer to home.

Thunderstorms, snowstorms, and other types of weather appear and disappear throughout the year. If I can stay home and watch them subtly – or not so subtly – change the landscape, I can find a lot of beauty in the ways they soften the edges of a building, illuminate the sky with a bolt of lightning,  or wash away the small bits of trash that accumulate in every city eventually.

There’s no such thing as a perfect time of the year. Every season has its benefits and drawbacks. The more you can remain in the moment, the easier it is to see this.

This, too, Shall Pass

A few months ago, I was impatiently* awaiting the true beginning of spring. Toronto continued to receive snowstorms and cold weather long after the spring equinox had technically already occurred, and I was dreadfully tired of the short days and icy sidewalks.

Now that we’ve had a few days where the temperatures soared well into the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit, for my American readers), it’s getting a little more difficult to remember what those  chilly times were like back in April.

Sometimes the world seems to change both slowly and all at once.

But this, too, shall pass.

*See! I told you haven’t completely mastered acknowledging sensations without judging them.

What helps you to remember to remain mindful? If you have seasonal allergies, how they are doing this year?

4 Things I’m Going to Miss About Summer

A few weeks ago I began meditating every day. I even went so far as to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to meditate at a specific time each day.

One of the most interesting side effects of this new routine has been how I approached summer. Between my seasonal allergies and my strong dislike of humidity, this is not my favourite time of the year. I’m normally counting down the days until autumn by the end of August. The mild temperatures of spring and fall are far more my cup of tea.

With that being said, there are still things about summer that I enjoy, and my meditation habits have helped me to uncover more of them than I would have originally thought possible.

1. Produce Is in Season

I have loved nearly every kind of fruit and vegetable I’ve ever tasted, from berries to green beans and everything in-between.

The wonderful thing about summer is that almost every kind of fruit and vegetable is in season between May and early September. There have been multiple times when I’ve made entire meals out of a big plate of fruit and vegetables because they were on sale or I wasn’t sure what else to eat.

While it’s possible to do the same thing in the winter thanks all of the produce that’s grown in other countries and then shipped to Canada, locally-grown food is cheaper in-season and often tastes much better, too.

So every year I look forward to a summer filled with fresh, healthy dinners that generally don’t require me to turn on the stove or do much preparation at all other than to wash and maybe chop up what I want to eat.

2. Everything Gets a Festival or Parade

No, I’m not exaggerating here.

While this obviously depends on where you live, Toronto has multiple events going on every single day of the summer that celebrate everything from the LGBT community to food festivals for every kind of cuisine you can imagine and a few you might not have any idea exists at all.

When I first moved up here, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. The small, midwestern town I spent most of my childhood in had less going on there in an entire year than Toronto has on even its quietest weekend.

I still get excited when I see a random parade marching down the street, but I also know there are far more festivities going on in this city than I can ever hope to keep up with. They’re everywhere, and it’s wonderful.

3. No Jackets, Hats, or Gloves Required

At the end of every spring, I turn to my spouse at some point and happily tell him that we don’t have to wear jackets anymore when we go outside.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have some very cool jackets, and I am looking forward to having extra pockets again in a month or two. There is also something to be said for being able to go on a spontaneous walk without needing to grab a jacket or make sure that I’m dressed warmly enough for the temperatures outside.

Since I’ve forgotten a jacket somewhere once or twice as well, it’s also nice not to have to go back to retrieve anything during this time of the year. Everything I need is already on my body or in my purse.

4. Extra Hours of Sunlight

By the time November hits, I really begin to miss the long, sunny days of June.

While it’s nice to have extra hours of darkness for sleeping purposes, it also feels good to go for a walk at 8 pm and still see plenty of light in the sky.

If only there were a way to bottle some of that sunshine up and sprinkle it throughout November and December.

Since there currently isn’t away to do that, I must enjoy it while it’s still here.

I’m still looking forward to the cool, crisp days of autumn, but I’ll be enjoying the last few weeks of summer in the meantime. How do you feel about this time of the year? How has meditation or mindfulness in general changed the way you thought about something you’re not a big fan of in general? I’ll be around on Twitter all day to talk about this.

Meditating During a Heatwave

August in Toronto is a hot and humid affair. While this month did start out chiller than usual, we’re currently in the middle of a heatwave that’s been going on for a few days now.

I’m lucky enough to have fairly decent air conditioning in my apartment, but I’m still counting down the days until the heat of August fades away and the beauty of autumn begins because of how easy it is for the heat to sneak into my place on unusually hot days and how many places in this city don’t have good air conditioning.

One of the things I enjoy the most about meditating during a heatwave is what a fantastic tool it is for dealing with the weather as I step outside of my home and feel that first puff of hot, stale air.

There are several different lessons I’ve taken from my meditation sessions and applied to experiences like those at this time of the year. I hope all of you are feeling milder temperatures than I am, but I thought this would make a good idea for a blog post for anyone else who feels like they’re walking through an oven right now.

Breathe

Now that I’m meditating again more regularly after my break from it last spring, I’m sometimes surprised by how calming it is to breathe deeply and focus on nothing in particular at all.

My brain is slowly being trained to focus on my breathing when I step outside and inhale steamy August air. I do my best not to think about the temperature, the future, or anything else at all. All I need to do in that moment is breathe in and out again.

It is such a simple yet helpful reminded to stay in the present and focus on those things you actually do have control over.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Live in the Moment

Autumn is still seven weeks away, and even the fall solstice isn’t a guarantee of cooler weather immediately. Last year we had hot, summery weather all the way through until the beginning of October.

It’s tempting to wish away the end of a season. I know I often give into this temptation at the end of winter when it feels like warmer weather will never arrive, but this summer I’ve been making a genuine effort to live in the moment instead of fantasizing about what the weather will be like a month or two from now.

There are positive and negative sides to any season – literal or metaphorical –  we find ourselves in, and I’m telling you this as someone who doesn’t always grok this right away. It’s easy for me to imagine the worst or to spend so much time thinking about what could or might happen in the future that I forget to live in the now.

Notice Sensations Without Judging Them

Confession: I am not always very patient when dealing with months of humidity. There comes a time nearly every summer when the humidity has been so high for so many weeks that I honestly want to go jump into Lake Ontario, grow some gills, and spend the last month of summer swimming around with the fish to stay cool.

Noticing and acknowledging sensations without immediately deciding what I think about them is definitely something I’ve had to work to do during my sessions.

To give you an example that isn’t weather-related,  I had a sore muscle in my neck and shoulder last week. It was the first thing my mind jumped to every time I sat down to meditate because of how it was affecting the way I moved and the kinds of things I wanted to do. (No worries, though – it is all better now).

Figuring out how to acknowledge that part of my body without immediately jumping to thoughts about why it was sore or when it would heal wasn’t easy. Relaxing helped, and so did focusing my attention on it for a brief moment before returning my mind to a state of rest.

It’s been interesting to transfer this mindset to something like standing on an overcrowded subway car or walking down a street that doesn’t have much shade at all.

Unless someone suddenly gives me the power to control the weather, there isn’t a single thing I can do to change the temperature or the humidity outside. It is what it is.

There is definitely something to be said for noticing perspiration forming on your skin or a hot breeze skimming your hair without immediately judging those sensations.

How does summer affect your meditation? How has meditating affected how you handle uncomfortable weather?

6 Tips for Exercising Safely Outdoors in Hot Weather

The long, hot, and humid days of July have begun here in Toronto.

If you’ve never been to Ontario at this time of the year, imagine feeling like you’ve stepped into an oven every time you go outside.

The heat can be adjusted to eventually, but the unrelenting humidity in July and August is one of the few things I truly dislike about living in this part of North America. It’s inescapable, and it can make 30°C (86°F) feel like 40°C. (104°F).

Exercising in the depths of summer comes with its own unique challenges. Today I wanted to talk about some of my favorite ways to stay fit when the weather is much warmer than normal.

Take a Hot Bath First

This was by far one of the most surprising tips I discovered while working on this blog post. Last month there was a study published on the effects of taking a hot bath before being asked to exercise in a hot, humid room. The runners who were assigned to this part of the study became acclimated to the heat faster and ran farther than the participants who were cooled down before they ran.

That study reminded me of that old wives’ tale about drinking hot beverages during heat waves to help your body cool down more efficiently. There have been a few smaller studies that showed this was effective, but the data about them was pretty scarce while I was doing my research on this.

Pick the Right Time of Day

As you might have already guessed, I’m not a big fan of heat waves, but there is some relief to be found even in the depths of August if you’re willing to save your workouts for times when the sun is either not shining or is very low in the sky.

Evenings are much more comfortable times for exercising on all but the hottest of days. Once the sun begins to set, Toronto breathes a sign of relief. Our sidewalks and parks become flooded with people and pets enjoying the cooler weather.

Alternatively, early mornings are also a good time to squeeze in a workout because the sidewalks and ground in general have had all night to release the heat from the day before. Sometimes early summer mornings can even feel a little chilly if you head out early enough.

Pick the Right Activity

I’m a fan of street hockey, but it’s not the kind of game I’d want to play on a 40°C day. A walk would be the most strenuous form of exercise I’d feel comfortable doing when the weather was that hot, and even then I’d prefer to do it in the shade or at a cooler part of the day.

You can become dehydrated quickly at those temperatures, so I dial my activity back when it’s that warm outside even if I’m carrying a bottle of water with me.

With that being said, it is safe to exercise in hot weather if you acclimate yourself to it and tailor your workout to your age, fitness level, and weather. The article I just linked to was talking specifically about jogging, but the general principles of it can be applied to any other form of more strenuous exercise as well.

Stay Hydrated

Am I the only person who sometimes forgets to drink enough water on hot days?

One of the biggest dangers of exercising outdoors at this time of the year – other than getting a sunburn, if you’re fair-skinned – is accidentally becoming dehydrated. It can happen faster than you might think if it’s very humid outside or if the hot weather has dampened your urge to eat and drink like it does for me.

My parents live in the desert Southwest, so they are accustomed to bringing a bottle of water from home wherever they go. I’ve been thinking about getting into this habit as well this summer.

There are public drinking fountains in Toronto, but there aren’t as many of them as I’d like to see and there are barely any of them in our parks at all. Carrying my own water is something I need to do if I’m going to be spending time outdoors in July and August.

Wear Breathable, Comfortable Clothing

The other day I was browsing through a rack of workout clothing. I was surprised to see how many of the pieces were made from fabric blends that included rayon or polyester.

Synthetic fabrics like these are good for chillier seasons, but they’re the last thing I’d ever want to wear when the weather is hot and humid because they don’t absorb sweat or breathe the same way that cotton does.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do at this time of the year is wear anything that’s going to make me perspire even more than I already am.

Pace Yourself

Listening to your body is always a good idea, but it’s even more important when you’re pushing yourself more than normal.

Skipping or shortening one workout isn’t going to have an effect on your longterm fitness goals. It’s much more important to stay safe than it is to ignore potentially dangerous symptoms like dizziness if your regular workout is too much when the weather is hotter than usual.