Here's the latest of my occasional lists of things I like, this one with a summer flavor.
1. News-free summer mornings
Mornings in any season are the most hopeful time of day, but even more so in summer when the daylight hours stretch ahead like a vast green field of possibility. Or maybe that's the caffeine talking?
Whatever it is, I love summer mornings, getting up early, finding some coffee, listening to the breeze in the trees and the chattering of birds, soaking in the illusion of time extended.
The challenge is to not squander this bonus time. One of my summer vows is to read something good in the mornings, if only for 20 minutes, before the day's duties kick in. No news before that's done.
2. Getting the outside windows cleaned
I live on the third floor and can't clean the exterior of some of my windows on my own. Reluctant to pay a cleaning service, I left them dirty for a couple of years.
I tried not to notice the mounting grime from snowstorms, windstorms and thunderstorms obscuring my view of the trees and sky. But the difference between a clean window and a dirty one is like the difference between a calm mind and a frantic one. Having the windows cleaned was worth what it cost.
3. "The Overstory" by Richard Powers
Do you really want to read a fat book about trees? I didn't either. And then I did. Now I'm a proselytizer for this novel, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Powers, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Illinois, is known as a brainy writer, but in "The Overstory" he fluidly weaves his intellectual musings with a great yarn and vivid characters.
The book, which has been called an eco-novel, makes the case that we need to wake up and notice how the life of trees is connected to our human life. Endangering the trees, we endanger ourselves.
I haven't looked at trees the same way since I read it. Any book that changes the way you see has a claim on greatness.
4. XOchimilco Mexican Restaurant
My friend Nancy recently hosted a birthday dinner at this family-operated storefront restaurant in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood (2030 W. Montrose Ave). Her guests had never heard of it. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we talked with one of the friendly operators and left loving the place.
It's cozy but festive. The name and the walls are inspired by a neighborhood in Mexico City, where colorful gondola-style boats roam the canals carrying tourists, vendors and mariachi bands.
It's BYOB so the cost of a first-rate meal is reasonable.
5. EWG's 2019 Sunscreen Guide
There's a lot of bad sunscreen out there. Some contain potentially harmful chemicals. Some don't protect fully from UV rays. This includes big-name brands.
In fact, the Environmental Working Groupsays that about two-thirds of sunscreens offer inadequate sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients. The FDA has begun to look into the problem.
For now, if you want to be confident you're using a sunscreen that's safe and effective, check out the EWG's latest rankings: http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/
And don't forget your broad-brimmed hat.
6. Nine Hats Pinot Gris
I was looking for my go-to pinot gris at Binny's Beverage Depot recently. The store was out. The clerk picked up a bottle of Nine Hats. "Try this," he said.
It's a perfect white wine for summer. It comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington and is described on the Nine Hats website as offering "vibrant aromas and flavors of white peach orange blossom, honeysuckle and ripe citrus that lead to a pleasantly crisp finish."
At $13.99 a bottle, it's nice for the price.
7. On Cloud shoes
I hesitate to recommend anything that's as essential to human happiness, but also as deeply personal, as shoes. So all I'll say is that these shoes make me happy. I'd never heard of this Swiss brand until I went into a Fleet Feet store and said I wanted a shoe I could walk in for miles, something with good support and that I could slip in and out of easily.
The clerk proposed a pair of On Clouds (also known as On or OC). They're well-cushioned but lightweight, and I immediately fell in love with them. Weeks later, I'm still enchanted.
"People run marathons in these," the clerk said, an unnecessary selling point for me these days, but when I'm walking in them they propel me so well I feel almost as if I'm running.
8. Reviving lettuce
So you buy that beautiful head of lettuce, feeling healthier just looking at the buoyant green. You get the lettuce home. And before you know it, it's as limp as you feel on a muggy 90-degree day. What to do?
Revive it with this simple trick I found online: Soak the lettuce in ice-cold water for 30 minutes. Some people recommend chopping off the edges of the lettuce first, but I restored mine without the chop.
9. A good quote from Aldous Huxley
In the season of light, a different take on the word:
It's dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you're feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.
(Mary Schmich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on twitter.com/maryschmich or contact her on facebook.com/maryschmich).