In Minnesota where I’ve lived my whole life, summer has a special quality to it. It brings a sense of excitement and an active energy that opposed the restlessness of winter. It seeps into frozen bones and forces me out after six months of hibernation into the open air to feel the sun on my face, the sand between my toes, and the wind in my perpetually untamed hair. It is amazing.

Summer in Minnesota, like anywhere else, is not to be squandered. My favorite tidbits are the deep evergreen pines up north, the iridescent blue of the 10,000 lakes you can find outside virtually any front door, and the beautiful bike trails, patios, and sidewalks beckoning people to come and sit. There are only three months of this transcendent time when the sprinklers on freshly-mowed lawns try to keep ahead of the scorching sun, catching rainbows in their misty spray. Communities hold parades, carnivals, and cookouts, and there is a festival in some corner of the state every night. There are outdoor concerts, movies in the park, and the ice cream truck runs on a perpetual loop. There are always fireworks on the fourth of the July. We live on hot dogs and s’mores, and we love it so much. Even dark summer storms with rolling thunder and lightning are incredible.

We have to enjoy every second of it because it seems to come to an end before we’re ready to see it go. Three months to squeeze in every slice of watermelon and every slap of a mosquito. When you look at it by weekends, there are only 12 pairs of Saturdays and Sundays to soak up like the cool clear water of a swimming pool on a scorching day. I want these days to last forever.

I know they won’t. The long hot days of summer are beginning to cool and shorten. The barefoot children in the street every evening soon will be for loading backpacks and headed for early bedtimes. When the fireflies and hummingbirds flutter by a little less often, I start to take an inventory of my time. I look back on the three little months empty of school and homework, and I sit still and listen. I ask myself, “Did I use my time well this summer?”

It’s not like I have an actual bucket list of things that qualify as a good summer. It’s more of a general feeling that I try to tap into, a sense of quality over quantity, of easy tempo and pace, of lackadaisical freedom I fondly remember from my own childhood, that tells me if I spent my summer wisely, calmly, and memorably. Through my self-appraisal I have found two basic hallmarks are the keys to living summer well and making memories that last.

Traditions

The simplest things in life are often the most magical. The experiences that we make important over and over again are the ones that we will hold the dearest. A cabin weekend every summer, a camping trip, the big fourth of July parade, a picnic at a lake in the same spot every first weekend in August. It doesn’t matter what it is, how big or small. Make it specific and put it on the calendar every year. How special will it be to have those memories? To hear your kids say, “Remember that one year it was windy enough to fly the kites? And the one year it was pouring rain so we had to eat in the car but then that beautiful rainbow came out?” These summers go by fast, you don’t have to make the whole thing memorable, just make one thing memorable every year.

Saying yes

There is so much to be said for making plans, but there’s even something more amazing about making no plans and just doing whatever comes to mind. The key is spontaneity. Being tuned into the moment and being ready to say yes, Jumping on a bike and going for ice cream, walking around the block as the sun sets with tunes playing on your phone, letting your kids bike through every sprinkler on the block, attending a random parade you come upon in a small town while going to that awkward family reunion, or spending an endless day visiting friends’ cabin when they text you the night before to “just come up!” These will be the times you and your kids will remember more than anything else you do.

Summertime brings lazy days, late moonlit nights, cool grass, hot sun, and the feeling that every moment is priceless. The experiences that arise unplanned and unfettered are like little drops of perfection that last forever.

So as this summer winds down and the sun sets a little earlier every night, I hope you can look back and say you know two things for sure: you made some plans, and you made no plans at all and let the day take you. If you can’t say so for sure this year, there may still be time. Either way, put stock in next summer. I have a feeling it will be the best one yet.