Summer is in full swing and many people are looking for something to do while waiting to go back or send their kids back to school or, just take advantage of a nice sunny day. I challenge you to enjoy your summer by completing this “bucket” list of 10 things to do before the summer ends.
Maybe this list seems simple and maybe you have done a few of them already but taking advantage of all these can make your summer, as Neil Patrick Harris’s character Barney Stinson would say, “legend-wait for it-day. Legendary.”
I took it upon myself to complete all these activities. These are all things I enjoy so if you want to substitute feel free but, believe me, you will have fun either way.
1. See Some Fireworks
I decided to start you off with something easy. Most people, if not everyone, should have this one done after the July 4 holiday. However, if you missed this because you have grown tired of fighting the crowds or are in the mood for more, fireworks do not have to be a once-a-year thing.
I love fireworks. When I lived in Japan, massive firework displays took place all over the country from June to August. I went to one in downtown Osaka and found that the entire population of Japan shared my enthusiasm for pyrotechnics. After waiting more than two hours in a line with thousands of people to board a train home, I thought one experience was enough.
Navy Pier in Chicago hosts a firework display every Wednesday and Saturday night through Aug. 31. Other such events might pop up over the summer as well. Just keep in mind that Illinois law stipulates only licensed pyrotechnic operators who obtain permits can present public fireworks displays.
However, there are some items available for purchase that contain low levels of or no explosive material, including smoke bombs, party poppers, cones that give off showers of sparks, fountains and repeaters, mines, comets, tubes, shells, fancy florals, parachutes and other novelties.
The following items are restricted: handheld fireworks, bottle rockets, firecrackers of any size or type, sky rockets, roman candles, chasers, buzz bombs, ground items, helicopters, missiles, pin wheels or any other twirling device, planes and torpedoes. Remember to be safe and have fun.
2. Grill Outside
Most people might agree it is not summer until you grill something. At least my parents would think so. I grew up spending summers eating outside while my father cooked on the grill. I know most people are used to the old hot dogs, brats and hamburgers, but I challenge you to try something different.
My husband, Mike, has never grilled before. However, I talked him into buying a very basic charcoal grill for the summer. We chose to grill shrimp for his first time, mostly, because precooked shrimp is a very forgiving and easy to cook item for beginners. We used a lime, honey and garlic sauce, which both smelled and tasted delicious.
Don’t cook? There are multiple recipes out there for cooking fish, fruits, vegetables and more. I have provided some examples along with safety and grilling tips on my Pinterest page titled “Grill This.” Check them out and try one or two.
Don’t have a grill? No problem. Many local parks have grills you can borrow or there are grill pans for inside stoves which are usually less expensive than a whole outdoor grill.
3. Do Something Outdoors
Since we are outdoors, let’s move on to step three: do an outdoor activity. There are many possibilities here and after sitting inside over the winter its time to enjoy some fresh air and sun. Lucky for you, there are many parks, trails and other such activities in the area.
Being new to the area and arriving in middle of winter, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Starved Rock State Park to hike the trails and explore the area. We found it to be a fun and beautiful activity with lots of different aspects to the trails.
“A lot of people come here because of the landscape,” said Don Petre, park ranger at Starved Rock.
On average the park sees 2 million visitors each year. Petre said the area offers many different activities from camping to boating and hiking. There also are many more trail opportunities such as bike trails and canoeing at Matthiessen State Park Vermilion River Area. Find more info on local outdoor activities at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website www.dnr.illinois.gov.
Other options are enjoy a local pool, walk a pet, go out on a boat or just spend the day in a park. If looking for something different, try horseback riding at some of the local ranches and horse trail operators.
4. Have a Picnic
After all that exercise, it’s time to eat again. Next step is to go on a picnic. I have to admit I have my own reasons for this step. For my wedding, my cousin gave us a nice Japanese theme picnic basket set with an embroidered bag and blanket.
Despite the fear of ants, picnics are a nice relaxing thing to do on a lazy afternoon. Afterwards, I suggest taking a nap or reading a book. You also do not need to have a cool picnic set or even spend time making lots of food. There are plenty of supermarkets and restaurants that offer easy meals to go and eat outside. Just don’t forget the napkins and utensils.
5. Visit a Zoo or Acquarium
Number five is a favorite activity of mine. Every place I go or visit, I try to go to a local zoo or aquarium. I feel knowing about animals, especially from the region, helps us to appreciate them more. Recently, I took a trip to Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, just off U.S. 6 near the Quad Cities. Niabi has 900 animals located on 40 acres of land dedicated for the zoo. It is small but has its charm with train rides and interactive exhibits.
The one I enjoyed the most was the Australian Walkabout when guests enter a high, fenced-in area. I was a little confused upon entering the double gate, almost like a medieval fortress, which opened up to a large grassy area with a walkway lined with short ropes and very large dog house looking structures. Suddenly, from one of the structures burst forth a small kangaroo. It was the closest I have ever gotten to one.
There are several other local zoos and aquarium in the area, including the Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago as well as the Peoria Zoo; Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington; Summerfield Zoo, Belvidere, and several other zoos and aquariums near Springfield.
6. Get Some Ice Cream
Be sure to repeat this next step as many times as possible. Nothing makes summer better than ice cream. Back home, we have a frozen yogurt place where you can put numerous toppings from candy to fruit in your dessert. This option kind of outweighs the healthier choice of using the fro-yo. But it is delicious.
I have heard there are some local shops that sell lots of tasty frozen treats and I can’t wait to try them. So be sure to take advantage of this step by trying some ice cream whether it is from a store, local shop, chain restaurant or homemade.
7. Attend a Baseball Game
Another favorite pastime of mine is to go to a baseball game. When I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, I use to attend, quite regularly, Iowa Cubs games. They are a Triple-A team associated with the Chicago Cubs. I know with two major league teams so close, a minor league game does not sound too exciting. However, these teams often add extra activities such as T-shirts tosses and local entertainment and occasionally firework displays. I find it to be a fun atmosphere that everyone should check out.
I recently heard a lot of good things about the Quad City River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa. The team is in the Class A league and has an affiliation with the Houston Astros. The Modern Woodmen Park sits alongside the Mississippi River and provides a view to Illinois. The park offered a friendly staff and loads of entertainment at every inning including a kids zone for the little guys.
Illinois has two Class A teams nearby, including the Kane County Cougars in Geneva and the Peoria Chiefs which are affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Elly Burrows from the Illinois Office of Tourism said there also are seven different Frontier League or independent baseball teams, including Southern Illinois Miners, Marion; Gateway Grizzlies, Sauget; Rockford Aviators; Joliet Slammers; Schaumburg Boomers; Normal Cornbelters and Windy City Thunderbolts, Crestwood.
“Frontier League games are a great family-friendly activity, perfect for anyone looking for quick weekend getaways close to home,” Burrows said.
8. Grow Something
Next step, grow something. Growing up I have helped my mom with a small box garden. We grew herbs, tomatoes, beans, carrots, zucchini, sunflowers, peppers and more. Now that I live in a duplex, I don’t have room for a garden, but my mom gave me some extra chives to grow in a pot. I feel there is nothing more fun than growing and cooking something yourself.
So, if you have some extra space in the yard, deck or home, then try this step. Karen Duncan of La Salle and a member of Illinois Valley Garden Club said there are a lot of herbs people could grow in pots at home, including basil, rosemary and cilantro. If people have room for an outdoor garden, Duncan suggests growing vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini which can be used for things such as salads.
Also, since it is later in the planting season, hot weather might hinder some plants growth so be careful to check before you buy or plant seeds. Duncan said lettuce would be a good item to plant now and it would be ready by August. She added that a lot of people plant pumpkins in early summer, but also said they need a lot of space. Flowers to spruce up your home and yard also are a good idea.
“Right now is a good time to get things on sale because the high season is over,” Duncan said. She warned that it is not the time to plant bushes.
Some first-time planters might struggle with under or over watering their plants. Duncan also said the rainy weather is helping the plants grow, but to watch plants as temperatures heat up. She suggests placing your finger a ½ inch into the soil to see if it is moist.
For beginners who want to start planting but also want to learn more, IV Garden Club also has a community garden just off U.S. 6 near the La Salle Fire Department. There, they use volunteers to grow food and donate it to Illinois Valley Food Pantry. She said it was a great place to learn and they still are accepting volunteers. For more information, visit the Illinois Valley Giving Garden Facebook page or e-mail ivgivinggarden@ gmail.com.
9. Attend a Farmer’s Market
If you don’t have a green thumb, then enjoying the fruits of other people’s labor is for you. The number nine fun thing to do this summer is visit a farmers market. There are several in this area that offer all kinds of homegrown produce and handmade crafts. A listing is in each Friday’s Wink section.
Kendra Buchanan, local foods liaison for U.S. Department of Agriculture, said many market organizers have been expanding their programs to include areas entertainment and bands. She said this is allows them to cater to a larger audience.
Buchanan said 350 local markets are up and running around the state and as a whole the markets serve as a good economic engine, both locally and at a state level.
“People are getting more and more interested in where their food is coming from,” she said.
At markets, people can talk to farmers to find out more about food and how it is made. People also learn about products they never tried and learn how to use it practically, said Buchanan. To find a market near you, visit www.agr.state.il.us/agrihappenings/farmers.php.
10. Go On a “Mini” Vacation
Lastly, before summer ends go on a vacation. Now, I am not talking about going to Disneyland or Europe, though if you are, kudos to you. I am talking about cheaper and quicker local vacations you can take nearby and support some homegrown tourism.
There are many beautiful and great local attractions, but a vacation is not a vacation without going somewhere you have never been before or a place to get away and enjoy yourself.
My trip was to Galena, near the northeast corner of the state right next to Iowa. It’s a town full of history and is the site of the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant. Galena’s appeal for me is the shopping. The main drag of the city is lined with little shops selling crafts, candies and more. Several local restaurants from Italian to American also offer good food for breaks from the long walks up and down the street.
There are many other great places to visit around Illinois. Burrows said the Illinois Office of Tourism is available to help. Anyone interested in finding out more can visit enjoyillinois.com where you can download travel guides and apps for a smart phone.
“Illinois has incredible summer festivals, destinations rich in history, scenic byways and state parks,” Burrows said.
So there you have it, 10 ways to make your summer fun. Remember, these are my own concoction of things to do and you will need to figure out what works for you. Just remember to go out and enjoy the day.
Alicia LeGrand-Riniker can be reached at (815) 220-6931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.