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Hot fun in the summertime

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Happy Summer Solstice!

Solar_flares_082405_2_1 Welcome to the longest day of the year. Just what we need to get us in the mood for some hot fun in the summertime.

You are about to hit the road for your annual vacation, aren't you? Well, you're at least planning it, right?

Nah, me neither. We're not alone.

Just last week I got an e-mail from my friend John, bemoaning the fact that he's giving back too much vacation time to his company each year: "I should be taking more time off so I don't keep giving the company back two or three weeks a year, but I can't seem to find the time. Is that irony? I'm just going to have to not show up some days."

The hubby and I still hold out hope of getting away for a brief break. I must admit, though, that I'm not a big fan of summer vacations. They are just too hot, just about everywhere.

One July when we were in Maryland, we drove up to Toronto hoping to escape the muggy MidAtlantic. No such luck. The great white north was nowhere to be found that summer. It was still a fun, if sweaty, jaunt.

So we tend to take our trips in the autumn or even winter, since both offer interesting bird watching options. Migration in the fall, naked trees in the winter meaning birds have fewer places to hide from our prying binoculars. Or, again when we were in Maryland, we'd pop down to Florida in March to watch other birds -- Baltimore Orioles -- practice their annual spring training rituals.

This summer, though, I might actually get away for a bit. I'll be leaving the hubby home alone (his idea of a perfect vacation!) and hitting the road with my cousin Kathy. You remember her; she's the one indirectly responsible for my name.

Thelmanlouise_2 Seems that Kathy, like my friend John, faces the same use-it-or-lose situation with her vacation days. But her husband just started a new job and hasn't accrued any time off yet. So we're thinking we'll do a Thelma and Louise, sans the handguns and I guess sans Brad since Angelina's got him tied up changing diapers.

Not sure exactly when or where we'll go yet, but it should be fun. We haven't vacationed together since we were kids. My family used to go visit hers outside of Dallas each summer so we could all go to Six Flags Over Texas together.

It was great fun. The Log Ride, so wet and refreshing; the Spelunker Cave, so dark and cool; the Crazy Horse Saloon, so air conditioned and full of cold beverages for kids and adults alike.

Of course, that was back when the amusement park was still young and the gimmick actually was attractions associated -- granted, sometimes cheesily; sometimes barely -- with the six flags that have flown over the Lone Star State.

I suspect those attractions have been long replaced by the cartoon characters and movie superheroes that the park's corporate owners found necessary to compete with the House of Mouse.

But I bet one thing hasn't changed in all these years. This being summer in Texas, I bet the park still smells like hot asphalt.

Even now, when I get out of the car at the H.E.B. parking lot, that scent automatically takes me back, at least for a moment, to those hot fun summer days long ago at Six Flags.

Summer saving tips: It is possible to take a trip without emptying out your bank account. Here are a few ways you can cut vacation costs:

  • Put off your vacation until July or August, when it's less crowded and travel tends to be more affordable.   
  • If you're flying, begin and end your trip in the middle of the week. That way you'll avoid arriving and departing on weekends, when plane tickets usually are higher. 
  • Check out online travel sites -- Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire -- for deals. Look for packages that could reduce your cost even more.
  • Surf travel blogs. Some of them are almost vacations themselves, such as Tim Leffel's Cheapest Destinations, BootsnAll Travel and Gridskipper. But you also can find more typical travel tips at places like In additional to getting some travel insights from bloggers, you'll also likely find ads touting travel bargains. 
  • Don't be afraid to negotiate, especially when it comes to lodging. Sometimes the personal touch does pay off, particularly if you're considering a smaller inn instead of chain hotel.

MSNBC has already done some research for you and come up with 10 summer bargains for frugal families.

Suitcases_1 When you finally decide where to go, Martha Stewart has these suitcase packing tips.

Finally, make sure you that you actually vacation while on vacation. says its annual survey finds that a quarter of vacationers plan to work while they're officially away from the office. Read on for ways to break that nasty habit.

Singing on the road: Speaking of surveys, one conducted last August by the online travel company found that "Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay" and "Margaritaville" were Americans' top vacation anthems.

Judging from the full list below with voter percentages in parens, the online employment site obviously surveyed older vacationers:

  • Otis Redding – "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" (26 percent)   
  • Jimmy Buffett – "Margaritaville" (21 percent)   
  • The Beach Boys – "Kokomo" (13 percent)   
  • The Go Go's – "Vacation" (10 percent) 
  • Lenny Kravitz – "Fly Away" (10 percent) 
  • Madonna – "Holiday" (8 percent) 
  • Styx – "Come Sail Away" (8 percent) 
  • Will Smith – "Miami" (5 percent)

I cannot believe Sly and the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" didn't make the list.

And I really cannot believe Madonna did!


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