Summer in Minnesota is winding down. There. I've said it.
"No," you cry. "Not yet!"
Well, Labor Day is only about a month away, so now is the time to make the most of what's left of summer.
August happens to be the biggest month of the year for some events, including county fairs. Forty-six of them will take place around the state within the next month, and many -- unlike the State Fair -- don't charge admission.
"It's really a lot of entertainment without spending a lot of money," said Dan Grunhovd, president of the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.
The county fair is also a place to learn about agriculture and experience country life and family traditions, he said.
"Grandma brings her quilt, mother brings her canning and baking, and the kids bring the livestock and the dad helps with that," Grunhovd said.
The biggest county fair in the state happens in Steele County Aug. 17-22. The free event is expected to draw nearly 300,000 people to the Owatonna area.
But if you're not in the mood for farm animals, rides and fair food, there's a whole list of alternatives to consider. Below are just a few:
Go swimming in a Minnesota lake
We're likely to have plenty of hot weather days between now and Labor Day, so take advantage of the hundreds of free beaches around the state to cool off. In the Twin Cities, park districts have been trying to keep beaches pleasant and healthy by harvesting weeds and testing beach water for bacteria levels. But keep in mind that many beaches aren't tested for bacteria levels, so it's a good idea to keep lake water out of your mouth.
Go to an art fair
One of the largest takes place this weekend in Uptown Minneapolis. Art fairs are also taking place in Loring Park and Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. Metro Transit is offering a free "art hop" bus on Saturday and Sunday so people can attend all three fairs without the parking and traffic hassles. More than 360 professional artists from around the country will be at the Uptown Art Fair, which starts Friday at noon.
Buy fresh flowers for your loved one at a farmers market
Valentine's Day is more than six months away, and it's in February when you're stuck with flowers sent from far away. Right now, you can enjoy sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnias and more picked right in Minnesota. The main farmers markets sell fresh-cut flowers, and many of the smaller neighborhood farmers markets also sell them.
Go berry picking
Minnesota has a bumper crop of blueberries this year, so if you go out to a farm where you can pick your own, you might get a good deal. Raspberries are also plentiful this time of year. Minnesota Grown, a directory run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, lists fruit and vegetable growers throughout the state.
Make iced tea
You might be looking to freshen up your tea supply come winter, so what better way to finish up a package than to make iced tea. Boil water as you would for normal tea and steep for several minutes. Then add cold water and ice until it reaches the right strength for your taste. Many people also make tea out in the sun, but do so at your own risk: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has warned that tea jars out in the sun can harbor harmful bacteria and that the mixture won't reach a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria off.
Take a road trip
Gas prices are hovering around $2.70 in Minnesota. That's up a little from last year but is much lower than this time two years ago. Consider choosing the scenic route for your journey. You might find a few surprises along the way and might be less likely to run into construction slowdowns.
Attend a live outdoor concert
There are a ton of opportunities to hear live music during the summer while enjoying the outdoors. The Minnesota History Center has free outdoor concerts on Tuesday nights in August, and the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis has live outdoor concerts for $5 on Thursday nights. Many of the parks also host free outdoor concerts. If you're looking for bigger acts, there's the WE Fest country music show in Detroit Lakes featuring Keith Urban, Kid Rock and others. And if you're in the mood for something more traditional, check out the Vintage Band Festival in Northfield: 100 concerts by 25 bands starting Thursday. And the annual Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth starts Aug. 13.
Eat local sweet corn
It's the only time of year to get local, fresh sweet corn. Sure, you can get corn from Georgia earlier in the summer and can even find early Minnesota sweet corn, but the ears that come off the stalks at this time of year just miles from your local grocery store are always the best. Don't forget the dental floss.
Meet your neighbors
Maybe you already did this on National Night Out this week. If you missed your block party, make a point of introducing yourself to the new family next door. Who knows? Maybe they'll be so charmed by you that they'll do you a favor and shovel your sidewalk when you're out of town this winter.
Go to a quirky event or festival
Here's a sampling of some town events and festivals to check out in August: Pie Day in Braham, Dragon Boat Festival in Bemidji, Old Time Fiddle Championship and Festival in Cotton, Buffalo Bill Days in Lanesboro, Legends and Logging Days in Park Rapids, the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis, the Buttered Corn Days Celebration in Sleepy Eye, Pickle It in Preston, Afrifest in Brooklyn Park and the Bubble Festival in Duluth. A full list of events is on the state tourism website. And every Wednesday through August, you can watch turtle races in the northern Minnesota town of Longville.
Eat ice cream
Let's face it: Ice cream just doesn't taste as good when it's cold outside. In fact, it might even make you shiver when the temps drop. So grab a cone at your nearest ice cream shop and enjoy licking up those drips that only threaten to stain your shirt when it's this hot out.
Shop for summer bargains
Are your lawn and patio chairs getting worn out? Are the kids' floaties and inner tubes leaking air? A lot of summer merchandise is on sale now. Will you use it in the next month? Maybe not. But the question is whether you will need it next year. If so, it might make more sense to buy it now at 50 or even 75 percent off the original price. You can even get bargains on expensive sunscreen -- just check to make sure it won't expire before next summer.