If ever we needed summer, it's this year.
We earned it the hard way -- through months of relentless snow and record-breaking cold that had suburbanites longing for sunny afternoons and warm summer nights.
The season officially starts today. So here are a half dozen ways to enjoy the precious first days of summer:
1. Celebrate at Swedish Days.
This Geneva festival has been entertaining crowds for 65 years. It continues this weekend with a Viking ship tour, musical entertainment, food booths, carnival, twilight miniature golf, Geneva's Got Talent, a 1 p.m. Sunday parade and more. Events run all day today and Sunday near Third and State streets. Free admission. Check genevachamber.com for schedule and venues.
2. Get your Games on.
Enjoy dancing, bagpipe music and feats of strength at the 2014 Scottish Festival & Highland Games at Hamilton Lakes, Thorndale Avenue and Route 53, Itasca. Events go from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and include a parade, haggis eating contest, Highland dance competition, a soccer tournament, musical performances, a whiskey tasting and the caber toss, which involves flipping a 20-foot tree trunk. Adult admission is $20; $5 for children 3 to 12. Call (708) 426-7127 or visit chicagoscots.org for more.
3. Take the plunge.
Six Flags Great America unveiled its new Goliath roller coaster this week, and those with strong stomachs might want to give it a try. Goliath -- billed as the tallest, steepest and fastest wooden coaster in the world -- boasts a 165-foot lift hill, a drop of 180 feet at 85 degrees and speeds up to 72 mph. Check it out at I-94 and Route 132, Gurnee. Hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and from 10:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. $64.99 general admission; $44.99 for kids under 48 inches tall. Call (847) 249-2133 or visit sixflags.com for more.
4. Savor the taste of summer.
Long Grove's Strawberry Fest features chocolate-dipped berries, strawberry doughnuts and a whole lot more. And food isn't the only draw: The fest also offers live entertainment and children's activities at Old McHenry and Robert Parker Coffin roads. Admission is $5. The fest runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. See visitlonggrove.com for more.
5. Enjoy horseplay.
Watch the pageantry of Tempel Lipizzans, specially bred horses that perform feats of agility set to music, in the first show of the 2014 season. It's at 6 p.m. today at Tempel Farms, 17000 W. Wadsworth Road, Old Mill Creek. $25-$30; $15-$20 kids ages 4 to 14. For more, call (847) 244-5330 or visit tempelfarms.com.
6. Rock out.
Tease your tresses and flash back to the 1980s when Bret Michaels of Poison, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Tom Keifer of Cinderella perform at the Hair Band Heavyweights show at 5 p.m. Sunday at Grand Victoria Casino's Festival Park, 250 Grove Ave., Elgin. Tickets start at $19 Visit grandvictoriacasino.com for more.