Lazy Days: Taking Back My Summer

“We have to be reminded that we deserve a break, that we deserve true pleasure.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I was feeling ravenous as I dove into the sushi roll the server had just set before me, my friend L sitting across the table from me telling me about her recent summer vacation to New York. Her photos on Instragram had been enviable. As expected, L in turn asked me about my own summer so far, and I drew a blank. My summer has not been eventful but instead quite the opposite.

As I stumbled over my words in explanation, L responded, “Don’t feel bad about not doing something. Whatever it is that you decide to do or not do, enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?” Her comment was absolutely true, but I was confused. What prompted her to say this? I realized then that I had been apologizing. My tone had

conveyed to L that I regretted or was embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t have any exciting summer stories to share.

But in truth, I’m not embarrassed or regretful at all.

For the first time in a long time, I’ve simply been hanging out and striving to achieve nothing. In my conversation with L, I expected to be negatively judged and chastised for that. I should have known my friend would never treat me that way, but I was responding to a social construct. I felt like I was supposed to feel bad about my recent lack of ambition, so I was behaving accordingly, even though I don’t actually feel bad about it.

At the start of the summer, I vowed to embrace the spirit of the season. Every year I find myself feeling as if summer passed me by without me taking any real time to enjoy it. I decided to change that this year and even made a list of all the “summer things” I was going to do. Then I remembered my favorite things about summer as a kid – free time, no obligations, and long easy days that seemed to last forever.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of always having to be doing something, going somewhere, engaging in something interesting or exciting enough to be social media worthy.   We have a “go go go “ mentality and push ourselves to constantly do more. Sometimes it’s enough to simply go with the flow and try to be more present in the moment.

The summer days of my youth were long and lazy and indulgent. In my decision to embrace the summer this year, I wanted to slow down and be more present during these long, blazing days. Granted, I work and have responsibilities to my family; there’s no shirking those, but rather than making ambitious plans and traveling, I chose a different version of summer indulgence.

And I am unapologetic for that. I wanted my summertime back and I got it. My free time has mostly consisted of floating around in the pool, daydreaming; eating what I like, including dessert multiple times a week; reading for hours at a time; sleeping in; taking a mental health day off work; binge watching Netflix and movies without an ounce of guilt.

Sounds like a pretty amazing summer, right? It has been.

Photo via Visual hunt

Summer Love + 10 Books with Summer Settings

Summer is the season of adventure. It’s the season love, friendship, travel, and new experiences. The sun shines bright and the heat warms our skin making us feel young and free and happy. Summer is when we aim to spend more time outside.

I have an abundance of amazing memories from my summers past – going out dancing, traveling through Europe, flying across country to see friends, marrying my favorite person in the world, lounging by the pool and reading for hours on end.

Summer is the season of reading. We seem to have extra time to devote to our books whether we find ourselves needing something to do on a flight or relaxing on the beach after a dip in the ocean. Books become our summer companions, and we turn to them for some of our adventures.

Here are some great reads to accompany your summer fun. They all start or take place during the summer season as well!

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Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

This story takes place in San Francisco during the summer heat wave of 1876. Blanche is a burlesque dancer distraught by the sudden murder of her friend Jenny. Blanche will stop at nothing to figure out the culprit and bring him to justice. Despite the plot line, this is not a fast-paced thriller. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels amidst vivid and through details that bring the setting and the characters of the story to life. The author even incorporates songs from the time into the book, which is quite cool and impressive in my opinion.

 

 

Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel feels average compared to her wild, beautiful, college roommate Ev. When Ev invites her to spend the summer together at her family’s estate, Mabel is ecstatic. She falls fast in love with the place and lifestyle, feeling like she finally belongs and is living the life she has always wanted. But there are dark secrets buried within this family, and Mabel is faced with a dilemma as she begins to uncover them. The novel is much darker than I anticipated but made me wish I summered in Vermont even more.

 

 

SummerBeforeWarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

After the death of her father, Beatrice takes a job as a Latin teacher in a small Sussex town. The story starts in the summer when Beatrice arrives and unfolds as she forms friendships with Agatha, the patron the supported her hiring, and her charismatic nephews. This book has a slow and steady pace that makes it easy to form attachments to the characters. It explores small town gossip, nontraditional relationship, social class, and gender roles during the time. When WWI begins, the lives of those in the small town will never be the same. I cried hard at the end.

 

 

TheGirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

It’s summer in the late 1960’s, and a lonely 14-year old girl becomes mesmerized by an older girl and her free lifestyle that turns out to be a dangerous path in disguise. The cult and thriller aspects of this book are captivating, but what makes this book worth reading is the author’s exploration of the complex web of both female and male relationships and early interactions that shape who we are and who we become. It is dark and candid interpretation of the female coming-of-age experience that I found insightful.

 

 

EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom over the summer to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

 

LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. She returns the following summer to piece together the puzzle of what happened. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The negative ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

 

WhistlingGraveyardWhistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

It’s summertime in Mississippi 1963. When 9-year old Starla gets in trouble for attending the July 4th festival against her grandmother’s wishes, Starla runs away, aiming for Nashville, the city where her music star mother lives. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman suspiciously traveling with a white baby. Together they find themselves facing a series of incredible dangers. This is another book that took a darker and more violent turn than I anticipated, but the resolution brings it all full circle for a satisfying read.

 

 

ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Before becoming silent film star, Louise Brooks traveled from her home in Kansas to set to NY to attend prestigious dance school. She was 15 at the time and thus forced to travel with chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who had personal reasons of her own for taking the job and making the 5-week trip. This work of historical fiction is an insightful reflection of the changing culture and values of the time. It was an intriguing read and left me wishing I could experience 1920s New York for myself. I think there is a plan for a feature film in the works!

 

 

InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

This novel explores the complexity of friendship over time as lives shift and change, often leading people in directions they question or even regret. Six friends forge deep bonds when they first meet at art camp over the summer. While they are all clearly talented, some of them pursue successful artistic careers while others follow different paths. While the main character Jules is unlikable in my opinion, she provides a candid representation of envy, a prominent concept in this character-driven book, to which most of us can relate.

 

 

RainLighteningThe Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

It’s summertime in small town Kansas when Jody learns that the man convicted of killing her father on the same night her mom disappeared, is getting out of prison and is getting a new trial, presided over by the convict’s son. New details come to light about the events of the horrible night that Jody lost both of her parents and her family will never be the same. This is a quick-paced suspenseful novel that was a fun and easy read. This is a great one to take with you on a road trip or flight!

 

 

Happy summer and happy reading!

Summer in the Land of Lakes

Before the plane even landed, I was intrigued. As we slowly descended into MSP airport, I stared out the tiny window at the landscape below scattered with blue bodies of water surrounded by charming houses and lush greenery. I knew almost nothing about Minneapolis/St. Paul before my visit, but by the time I left, the city had won me over whole-heartedly.

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My first introduction to the culture of the Twin Cities was via one of my favorite things – food! My friend D took me to a local dive called Matt’s, which is the home of the Juicy Lucy. It is a hamburger infused with cheese that melts as the burger cooks. An endless flow of warm gooey cheese enhances every bite from the first to the last.  It was intensely satisfying. Paired with a local beer, I was in food heaven.IMG_8356

A few other foodie favorites from my twin cities experience included a flaky lobster pot pie, organic breakfast quesadillas, single-source coffee, a salted caramel rice krispie treat the size of my face, and a pint of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy beer on tap.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is a broad metropolitan area, but it only takes about 20 minutes to get anywhere, which makes me envious considering my own sprawling metropolis. Pockets of urban areas are interspersed with neighborhoods full of “city homes.” Many are Victorian, Bungalow, and Prairie Square styles dripping with character and unique design dating back to the first half of the 1900s. The homes by the lakes are even more charming. As my friends and I wandered the neighborhoods by Harriett Lake, I daydreamed about living there. In the same neighborhood, be still my heart, I came across a little free library.

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Walking the streets of downtown and the urban pockets of the city, the unique identity of the city is clearly visible. Nature and architecture exist cohesively among flour factories, waterfalls, hike and bike trails, and bridges. The music scene is vast. Murals pay homage Prince and his once strong presence in his hometown, where he used to frequently perform for free. Show-goers clad in black attend the free Avenged Sevenfold rock concert downtown. Families gather together in the park for a free contemporary music concert by the lake.

There are unique eateries and shops all over the city. My friend D and I had the nerdy pleasure of visiting a specialty bookstore called Once Upon a Crime. I indulged in the
purchase of two mystery novels, both written and signed by Minnesota authors.
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Little Girl Gone unravels the mystery of a missing baby and takes place in the Twin Cities during the deepest part of winter. The weather, which is iconic in the Minnesota, plays a major roll in both the imagery and plot of the book. It is a fast-paced fun read.

 

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Windigo Island unravels the mystery of a missing teenage girl. It takes place in a more rural northern part of Minnesota but uniquely incorporates the culture and folklore of Native Americans in the region. It is full of interesting characters both gritty and wise.

One of my absolute favorite things about Minneapolis though was the fairy trees. Throughout the city including in neighborhoods and along the lakes, at the base of some trees sit tiny painted doors. Locals indulge the idea that fairies live in the trees.  They make doors for the fairy houses and kids often leave gifts and ornaments for the fairies at the bases of the trees. In a world where we can all use a little more magic and enchantment in our lives, these fairy trees made my heart shimmer.

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No trip to Minneapolis is complete without visiting the Mall of America. My friends and I spent a half-day wandering the endless shops and then indulging in thrill rides at the indoor amusement park. We anxiously waited in line for the Sponge Bob ride, and at the height of the first drop, we happily screamed at the exact same time and laughed all the way to end.

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The summers in Minnesota are misleadingly beautiful. The sun and warm breeze cast a spell on you, and you quickly forget the other side of the season in which wind chills create a real threat of frostbite and snow threatens to hold you hostage wherever you are.

Minneapolis/St. Paul definitely cast its spell of enchantment on me, and I cannot wait to go back.