July was the slower season I needed, like a deep breath for my soul. I told a friend the other day my insides are calmer than they’ve been in a long time. We didn’t travel, we hosted some family and friends, and I read a lot of books.
I love our small-town Independence Day celebration that included watching the traditional parade in the heat, grilling and swimming with other Taylors here at our house, and keeping the kids up way past their bedtimes for the fireworks.
I may have mentioned my sister and her family only live four hours away now (after having lived in New Zealand, Dallas, and Buffalo), so I was excited they came for another visit. It was the second of the summer and we’re making plans to visit them this fall. I love being grown-up sisters and watching our kids play together.
Okay, and actually, I did travel once. I spent one time in Winchester, Kentucky, celebrating my dear friend Sarah’s 40th birthday. It was a quick but soul-filling trip for me with best friend Jaclyn. I also got to see my longtime friend Katie. Being around a table with them is my favorite thing – and to be with all three of them at the same time is a gift.
And, truly, the highlight was being at home soaking in our #88daysofsummer. In addition to swimming, we’ve been eating many meals on the porch and taking rides through our woods, part of which a company has been logging pine trees. It’s all totally fascinating and such a neat process to watch from a distance.
“Unpack Your Heart” by Phillip Phillips – I often turn on Needtobreathe radio on Pandora when we are outside on the porch or by the pool. I was so happy to hear this song. Of course, I added it to my “sorrow & hope” playlist I’ve
The Couch podcast – I got to chat (again) with my friend Mary Carver about a short-lived TV show that makes me so nostalgic. Come join us on her couch and find out how I feel about Jordan Catalano.
Google Calendar – A couple of months ago I set aside my old-fashioned paper planner, and I don’t have any regrets. Greg and I have shared Google Calendar for years now, and that’s definitely improved our communication. But I’ve recently started using the reminders for my to-do list and putting all my things on our color-coded calendar. I still find myself writing myself Post-It Notes of which errands I need to run on a given day or things I want to remember next time I sit down at the computer. But I feel like this is a simpler process. (I shared more about my going digital in Facebook and Instagram posts. I loved hearing about how others organize their lives too.)
From the Bookshelf
“The Stormchasers” by Jenna Blum – I learned of this author because I read her World War II book “Those Who Save Us,” which was excellent. This book was excellent too, but this story was set in modern times and dealt with different issues that affect relationships. This book touches on family relationships that are complicated when one twin has a mental illness and the other doesn’t understand it like she thinks she does. I read it in two days, mostly by the pool.
“We Were the Lucky Ones” – I packed this book around with me to the lake, beside the pool, in my purse in case I have a few spare minutes, and next to my bed. I used to swear I didn’t like historical fiction, and now I’ve lost count of how many (mostly World War II novels, as this one is) I’ve read. I stayed up way past my bedtime last night because I needed to know how this family’s story ended. This one sure ranks up high on the list. It’s heavy and hard but beautiful and brave.
“High Water” by Lynn Hightower – I read this book in a weekend. It was heartbreaking and heartfilling. It’s labeled as a mystery, and I was surprised a couple of times, but the writing is beautiful and true. This story is heavy but I didn’t want to put this book down.
“How to Walk Away” by Katherine Center – I spent two days by the pool reading this book. I’d kind of been looking for a happy book, but, truthfully, I’m drawn to stories with suspense, secrets, and struggles. It’s weird, really, because there’s been too much of that in real life and my reading life lately. But I thought maybe this cover with the flowers meant happy was coming for these characters. I was mostly right. I mean, they did get happy, but they had to walk through pain and heartache to get there. They had to face their pasts and be willing to step forward. They had to trust and hope and live. And then I remembered that’s true in real life too.
“I would never tell you that the life you wanted couldn’t have been exactly as great as you planned. But you have to love the life you have. You have to find inspiration in the struggle, and pull joy out of the hardship. That’s what we try to do — counterbalance the suffering with laughter, fizzy blankets, hugs, sing-a-longs, sunny-day picnics, chocolate chip cookies, and wildflowers. Because that’s all we can do: carry the sorrow when we have to, and absolutely savor the joy when we can. Life is always, always both.” Well written, Katherine Center. I mean that paragraph and the whole novel that made me teary and make me smile. Just like real life.
“Happiness for Beginners” by Katherine Center – Again, I read this one in two days, mostly by the pool. And yet again I found myself completely invested in the story and characters while also wanting to jot down some quotes. The way the plot is woven around nuggets of truth is masterful.
Here’s one of the quotes I want to remember: “But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one. After all, life will hand each of us our fair share of despair and loss and suffering — and then some. That’s certain. But just as certain: It will also give us slices of chocolate cake, and sunny-seventy-two-degree days, and breezes that rustle the trees. Good things are easy to overlook, but that doesn’t make them any less there. A forgotten song will come on the radio. A stranger will help you change a flat. A lady walking by will love your red scarify. A mistake will turn out to be a blessing. An old friend will forgive you. A new friend will make you laugh.”
This book left me thankful that happiness can be found despite circumstances, aware of why it’s important in living out my own story, and ready to read more Katherine Center books. It did not leave me wanting to go on a survival hike, but that was a great setting for this story.
“Slammed” and “Point of Retreat” by Colleen Hoover – I picked up “Slammed” when I was at the library because I loved another book by this author (“It Ends With Us”). Then I got totally sucked in and went to the library to get the sequel so I could have it when I finished. I read most of “Slammed” in one day, but I was glad to have a little left to carry over to the next day. And then I read “Point of Retreat” in another day, almost entirely while floating in the pool one afternoon when my kids decided they needed a pool break and surprisingly didn’t need me for a few hours either. Colleen Hoover writes stories with all the emotions I can relate to, even if my circumstances look different. And I’d say that’s a successful storyteller.
“Back Roads to Belonging: Unexpected Paths to Your Places and Your People” by Kristen Strong – This non-fiction book was right for me this summer. I’ve quoted in on Instagram multiple times with peeks into my real life. (Here. Here. And here.) Kristen is such a wise guide with her words and I’m looking forward to sharing more in an official review soon.
If you need more book recommendations, I shared a list of the books I’ve read so far this year. Plus I keep a list of recommended reads on Amazon.
On the Screen
“Suits” – I realized there was a whole season of this show I hadn’t seen on Amazon Prime, so I’ve been catching up with Harvey Specter and company. Meanwhile, the ninth and last season is currently accumulating on my DVR. There’s also a spin-off show called “Pearson” I’m recording.
How was your July?