The "to-do's" that inspire me (plus two great summer reads!)

I sit at my desk by the window. I look up, and I see the stack of books and the camera sitting on top—my colorful tower of lofty summertime goals.

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There's something about the beginning of summer that prompts me to create this long, ambitious lists of projects: read lots of books, take more photos, write, declutter the house, plant flowers and herbs (remember to water flowers and herbs), frame family photos and kids' artwork (remember to hang family photos and artwork). 

Summertime inspires my creativity, and the projects on my list don't feel like work. But since it's already July, it's time to shape these goals into something more realistic. These "to-do's" won't get crossed off and discarded—they feel too important and necessary for that—but they definitely won't all get accomplished by summer's end. I'm trying to retrain my mind to stop the panic-like thinking... time is running out. Living like that creates anxiety and makes me counterproductive. 

Slow down. One thing at a time. 

***

I decided to start here:

Earlier this summer, a book arrived in the mail. Mary Alice Monroe's publisher sent me a copy of The Summer Girls, which is part one of a Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. The story is set on Sullivan's Island, one of my favorite beaches and located just a half hour from my house in Charleston. The novel begins as three sisters return to their family beach house to celebrate their grandmother's 80th birthday... a party that ends up falling apart when old, dark secrets come flooding out. 

But, as the salt air and the sea work their magical powers, the sisters discover a chance for healing and new beginnings. Even though it's fiction, I believe in this magic because the Lowcountry is my home. And I'm grateful for authors like Mary Alice Monroe who capture its essence so beautifully. 

The Summer Girls also includes an excerpt of part two in the trilogy, The Summer Wind, which was just released last month. Will you join me in finding out what happens next? You can grab your copies by visiting Mary Alice's Monroe's website.

Meet Mary Alice Monroe: 

If you live in the Charleston area or are visiting this week, coming up this Friday, July 11 at Noon Blue Bicycle Books is holding an Author's Luncheon to celebrate the release of The Summer Wind. Tickets are $35 and include lunch, author talk, and a signed copy of the book. To purchase tickets, click here, or call the store at 843.277.2666.

Then, on Sunday, July 13 at 2:00 p.m. Mary Alice will also be signing books during a special event at The Lowcountry Artists Gallery (148 E. Bay Street, Charleston). 

I was given a free copy of The Summer Girls but was not paid to write about The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. My opinions are my own, and as a general rule, I only share news about and promote the people + places + things that I love.

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"No day but today"

A few months ago, I learned about 17-year-old Hannah Warren. In April, Hannah found a lump on her back which was diagnosed as a Ewing sarcoma. Facing this new reality—which she was told included nine months of chemotherapy and surgery to remove lump—Hannah started a blog. In her first post she wrote:

"A long time ago I decided that if given the option to do something or stay home, I would do that thing. I always chose the uncertain over the comfortable. I did so because I live by the mentality that no moment is guaranteed. I am glad that I live this way: I have had more fun than I deserve to have, and I have enough amazing memories to span three people. Now, facing this challenge, I am not regretful. There are no “if only's..." No day but today."

I reached out to Hannah and her mom for permission to share this part of her story, and they graciously agreed. Hannah's words don't need analysis. For me, they say everything. 

I wonder if her words are what sparked my desire to live with intention? Maybe that, and the fact that this is the year my husband, my friends and I turn 40. Forty feels neither young nor old, but it feels important. Forty makes a statement. 

No day but today. 

I spend a lot of time wandering the internet. On my laptop, on my phone. Scrolling, "liking", sharing, status updating, and clicking. If I'm not careful, it can become a mindless sort of activity, a source of distraction rather than connection. 

Hannah's words remind me why I participate in this virtual world... my true intention. I'm seeking words of inspiration, sermons from everyday people. My eyes roam and lock on the snapshots and scenes of others, living and embracing their lives. It reminds me to log off and do the same. 

No day but today. 

***

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Let yourself linger. Let yourself get attached.

The other day, the kids and I made a special trip to the optometrist's office to get Dillon's glasses fixed. Apparently, Blake had hit Dillon in the face and bent them. The last time we got Dillon's glasses fixed, it was because Cate pulled them off and broke the arm. And another time, it was because Dillon tripped on the playground, mangling the frames when he kissed the dirt.  

We've walked through the doors of this same optical shop many times over the years, and the staff has reshaped Dillon's glasses over and over, until they inevitably break and it's time to get a new pair. 

On this particular day, Dillon walked in first, followed by Blake, followed by me with Cate on my hip. The boys went straight to the candy dish and grabbed a handful of peppermints, like they always do.

As we made our entrance, one of the ladies said, "Everybody's getting big!" 

I thought back to the very first time we came in. Dillon was two years old—the age that Cate is now. Dillon tried on so many glasses that day, and I snapped photos and texted them to him to his dad for a second opinion. 

These days, Dillon picks out his glasses himself. He's eight now. He knows his style. He knows what he likes. 

And the office staff has seen our family grow—from one child, to two, to three. And on this day the words "Everybody's getting big" made an impact on me. They were still ringing in my ears after the glasses had been repaired and we walked back out the door. 

Everybody's getting big. 

I know now, more clearly than I've ever known, how fast it goes. But I can't spend my days gazing into my children's eyes in an attempt to slow it down. First, that would bore me to tears, and second, they don't stop moving long enough for that to ever happen.

There are no "tricks" to overcoming this fast moving reality. So, I'm just working to acknowledge it and accept it.

I've felt a shift lately. A desire to live with more... more... what's the word? 

Intention. 

Maybe that's it. It's the best word I can come up with. 

***

It's officially summertime at our house. 

A few weeks ago, Blake graduated from preschool. During the ceremony the director noted how this time of year is bittersweet. It's wonderful because these young, amazing children are now ready for kindergarten, but it's also sad because the teachers get attached to our kids, and they have to say goodbye.

And it occurred to me: I often consider attachment a negative thing. Don't get too attached, I tell myself.

But you know what? Screw that. I want to get attached. I want to live and love so fully and so deeply that it hurts to let go, even when I have to, even when it's time. 

***

Field day tug-of-war, as awesome as I remember.

Field day tug-of-war, as awesome as I remember.

On Dillon's last day of second grade, the class party ended and students lined up at the door. The bell rang and they rushed out, hugging the teacher as they left.

But my son and I didn't leave right away. We lingered. We stayed in the classroom, helping the teacher clean up. We swept up the trash. Wiped down the desks. Then, another classmate returned with her grandfather. She started helping too. 

Later this month, this teacher will move to another state. Understanding that we won't see her in the hallways next year, we stretched out the goodbye for as long as we could.

When Dillon and I finally walked out of the school and through the almost empty parking lot, I could feel the separation growing between the school year, and summertime. As we moved through the space, the transition felt physical.

Maybe this is what living with intention looks like. Maybe this is how it feels. 

***

New in a Year in Pictures: When you've been married for 14 years, it's time to reflect.

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