Beginning the summer of No

Don’t you hate it when a blogger writes a post that, for one reason or another, strikes a chord with you, and you comment, and lots and lots of other people comment, and she even comments back, and it seems like the possibility of ongoing discussion should happen, but instead the blogger just disappears, for like, two weeks? I hate that. I mean, I REALLY hate that.

So firstly, my apologies.  I have a feeling we will be revisiting the previous conversation many times over the next few years.

Secondly, yay! Today begins what S. and I have no better name for and thus call The Summer of No. The last three months have been a whirlwind – we haven’t had a single normal weekend. Split fairly evenly between travel for work and pleasure, and hosting house guests, much of the time has been filled with those we love, quality time with some of our favorite people, but on top our work commitments it’s also been exhausting. We’ve had work retreats and family surgeries to attend, friends visiting and us visiting friends. This past weekend, S. attended his sister’s college graduation while I stayed home because I had a large work project that came to an end on Saturday afternoon. For several weeks, I considered the conclusion of this work project the beginning of my summer, since I didn’t have any other particular plans.

It’s easy to fill summer up, I think. Graduations begin early and segue into weddings, vacation plans, the bbqs friends plan months in advance to make sure everyone they love can attend, family reunion weekends discussed – you need to work your own vacation time around that of your co-workers, and so before you know it summer is no longer about the long, golden light that filters through the trees as you sit on your porch swing reading a book with a glass of lemonade and instead about how you are possibly going to your co-worker’s kid’s graduation the same day your second cousin once removed is getting married.

And so, S. and I have declared, in our house, it will be the summer of No. Beyond our traditional trip up to the cabin for a week, we aren’t committing to plans much in advance. An invitation from an old fraternity brother of S.’s lingers on our mail table – we will RSVP no. I’ve had thoughts of trying to get my side of the family of the family together this summer, but perhaps that can wait until fall, this time.

Part of our declaration stems from necessity – we moved into a century-old house in December and haven’t had a moment to properly clean it, let alone begin the renovations it so desperately needs. A house as old as ours, well, let’s just say I never realized how much dirt a house could hold. From the forty-year old carpeting to the aging curtains to the window sills, our house seems to be where dirt came to breed and then die. The other day, as S. was shaking out our comforter and I was putting fresh pillow cases on the pillows, S. looked around the master bedroom and said “I never thought our standards would fall this far.” This wasn’t a comment so much on our housekeeping skills, although those have certainly faltered in the last ten weeks, as much as it was a comment on the filth accumulated over fifty years that apparently didn’t bother the previous owners. Much of this summer, for me, will be a war on dirt – pulling up old carpeting, replacing curtains, scrubbing tile. But in order to be committed to renovating, one needs to be around, to be present in her home and in her city. Yes, there will be pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

Part of our decision, though, is decidedly selfish. The incomparable bloglily made the excellent point in my last post that if I truly love yoga and cooking and writing then I should make room for those activities and never stop. I thought long and hard about what she said (truly, I thought long and hard about what you all said!) and decided that yes, I do love those things, and yes, I deserve time for them. What’s more, though, I love time to move through, time to think and daydream. I love staying up late reading on summer evenings, a baseball game on the radio in the background. I have a porch swing I want to spend quality time with, a novel I want to both finish and revise. To make room for house-keeping and daydreams, I’ve declared the summer of No.

Yesterday was the first day of my declaration, and already I made room for a lovely surprise – I accompanied Skylar to the backyard mid-morning to toss around the football, his favorite toy of late, to find my neighbors Fred and Brian hosting a soiree in their backyard in celebration of the Pittsburgh marathon. They were making mojitos with the mint that grows from their yard and preparing to watch the runners pass our houses. They asked me to join the party and at first I deferred –  I mean, who needs to drink mid-morning on a Sunday? And then I thought, well, what the hell? And so, the first day of my summer of No, I found myself saying yes, to a small glass of sangria, talking with my neighbors and their friends about the possibility of summer, of potential parties and the sharing of backyard plants, and realized that by saying no to acting as a volunteer for the very marathon passing our house, I had opened up a world of yes.

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13 Responses to Beginning the summer of No

  1. Fabulous! I think what saying no opens you up to is the spontaneous possibilities of yes. Sometimes the social things that just happen spontaneously instead of being rigorously planned months in advance end up being the most fun.

    I wish you a wonderful summer of cleaning, cooking, yoga, writing and playing in the garden with Skylar. Have fun!

  2. litlove says:

    Sounds like the best decision ever – no-saying is so spacious!

  3. Amanda says:

    What a great idea! Sounds wonderful!

  4. Make Tea Not War says:

    Oh you poor thing having to rip up carpets. We just finished phase 2 of of our flooring project and although our new floors make me happy I can’t say I loved the process.

    Cleaning and work around the house are tough ones for me. A lot of time management books will tell you to compromise on your house in order to spend time with your family, and there is some truth in that, but it really depresses me living in grotty surroundings. I must admit I’ve been saying no to everlasting lunches with my parents and in-laws etc because the weekends are short and truthfully having my house in a non depressing state adds more to the sum of my happiness than constant obligatory social functions with extended family. But I do feel guilty that I prefer to spend my time vacuuming than, for example, being round at my in-laws house, yet again, to meet great aunt Daisy who is visiting from Christchurch.

    That wasn’t very positive, was it? So I’ll just finish by saying good for you. No is a very powerful word and I think creating a space for unexpected new experiences that take you out of the same old routines and obligations and social circles is essential to an interesting fulfilling life.

  5. Cam says:

    Have a great summer full of the things you love and loving giving into the spontaneous Yes when appropriate. As long as you leave space for the things you love and those you love, you’ll enjoy those spur-of-the-moment things that can be rejuvenating without the pressure of the over-scheduled.

  6. lvmg (Lizzy) says:

    I loved this post. It created lovely images in my mind.

    I too look forward to summer. I’m going to spend it at home in America, and I’m already savoring it.

    Here’s to good food, good reads and good times!

  7. Elaine says:

    You actually considered saying “No” to mojitos and sangria? Crazy talk, Honey. You really DO need some chill time.

  8. gumbomum says:

    Excellent plan!!! Just say NO!

  9. Andi says:

    Best post EVER! Indeed I will be doing a good bit of “no” myself. With a new family of four (living with boyfriend, his son, and his mother), I have to steamroll some time for myself these days and stick to the things I love (blogging, library trips, workout time, etc.).

  10. auntjone says:

    @Make Tea Not War- “grotty surroundings” is my new favorite phrase! I’m starting to feel the same way. I’m torn between playing with the baby and sorting the moutain of papers that are threatening to avalanche him…

    I’m practicing here:

    No, I don’t want to go to your parents’ house for dinner for the 3rd weekend in a row.

    No, I don’t want to work that banquet.

    No, I don’t want to help plan the class reunion (oh wait, already did that one. How liberating!)

    Here’s me saying no without saying no:
    I’ll have to pass.
    Oooh, I’m already booked up that weekend, sorry.
    I think I’m coming down with something (followed by a quiet cough and a moan).

    Thanks Courtney. You’ve inspired me to say no.

  11. Emily Barton says:

    When you reach the end of the summer and have learned how to say “no,” will you please write a primer for the rest of us?

  12. Courtney says:

    Charlotte – you put it so beautifully – the spontaneous possibility of saying yes – that’s exactly it!
    Litlove – another great description – spacious. Let’s hope it turns out that way!
    Amanda – thanks!
    Ms. Make Tea – I think environment – especially as we grow older – is incredibly important to our sense of well-being. I know this old, old house has definitely been negatively effecting mine which is why it has to be a priority. Maybe next summer will be the summer of yes because my house will be under control!
    Cam – exactly. There is nothing I hate worse than feeling overscheduled, although oddly I liked it in high school – LOVED looking at a calendar and seeing how busy it was. Age is weird.
    Lizzy – safe travels back here! I look forward to reading about your American summer!
    Gumbo – THANK YOU!
    Andi – LOL – I don’t think it’s the best post ever but I am glad it struck a chord with you! One thing I have to do is learn how to properly use my ipod…
    Aunt Jone – I like saying I’m already booked! That’s a good one!
    Emily – I will try! If I remember correctly the summers are crazy for you – am I correct in that?

  13. Vannevar says:

    Excellent post.

    No is an essential answer; in fact, it should qualify as a complete sentence. We’re conditioned not to say “No”, but saying No is the only thing that lets you maintain integrity, identity, priorities (in some order). Embrace the No!

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