Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Lovers: What are you reading this Summer?

Summer time is fast approaching - and I, for one, am incredibly excited!! Although summer is not nearly as fun now that I am an adult without a summer break, the next few months will include fewer meetings, a few sets of visitors, plenty of outdoor time, 2-3 vacations and lots of pool time. (side note: my body is nowhere near "pool ready" so I have no idea why I am excited by pool season.....)

But one of my favorite things about summer is that life slows down.  People are in and out of town. There are fewer meetings. August Recess can lead to a slow work month. Even Sunday School is cancelled. So, I have time for sleeping in, outdoor movies, happy hours, hikes, trying new recipes, exploring the city AND of course, a little more reading! I tend to read a decent amount throughout the year - BUT the warmer months give me the perfect excuse to curl up with a cocktail and a lounge chair and dive into some fun summer reads (or when really hot, an excuse to whole up inside with a book, soda and the air on full blast!)

Last year, I compiled a summer reading list based on recommendations from others. I read several of the books on that list -- and a few other books that I discovered along the way. I had an over 50 percent success rate - read 9 on my list, but 7 remain unread.  I got distracted by life - and other books that weren't listed! Here is a follow up on what I read and did not read from last year's summer list.

Books off last year's list that I read: A Praying Life, Divergent (actually, I read the whole series!), The Fault in Our Stars, Someday Someday Maybe, What Alice Forgot, Unbroken, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Bread and Wine (followed by 2 other Shauna Niequist books later in the year), The Nesting Place

Books I did not read: One Thousand Gifts, Unglued,The Sweet Life in Paris, 11 Principles of  Reagan Conservative, I Am Mahala, The Right Thing, Natchez Burning

Memorial Day is this coming Monday -- unofficially kicking off the summer season, so I am starting to plan the books I want to read over the coming months. Some of last year's books might make the list again this year (in hopes that I read them!) But, I would love some additional suggestions!

I have two goals this summer with regards to reading: 1) Join the local library and 2) read 2/3's of the books on my list!

So, come on book lovers. I want all categories -- Christian books, Bestsellers, Thrillers, Political, fluffy chick lit! So give me all your suggestions!

What books have you read lately?
What books are your friends talking about?
What books made you laugh? think deeply? were pure fluff perfect for umbrella drinks and beach towels?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My First Time in Paris.....

Last week I shared how travel has been a great source of healing in my life over the years...but if I had to name one place that moved my heart in the biggest way, it would be Paris.

Paris was my first stop in my solo European backpacking trip. (Yes, almost 6 weeks dashing around Europe by myself. Some people dip their toes into foreign exploration with a week getaway, but I dove in head first!) The entire trip was a time of healing and a time to discover myself again....and that process began in Paris, a place I had spent years daydreaming about, reading about and longing to visit (thanks to the world's best french teacher).

Paris is a city you love or hate....I fall firmly in the "love" category.  And, honestly, although I can totally understand why Paris might not be everyone's #1 destination, I have a hard time comprehending why people hate this glimmering city of lights full of delicious sights and scents. It's such a large diverse city that there is something there for everyone!  But, I think the reason for "hate" is that Paris is too "common" for many experienced travelers. It's no longer "cool" to visit classic locations (which has partly led to my avoidance of London).  It's popular to go "off the beaten path" these days - to exotic locations, small unknown provincial towns, up and coming cities, etc. And, I totally understand that, I really do.  I, too, have visited some locations that aren't as well-known: Krakow, Poland; Colmar, France; Malawi; Zambia; Montserrat, Spain. It is thrilling to see areas that fewer have seen - and it gives you a chance to dive into culture in a more realistic, less touristy way by digging deep into daily beauty that is not perfectly packaged up for you.

But, just because you love seeing the less traveled places and fear the crowds at more popular destinations doesn't mean you should throw the bébé out with the bath water! Traditional European cities are often anything but boring! In fact, locations like Paris are classic because they stand the test of time. Paris is modern and chic but also full of old school charm. It is glamorous yet trendy, full of gourmet restaurants and cheap street food, a place to see an opera or cabaret, full of wealthy socialites and bohemian college students. It's history mixed with magic. Paris has so much character in each block that it's impossible to discover it all with one visit.

I first visited Paris when I was 23. I was jet-lagged, still recovering from law school exams and heartbroken-- and completely in awe.  One would think that a single woman travelling alone, recovering from a break up, would hate Paris and the "amour" it represents, but it was just the opposite -- I was in love with quaint buildings with iron balconies, the candles lit in centuries old churches, the bridges framing the Seine River, wondering aimlessly through galleries, quietly sitting in public parks, exploring side streets and different neighborhoods and of course, the crepes!! You see, before I ever fell in love with a man, I fell in love with Paris, with France, with the idea of international travel and cultures in general.  I have my amazing high school french teacher to thank for that obsession.(Excellent language teachers spread a love of the culture as well as a knowledge of the language) Stepping foot into this city of romance and love did not cause self-pity or sorrow or longing - instead, it was like finally meeting the pen pal lover you had been corresponding with for years. During my few days in Paris, I fell more in love with a city, a culture, a mindset and this love gave me a better view of myself and my circumstances.

With that first step onto a Parisian rue, I knew I would be a lifelong traveler (and I knew one of my favorite destinations would always be Paris because first loves remain with us forever).  I felt incredibly small in this big international world, yet strong and independent and open-minded. I was proud of myself for being the type of women who would dust her self off, sell her engagement ring and spend the profits venturing off on a journey by herself. I felt blessed for the opportunity to adventure solo and selfishly enjoy all the experiences I longed for. (Traveling alone means you don't have to balance itineraries and can spend your time soaking in the art, food, shopping and neighborhood strolls that interest you! --- says the woman whose permanent travel companion plans vacations around his favorite architects and their creations, so there's a little more compromising of itineraries now....)

Paris is certainly a city for lovers to experience, but let me assure you, it's also a wonderful place for those going it alone. Get lost exploring beautiful alleys, fill your belly with crepes and baguettes and fresh cheese (with no one there to judge you, I might add...), sit leisurely and read in a park without being hurried along, window shop (or actually shop), meander through famous museums and visit the sights you want to see!

Paris gave me back a piece of myself. Seeing the city of lights was something I always wanted to do -- and I did it, by myself. Checking Paris off my bucket list gave me a strange mix of pride and freedom and joy, all at once.

As I boarded a train to Barcelona and said my farewells to Paris, I remember praying, "The next time I come, let me come with someone special." Paris simultaneously helped renew my independence and foster hope. While wondering the streets of a romantic city, broken and bruised at love's expense, I could not help but remember the positive side of love.  Certainly it was worth the risk!

This September, I am returning with someone special.... Dave and I are making a week long trip to Paris. We both love traveling and experiencing cities and cultures together -- and although he has been to Europe twice, he has never been to France. This trip has been on our couple's bucket list -- going to Paris together - celebrating love and marriage and hope and survival (and architecture and food).

I can't wait! Holding hands as we stroll through quintessentially Parisian neighborhoods. Placing our lock on the famous Pont des Arts bridge. Sharing pastries and splitting bottles of wine and sitting in collective awe of the lights and beauty before us. Enjoying fine meals and taking a boat cruise and making too many visits to see the Eiffel tower all lit up. Stolen kisses and sweet words along the river. Taking the perfect Christmas card picture. (Okay, this is my view of our trip. If Dave were to tell you his vision for the trip, it would be "see lots of famous buildings and analyze every part of the building and discuss it -- with Katy"  What can I say, we view romance differently....)

But, I treasure the fact that my first visit to this incredible city was mine alone, without a husband, even without a friend alongside me. I found healing, hope and little pieces of myself -- and fell in love with a city - the history, lights, culture and yes, even the image and allure of what Paris represents. And now that I am so helplessly in love with Dave, I can't wait to share the city I love with the man I love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How Travel Heals Us

When I was 22, I had my heart broken in the biggest of ways. A cancelled wedding, altered life plans, embarrassment and mourning for what I thought I had and who I thought I loved. Without a doubt, the year that followed was the darkest, most painful year of my life (so far, but you know, still lots of life to live, ha). It turns out that starting law school in the midst of grief and heartache may not be the best timing as I constantly felt waited down with studies, anxiety and loneliness.

What got me through this painful year, in this order: God, family and friends AND planning a trip to Europe (and then traveling to Europe!).

Backpacking trip, 2007

Yes, you read that right: ranked right behind my Lord and closest community, TRAVEL (and the year of planning leading up to travel) played the greatest role in my healing.  I spent the summer after college graduation dealing with the split, prepping for law school - and beginning to plan for a backpacking journey the next summer (which meant checking out European travel books at the local library, binge watching Samantha Brown's "Passport to Europe" on the travel channel AND drafting multiple "possible" schedules for my upcoming adventure) Throughout that first year of law school, especially the spring before the trip, I would sometimes take study breaks or spend Sunday afternoons doing research for my voyage. The planning provided me with a chance to balance grieving and stress with hope and excitement for the future. And the trip, itself, provided, much needed rest and celebration after surviving such a difficult year.
Niagara Falls, 2014

My European backpacking adventure was not my only encouraging time of travel. Other trips have also provided respite, change, rest and healing throughout my life.  A Disney trip with friends to kick off the start of law school. A second trip to Europe to celebrate after a year that included the bar exam, job searching and my first 6 months of working. A daddy-daughter journey to Arizona to watch my Auburn Tigers overcome years of adversity and finally win another National Championship.  A New Years Eve in Dallas trip with single ladies to celebrate friendship and freedom! A honeymoon getaway to SF and Napa with Dave after his stressful last year of architecture, his job search and our impending move. A late first anniversary trip to Canada after a first long hard year in a new place -- me looking for a job, adjusting to new jobs and married life and living far away from friends and family.

Europe with my friend, 2010

San Fran Honeymoon, 2013

Redwoods on Honeymoon, 2013

2010 National Champ Game in Arizona

Disney trip, 2006

The world is huge, full of  places and people so different than me! The size and diversity can be terrifying at times, making me feel small and inconsequential - but, it's often times when allowing myself to feel so tiny in God's big world full of wonderful experiences that I feel rested and rejuvenated, close to the Lord and others and encouraged to rejoice in spite of mourning! If we are willing to let it, travel can be a healing experience.

Malawi trip, 2009

Napa, 2013

Here are some of the ways that travel heals us:

(1) Travel distracts us.  

Perhaps the most obvious way that travel provides rest and healing is the reality that venturing to other places allows us to get away from our environment for awhile. We all need an escape from daily stresses and worries - and sometimes a change of scenery can provide a break from our struggles - or at the very least, a beautiful location with free time to slowly work through them!

(2) Travel (and planning for travel) reminds us that there are still good things to look forward to in our future. 

That summer after college, I needed something wonderful to look forward to, something good that I could daydream about and anticipate. Planning that adventure pointed my eyes forward and reminded me that good exciting things remained in my future. I came back from that trip, still limping, but with a little more confidence that my future still held many wonderful experiences, people and places.

(3) Travel gives us reason to celebrate!

Vacations give us an excuse to celebrate and live the good life: an extra glass of wine, ice cream at 3 pm just because, sleeping in, splurging on a new dress, a fancy dinner out with your spouse or best friend. Sure, splurging too much could be a bad thing, but a little indulgence can remind us that life is not all battles and schedules and work and diets and heartache. Occasionally when life has been hard or busy or stressful, what we need may be a weekend getaway with margaritas, a good book, rich desserts and lots of laughter. Travel reminds us that we have blessings and reasons to celebrate!

(4) Travel often gives us free time to think, pray, recover. 

Not all trips provide alone time. I recognize that some trips are romantic in nature or fun girls getaways. But, often, trips provide time to pray and wrestle through issues - whether it be during train rides across European countryside or a beach walk in Florida. Sometimes, my biggest lessons were learned and embraced while away from my home.  A change of scenery and schedule helped forge the way for a change of heart.

(5) Travel also gives us a chance to reconnect and enjoy fellowship. 

Sometimes, travel provides a chance of healing and recovery for groups of people - thus, the idea for family and marriage retreats!  Dave and I loved being able to get away to Canada last September and enjoying each other's company without our normal everyday distractions.  After surviving our first year of marriage and some unexpected stresses, it felt like a chance to celebrate, reconnect and escape. Girls getaways during my 20's often returned me home feeling loved and not alone. Sometimes we need to feel like we are a part of a team with people in our corner, cheering us on. Escaping to the beach with your girlfriends or New York with your husband can provide community and fellowship for tired lonely souls.

(6) Sometimes, travel can open our eyes to other's pain.

Travelling to places internationally and domestically - whether for pleasure or volunteer work - can open our eyes to pain and struggles across the world.  Seeing poverty and devastation should remind us of our blessings and motivate our hearts to serve in the same way Christ served us. Nothing leads to healing more than gratitude, and travel often opens our eyes to all we have received.

(7) Travel reminds us how small we are and how big God is.

When seeing the natural beauty of an ocean sunset or the historical loveliness of centuries-old cities, I can't help but feel awed (and slightly scared) by how tiny I am in this world. But, while praying in a monastery in Spain or wondering the busy streets of Manhattan or staring into the emerald shores of the Florida gulf, I realize that (1) I am not the first person to face whatever problems I currently face (whether it be balancing schedules or mourning a death or facing a breakup) and (2) I serve a God who is master of all these places.  We need to see the world and realize how inconsequential we might seem, to truly realize how powerful the One we serve is - that He cares about all the people in all these places, including us.  He commands the 7 seas and watches over the city that never sleeps and was the same God in ancient Rome as he is in 2015. He rules the whole world and all of time, yet He still sees and cares for me, a small town Mississippi girl, living in DC in the 21st century.  While travelling by train through European countrysides, still brokenhearted, that's what hit me the most: my tiny heart with it's worries, joy, stories, aches and pains mattered....and God saw and loved that heart, whether in Oxford, Mississippi or in Venice, Italy.

Safari with my sister, 2009

Dancing in FAO Schwarz, NYC, 2006

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, NYC, 2014

Travel heals us. It gives us a chance to escape and reconnect with God, others and self.  It opens our eyes and reminds us of our blessings. It challenges us and encourages us and reminds us that life is worth celebrating.  Dave and I both agreed, early in marriage, that travel was a necessity for us - and that it was worth cutting money in other ways to ensure we could see the world. Last year, we went to the Smokies with his family and Canada on our own. This year, we venture to Florida for my family vacation and then Paris and Normandy for our own little getaway. And, just like the past, travel and the anticipation of travel help me walk through the hard times, mundane daily routine, and any disappointments life throws my way...because come June and September, I have the chance to celebrate and to enjoy beauty and fellowship and an escape from the norm. The truth is, every year will have its rough spots -- so each year, we will likely need an escape from some trial - whether to a nearby town or a foreign country - to reconnect, celebrate and heal.