photo by Jessica Ruscello

In Praise of the Low-Key Summer

Savala Nolan
5 min readJun 5, 2023

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My fomo peaks this time of year, as the days get long and school lets out. I’ve always felt pressure to live my life during June, July and August like a Country Time Lemonade commercial, despite the fact that I don’t live in the country or have a lemon tree or particularly like jumping into water the bottom of which I can’t see, and despite the fact that I grouse at such naked corporate appeals to our communal nostalgia, and despite the fact that the little nitpicky fact-finder in my brain knows that summer, like every other season, has historically been a time of hard work for most people on the planet, not sepia-toned leisure. (The nitpicky fact-finder was pretty bummed to learn that the story about summer vacation being so kids could farm isn’t quite true…)

Being a parent has intensified the pressure of summer fomo — now I’m responsible not only for my own perfect summer, but my kid’s?

Well, no more. Just as I embrace the idea of the “good enough” mother, I am embracing the idea of the “good enough” summer. Rather than make a list of dozens of activities, trips, recipes, and games I have to organize, purchase or make, and execute so that my family can have a “good” summer, I’m slowing it way, way down… Here, if you care to see, is my summer-goals list of three.

1. Bake a cake about once a week. Before you say too ambitious!, note that the word “about” is doing a lot of work and that sentence. And these are single-layer cakes, and frosting is optional if not discouraged, and I genuinely like baking, and I really like having a cake under a clear glass cloche on the counter that my daughter or I can cut a slice from whenever we fancy. Just passing a cake in the kitchen gives me a flicker of the same excitement as knowing you have a fun trip on the horizon. If I’ve learned anything in these forty-odd years of life it’s that anticipation is as least as good as fulfillment. Moreover, this project will allow me to convert my copy of Odette Williams’ Simple Cake cookbook from an aspirational purchase (maybe someday I’ll bake cakes all the time!) to a well-used and well-loved one.

2. Be outside more than I am in the winter. Not whenever possible, not all day. Just keep the blue sky and warm air in mind, and when it doesn’t seem annoying (like when I’d just rather eat at the dining room table or read…

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Savala Nolan

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce