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SUMMER RULES is a series where we ask people to share with us how they’re staying safe and sane during this very different summer season; from mask suggestions to soundtrack selections, we’ll take a peek into how others are making these challenging times work.

We’re stoked to be kicking off the week with Sara Schaefer; she’s easily one of our favorite humans, and she also happens to have a memoir set to be released tomorrow! Be sure to pre-order a copy of Grand, and also mark your calendar to catch her in conversation with Naomi Ekperigin via Strand Bookstore’s live stream on Wednesday at 7pm ET. In the meantime, find out what Sara’s been up to the past few months when it comes to sanity maintenance; she recommends plants, homemade pizza, Fiona Apple and more:

How do you usually feel about summer, as a season overall, and how do you feel about THIS summer, by comparison?

I love summer, because that is when my family gathers together for our annual beach vacation in North Carolina. It’s more important to us than Christmas, and it’s the only time we are all together during the year. It was also my mom’s favorite place, so it makes it all the more special. The trip usually happens smack dab in the middle of the summer, so leading up to it, there’s so much excitement. And after, it’s like, okay, start preparing for the fall – which is my favorite season just from an aesthetic standpoint. I don’t even know what it is that I do to “prepare” for autumn, but it usually does involve at least one trip for school supplies, even though I am not in school of any kind nor do I have any children. I am just a nerd who gets amped about back-to-school season.

THIS summer, however, has been hell, because now everything is hell. The beach vacation still happened. We were very careful, and it involved a lot of time and steps to ensure we could all be together safely. But it was super stressful figuring all that out. I drove by myself for four days straight across the country, and I am certain I gave myself a leg injury from being stuck in the same position for that long, my entire body clenched with determination to get to my family without a trace of Covid in my body.

What are some of your tips for staying safe and sane right now? 

If you’re going to do a road trip here are my tips! 1) Pack your own food. Bring a cooler. Minimize the amount of times you have to be around other people. 2) Call the hotels in advance! I learned the hard way that just because a hotel’s corporate website promises Covid safety, it doesn’t mean a particular location is doing jack shit. Call the hotel itself and ask if masks are required for staff and guests in public areas. Bring wipes, and wipe down the entire room when you get inside. It just mentally makes you sleep better. 3) Paper towels. Bring a roll of paper towels with you. Many gas station and rest stop bathrooms only have those dinky air dryers that feel like an old lady’s hot breath on your hands. Paper towels can be used to turn off the faucet and open the door on your way out. And then hand sanitizer for kicks once you’re back in the car.

Go-to summer wellness practice advice? Any spots in particular that have been helping you on that front?

I have never really considered ANYthing I do as “wellness,” but I have been gardening, and it has really made me feel, well…well. It’s a bit late in the summer to start growing things outside, but it’s never too late to try an indoor plant of some kind. Or to start cleaning up your outdoor space and prepping it. Start a compost bin, learn about soil building. There’s so much you can do even with a small space and budget. And it’s very therapeutic during these ~uncertain~ times.

Where did you get your mask from? And what, aside from that, has been your more or less go-to summer uniform?

Two of my masks were homemade by my mother-in-law who is an accomplished quilt maker. My sister also hooked me up with a KN95 (without a valve) which fits more snugly around your face. When I put it on I immediately understood why they work better. I also bought a face shield off amazon which came in hand for particularly nerve-wracking situations including the airport and airplane (I flew home instead of driving back). I wore the KN95 mask for 14 hours that day and by the end it was really unpleasant, but it was worth it! Besides that, my go-to outfit for the summer has been sweatpants and t-shirts. Sweatpants are now our national uniform!

What (if anything) are you reading right now, and why do you recommend it? (Alternatively, just share a favorite book.)

I recently read a book about fungi called Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake and it blew up all my perceptions. I finished it and was literally questioning my own identity. Like, what is an individual, really? I know it sounds like I’m on shrooms talking about this, but that’s what the book does to you. It’s super granular about science, but it made me think differently about everything from the tomatoes growing in my garden to human relationships to how we structure our society. #Fungi4Lyfe

Do you have a go-to summer hang-out recipe that still works for a socially distanced gathering? And/or just a favorite general summer recipe that’s still a go-to, even now?

I’ve been making these homemade pizzas with store-bought cornmeal crusts using veggies from my garden and they are damn good. My husband chops up everything really fine (zucchini, eggplant, tomato, peppers, onions, green beans, herbs) and we load the crusts up and top with cheese. So good.

What’s on your summer playlist this year, or are there three songs that are permanent summer favorites for you?

Fiona Apple’s new album has rattled me in the best way. The title track “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” feels like a theme for me this summer. We’re all trapped inside, but I’ve also been sitting on this book for years, working and working on it. Now, it’s finally ready to come out, and it’s so personal. I’m scared but…in Fiona’s words: “I’ve been in here too long. Whatever happens. Whatever happens.” It’s an anthem about not caring anymore about what people think and just showing the world who you really are.

Where do you wish you COULD GO this summer, if there were no restrictions or safety risks?

I wish I could go on my book tour, and my subsequent fall stand up tour, which both got cancelled due to the virus. It’s such a huge disappointment, especially after working so hard to get to this point. But mostly I feel gratitude for what I CAN do right now, despite it all.