Friends: I have just returned from the internet break of my life. Every summer I take a bit of a work hiatus, but this is the first summer in six years—since my youngest was born—that I’ve taken a bonafide break.

(And even six years ago, I was completely consumed with newborn stuff.)

I was barely online this summer. I desperately needed it. And it was all I dreamed it could be.

My assistant (and magician extraordinaire) Caroline manned the AoS homefront here and handled the social media stuff, and other friends filled in as guest writers. Thank you so much to Alexandra Kuykendall, Kim Rama, Ed Cyzewski, Alia Hagenbach, Shannan Martin, and Jerusalem Greer. You guys are salt of the earth (and you have a wonderful way with words, too).

Caroline TeSelle and Tsh Oxenreider
Photo source

I am grateful. I feel rested. And I love this online space again! (That’s always good.)

This is my birthday week—the big 39! And so to celebrate, like I do most years this week, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over the past twelve months—both deep and shallow. Most of it is common sense, but apparently I still need plenty of reminders, you know?

Here goes.

1. Breaks are an essential part of life. We all need them, and our culture makes us feel guilty for taking them. Work equals worth, it says. But breaks—in whatever form they come—remind us of our humanity, what life is really about, and that we matter just because we do. Not because of what we can produce.

2. Saltwater Sandals really are fantastic shoes. They hold up to so much wear and still look timeless and adorable. And hey—waterproof. So versatile. I wore ’em near daily this summer.

Saltwater Sandals

3. When it comes to your creative work, people want you. People appreciate a peek of your humanity because it makes them feel empowered and more—well, human. Being yourself in your work gives people permission to embrace who they are, and therefore, both sides win. We all feel more alive. Show us the real you.

4. You really don’t miss much when you stay off Facebook for a month. Sure, someone might have had a cool vacation or you might have missed a funny meme, but the same people are still running for president, the same conversations arguments will keep on happening about them, and kids will keep on having first days of school. The benefits of taking a break from the noise far outweigh any negatives.

the great british baking showphoto source

5. The Brits are the best storytellers in the world. From literature both old and new, to fantastic BBC television, it really doesn’t get any better than our friends across the pond. Thanks for Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, and The Great British Baking Show/Bake-Off.

6. Inboxes, in all their forms (email, Facebook messenger, text, Voxer), are all other peoples’ agenda for your time. They often mean well, but feeling like you have to constantly be on top of them is essentially saying their agendas for you matter more than your own agenda for yourself. Be responsible, sure, but don’t feel like your highest daily priority needs to be keeping those people happy. The good ones understand.

7. I wish it wasn’t true, but I really do feel a million, trillion times better when I don’t eat gluten or sugar. The bloating, headaches, brain fog, and lethargy just aren’t worth it like they used to be. Sadly. Le sigh.

Backyard eggs

8. There are exceptions, of course, which is why I’m learning to think of my food experience as the entire process, from the creating to the digesting (and not just the taste in my mouth, in other words). If the buying of the ingredients, the making of the food, the presentation and gathering at the table, and the flavor-pop in my mouth are all phenomenal, then occasionally that’s worth the aftermath of potential crap I may feel. But maybe not. When I remember how I’ll feel afterwards, sometimes that’s all I need to confidently skip that slice of cake.

9. Summer reading is best when there’s an occasional fluff novel tossed in the stack.

10. Which means it’s okay if it’s the same for my kids’ summer reading. I don’t need to worry if they’re a bit excessive with the graphic novels in the month of July. That’s what summer reading is for.

11. If I don’t have a compelling reason to say no to my kids, I should say yes. Especially because those yesses are deposited into an account that I can lean on when I do need to say no. I enjoy mothering more when I lighten up a bit.

Smith Rock

12. I like a little beard on my husband, but if there’s too much, it’s all I can think about when we kiss. I wish I were more into beards, but I learned this summer I’m just not. (He shaved recently and we both breathed a sigh of relief.)

13. There’s no reason to apologize for how I make decisions or manage my time—but I still do it far more than I like. I tend to start emails with, “Sorry I’m just now getting back to you,” or “I’m really sorry, but I just can’t do that thing right now”—but really, I don’t need to be sorry. I’m working on cutting this knee-jerk sorry habit that’s really only a platitude.

14. As always, my creative work is so much better when I create it before I consume other peoples’ work. As a writer, for me this means writing—and thinking my heavier thinking—first thing in the morning. Before I check my inboxes, before I check social media, before I read other people (with the exception of a few quality—usually dead—writers), and really, before I even get online.

15. I really love small towns. Megacities are great to visit, but my soul feels at rest in quainter communities.

16. When my soul feels agitated and my brain feels chaotic or muddled, poetry is a great antidote. Whenever I’d feel the stress heading over the horizon this past year, I’d force myself to sit down and read a poem or three (preferably from pages in a book, and not on a glowing screen). Sure enough, my breathing would slow and the tension in my shoulders would release a bit. Something about poetry’s request to be read slowly.

17. I still don’t understand why God created mosquitos, and I plan to inquire about the purpose behind their existence soon after I walk through the pearly gates.

18. I love being in the presence of a body of water. I actually feel a difference in my soul, a tenderizing of my heart, a refocus in my eyes. I also love mountains, and have grown in my appreciation of them since being married to Kyle. This summer, I finally started using the hammock I got for my birthday last summer. Collectively, this means I’ve realized my favorite place in the world is a lake surrounded by mountains, with me enjoying said view from a hammock.

19. My work online is so much more meaningful when I engage with the flesh-and-blood on the other side of the screen—meaning, you. I had coffee with a group of you fantastic readers in Portland, and I loved it. I’m learning that meeting readers is one of my favorite parts of my work as a writer. It’s because of you that I even get to do this. “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough. Let’s all travel the world together, shall we?

20. I still love growing out my gray hair.

I’m stoked about the next twelve months at age 39 (and I can’t wait to answer when people ask my age, “I’m 39—no, really!”). I’m grateful to grow older—as the saying goes, it’s a privilege denied to many.

Alright, friends, it’s your turn… I’ve got birthday request for you: I’d love for you to say hello in the comments. Please introduce yourself to me! If you’re up for it, tell me your age (because it’s just a number), and tell me something interesting about yourself, big or small. I love knowing more about who’s reading behind the screen!

And thank you for being here. I’m so thankful for you.