45 Things for 45 Years 🎈
grapefruit gelato, Shakespeare, daily walks, & more
I’ve hesitated coming back here to hit publish, not because I don’t miss this newsletter — I do, more than I imagined! — but because I feel like my month away from screens barely started before it ended.
But regardless, hi hello! My month has ended, so I’m back. There were moments of delight (travel, gelato) and moments of less-than-delight (Covid) in the four-ish weeks I spent offline (sorta), and I’m grateful for it all. I’m here, I’m sitting under a roof over my head and I’ve got a cup of coffee and a snoring dog next to me, so there’s no room for complaints.
Today is my 45th (!) birthday, so to reflect on the day, I’ll dust this place off and turn on the lights first with 45 things I’ve learned this past year.
1. Don’t plan a screen break when you need to be on screens at least some of the time. The reason my month was a “sorta” break was because the last half was spent in staff meetings and in class planning, both of which necessitated screens. So it didn’t feel too much like a whole month, alas.
2. But do enjoy some semblance of travel during the screen-free month. I was at the Austin airport (read: I hadn’t even departed yet) when I realized I left my laptop and all my charging cords entirely at home, and I was about to spend 10+ days leading a group through Italy. I replenished the chargers I needed but had to shrug oh well at the laptop — and it turned out to be just what I needed. The laptop was missed zero percent.
3. Grapefruit gelato remains the best gelato flavor in Italy.
4. It’s amazing how quickly we get used to things that not too long ago we would absolutely marvel at. Pretty much all long-haul flights now provide an infinite amount of movies, TV episodes, podcasts, Spotify channels, games, and beyond, and a passenger can begin their screen glut the second they buckle up. In looking around, no one finds this bonkers-amazing, but not even ten years ago, I’d feel a thrill if I had my own screen on a flight, even if there were only two movies in queue.
5. Seniors in high school are quite certain they know all the secrets of the universe.
6. But then they become freshmen in college and realize how little they do, in fact, know. It’s charming, really, how predictable this trend is.
7. Protein at every meal makes the whole day function better. Eat more protein. In fact, we 40-something women almost can’t eat too much protein.
8. Speaking of… How on earth am I 45? I just turned 40. I can’t possibly be halfway through this decade already. I blinked, and here I am.
9. So far this decade is fantastic. Sure, there are more random aches and gray hair, but the quiet confidence earned from embracing who you really are just can’t be beat.
10. But it feels like movies are getting worse. There are occasional gems here and there, but for the most part, nothing new has come out in quite a while that’s been worth talking about. 👵 (Top Gun Maverick was fairly decent, though.)
11. Classic books and stories hit home so much deeper the older we get. If you haven’t read a certain “assigned” novel since high school, dust it off and give it another try. You might be surprised how much more you enjoy it than your 17-year-old self once did.
12. Go on a walk every day. Your mental health and your joints will thank you.
13. Also, drink way more water than you think you need (within reason, of course). When you finally drink enough, you’ll feel the difference and it’ll become a daily priority. Speaking from experience here.
15. If you live in Texas — or probably anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I’m guessing — stop trying to make anything of your garden in August. Last year I committed to letting my backyard garden go all Scorched Earth in August from here on out, save for a few perennials and herbs, and I don’t regret a thing. Trying to garden in these dystopian months is an uphill battle of ultimate fruitlessness. I’ll get back out there in September, clear away the dead brush, and cultivate my fall plantings with a kick in my step and a smile on my face.
17. Adding to number 7 — put protein powder in anything you can, from smoothies to spaghetti sauce. The right kind is nearly tasteless and it aids in your necessary pursuit of more protein.
18. Audiobooks > podcasts. And I say this as a podcaster.
19. Don’t knock mouth taping until you’ve tried it. It’s now been 16 months of nightly mouth-taping for me, and my sleep has been considerably better. Plus, no snoring. Yes, it feels weird at first, but now I don’t even think about it.
20. Same with eye masks. It’s been nine years of nightly wear for me, and I can’t imagine sleeping without one.
21. Give weekly or monthly Adoration a try, even if you’re not Catholic (it’s for everyone). I’ve been going every Wednesday morning this summer, and it’s become a highlight of my week.
22. Traveling lightly is one of the true joys of my life. The travel part, yes, of course — but I’m speaking about the lightly part in particular here. I used a 35-liter backpack for my ten days in Italy and then again in Costa Rica (I didn’t repack) and I miss it and wish I could just live all of life that way. I suppose I could? But there are just enough occasions when I need something else, like a dressier dress or a warmer coat… But truly, I could wear the same three t-shirts and two pairs of shorts my whole life, so long as I’ve also got comfortable, well-made shoes.
23. Do make every effort to take a month-long (minimum) social media break every year. I missed it ZERO PERCENT and am thinking of going longer, at least with Instagram. I could pop on to Twitter a couple times a week and be fine, but truly, the break was all benefits and no downsides. I thought better, I read longer, and I was more present with people and places. Plus, when you personally step away and then see the onslaught of screen addiction everywhere, you really do see that Elon Musk is right.
24. Make your own all-purpose salves: 2 parts shea butter, 2 parts coconut oil, 1 part beeswax. Melt together over a double-boiler (or microwave in minute-long increments, stirring in between, until melted), then pour into a container and add essential oils of your choosing. Toss in the fridge until firm. Done. It’s infinitely useful, as a daily lotion to a hair smoother, an itch/rash cream to a massage balm. It’s my Windex.
25. Holy heck, the Covid brain fog is real. I’m beyond grateful that my case this summer was overall mild, but I’m still mentally (and often physically) dragging. Lately I’ve been crawling into bed by 8:30, my normally morning-loving self has been in a coma when the alarm beeps, and lately it’ll take me several seconds to register that someone is talking to me which means I should listen. (Not the best modus operandi as a teacher.)
26. The older I get, the more I appreciate linen.
27. Don’t go to Costa Rica for the food. Go for the nature. I loved all the green foliage, the lizards that would randomly show up as you swing in a hammock, and the otherworldly birdsong at dusk.
28. The people are absolutely fantastic, too. We met some truly delightful Costa Ricans who love their land and culture, and it was a joy to be around them.
29. Being around folks who love where they’re from shouldn’t make us green with envy that we’re not from there, too, it should compel us to remember reasons why where we’re from ain’t half bad, either. The more I travel, the more I grow an affection for my home soil. That’s how it should be, I think.
30. When possible, always see Shakespeare performed instead of reading it silently like a novel. He wrote plays (mostly). They were meant to be seen and heard.
31. Do some form of stretching every day, even if it’s five minutes. My joints tell me when I’ve gone too long without this ritual, and I’ve been told my future self will thank me. Keep those joints limber.
32. Speaking of — I’m not sure why I was so nervous for so long about going to a chiropractor, but holy heck does it make a difference. I started going regularly this summer, and the first few visits didn’t make much of a dent, but then out of nowhere at around my fourth appointment, it was like everything fell into place and my body said, “Ahhh, finally — this is how I’ve been trying to be!”
33. Care about the person in front of you, not the person in your mind you’re having that future conversation with or are otherwise wishing you could be with. Fully present people are much more enjoyable to be around. You’ll feel less anxious, too.
34. If you don’t know what to say to God, say something timeless and rote, like something from The Book of Common Prayer, or the Rosary, or the well-known prayer commonly attributed to St. Francis, or one of the prayers from Every Moment Holy, or even the simple Jesus Prayer. There’s a reason so many prayers are so old and have stuck around, and it’s okay if your prayers aren’t original.
35. Because it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.
36. Write your Rule of Life. It’s quite insightful and legit helpful.
37. Don’t knock the idea of a “group tour” until you’ve tried one. Or, at least go with a group or leader that you feel has an ethos you connect with. Our Italy group was a motley crew of 30 near-strangers, of all sorts of ages, beliefs, experiences, and temperaments. And it was an absolute delight. I couldn’t have concocted this particular group on my own if I tried, but God absolutely had his hand all over this band of brothers and sisters. We had therapists, professors, lawyers, stay-at-home parents, literal geniuses, vineyard owners, teachers, veterans, nurses, and the most delightful grandmothers and beyond, and exploring the beauty of Italy with these newfound friends was a highlight of the past decade, at least. Please do come when we do a trip together again, if you’re able.
38. I’ll still take the aisle seat over the window any day, especially if I’m traveling alone, because there’s little I like less than feeling trapped by someone I don’t know (especially if they’re asleep), especially when I need to pee.
39. Nothing beats a tomato grown straight out of your own garden.
40. Find a hobby that you have no intention of monetizing and has very little purpose other than to add enjoyment to your life. My garden is 100% for me and my family. And I love it.
41. Same with a subject matter of interest to you. Do a deep-dive learning expedition about a topic you know nothing about but you’ve long been fascinated by. Lately, mine has been architecture and urban design. Why are well-designed cities and towns so great? I’m endlessly fascinated.
42. If you need a quick cake, do the one-bowl mayonnaise chocolate cake, aka the Depression cake. It’s become one of our family’s favorites, and several members ask for it for their birthday cake. Easy-peasy.
43. Put on that swimsuit and jump in the pool. Life’s too short to wonder what everyone’s thinking about you, because spoiler alert: they’re probably not thinking much of anything (they’re busy wondering what you’re thinking about them).
44. Find reasons to love where you live. If you can’t think of anything, change it. It either means you need to live somewhere else, or more commonly, it means you need to make a change to where you do live. Finally tackle that remodeling project, get rid of all those boxes full of stuff you’re wondering if you need, be brave and meet your neighbors, or even simply buy yourself cheap grocery store flowers and place them on your table every week.
45. Finally… Start every single day naming three specific things you’re grateful for. I can’t think of much else that has changed my disposition or my attitude more in the last few years. When you make a habit of noticing, especially first thing in the morning, you can’t help but keep noticing all the good in your life. And for the vast majority of us, we have so very much to be grateful for.
Thank you for reading this! It means you’re invested in some way in what I write (even if it’s only because someone forwarded this to you in an email), and for that, I’m genuinely honored. 14+ years of writing online, and I remain flabbergasted that good folks read my words. I’m so very, very grateful. I don’t know why I get to write, but by golly, I’m honored to do so.
Ora et Labora,