Podcasts, Gray Hair, and the Oxford Comma: 33 Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

Maybe it’s a bit lame to still get excited about my birthday, but I turn 33 on Friday. Previous birthdays, I’ve made lists about favorite things I’ve discovered or learned in the last year. This is the first list where I’m really starting to show my age (I kick it off with gray hair, and there’s enthusiasm about a minivan in the mix too) but it’s always fun to take a moment to recognize all the new things that have entered my life.


  1. I’m not going to gracefully go gray. This was the year I caved and started dying my hair. Part of the decision was my own personal tastes. A bigger part than I’d like to admit is how many people started saying to me, “Your hair is really going gray, isn’t it?” (Though, really, WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THAT’S AN OKAY THING TO SAY???)
  2. Stuff You Missed in History Class. Podcasts in general were a new thing for me this year, but this one really kicked off my obsession. Twice a week, two women tell well-researched stories from history. One of my favorite things ever.
  3. The Oxford Comma: I’ve always used the Oxford comma, but I didn’t know it had it’s own special name. When you make a list of things (This afternoon I want to read, drink coffee, and watch Netflix) the Oxford comma is that last comma in the list. It’s still pretty common for it to be left out, and that really baffles me. “I want to red, drink coffee and watch Netflix” looks strange and incomplete!
  4. Three kids is (probably) my maximum. As Eli transitions into being a kid rather a baby, this feels especially true. Which is good, because I don’t have room on my necklace for another kid, unless we go very minimalist on the name.

    In the background, you can catch a glimpse of the chaos of three kids sharing a bathroom.
    In the background, you can catch a glimpse of the chaos of three kids sharing a bathroom. Keepin’ it real…
  5. “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand your sacred ground.” This year, as I read the amazing works of Brene Brown, I observed my tendency to “shrink” myself in social situations. I stay quiet, I do lots of nodding, and I avoid anything that might draw attention to me. I’m learning how to get comfortable with the discomfort of showing up and being seen.
  6. Macaroons and macarons are two different kinds of cookieI thought macaroons always referred to that fluffy coconut kind of cookie, but then I learned there’s this wildly expensive French variety. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten either.
  7. This quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech, which is the basis of Brene Brown’s amazing Daring Greatly, has transformed the way I think about the risks I take and the people I listen to: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds should have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
  8. My essentials: Time with my family, time with my husband, writing, reading. When you have three kids, including one who’s on a medical diet so intense it  might as well be a fourth child for all the work it creates, you discover everything in your life that’s cuttable. I can live with my house not being as clean as I’d like, or us eating grilled cheese three nights a week, but heaven help the people around me if I’m not able to regularly engage with my essentials. I become a very cranky woman.
  9. What a gram of basically anything looks like. Want me to eyeball 12 grams of butter for you? How about 50 grams of cream? I’m pretty amazing at it, thanks to nearly two years of weighing out every bite of food my son has consumed while being on the Ketogenic diet.
  10. My job is to show up and be seen. Not to show up and be liked, not to show up and fit in, but to show up and be seen. This has especially helped me with public speaking, where all my insecurities like to flare up and taunt me while I’m on stage. (This philosophy is also from Brene Brown. I think it first appears in The Gifts of Imperfection but I read all her books at once, so they blur a bit.)
  11. The luxuries I have as a woman living now. Through my studies of the 1920s (which is the first decade that women were able to vote) I’ve come to understand more deeply the gift of independence I have as a modern woman. That I can wear jeans, be in the workplace if I choose, and speak my mind are things I’ve always taken for granted.
  12. A deeper sympathy for parents with special needs kiddos: Our son with epilepsy started kindergarten this year, and it has been a season that has stretched me. It’s uncomfortable for me to express a list of accommodations my child needs in order to be in a traditional classroom, or to attend a birthday party, or to play sports. There’s a lot of joy in our life, but things that were once simple and easy (like going out to eat or special projects at school) now involve extra preparation, special accommodations, and trust for the adults who care for him. Through this, I’m learning about ways that I can be more inclusive of families whose kids have severe allergies, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or others. Speaking of which:
  13. The Teal Pumpkin Project. On his diet, our son cannot eat sugar, so Halloween and trick-or-treating is a bit complicated for us. I was overjoyed to walk into Hy-Vee, our local grocery store, and find they had a large display of teal pumpkins. Putting a teal pumpkin on your porch step indicates to parents that you have non-food treats available. This will be our first year participating!
  14. Podcasts. Now that I can listen using an app on my phone, I’ve become completely obsessed with podcasts. I often listen to three or four episodes a day. Stuff You Missed in History Class is my favorite. I loved both seasons of Serial. Stuff You Should Know is a great one. I have the privilege of learning from Andy Stanley most weeks on the Your Move podcast. For writers, Writing Excuses is my fave, but I also love Helping Writers Become Authors, and Create If Writing. As an aside, I find the rise in popularity of podcasts fascinating. Especially as I listened to Serial, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what my 1920s characters might have felt while sitting near the radio absorbing a story.
  15. Expressing my needs and maintaining my personal boundaries keeps me from being resentful. I’ve believed in the power of personal boundaries for about eight years now, but I never saw it articulated so well as I did in Rising Strong by Brene Brown: “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” Over and over this last year, I’ve watched this truth play out in my life. I’m most resentful when I should have said no and didn’t.
  16. Fig and prosciutto pizza. Such a gorgeous combination.
  17. Images of America booksOne of the lovely historical writers who hangs out on Go Teen Writers brought my attention this series. And I’m a wee bit obsessed now. These are books full of vintage photographs from various places. If you live in America, there’s probably one set super close to you. They’re pretty expensive, so I only own two so far, but I’ve checked out all the Kansas City ones from the library, and I’ve put a few on my birthday list!img_20161024_112548
  18. The history of my home town, Overland Park, Kansas. Thanks the Overland Park Images of America book that I checked out from the library. I moved here when I was 9, and I had no clue about our city’s very well-thought-out history! On our anniversary, my husband indulged me in walking around old Overland Park and reading all the plaques on the original buildings.
  19. The vast Library of Congress website. I could get lost there for so long…
  20. The value of documenting my time. I get very enthusiastic about being efficient and using my time wisely. Earlier in the year, I noted how I spent every hour of the day on my Google calendar (LOVE) and discovered a couple things. One was that I’m proud of how I spend my time. At this stage in life where there isn’t an abundance of free time, I feel like I do the best I can with what I have. But I also learned that I am much more focused on a task when I know I’m going to hold myself accountable to it later. Meaning I’m much more likely to stay focused on unloading the dishwasher when I know that I’m going to jot down how much time I spent doing it. Otherwise I’m prone to thoughts like, “Oh, I should send that text right now…”
  21. You can make bread using cream cheese, eggs, and cream of tartar. I do this pretty regularly for Connor because on his diet he can’t eat regular bread. The recipe I use is proprietary to our children’s hospital, but here’s a similar recipe.
  22. Artist’s Instructions: Create, call it good, and rest. In her post, Three Rules For A Creative Life, Glennon Doyle Melton encourages creatives to stop following their art around, defending it to others. The lessons in this article are hung in my office, and the lingo has become part of the encouragement writer friends and I say to each other. “You are not your art’s lawyer.”
  23. The thrill of getting ready for NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) where professionals and amateurs alike sign up to write 50,000 words in one month. I’ve never participated in the challenge before, and I’ve really enjoyed the excitement this month as so many writers prepare!
  24. My insulated French press. My parents gave me this for Christmas, and I looooove it. Coffee made in a French press is amazing, but actually getting to drink it when it’s hot is even better!img_20161022_212019
  25. The terrible trouble that manure used to be. Because horses were once the dominant method of transportation, there used to be manure everywhere. So much so that engineers once got together to try and figure out what to do … and couldn’t come up with any kind of plan. I will never watch movies with historical settings the same way ever again. I learned about this from The Late Victorian Manure Crisis episode on Stuff You Missed in History Class.
  26. The minivan is where it’s at. When we learned that I was pregnant with Eli and we needed a bigger car to hold our family, both my husband and I were somewhat determined to go SUV rather than minivan. Because, well, it’s hard to imagine you’re very young or cool when you’re driving a minivan. But I have been converted! My Honda Odyssey is my all-time favorite car.
  27. My Kindle Paperwhite. This was a Christmas gift from my in-laws, and I loooove it. The Paperwhite is my second Kindle, and I like the light feature way more than I imagined I would. And it’s so much easier to take notes and highlight passages.
  28. Erin Hanson: You probably know her work (ever seen, “‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, What if you fly?” quoted anywhere?) but if you’re like me, you didn’t know anything else about her. I became curious about that poem and discovered that she is 21! And was in her teens when she wrote that. Yet another confirmation to me that teen writers are the best.
  29. Hydro Flask’s Perfect Pint. This cup was a gift from my parents, and I use it daily. My husband uses his so much, he was given a second one for his birthday so he could keep one at work and one at home. They keep drinks cold basically forever, and there’s no condensation. Which is huge when you live in a very humid climate.
  30. “What’s the wise thing to do?” This question was a gift to me from Andy Stanley when I listened his series “Ask It” on the Your Move podcast. The slogan for this podcast is “Better decisions. Fewer regrets.” This question alone has helped me with that.
  31. Creamy salsa and tortilla chips. For a quick snack at night, I melt a couple tablespoons of cream cheese, add my favorite salsa, and enjoy with tortilla chips. So delicious! And better for me than ice cream…
  32. Google Keep: I’ve had this app on my phone for a few years, but I’ve really started using it more in the last year or so. It’s basically like having digital sticky notes, but you can share individual notes with others (my in-laws keep their grocery list on there so they can both add to it). You can color code, label, drop in pictures. I often use it for jotting down notes about blog posts or story scenes when I’m not able to be at my computer. Because it syncs to the cloud, I can get on my computer, grab my notes from Keep, and copy and paste them into the blog editor or my manuscript.
  33. Margarine was developed by the French! This totally shocked me. And it used to be outlawed in the U.S. Fascinating stuff. Yet another interesting piece of history from Stuff You Missed In History Class.

That’s my list for this year! I would love to hear some things that you’ve discovered or unearthed in your own life!

8 comments on “Podcasts, Gray Hair, and the Oxford Comma: 33 Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

  1. You are wise way beyond your years, Stephanie,

    Happy almost birthday. I hope you know exactly what you want to do or have on your special day. I have a good feeling you do and that you know how to ask for it. Way to grow!

    (And I will always think you are uber hip, no matter what you drive.)

    1. Thank you 🙂

      My husband was trying to plan a party for me, and I wasn’t being particularly helpful. He was finally like, “Should we just have everyone come over with a book, and have a reading party?” Which I thought sounded pretty great. But we landed on a brunch with family, and then I’m going to a friend’s art studio to get creative for a couple hours. I’m really looking forward to it! Just wish you could come along 🙂

  2. I found this so interesting. love it. I’m going to start listening to podcasts. THere sure isn’t anything on daytime tv! Thanks for sharing all this news!

  3. It’s not often anymore that I read *every word* of blog posts but I did this one. So glad to have an Oxford comma sister! I’m so with you on that one. And you’ve got me interested in podcasts now! You listen from your phone? That might solve me the-apartment-is-so-quiet phobia on nights when my husband works late. What app do you use? 🙂


      I have an Android phone, so I use Podcast Republic. If you have an iPhone, iTunes might be the easiest. Not totally sure on that one. I almost always have them going when I’m doing dishes or other housework.

  4. Hurrah for fig and prosciutto pizza! <3

    I really love this post, Stephanie. So many fascinating ideas in this list, but most of all, I admire your outlook. You've inspired me to start a list like this for my 32nd birthday. It's such a good idea.

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