We’ve been summering.

I first encountered the use of “summer” as a verb in New England. where folks talk casually about “summering” on the Cape or on the Vineyard or in New Hampshire. I was immediately intrigued by this notion. I am from the Midwest. I have lived in Texas. I have always considered summer to be something to endure, not something to cultivate and squeeze for every possible delicious drop. But right then I decided to change my ways. I, too, would learn to “summer.”

For the last two weeks “summering” has found us tubing on the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas, kayaking on the Colorado River in Austin, visiting friends, lying in hammocks, reading on screened porches, drinking wine, eating tacos, driving down highways covered in wildflowers, going to bed early, sleeping in late. The days were like centuries, dripping with possibility. Those New Englanders were right: summer is delicious.

But it’s also a bit uncomfortable. At least it is for those of us who thrive on ritual and routine. I can do summer for about five days, max. Right on cue, day six of our trip, I woke up and said to Matt: I want to go home.

This was not entirely the whole story. I also wanted to finish our highly anticipated travel plans. I wanted to eat more tacos and see more friends. I wanted days where the only pressing obligation was where to have lunch. And yet, in spite of all that, at that particular moment, nothing seemed as attractive as my normal life back home. I missed my cats, my garden, my tiny colorful house. I missed my laps in the swimming pool and my yoga classes and my hours at the piano. Faced with endless, aimless empty time, I was restless and a bit out of sorts, and wanted nothing more than the structure of my routines to put me back together.

Which, of course, is the value of summering: intentional time away can be the catalyst to throw us back into our real lives with renewed spirit and energy. It is one reason every practice needs a Sabbath, or a deliberate and regular rest day. While there are countless spiritual reasons for Sabbath-keeping, on a very basic level, breaks from our practices change our perspective in valuable and creative ways. Quite literally, we hear and see new things about the otherwise familiar world around us: Well, I never noticed that chord progression was just moving down by half steps, we think. Wow, I’m totally ignoring the dynamic shape in the development. Do I always hike up my left wrist during that passage? we wonder for the first time. I’m not really listening to the how uneven those notes are in that fast passage, we finally admit to ourselves.

It’s not just our ears and eyes that are refreshed by a deliberate break, there are cognitive benefits as well. “Dylan will not stay seated on the piano bench,” a parent was complaining to me recently. “Every five minutes he gets up and wanders through the house. Practicing takes hours.” I nodded sympathetically, all the while thinking, “You should see me practice.”

There are cognitive payoffs to wandering. “Perhaps the truth depends upon a walk around the lake.” wrote Wallace Stevens. Every time one walks away from a demanding task, the brain files the information into storage, even temporarily. Coming back to the work then forces the brain to pull this information out of its long-term memory bank, which strengthens neurological pathways. Particularly when memorizing something—a poem, a piece of music, the keys and opus numbers of all Beethoven’s works—multiple retrievals act like low-stakes tests, and research has shown that these kinds of mini pop quizzes lead to faster learning and a more secure grasp of the material over the long run.

Sleep has the same effect, providing another sort of mental “wandering,” which helps to cement the work we have done. Repetitions that are spaced by breaks, a good night’s sleep, meandering aimlessly through the house, are more likely to get imprinted, not in the more fleeting short-term memory, but in the more permanent long-term memory. This is all a way of saying that there is a reason we practice every day, and not just in a single big chunk once a week, just as teachers have always told students not to cram for an exam the night before but to spread out the studying over several days. Cognitively, it simply works better.

A wandering, meandering Sabbath day gives room for new thoughts to grow or a heightened awareness to emerge. Suddenly we see that plant that’s been withering away in the corner of the living room or realize we have been tripping over the same broken brick in the driveway for months. We think of an inspired way to practice scales. We remember that book we meant to look up at the library. Daily practice digs us deeper into the marrow of who we are, Sabbath keeping reminds us to lift up our heads and look at the stars. We need both.

No one needs this reminder more than I do. If the last year felt somewhat like a marathon, somewhere around February it turned into an Ironman, with the final stretch being straight uphill into altitudes that lacked oxygen. There have been too many weeks without any rest whatsoever, no chance to catch my breath. It is the curse of the musician, who is at the mercy of odd work hours and schedules, making it seem impossible to carve out or protect rest days of any kind. “What is a weekend?” asked the Dowager Countess in one memorable Downton Abbey scene. I share her confusion. What is a weekend in the life of a musician? Does a free Monday morning count? What about the odd Thursday night if the last student cancels his lesson?

I don’t have an answer, but I think it is a question worth pondering. Last week, somewhere between a kayak and a porch swing, I stopped whining, and we had another fantastic five days before we came home. I returned not only deliciously full of precious times with loved ones, but also with five new ideas for summertime eating, an unexpected treasure of a biography about food writer and artist Patience Gray found in a bookshop, the specific names of three Texas wildflowers. More than that, I was beyond ready to dive back into my pre-dawn wake-up time; I couldn’t wait to start pruning back the overgrown Lady Bank roses in the garden; I was thrilled to see my first students of the summer walk into the sunroom, slamming the screen door behind them. I have a stack of music to learn and a pile of books to read. I’m in the middle of a new needlepoint project; I’ve got studio work to catch up on and hours of weeding and watering ahead. “The days you work are the best days,” said Georgia O’Keeffe. As my recent vacationing meltdown served to remind me, I know this to be true.

But it’s a precarious balance. And right now the days are long and there’s a hammock in my back yard. There’s a watermelon in the refrigerator and ice cream in the freezer. The farmer’s market beckons every Saturday morning. Ah, the rhythm of summering.