Embracing the Comfort of Three-Star Reviews

On Amazon, a 3-star review means the book or product is “ok” and is filed under critical reviews. I have trouble with this. In my mind, 3 out of 5 stars means I liked something but it wasn’t life-changing. I read enough good-but-not-great books to be comfortable giving a lot of reads 3 stars.

IMG_8735I know people who abandon books if they don’t predict a 4 or 5-star rating. I get that. Life’s to short for books you don’t connect with. But when I look at my Goodreads profile and all the 3-star books I’ve read, I’m glad I didn’t abandon them. Some books are good books and aren’t meant to be life-changing. Some are great vacation reads and earn a solid 3-stars. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or I wish I hadn’t read them. They just aren’t 5-stars. And that’s fine.

We just got back from five days in the mountains, reconnecting after tax season. This getaway has become essential for our family. We need to get out of town, breathe, and re-bond after an intense three months. I get that going to a mountain cabin is an incredible privilege – that so many don’t get to experience these escapes – and I’m deeply grateful for this tradition.

It’s not that getting away equates stellar, 5-star moments all the time. We’re still a human family made up of expectations and friction. The girls still were sisters – playing sweetly one moment and grappling over toys the next. But overall, this experience was what we needed.

Now, we’re back into our home routine of school and work and dinner. The difference is that Frank can walk Bea to school while I have a moment of quiet. Or he’s home at dinnertime. It takes some time to reestablish these normal routines but we’re doing it. Our days are made up of good, 3-star moments. They are sweet and good but not the stuff of profile pictures and photo albums.

Life is often 3-stars, isn’t it? It’s good, we’re rolling along, but we’re not experiencing life-changing decisions and events all the time. I think it would be exhausting to always be at a 4 or 5-star rating. There’s something so comforting about mostly rolling along, settling into a routine, knowing what to expect.

Because our life is mostly quiet and normal, those big decisions and getaways seem all the more special and needed. I love that we can drive an hour and a half to breathe and reconnect. We don’t need to travel far or go somewhere exotic to have a wonderful experience.

I’m not saying that we need to numb ourselves or keep life mediocre to enjoy those experiences. I’m remembering to appreciate our daily rhythms and routines. Living in a 3-star mindset isn’t critical or uneventful. It’s comforting and it’s where our roots dig deeper, where we build our small practices that flourish when we’re outside of our norms.

I’m going to keep giving 3-star reviews on Amazon. Not because I don’t love the books I’m reading but because we need 3-star books in our lives. We need books that are comfortable, that are quick reads, and that draws us into a sweet story. Books that may not be life-changing but that make me glad I read them, nonetheless. A lot like life.

How do you rate your books? Do you abandon them if they aren’t potential 4 or 5-star reads? 

The Compost HeapHeads-up! My monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is coming out on Thursday! It’s filled with life-changing books, photos, best reads around the internet, and other news. Don’t miss it! Sign up by clicking this link.

Appreciating Spring Snow

One of my favorite things about springtime in Colorado is that the weather changes quickly. The other day, it snowed in the morning and by the time we picked Bea up from track practice in the afternoon, we were wearing t-shirts and enjoying the sunshine and dry ground.

IMG_8673We’re up in the mountains, decompressing from tax season. We’ve found the importance of getting away after such an intense season. When we stay at home, we fall into old habits and patterns. A change of scenery is the break we need to reset.

Yesterday, we went swimming in the hot springs near our rented cabin. The girls loved climbing the rocks around the creek, finding the best natural pools to splash in, and soaking in sunshine and family time. We woke up this morning to a wintery landscape. Our mountain views were obscured with clouds, the trees had a perfect outline of snow clinging to their branches, and Frank started a fire in the wood stove as we ate breakfast, played games, and did puzzles.

I know a lot of us are itching for actual spring – for blossoms and predictable sunshine. I am, too. I can’t wait to plan our garden and put away the winter clothes. But I also appreciate this quick turn of weather. It’s a reminder of our family’s current season, as we reconnect and refocus on life as a family of four. In a lot of ways, reentry is like a Colorado spring. There are sunny beautiful memories, there are cozy wintery moments, and there are gales and winds that kick up the dust.

I’m remembering this takes some time and after years of practice, our expectations for these post-season getaways are much more realistic. We shut down, limit our screen time, and focus on the four of us. But real life doesn’t actually stop. The girls still bicker; I still long for alone time; Frank still has some business to wrap up. Those moments seem much more bearable and pass much more quickly when we’re intentional about this time of reconnecting, and I’m glad for these pattern breaks as we enter this next season of spring and a more normal family life.

What is spring like in your part of the world? Do you like unpredictable weather? How does that translate to your daily life and expectations? 

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “turn.”

We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit gracelikescarlett.com for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Pausing to Enjoy the Summit

When I moved back to Colorado after college, my dad and I would spend summers hiking the 14,000-foot mountains around Colorado. We’d wake up before dawn so that we could be stepping foot on the trail at sunrise. We’d hike all morning, eat an early lunch at the 10418255_10152599208242938_297764949818653760_nsummit, and then hike down before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. I loved having lunch at the peak. It was a reward for hard work and it gave us time to pause and really enjoy the scenery. What’s the point of “bagging a peak” if you don’t stop to enjoy the view?

We were sitting in a circle at MOPS, talking about having one foot in the toddler world and another toe dipping into The Next Phase. Some of the women are firmly entrenched in the baby and toddler years but a group of us are starting to emerge. We’re not as sleep deprived; our kids are a bit more independent; school is on the horizon. What’s next?

It’s an interesting place to be – on the cusp. I don’t really know how long I’ll be at this summit, overlooking new ideas and opportunities. Part of me wants to just dive in and leave this last season behind. But reality means recognizing that being on the cusp is a slow journey.

I’m watching others take these next steps. They’re starting practices, taking classes, writing books, and pursuing dreams, all with kids the same age as ours. I compare myself and think that I should be ready for this next journey.

I’m remembering to stop at the peak, to eat my lunch, and to enjoy the scenery. I don’t know how long this will take – it could be a shorter pause than I’m anticipating. Or it could be a few more years until this next phase actually happens. I’m remembering to cheer for my friends, to work hard at my own goals, and am learning to savor this particular time in life.

How are you remembering to pause and enjoy the scenery? How do you balance living fully in the moment while pursuing dreams?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “other.”

Champagne for Breakfast

As I learn more about the church calendar, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaning into the different seasons. I’m remembering to pause and breathe in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, to feast for Epiphany before the fasting of Lent, and to really think about what it means to be “Easter people.”

When I hear the phrase, “Easter people,” it usually is in the context of the biggest Sunday celebration – hymns and hallelujahs, fancy dresses and elaborate dinners. We proclaim the risen Christ! And then go back to life as normal on Monday.

Theologian N.T. Wright talks about how the church is really good at remembering and practicing Lent, of taking time to fast and prepare. But we aren’t as good at remembering the 40 days of Easter celebration. He says,

No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

(exerpted from Let the Easter Parties Begin! by Internet Monk)

I’ve written before about things that are saving my life. I love that mid-winter practice when it is easy to forget that so many small things bring joy and comfort. But it also takes on a connotation that life itself is not saving me. That I am bogged down. So, in this Eastertide, I want to remember five things that are bringing smile-to-my-face JOY. That are filling me with laughter and hope. That help me remember we are an Easter people.

IMG_85821) My Little Free Library
I had been wanting a Little Free Library ever since we moved into our neighborhood. Our house is on the corner of a cul-de-sac, right around from a busier intersection that leads to our elementary school and is on the way to the middle and high schools. We get a good amount of foot traffic and I wanted to encourage community through books. Last month, my dad built and installed our library and the girls helped paint it. I love watching the ebb and flow of books and the way it’s connected our neighborhood in this short time.

2) Sweet Sister Time
IMG_8615Lately, the girls have been on an awesome streak of playing together and caring for each other. Of course, we still have our sibling moments, but their bond is growing and it is so awesome to watch these girls become friends. They read together, imagine together, ride bikes and hold hands. We were at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day and they were content spending the entire morning together. Elle misses Bea while she’s at school and can’t wait to pick her up. She runs to Bea, jumps into her arms, and Bea swings her around as they both say, “Sisters!!”

3) Writing Friends
It’s just been in the past few months that I’ve really started stepping into an identity of “writer.” (I know, I know. If I write, I’m a writer. Easier said than done.) I’ve had the opportunity to chat with other moms who are writers, to help friends on their pretty amazing writing project, and am even dipping my toes into bigger and more serious ideas. I still don’t introduce myself as a writer but I’m getting closer…

(Side note: If you want behind-the-scenes news about projects, sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap. I also started an author Facebook page and would love it if you gave it a “like.” These things help!)

4) Rosé in the Basement
One of my favorite springtime celebrations is drinking rosé and eating runny cheese out in our yard while the girls run around. For Easter, Frank stocked us up with fun bottles and they’re just waiting for the end of tax season. Even though they haven’t made their way to the fridge yet, just knowing they’re ready and waiting gives me hope and happiness.

5) Generosity of Friends
I know that our community makes every single list of lifesavers but it’s for a good reason. I am blown away by the people who take care of us. A friend took Elle for the morning so I could make traction on a project and those 3 hours made all the difference! We’re heading to the mountains next week to get away and unwind after the tax deadline, thanks to the generosity of other friends. I am always amazed at how well our community cares for us, especially during these stressful seasons.

What about you? What is giving you JOY in this season? What keeps you smiling, even when you don’t realize it?

A Gradual Journey of Activism

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine today, thinking about activism and what a long journey it is toward doing it well. I’m learning to look ahead at those who are doing it well and remembering to look back and help others along their path. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-a-gradual-release-3In sixth grade, we had to create a “mousetrap vehicle.” As I remember, we were given very little instruction beyond the requirement that our creation was propelled solely by the snap of a mousetrap for a certain distance. In the days before YouTube, I still remember struggling at home with my parents, trying to figure out how to engineer this incredible feat. I finally was able to make mine snap and move just enough to get a passing grade, all the while amazed at my classmates whose parents had engineering degrees and had been able to make their mousetraps do tricks while gaining momentum.

Maybe my teacher had done a whole unit on propulsion but I just didn’t retain any of it. All I remember is the feeling of overwhelming frustration and defeat as I tried without resources to engineer a small vehicle across a masking tape line.

Years later and armed with a degree featuring new educational methodologies, when presenting new content to my second grade students, I would first model a lesson to my students, showing my thinking process using large chart paper. Then, they would practice it in small groups with me so that I could offer immediate feedback. Next, we’d do a guided practice as an entire class. And finally, my students would be able to implement the concept independently into their own learning. It’s essentially an intentional way of holding the hands of my students as they mastered a new idea.

Sometimes this would take a week or a month. Some concepts took the entire year, like learning to write a multi-paragraph essay. But we would keep working at it. The release didn’t always go in order. Sometimes, we’d have to go back a step or two until a student was ready to move on. Some kids got some concepts quickly while others took more time and guidance. It was rarely a linear process.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve dipped my toes into the world of activism. I love following activist parents on Instagram and Twitter. These families may have kids who are a bit older than my own, so I can learn from their journey. They often are farther along in their own awareness of activism and practices of inclusion than I am. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join in the conversation!

What about you? Who do you look to for guidance and inspiration on your journey?