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? 

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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.”

Building A Foundation of Feasting

I feel like you’d be happier all by yourself in an apartment in Paris than here with us. Frank and I were talking about this stressful season when I’m alone with the girls and he’s alone at work.

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Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

My mind drifted to my freshman year in Paris when we would gather in my friend’s chambre de bonne at the very top of a building right in the midst of the city. We’d open her loft window, swing out onto the scaffolding, and climb to the rooftop with glasses of wine in hand. We’d sit and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle on one side while the dome of Les Invalides glowed in the night. I imagined living in such a spot for a month – just long enough to immerse myself in all the quaint and beautiful pieces of Paris while leaving before the seven-flight trek up the stairs with groceries or walking down the hall for the bathroom would get old.

Frank nudged me and said, Don’t respond too quickly! In his perfect world, he would come home to the exuberant embrace of his family, the pack all piled together. In my perfect world, he’d come home and I’d retreat to an hour or so of absolute silence.

The reflective season of Lent has passed and we’re into the joyful season of Eastertide. For the next fifty days, the church celebrates Christ’s resurrection in this time before Pentecost. It’s a season of feasting and proclamation that Christ has risen, indeed.

We have two more weeks until the end of tax season and then our family will celebrate its own version of feasting and joy. We’ll head out of town to reconnect outside of our normal routines and come home to a period of re-entry when we all learn to function as a family of four again.

In a lot of ways, this tax season has been one of the hardest for our communication. There are a lot of unknowns; the girls are in different phases; I’m involved in different types of things. The only constant with tax season is that every year is different – what we learned last year may or may not apply this year. And so, we need to feast and be joyful. It may not come naturally at first and feasting may look different for each of us. For Frank, he needs to feast on proximity with his family; for me, I’ll need to feast on solitude in the midst of reconnection. We’ll need to be intentional and extend lots of grace.

But the underlying spirit is one of celebration. Just like we’re celebrating spring and resurrection and new life, we’ll be celebrating this time as a family again. It doesn’t mean that every single moment will be happy and picture perfect but I need to remember that the point of it all is redemption and newness.

How do you celebrate this season of spring and redemption? What are things you’d like to be feasting on after Lent?

Spending Quality Time With Art

My top Love Language is Quality Time. During tax season, this means we are very protective of our weekends. We try to make sure to eat at least one meal as just the four of us and we keep Frank’s one day off as relaxed as possible. Of course, things happen and we engage with our community but we also realize how sacred these days are during this busy season.

IMG_5323Last weekend, I met a friend for the Degas exhibit at the Denver Art Museum on our family day. Our meetup had been planned for a while and I was looking forward to catching up with my friend as well as seeing an incredible retrospective (my favorite type of exhibit.)

I came away from those couple hours spent in the museum completely refreshed. It reminded me that, while Quality Time usually refers to the people in our lives, I think it can also refer to the things that bring us joy. Ever since quitting my job at the Clyfford Still Museum a year ago, I haven’t prioritized the time to go to galleries and exhibits. Before I’d get my art-fix at work but now, I have to be much more intentional.

Walking through the galleries, looking at Degas’ stunning use of texture and movement IMG_8509in his sketches, seeing images of my old neighborhood in Paris all filled me with happiness that I didn’t realize I’d missed. I needed to spend some Quality Time with paintings. Walking through the galleries filled a travel itch and reminded me that Denver’s culture scene is growing and getting richer every year.

I’ve been reflecting on other ways I need to build in quality time with things I love. I already create room for reading and, while that is indeed fulfilling, it doesn’t necessarily get me out of the house. How can I use the time I have wisely to create spaces for me to really thrive? Sometimes, it means taking some time away. My experience at the museum would have been completely different had the girls been along. Sometimes, it means modeling something I love. When I’m reading, the girls know not to interrupt. (In theory…)

The friend I went with recently created a bucket list and she’s been faithfully working on it. Some of her goals are big. But she said the key to a good bucket list is keeping most of it small and local. What can you achieve with a Groupon and a day off? She’s inspired me to create my own list. What are things I want to do in the next year? What can I do now, without much planning? What’s worth asking for help or babysitting?

I’m realizing that, while my “love tank” will always be mostly filled by spending quality time with Frank and the girls, I also need to remember ways in which quality time might not include them. I’m learning to not feel guilty about leaving them for a morning, especially when I come home refreshed and ready for another week of tax season.

How do you prioritize activities that are life-giving for you? Does your family share your passions or do you find ways to fulfill those on your own?

Books Referenced:

51ItBwnbJ6L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom

Have you ever been to a place where your entire body exhales? Where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live year-round because you need a place to go and reset?

IMG_0021We were talking the other day about investing vacation homes instead of renting for a week and the discussion turned to finding a place that is incredible enough to return to again and again. Because, to invest in a vacation home means to invest time that could be spent exploring a new location.

There is one place I have gone, both when I was single and with my family, where my soul breathes. Where, upon arrival, I know that I can reset and reenergize.

Moab, Utah is about a six hour drive from Denver. It’s close enough to do in a day but as we drive from the city, over the mountains, into the canyons, and finally emerge in the red rock desert, it feels light years from our normal view.

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason I love this part of Utah so much. Maybe it’s the incredible red rock sculptures, so unique and different. Maybe it’s the dry desert air and the brilliant blue sky. Maybe it’s the fact that when we arrive, family time starts and we leave chores and “real life” behind.

Last year, we rented a condo for the week after tax season. We hiked in the mornings and swam in the afternoons. Bea scampered up the sandstone to Delicate Arch, pretending to be a mountain lion and only taking brief breaks to ride on Frank’s shoulders. We watched movies and grilled. The girls napped in the car after hiking Dead Horse Point and we spent that time slowly driving through the red canyons, dreaming about the future.

I’m reminded of what Edward Abbey says in Desert Solitaire,

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

Perhaps I’ve seen love flower best among those red rock canyons. When we dream about the future and of our family story, I can’t imagine it without repeated visits to Moab. I think I have found the one place I would visit again and again.

As we wound through those roads, girls asleep we added another goal to our ever-growing list: Save for a vacation home one day.

Do you have a place that you return to, where your soul breathes? Do you like the tradition of one place or the adventure of going somewhere new?

This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World. It releases today and, while I haven’t yet read it, I am looking forward to her perspective on travel as a family and finding a place to put down roots. She provided this prompt in honor of her book’s birth-day: Share about a place you feel at home in the world.

The Grace of Parenting

We’re in the home stretch of tax season, which means that more mornings than not I wake up to Frank’s side of the bed empty. It may be that he has gotten up early to go into the office; more likely it’s that he came home so late he just crept upstairs to the guest room so that I wouldn’t wake up.

IMG_4122Our community, as always, has been incredible. My parents come for dinner and bedtime every Thursday so that I can continue my weekly walks with a friend. Our neighbor’s husband was gone for 10 days on a work trip so we shared meals, the girls played, and we texted support through the meltdowns.

But for all the incredible support, the girls still miss their dad. And I still miss having a partner to help me through this parenting journey. It’s nothing at all like being a single parent but these months give me a small glimpse into that world and empathy for parents who have to do this alone 24/7.

During these months, I rely heavily on the grace of parenting. Of the wonder of extra screen time and the spring weather to play outside. We live with an extra-messy playroom (because our playroom is never clean, regardless of Frank’s presence) and I allow myself to watch a movie after bedtime rather than tidy or read something more productive.

But I also rely on the sabbath that Frank’s office enforces. Each employee must take one day off every week. We bask in those 24 hours together, making sure that we soak in this family time.

On Tuesday, this will be over for another year and life will go back to normal. (Or, the new normal… Reintroduction can be tough.) I’ll wake up each morning with my husband next to me and our guest room will sit empty until actual guests need to use it.

What’s something in your life that is easier when you do it with others?

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

Death and Taxes

After a mild February and March, typical spring weather hit – just in time for spring break. For our week off, we had drizzly mornings, warmer afternoons, and hard-to-predict forecasts which made playdates a bit difficult. But, our grass is green and our trees are blossoming.

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Clyfford Still, PH-235 Image credit: Clyfford Still Museum

When asked to describe the significance of black in his paintings, Clyfford Still said,

“Black was never a color of death or terror for me.  I think of it as warm – and generative.”

This has forever changed the way I look at black in art, in books, in life. Is there an element of death in it? Yes. (At least, from a Western perspective.) But, in order to experience life, death must be part of the equation.

Frank and I are planning our garden and deciding which veggies to plant, which perennials to try in bare areas, and which boxes should be reserved for digging play and which should be off-limits. When we dig into the soil, our hands come up black. As we watch the rain soak the earth, I see the color vibrant against the gray skies.

Easter and the end of tax season coincide this year. Sadly, this means that the last big push before the deadline will happen over Easter weekend. (No rest for the weary, or accountants…) Over the next two weeks, the little we see of Frank will become even less. Life gets harder when the end is in sight.

Not to compare dying on the cross for all of humanity’s sins to the annual tax deadline, but I wonder if this is how Jesus felt in these last weeks leading to his death. He knew what was coming; the hardest days are ahead.

There is darkness ahead and yet, against the gray there is vibrant light and hope. There is despair and an anticipation of something coming – the crowds are getting violent and yet, Jesus still makes a blind man see; still raises Lazarus from the dead.

In order for the soil to be generative, it must be black. Light brown dirt needs to be watered to dark richness. In order to see the light, we must live in the darkness.

In many ways, I’m glad that Lent falls during tax season. For our family, this season of fasting is also one of living without an integral part of our house. Whether we like it or not, our family lives in a sense of loss during this season.

Which makes Easter all the more joyful. It reminds us that life is restored, that our family will eat dinner together again, and that black soil brings new life.

How do you view the color black? In what ways do you prepare when the end is in sight?