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?

Spending Quantity Time

Tax season ended a month ago. I always think that April 15 (or 18) will roll around and the next day we’ll be back to normal. A friend and I were talking about the transition back to a family of four and she called this period a time of reentry. It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Or even in a month.

Part of our reentry process is taking time away. Our trip to Moab helped us reestablish routines as a family that would be tough to do in our own home where patterns are established and easily followed. But a beautiful vacation isn’t enough.

It’s a reminder that, no matter how intentionally quality time is planned for kids, it just doesn’t replace quantity time. Good, bad, mundane – the girls respond more to Frank being around consistently than all the special activities we try to plan while he’s busy.

IMG_2327Last weekend was a rare one without any plans. I don’t think we’ve had something so quiet since before tax season. Bea had been talking about going to the zoo as a family for a while, so we decided to head over on Saturday. The weather was cooler – perfect for seeing more activity. Bea is a great walker and usually runs around the zoo without complaint.

Once inside the gates, however, the whining started. As we walked by the giraffes and zebras toward the pachyderms, Bea would stop every few feet and demand that Frank carry her. Even her beloved hippo didn’t stop the constant, My knee huuuuurts! Caaaaaarry meeeeee!!!

We totally became those parents – the ones that I never thought we’d be. We threatened no treats, an early nap time, and even canceling our zoo membership. (Clearly we were thinking rationally…)

After a carousel ride to try and reset, we ended up heading back toward the car. At a potty stop before leaving, I was helping Bea adjust her pants when I saw the cause for all the moaning: She had put a small ponytail tie around her leg, under her knee. It had left a deep imprint as her circulation was cutting off. No wonder she was complaining!

I flashed back to that morning, when I saw her ootching the band up her leg. I told her to take it off, but clearly my advice was filed under Things Mom Doesn’t Know. That night, as we got ready for bed, there was still a mark under her knee. Though it had faded completely by morning, it was a reminder that our bodies take time to heal.

I thought about reentry and how immediately I want things to change. I thought about how, when things are tough and uncomfortable, often the fix is simply removing the offending tourniquet. Even though it seems obvious in hindsight, it’s easier to be carried. I’d rather whine and complain than stop and fix.

I was also reminded of how resilient we are. Even though the process can be painful, once we start the process, healing does happen. We do return to normal.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe the real lesson is to listen to my mom.

Have you ever found a solution to a painful situation that seemed so obvious in hindsight? 

Redeeming a Lost Weekend

We have two weeks left in tax season. These will be the craziest two weeks, but it feels good to be in countdownable mode. On my desk calendar, I have an x-ed out Hooray tax season is finished!!! on April 15 and had to move it to April 18. A whole weekend farther away.

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These girls can’t wait for tax season to end!

For some, the extra weekend will be welcomed – they will have a few more days to squeeze into the deadline. For us, it means one more weekend without Frank. One more weekend of bedtimes alone and one more weekend explaining to Bea that daddy actually does live with us. (Something she’s not always convinced of.)

Whenever April 15 falls on a Friday, the deadline is pushed to the following Monday. This is because Washington, DC celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16. And if it falls on a Saturday, all city offices shut down the Friday before.

The first time this happened, I was furious. I wrote a letter to the mayor of DC, wondering why Emancipation Day couldn’t be observed the following Monday. Or, why one city’s remembrance affected the entire country.

This year, my initial response was frustration. It seemed so selfish of DC to steal this weekend from us. I’m certainly not against remembering the emancipation of slavery, but I am against extending this already stressful season two more days.

But then, Frank and I were talking about laws and holidays and how something that seems good and obvious and helpful to me can actual be detrimental and frustrating and even harmful to others. I guess, especially with a heated election season, so many issues are coming to light that can be polarizing – laws that help some but hurt others; policies that keep some safe but put others in harm’s way.

It had me thinking about how I want the world to suit me. I want holidays to recognize my ancestor’s achievements; I want laws that make my life easier; I want job opportunities that help me achieve the lifestyle choices that make me most comfortable.

That’s not reality, is it? I think any one of us would agree that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us… Until we want it to. Until it’s a complete inconvenience. Until our own privilege is stepped on.

I suppose, what I am ultimately learning from this Emancipation Day inconvenience is that remembering a movement toward racial reconciliation is important. That for many, this is a day of celebration, of remembering, and of working toward a better future. And I guess, when I view it in that light, I remember that the world is bigger than a tax deadline. That, if I’m going to teach my kids about living in a just world, I need to use every opportunity to do so. That for us, we may not have even known about Emancipation Day unless it directly inconvenienced us.

It’s sad to admit it. That, unless something messes with my plans or schedule, I’m not going to recognize it or observe it. So, this year, instead of being grumpy that Frank is working yet another weekend, we’ll drop off homemade treats for the office and then we’ll find a way to observe Emancipation Day.

Perhaps it will be to introduce Bea to the Black American West Museum or simply go to the playground at Curtis Park. Either way, I’m going to choose to redeem our lost weekend. Hopefully I’ll keep this lesson in mind – that when life’s circumstances frustrate me and my own needs, I can step back and find a way to honor and remember the needs of others.

How do you respond to inconveniences and seemingly unfair situations? Do you naturally view life through the lens of others?

And, Denver friends… Any ideas of an activity we can do to honor and remember Emancipation Day?

A Surprise Pause

It’s 9:40 and already today hasn’t gone as planned. I wasn’t going to write this post, for one. We had a lot to do between dance class and preparation for our one 2-day weekend as a family.

IMG_0285.jpgAnd then, through a miscommunication, we ended up skipping dance. Instead, we are playing in the snow, drinking hot chocolate and going at a slower pace. Instead of rushing to pack and remember all of the things kids need for an overnight and worry about leaving on time, we’re able to stop and enjoy the fire, to play a bit, and to ease into the day.

Sometimes surprises can be exciting – surprise parties, surprise trips – they get my energy going. Sometimes surprises are overwhelming and take a lot of recalibration.

Other surprises – like today’s – cause me to remember that it’s ok to pause. That sometimes we need to stop and play in the snow. That, even in the midst of the miscommunications of tax season, some miscommunications work to our advantage. It wasn’t even a miscommunication but an act of service when Frank should have been rushing off to work that allowed us to play rather than rush.

Today’s surprise bodes well for our weekend. We get two whole days together as a family and I hope to remember this pause – that it’s not about packing in the time together but resting in our 48 hour break before this last push.

Do you use surprises to your advantage or do they catch you off guard?

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