Seasons of Quality Time

To celebrate our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way in Scotland. The nearly 100 mile trail wound through farms and small towns. Some days we saw lots of people; other days it was just us on our section of the trail. I’ve written before about one of my favorite days: When Frank and I hiked separately for the whole day, taking in the scenery and processing our thoughts at our own pace. We met up for lunch and, of course, that evening we walked into town together. We were never out of each other’s sight, but we weren’t together, either.

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Frank exploring on his own

That evening, when we sat on the sunporch at our B&B, we reflected that it was a good day. We connected, we had a shared experience, but we each had time to ourselves.

Frank and I are in a season of squeezing alone time into the margins. We’ve been practicing a rhythm that seems to work well for our family at this moment: Frank gets up super early and is at work by 5:00 but then he’s home before dinner’s on the table. This means that we’re heading to bed by 9:00 every night, which is probably a healthy choice in any case.

The only downside to this arrangement is that our evenings together are shorter. We have to be more intentional about our 45 minutes before bedtime. But what I’ve found is that, because there wasn’t a crazy rush of dinner! Daddy’s home!! Finish! Play a game that winds us down rather than up! Bedtime!! we are able to have more quality connection in those 45 minutes than when we had longer but were more tired.

Often, in these 45 minutes before our 9:00 alarm sounds, we don’t talk much. We’ll read or scroll Facebook. Sometimes we sit and talk and dream. Sometimes we look at the budget. Whatever we do, we do it side by side. We are sure to sit on the couch together; to sit next to each other, even if we’re not talking.

In some ways, this season reminds me of that day of hiking. We’re together in this, we are in each other’s sight, but we aren’t necessarily walking at the same pace. We’re tag teaming bedtime and household duties. And yet, because we’re still in sight; because we aren’t disconnected, it seems to be working.

Of course, we need actual in-person connecting for this all to work. But it’s a good reminder that sometimes you need quantity time to just soak in (like after tax season) and sometimes we need to recognize the importance of quality time, when we simply don’t have a quantity.

In this season when I’m rarely alone and when I simultaneously need to spend my time connecting, I’m thankful for a partner who recognizes the need to stay in view, to do the work together, and to leave space for quiet.

If you have a partner, how do you connect at the end of a day filled with work and kids and life? How do you best unwind?

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This post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Taking a Break

When Frank and I were hiking the West Highland Way, a guidebook mentioned that it was easy to find villages along the route to buy lunch and snacks. Since we were hiking between 8 and 14 miles each day, finding a good spot to eat was key. On our first day of the hike, we did find a cute cafe right around lunchtime. We had packed our own snacks and made it to our B&B that night without any food emergencies. The second day of the hike, we took a detour to climb Conic Hill, which overlooked the loch we would be hiking around in the coming days.

Hiking up Conic Hill
Hiking up Conic Hill

After some snacks and a rest at the top, we descended into the village below. It was a bit after lunchtime and we discovered that no one had a quick lunch to go! I was getting very hungry, which is never good on a long hike. We managed to piece together a cheese, yogurt, and fruit lunch and continued on.

After that, we always ordered a lunch from our hotel or B&B. Every place we stayed offered to make a sack lunch and we took advantage of having food on hand. We also learned to take a break before we were hungry. If we ate about a half an hour before we actually needed to, our energy levels were much higher and we were able to complete the milage faster and in better shape.

I was thinking about taking breaks before they’re needed, especially as we near the end of tax season. As a family, during this busy time of year, taking well-timed breaks are what gives us the endurance to finish this long busy season still feeling slightly refreshed. Whether this is scheduling early dinner dates so we can get home before bedtime or shifting Bea’s screen time for the day to 5:00, the time when both of us need a break from interacting, figuring out how to time our rest and our breaks before they become a necessity has been essential.

How do you factor breaks into your day or into your seasons?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Thistles

While out in California to meet relatives before our wedding, one of my aunts commented that I had always been a bit harsh but Frank softened those rough edges. After my initial defensiveness, I’ve realized she may have been right.

I’m a critical person by nature. I have high standards for myself and for others and am always critiquing. Frank is a natural optimist, seeing people and situations through a rosy tint. It takes a huge effort for Frank to lose faith in someone’s potential. I still wouldn’t call myself the most generous person on earth, but he is rubbing off on me and my expectations of humanity are shifting.

Earlier this year, I read Luci Shaw’s The Crime of Living Cautiously and part of a chapter struck a chord and stuck with me. In “The Risk of Relationships,” Shaw ponders how we define flowers and weeds. She talks about the relativity of designating certain plants as weeds, noting wild day lilies that grow along highways and the resiliency of clover in fields (pp 95-6). She connects this image to our own relationships and habits of categorizing those around us as flowers (those like us) and weeds (those we don’t understand). And yet, these are all relative distinctions.

West Highland Thistle
West Highland Thistle

For our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail climbing through the Scottish Highlands. Keeping us along the Way were guideposts carved with the Scottish thistle. The Way, in general, is well-marked and we rarely needed the thistle to guide us. On our last day, nearing the end of a long 14 miles, we lost the path and couldn’t find a guidepost. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and knowing the end was so close made things seem worse. We searched for the thistle and finally, as I slumped against a stone wall, Frank found it around a corner. I perked up and we trudged into Fort William, proud of such an accomplishment.

When we arrived back in Colorado, after about two weeks’ absence, we found our yard overrun with our own thistles. The weeds had gone to seed and spread and I spent the next weeks pulling up the nettles, a never-ending rash on my forearms. The irony was not lost on me that summer, as I grumbled over our weeds. The very plant that, just weeks before had been my guidepost, was now my deep-rooted enemy, infiltrating my garden.

Because we don’t use chemicals on our yard, thistles come back every year. Last year, we resigned ourselves to them, trying to see the beauty but I think they may have choked out our poppies as a result… While blooming, thistles are beautiful – I love the tall stalks and light-purple flowers. But until they bloom, they just prick. Even our two-year-old knows to keep away from the “fistles.”

Blooming backyard thistle
Blooming backyard thistle

Initially, I connected Shaw’s analogy to others: I’ve learned so much through that prickly relationship; She became more beautiful once I viewed her as a flower rather than a weed. And, I’ve come to realize, I’m being the weedy one. How am I being prickly toward others? How can I shift and show more blossoms and fewer nettles?

When I give myself grace, when I allow myself to shift from weed to flower, I begin to give grace to others. I have such trouble shifting mentality, but when I am gracious with my own needs, my own values, my own insecurities, I am far more gracious with the seeming imperfections of others. I have started asking, How can I be a guide rather than a nettle? How can I see the wild beauty in others rather than pulling them out and forcing my own, neatly planted ideals?

Shaw describes God as an artist-gardener, loving the wild mix of plants and flowers, contained and rambling that cover His garden. She says,

“So I have to believe that uninterrupted nature, weeds and all, is divine art” (pg 98).

Sometimes we need the nettling, unpleasant side of the weed. Sometimes I need that push-back to my own ideologies in order to shift perspective and grow. In trying to embrace the weed-as-flower, I can just as easily not recognize its inherent weediness. How can embracing all aspects of the wild beauty of the weed empower me to embrace all aspects of a difficult relationship or habit?

Shaw concludes,

“And then perhaps a relationship can begin to form and flourish between a flower and a weed. They can perhaps beautify the landscape together” (p 100).

Maybe, instead of sweating and giving myself rashes, I need to sit back in the hammock, surrounded by nettles and poppies, intentional and unintentional plantings, and enjoy being part of this wild beauty.

Do you struggle with weediness? How can you see beauty in weeds this week?