A Life at 3:42 p.m.

This afternoon, my writing was done and the house slept quietly. I even had a dinner plan that would be pretty simple (pasta, parmesan, crumbled bacon with broiled asparagus). Feeling a little creative, I decided to take some shots with my Nikon that captured the suburban experience. No posing, no cleaning, no editing. Just fast shooting in about six minutes. (And Phoenix followed me upstairs, downstairs and outside, of course.)

It’s been about seven months since I quit my corporate social media job and I have happily and sometimes clumsily adjusted to the rhythms of my new role that puts me at the center of the home, where I long wanted to be: wife/mother/homekeeper/small business owner/creative writer. I’ve learned to embrace clutter (as long as I know it can be cleaned up!); uncertainty;  the joy of creekwalking in the middle of the day; multiple kid school and babysitter pick ups; and the unbridled excitement I have to be working on a novel again.

Here is our house at 3:42 p.m. How grateful I am to God for these small moments of a simple life. (Caveat: Sometimes, it’s not so simple, but today, it is.)

A silver dish of oranges

A picture of a girl's cardigan

An Australian shepherd and sleeping child

I Love Your Work Jonathan Fenske

A child's illustration

A picture of an Australian Shepherd

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Let the Goats Eat Your Shirt

When my girls get older, I’ll say to them, “I hope you dance let goats eat your shirt.”

When life presents opportunities, I hope they grab them.

When dreams are fresh and newly minted, I hope they reach down deep and go for it.

And when life is just so hard they can’t imagine going on one minute more, I pray they’ll cling to God.

Plus the goats, always the goats. Let them eat your shirt. It’s better this way.

A picture of a goat nibbling a girl's shirt

Confidential to my dear, sweet P: You love wide and deep and your mama is crazy about you. 

Suburban Slaughter

Does this dog look like a menace to society ?

A picture of Jonathan Fenske's Aussie

We don’t think so either! This is Phoenix Orion, our sweet new Australian Shepherd pup who has been with us almost two months. But I present the evidence for your perusal, kind reader. Here is what he has done:

A picture of stuffed animals with their eyes removed by a puppy

Take a close look: Phoenix has systematically removed an eye from each stuffed animal. Diabolical! Our eldest girl carefully patched up her friends and then brought them to me for a group portrait. The shame, the shame.

Phoenix has no comment.

A Walk in the Breckenridge Woods

When I was in middle school, my best friend Elizabeth returned from a skiing vacation with a bubblegum-pink sweatshirt with white letters that spelled out Breckenridge.

I grew up in South Carolina where most people spent their vacations at the beach (just three and a half hours away) or perhaps driving to some distant relatives’ stomping grounds (my family was partial to Wisconsin). To ski in as foreign a place as Colorado was reserved for the most adventurous few. I remembered reading Elizabeth’s sweatshirt letters and letting the word sink in: Breckenridge. It sounded to my twelve-year-old ears other-worldly and a little bit dangerous.

Now that we live in Colorado, Breckenridge is just about two and a half hours away from our suburban Denver home. We go up there at least twice a year and for the past four years, we have spent time in the summer with our wonderful friends, Gina and Kris and their family. (Gina is a blogger who writes the popular The Daily B.) They are the most gracious of hosts: they open their vacation rental and invite us to spend lazy hours on top of a mountain with kids and dogs and the glorious fresh, hot mini-donuts we pick up in town.

While we were in Breck, we noticed the kids’ toys we brought and the books we toted up the mountain were tossed aside in favor of this:

Girls run up a trail in Breckenridge CO

The children played in the woods. The little ones adventured on the edge where watchful eyes could observe. The older ones danced off to build forts.

I know I work hard to build a comfortable home stocked with interesting toys, great books and comfy places to play. But maybe, just maybe, I’ve missed the mark. Children need to find themselves walking in the woods, searching for great adventure.

A girl looks at a homemade fort in Breckeneridge CO

They need to stumble on a forgotten tree house deep in the forest.

A wooden green chair in a treehouse

And just when they turn to go, their surprised eyes meet a mama bird watching carefully over this:

A bird nest in Breckenridge CO

When they exhale from this discovery, they tiptoe quickly away for more of nature’s gifts, however tiny and precious.

A wildflower in Breckenridge CO

A wildflower in Breckenridge CO

Girls on a mountain in Breckenridge CO

Jonathan and I are remembering that we did this always as children: we allowed the woods to absorb us, shape us and then send us on our way. Long live the forest and our children playing within until they head with happy steps back home.

Girls walk in Breckenridge CO

How to Be Happy

My twenties went something like this: graduate college; try to write a novel in a cabin for a year, fail; go to graduate school in N.Y.; return to S.C. and fall crazy, crazy in love. Get married. Move a few times. Start real jobs, making real money.

A man hikes to Mills River, RMNP

Jonathan hiking Father’s Day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My thirties were a beautiful mix of career building, novel writing, national parks camping and then parenthood, something that I thought was waaaay too mundane for Jonathan and I. Turns out, it’s awesome. And so we had two girls, and as I was inching into dried-up-egg territory, having just turned 40, we gorgeously, blessedly welcomed a third daughter. She eased into the world in a simple tub of water at Mountain Midwifery Center. She was almost ten pounds, and floated up in the water like a chunky, swollen little monkey, one eye cracked to meet me, and the world.

A woman walks through Bishop Castle CO

Me and my sweetie baby in Bishop Castle last week. This place is breathtakingly insane. Trust me, just Google it. Terrifying and amazing.

I think of the years I have been an adult, and by far the best is my 40’s. I am just a year or so in, but a lot of things are coming together. I think, mostly, because I know how to be happy even when life isn’t perfect.

Simply, I have learned how to be grateful.

A pot of succulents in Colorado

I have a thing for succulents now. I picked up these three for $6 at Wal-Mart. I already had the pots and dragonfly dish.

Grateful for what I have, and even for what I do not have, because it teaches me patience, peace and contentedness. For an amazing book on the subject, check out Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. The subtitle of the book is “A dare to live fully right where you are.” I met Ann a few years ago when I was newly pregnant with that fat, gorgeous baby mentioned above and roiling with ante-partum depression, working a job that provided for us but was not my true calling, and desperate to see my husband’s talents finally recognized. Yep, it was the right book for me and I took it and ran with it. To say that her dare to live fully even when life is grinding on your back resonated with me would be an understatement. I panted for the message she brought on paper.

A picture of a blooming chive

This is a gorgeous chive flower that my friend Rebecca gave me. LOVE.

And so, in my 40’s, I am thankful for so much. My gratitude for this imperfect life is messy and frequently uneven. I have been known to have temper tantrums with God. But happiness? It’s the joy in the smallest of the small.

How To Sort Baby Clothes Without Crying

Herewith is one of my most secret confessions: I so dislike sorting clothing from season to season for my children that I simply try to avoid doing it for as long as possible. This means the 7-year-old is bound to have a 5T tee shirt in the bottom of her drawer. I just cram the clothes in until the drawers finally threaten to go on strike.

I don’t want to remove too short shorts and the stained skirts because that would mean a trip to the basement corner where we store the girls’ clothes in plastic tubs. And that basement corner, friends, is the Place of Memories.

If I open a tub and  gently fold in a stack of dresses and tees, that means I have to pull out a larger size for the same child. The too-small clothes, now being saved for another girl, remind me that the first child won’t pass this way again.

This clothes sorting crushes me. I get emotional, folding polka-dotted Hanna Anderssons and faded Circo skirts. I think to myself, like every parent who ever lived, “Where did the time go?”

Suburban backyard Mother's Day

I know parenting by this point: its exhaustion, its ecstatic rewards. But putting away the soft, velvet dress your four-year-old wore at the Christmas Eve service where your family, along with your brother and his family, took up an entire pew? The night that was perfect and ended with the traditional singing of “Silent Night” and your four-year-old trembled as she held her first, “real fire” candle? How do you ever fold and store such a dress?

It’s hard, this sorting.

Stack of baby clothes folded

So it was with some trepidation that I gathered our baby clothes, sizes 12 months and under, this week. We are done (unless God has other plans!) with having sweet babes. So, with a steely determination, I set up to sort and stack and fold the baby clothes. They would be off to another home, a young woman who is having her first baby and isn’t starting out with much.

As I filled the box with tiny, precious threads, the memories poured over me, sweet and gentle; lovely and humbling. I have been blessed to have held these babies, small and tiny. And as I worked, the emotions threatened to derail the offering I was trying to assemble. I blinked back tears and thought of new life.

A new girl is to be born, perhaps her mother labors strong to bring her as I write this. And she, too, will outgrow these pretty clothes one day. 

And that’s how I boxed up, cleaned up, and then restocked my youngest girl’s wardrobe with her newest season of hand-me-down dresses, shorts and tees: by thinking past my babies to the baby that is to come. May she have a wonderful life, full of  wonder, joy and love.

A wardrobe stocked with baby clothes

Summer Arrives, Parents Hyperventilate

School is winding down, summer gymnastics and dance are upon us, there are some camping days ahead. Parents (that’s us) are terrified. What to do with three girls home all day, all summer? We’ll figure it out, I guess.

So far, we’re making water balloons.

Bucket of water balloons

Girl playing with water balloon

We’re gardening, from seed. This is a dicey undertaking. At this early juncture, some of the seedling have given up the ghost. But we’re hopeful. Our seeds came from Broomfield, CO-based Botanical Interests. Come on, babies, you can make it!

Broccoli plants from Botanical Interests

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’ll keep on adventuring and exploring. And we’ll wear lots of sunscreen. May your summer-to-be be awesome.

Baby in polka dot dress walking