where life's not empty, it's restless.


I’m having an imperfect moment. My coffee’s lukewarm. It’s a cloudy day. My go-to classical station is playing a composer I’ve never heard of.

But wait: this tune is hauntingly beautiful. Balakirev, whoever you are, your Spanish Melody in D Flat is soothing me into seeing this morning differently. I now see that this gray sky is hiding some brightness; look at the way the fifty different greens of the trees are popping against it!

Imperfection: It’s a great way to go.

I just came home from a gloriously imperfect trip to France and Finland. Our budget was middle-brow: a dollhouse-size room in Paris; 3 to a room in Finland. But I love traveling this way. I love knowing that imperfection is going to abound, because it removes all pressure to achieve that nonexistent, vacation-ruining goal of Perfection with a capital P.

We Americans don’t take enough time off. Expedia’s annual survey rates us as one of the most vacation-deprived nations in the developed world. That puts enormous pressure on the time we do take. We want every moment of our trip to be perfect. If we don’t get perfection, we feel let down. If we’ve sprung for a big plane ticket to another continent, the pressure on our precious vacation moments is especially intense.

Nearly 25 years ago, my husband and I started our marriage by quitting our good jobs at a Seattle TV station, pooling our modest stash of cash and buying round-the-world plane tickets. We traveled for ten months and came home flat broke. There were people who thought we’d lost our minds and others who thought we were simply foolish and irresponsible. But it was a deliberate decision. We wanted to seize this brief window before we had children, before we set ourselves to the 20-year task of trying to achieve work-life balance, and instead learn a very different, but no less important, skill: how to partake of the banquet of the world. How to savor the imperfect moment: the picnic on a stalled Spanish train, the cold papaya on a sweltering Bangkok street.

Paris is particularly challenging for perfection-seekers. It offers some of the world’s most stunning cultural treasures, most delightful strolling and people-watching, most renowned food and romantic vistas. But unless you’re in the top oh-one percent, you will likely stay in a room that redefines the word “small.” Unless you’re a celebrity, you will stand in line to see the treasures of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. And unless you speak fluent menu-French, you will not always get what you want at the charming bistro or café you were so sure would be perfect.

All of which makes Paris the perfect place to embrace imperfection.

It rained while we were there. Quelle dommage! So we crowded into the nearest café, which happened to be the plastic-tented patio of the historic Florence Kahn Bakery in the Marais district. We sipped our tiny coffees and ate pastries we never would have tried—Parisian versions of samosas and rugelah—had it not rained.

In fact, it rained several times on our trip. And each time, we wound up somewhere we might not have on a sunny day: an arthouse cinema showing old Marlene Dietrich films; a massive museum exhibition devoted to Bob Dylan.

This summer, I’ll be staying closer to home. But I’ll be seeking and reveling in the imperfect moments. Because here’s the good news: they are always right here in front of us, rain or shine, in Paris or Seattle.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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7 thoughts on “Imperfection

  1. Ann, I LOVE your blog! Now, I also want to see a picture of you and Rus in a Parisian cafe sipping coffee, too… 🙂

  2. Thanks for reminding me to relish my imperfections. Makes life all that much more meaningful.

  3. This is an amazing post. I like perfection a lot and most of the things that frustrate me and make me waste energy is the imperfection I have in my home. When you have 2 young boys, a husband who does not want to throw anything away, and a dog and a cat there is no such thing as perfection. I am learning to embrace the imperfect and perhaps even rename it.
    By the way, I am jealous of your 10 month trip around the world. It sounds like a very sensible thing to do. I wish I would have thought of that, but then I don’t know if I could have taken that leap.

  4. Shoes, when your boys get a little older, maybe you can all go on a big family odyssey and have many perfectly imperfect but incredibly memorable days!

  5. thesubterraneanworld on said:

    Now this post was too awesomely written that no one can chicken out and read every bit of it and amuse themselves.
    Warm regards,

  6. Cameron Cooper on said:

    Love reading your thoughts, Ann. Thanks for this. Sam & I went to Paris for three weeks before Henry was born and it was the most unplanned, imperfect awesome experience. I thought I’d wing it and go to the Monoprix and back without a map and a half a sense of where I saw it. It took at least 45-minutes circling the aisles looking for black beans (Mexican style); they didn’t exist. So, I learned the wonderful imperfection of winging it and made the recipe for our hosts with cannelloni beans instead. Yum. It’s one of my favorite imperfect times. Thanks for reminding me of this. I think I’ll leave the crumbs on the floor and go read my boys another book before bedtime.

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