cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



July 2013



Part 1 | Santa Fe, New Mexico

Written by , Posted in wanderings, writing in the margins

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When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air–it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.  – Georgia O’Keeffe, 1977

Burke pulled me aside, pointing to this quote painted on the museum wall. “Mom, this is the way I feel about New Mexico,” he whispers. I chuckle, not surprised that my young, introverted naturalist would find a sense of place among the quiet desert plateaus.  We were inside the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, trying desperately to keep the kids’ feet behind the small, ubiquitous grey lines on the floor. “No touching the wall, hands by your side,” Mark and I commanded quietly. Somehow their hands couldn’t resist the bare white walls. This would be the most restrained place we’d visit at any point on our trip, but it was worth it. We had studied O’Keeffe last year and read a few books about her since, and while I’ve seen several of her pieces in other museums, I had never seen this many together, in her context. None of us had. Toward the end of our visit, Mark waved us into a little room to watch a 20 minute video on O’Keeffe and her work. Only after 5 minutes when the video was debriefing us on O’Keeffe’s lover, Alfred Stieglitz, and his then controversial photography exhibit in NYC including 40 plus seductive images O’Keeffe, most of them nudes (which of course they had to show because it’s a video), did we think, “we’ve made a huge mistake.” We shuffled back onto the streets of Santa Fe, Mark spouting some witty remark about seeing more of Georgia O’Keeffe than he probably ever cared to, when the boys asked, “but why would someone want everyone in the world to see pictures of them naked?” Stay young, kids I thought.


Mark and I had visited Santa Fe several times, but never together. We loved what we both could remember from our previous visits as children or young adults and now remember why. The oldest state capital (also the one at the highest elevation) in the US, Santa Fe offered us everything (except the water park Blythe requested) to begin easing into vacation mode. Here’s some of the highlights and recommendations from our three days there:

El Rey Inn: This was the only hotel we stayed in on the trip and completely worth it. Built in the 1930s, this place is quaint, unpretentious, and entirely kid-friendly. Surrounded by beautiful garden spaces with chairs and tables and fountains, the outdoor spaces feel more like a backyard than a hotel. They have a large swimming pool, two hot tubs, and small playground on the grounds. Plus, they offer a free breakfast on their patio. We’ll definitely be returning to this gem in the future.

Santa Fe Plaza: Santa Fe is most well-known for its art culture and museums, so if you have older children or are traveling without kids, you should take advantage of it. As per the story above, we only visited one museum, but we spent an entire morning strolling the plaza area, looking at the architecture (and people), trying out local coffee spots, and perusing stores filled with Native American art. Of course, we also stopped by the Palace of the Governor where Native Americans sell their art and jewelry in an open market. Most of the vendors loved discussing their trade with the kids.

Hillsong Zion concert (in an Albuquerque amphitheater): In light of our last two years, it seemed fitting that we’d go sing our hearts out to God together in the desert. For a few minutes it rained, and the boys said it was God’s presence.

Santa Fe National Forest: We all celebrated when we hopped out of the car at almost 10,000 ft. and could breathe cool midday air in June. This never happens in Texas. Since there were several forest fires burning while we were there, we had to choose trails that were open on that day (mostly depending on the wind direction). I recommend contacting a park ranger to help find trails that suit you/your family. If you are planning a trip, you can call ahead (as with any national park) to receive maps and brochures in the mail. Most trailheads have a bathroom facility and picnic tables.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: This was an impromptu hike on our way out of Santa Fe heading toward Flagstaff. Located on the Cochiti’s land, Kasha-Katuwe was one of my two favorite hikes of the entire trip. Blythe was the least excited about hiking this one, dragging her feet the first half-mile. But when we curved into the canyon slots, she (and the rest of us) came alive, following the winding, sandy path through the tent rocks, a result of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. We had just studied about some of the different types of rocks this last year, this seemed the perfect hands-on classroom to experience them. Years of erosion and settling has changed and shaped the space. We also briefly explored ancient civilizations lived in caves in the sides of the rock. A few of the caves still exist. Also, on a side note: because we hadn’t planned this stop, we were there in the middle of the day and it was over 100 degrees on the unshaded parts of the trail. So if you’re traveling in the summer, definitely head out early in the morning to be there at 8am when the park opens and bring lots of water to carry.

FOOD: We were traveling as cheaply as possible, so we would only eat-out at dinnertime.

    • BREAKFAST: We ate at the hotel, although several people recommended Chocolate Maven.
    • LUNCH: El Rey also had a mini-fridge in the room, so we kept sandwich fixings and pre-made salads from Trader Joe’s (a couple of blocks away from El Rey) stocked in the room.
    • DINNER: Our splurge in Santa Fe was Dr. Field Goods, a small, local farm-to-table restaurant. So wonderful.
    • SNACKS: We brought fruit, nut mixes, jerky, Cliff Bars, etc. with us. Each day we packed all of our trail snacks in our own and our kids’ Camelbaks to help us save money.

Thank you, Santa Fe, for reminding us of beauty found in the desert, for feeding our souls and reminding us to relax.



July 2013




Written by , Posted in life lately


“This is not our home,” Mark told the kids, pointing to the house we’d lived in the last seven years — the only house they have known or remember. It was Thanksgiving weekend last year, and we were sleeping in the backyard, snuggled in our sleeping bags and tent. Mark was trying to speak to them about the kingdom of God, this abstract thing we pursue yet cannot see. “I know that’s weird to say since we eat and sleep here, but our home — our real home — is the Kingdom of God. This is just a house.” He pauses, expecting this statement to segue into a larger dialogue, but the kids just shrug and begin making silly faces with their flashlights. They were camping in the backyard after all. “Good talk,” he sighs and tosses an exasperated glance toward me. I thought about these words this morning, these words left suspended in the cold November night so many months ago, and I realize now, they were meant for us.

We didn’t really have a plan when we put our house on the market in March — so unlike the both of us. Always working hard to live within our means (cash budget, debt-free), Mark and I had found it more difficult to pay our bills and expenses since the previous year when we lost more than half of our income overnight. Although our life wasn’t lavish, we lived with more than we needed, and those little details were the first things to go. We sold our nicer SUV and bought an old Suburban. Mark picked up extra writing jobs in addition to full-time teaching and part-time graduate school. I went back to work part-time, tutoring college students in writing in the late afternoon/evening when Mark could watch the kids. I continued homeschooling during the day. And unexpected money came in the mail like manna. Sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried. We were tired, but making it. Barely making it. And then the house. Our boys were 1 and 2 when we moved here, and this was the girls only home. It was a second home for so many of our friends, a collection of meals and prayer and discussion and parties and play. Our hearts were hungry for adventures and other unknowns we couldn’t always quite articulate. But somehow it seemed to always come around to this: should we sell our home? We decided to list it through the spring and summer, and if it sold, we would move. Otherwise, we’d stay. This was our coin toss, our fleece. It sold after three days on the market.

Mark and I had always joked with Kristen and Tim about cohabitation. Kristen is my younger sister and she’s married to Tim, Mark’s younger brother. (Don’t worry. It’s legit. Nothing weird, just lucky for us.) We live only 1/3 of a mile apart and our lives already overlapped in so many ways, it almost seemed easier. When our house sold, we decided to try cohabitation. We would move into their home, sharing the mortgage, bills, groceries, and space, for a one year trial period. Our four kids would share rooms with their two (girl/boy rooms) and each couple would have their own rooms. And now here we are after a difficult month of moving, cleaning-out, and giving away — the not so effortless combining of our two households into one.

Why am I telling you this? Why am I sharing this now? Because sometimes media deceives us. We see in part without the perspective of the whole. We consume and swoon over the pictures and the poetry without always understanding its origin, its birthplace. And then we compare ourselves, our families, our decisions, and believe what we have is not enough. I’m just as guilty as anyone else. So as I share handfuls of pictures and places of our life the last month, I want you to have context of what it cost us to get there. No one forced these decisions, the house sale, the move. We chose it based on a coin-toss and a longing for more of that abstract Kingdom, hoping to show our children what can’t always be discussed in a backyard tent– this is not our home.



June 2013




Written by , Posted in life lately

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I said “I am falling”; but your constant love, oh Lord, has held me up. — psalm 94:18

Sometimes life is so busy, so hard, I feel I might be consumed by it. We have been smothered by work and boxes and housing contracts and of course are searching for our new family rhythm as we merge households with my sister’s family. I haven’t quite had the time to process it all, but these words above have been a source of life for me in what often feels like falling.

I’m taking a break from this space the rest of June while my family and I travel various cities and wildernesses. I will be back in July with a full heart (and camera) to share with you. (You can follow our travels via Instagram.) Until then, thank you all for your encouragement and readership. Happy June to you!



May 2013



inspiration no. 2

Written by , Posted in inspiration

bathroom inspiration

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

We’ve been renovating the three bathrooms here, at one point leaving the 10 (9 potty-trained) inhabitants here with one shared bathroom to use — yikes! That situation has now been resolved and we’re now only waiting to paint the walls and replace the fixtures. I’m sure I’ll share pictures of these spaces at some point when we’re no longer cluttered with lingering boxes and objects. For now, here’s the inspiration board I put together for these spaces: muted, minimal whites inspired by natural stones and sand — just the sort of space to silence the noise and dirt of the day.



May 2013



spilled milk | friend

Written by , Posted in writing in the margins


As infants and young toddlers you began categorizing the world and the relationships around you. “Say mama” or “say dada” we would chime in the soft, high-pitched tones we had sworn never to use. But we do anyway. We would point to objects and new spaces and places, each filling a void in your new minds with words and pictures. Life seemed so simple in the beginning when the world felt so ordered and concrete.  Now our widening conversations (and food budget) provoke a different sort of talk — a deeper, more difficult-to-navigate type of conversing full of “how” and “why” but with it also, a deepening of relational identity. Whereas you once only labeled and knew one another through our defined family roles (dad, mom, brother, sister), those hard lines are bleeding for you now, blurring the space between brother and sister and friend. And this makes my heart swell.


{friend} shared on Spilled Milk today



May 2013



on the table | simple salad edition

Written by , Posted in on the table




As I’ve mentioned before, I love delicious food but must keep it simple for our lifestyle right now. Here’s another simple salad I made recently. Seven ingredients put together in less than 30 minutes. Just my style. Add a warm, crusty bread and a glass of white wine, and you’ve got an easy, delicious weekday meal. Enjoy!


  1. herbs de province (combined with sea salt)
  2. goat cheese
  3. asparagus
  4. baby spinach
  5. extra virgin olive oil
  6. tilapia
  7. blueberries


+ {tilapia}: Wash and pat dry. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs/salt mixture. Grill on foil until it’s flaky.

+ {asparagus}: Wash and break off the bottom parts. Roast on a pan with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

+ {putting together}: Place spinach on the plates. Toss in the asparagus and blueberries. Add dollops of goat cheese. Top with the grilled tilapia.



May 2013



a brief mid-day hike

Written by , Posted in wanderings, writing in the margins


20130518-071549.jpgAs I brushed my teeth the other day, I noticed my shirt was inside out. This is how life feels right now, the same shape and design only with all the frayed threads exposed. Life in our new home is still coming together. At least, we are all working hard toward that end, rearranging, unpacking, cleaning out, etc. In the meantime, we’re still spending some time outdoors — a constant we’re all craving these days. With 10 people under one roof, new rhythms and routines take time to grow. But they are growing and establishing. And so are we.

I took these images on a little mid-day hike with Kristen and our kids near our parent’s house last week. You’ll find one of them on Spilled Milk this week.