cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



October 2015



homeschool | costume-making



homeschool | costume makinghomeschool | costume making

My children have actually made their own Halloween costumes every year. Although this sounds noble and intentional, it actually began more for economic reasons. I just couldn’t imagine spending their clothing budget on cheaply made costumes, and I haven’t ever known how to sew, the reason we’re all learning now. Ahem. In the past, they have used old dress-up, paper, toilet paper, tape, and other art supplies, some of which you might remember last year.

As I mentioned in this post in August, I have really tried to include handwork as a larger part of our learning this year. I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind for these skills, only that I know children generally love making things and as an adult having skills to make things can be quite useful. To begin, I’ve chosen a few general and somewhat foundational skills that might grow or apply to other interests down the road. Mostly, they are lessons I hope to learn right alongside them. (Wink.) We began with sewing, using the book Sewing School, based on a good friend’s recommendation, and the pace, images, and projects have been a perfect start for our novice group. As Halloween has neared this month, costume making seemed the perfect, fun way to put our new skills to use.

homeschool | costume makinghomeschool | costume makinghomeschool | costume makinghomeschool | costume making

Early on, Olive decided she wanted to be a baby bat, using a play mask we already own. Each month this year, the kids have received a play mask of an endangered animal in the mail from Opposite of Far, a part of their mask of the month club. (I wrote about some ways we’ve added them to our learning here last spring.) Blythe, a natural lover of design, wanted to take the masks and create costumes for each. Olive joined her, and one entire afternoon they sat on my bed discussing ideas and plans for everything from paws made out of socks and paper to tails made from boas and shirt bellies covered with cotton balls. Since Olive opted for the bat, wings were a must, something easily coupled with her black dance leotard.

homeschool | costume makinghomeschool | costume making

We shopped for a bit of brown felt at the local craft store, where I let each of the kids pick up a little something to add to their costume projects. I folded the felt and drew a simple pattern in chalk for the girls to cut, and then we pulled out the needle and thread and set to work attaching little bands to slide her arms through. She thought my idea for sleeves sounded far too hot.

I tied knots in the thread for Olive to begin. She still needs quite a bit of help, mostly because she gets distracted. When she lost interest and went outside to play, I finished the sewing, although I sort of regret doing that now. Instead of finishing, as she asked me to, I wish I would have simply shelved it until her interest returned. Live and learn, right? I sadly don’t have any images of her sewing this project. When Olive has a needle, all eyes and hands are on deck–I totally missed the photos. Still, you can piece together the idea.

Although our sewing skills are still quite amateur, I like that we’re all  (myself included) having to try something new, and when we fail or mess up–that happens often–we learn lessons about trying again or improvising. As I said, all of it is foundational, bits we’re learning through playfulness.


This post is in partnership with Opposite of Far, a small business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. I’m so grateful to the businesses that help support this space and our family. 



October 2015



chores, responsibilities, and cleaning the family home

Written by , Posted in OUR HOME


chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Over the years of early motherhood and homeschooling, I have learned to be flexible with our home cleaning routine. At times, we have hired help to wash the floors or scrub the bathrooms, a life-saving gift in early homeschool days and newborn-dom, but in more recent years as our children have grown older, I’ve looked for ways to make this a more regular part of our family rhythm.  These too are [quite practical] lessons I want my children to learn.

The word chore is most often given to the these sorts of home tasks, but honestly I’ve never really preferred it. Chore tends to convey a certain dismal attitude about housework and the importance of the home in general, I think. Even the word itself sounds dreadful and uninviting. Chore.

Although it may be a small semantic matter, we more often use the word responsibility in connection with our house work around here. Opposed to a chore, responsibility is a gift and privilege that comes with maturity.  In short, I like the noble attitude of responsibility a bit more. But does it mean they or I always feel like cleaning or tidying our home? Of course not. But as our children’s freedoms and experiences are growing in one hand, so is what my husband and I require of them around the home in the other. As they inevitably grow up, connecting joy and responsibility is a helpful reference point in all of our family conversations .

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Our family cleaning routine loosely divides into two major categories right now: daily and weekly tasks. My children’s daily responsibilities fall more into the tidying up category such as

  • making beds
  • washing/folding/putting away laundry (they do their own 1-2 times/week)
  • cleaning the kitchen (washing/drying/putting away dishes; wiping down counters and table; sweeping floors–each child has a rotating role)
  • putting away their toys or school work at the end of the day

Aside from the kitchen, we do little actual cleaning during the week. Then every Friday afternoon, prior to our family Sabbath meal, my children and I set aside a couple of hours for our weekly responsibilities of cleaning of our family home. We spend a lot of time in and around our home, so it’s nice to have a hard finish to our week by tidying up any remaining clutter from our work and play. Ending Friday with fresh linens and clean floors and bathrooms feels celebratory before the weekend, even for the kids. In our current season, Friday seems to work best for this, as it adds an extra layer of enjoyment to Saturday’s play and rest. I try to help them (and myself) remember that part when the tasks become mundane. As with everything else in life, I’d say we’re not perfect but learning. Our home is certainly not spotless all the time, and some Fridays we run out of hours before everything is finished. But isn’t that too a lesson in real life?

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with childrenchores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Since these sort of conversations can often be interesting to parents. I thought I’d share a bit about our family cleaning responsibilities and routine here in the event it might be helpful in your own home.

Begin laundering the linens in the morning. | After we have eaten breakfast, the children strip their beds instead of making them. Since we have four beds worth of bedding  and bath mats to wash, I like to get this moving in the morning so it’s finished by our dinner hour. Bedding and bath rugs are the only laundry for this day. Clothing and towels are washed during the other weekdays. We switch the laundry throughout our school morning

Gather and refill all cleaning supplies. | Since we now make most of our own cleaning products, I usually take a moment to make and refill all of our spray bottles (using my favorite non-toxic cleaning recipes) just after lunch on Friday. I make sure the duster, broom, mops, cloths, and scrub brushes are all in an accessible spot for everyone.

Create detailed cleaning lists for each space. | Over the years, I’ve realized my children do not see things the way I do when it comes to what is clean. Ha! Imagine. When I set them on a task, whether washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom, our ideas of “finished” vary dramatically. This year, I wrote a list of very specific tasks for each space in our home for my children to check off during our weekly cleaning time. Some of the tasks seem almost silly to write out, for instance one from the bathroom list, “Place toothbrush holder and soap dispenser  back on the clean counter” or “place the shampoo/conditioner/soap in the shower after it is cleaned.” For adults, these imperatives seem laughingly intuitive, and yet you have no idea how many times I’ve walked into a “finished” bathroom to find these bottles on the floor or another surface. Lists help create a sense of sameness and agreement about what “finished” really means. Although the lists look longer, each task is smaller, giving a sense of accomplishment as each is finished. I’m sure there are beautiful cleaning lists or templates you can purchase on Etsy or elsewhere, but I made ours in a moment with only lined paper and a pencil. I plan to go back to create a cleaner, laminated copy one day, but this works for now. If paper isn’t your family’s style, consider an app like ChoreMonster to help organize your lists and rewards.

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with childrenchores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Find age-appropriate tasks. | This is the hardest part, yes? I’ve begun by simply taking notice as we clean or work in the yard/garden together. What types of work can be more challenging or too  much for them? Is it a matter of attitude or a lack of skill? Then I adjust the work as necessary. For instance, Olive at age six still needs much encouragement every step of the way through folding and putting away her laundry. Leaving her alone for too long with a large basket can be overwhelming and frustrating for her, even though she is capable, so I first ask her to first sort her basket by category: tops, bottoms, undies/PJs, and hanging clothes. I then check back and ask her to fold the tops neatly and put them away, then the bottoms, and so on. This helps break up the tasks she’s completing on her own into manageable bits for her age, whereas the older three (ages nine-twelve) take care of their laundering start to finish. I do often prompt them, “Do you need to do laundry today?” The goal of our parenthood is never to crush the children with burden, but to give them enough weight to make them stronger as they grow. Since at every age they are all learning, we still come alongside them in the process. Also, begin small. If your child doesn’t have any current cleaning responsibilities, begin with simple tasks such as vacuuming or sweeping or wiping down surfaces. I’m convinced all children love using spray bottles, and I keep a child-sized broom and mini dustpan/brush set hanging in the girls’ room, since it’s easier to use than our larger broom. Vacuuming is of course more thorough for children to collect dirt before mopping.

Work in sync. | Again, this seems obvious, but when we are all working at one time, it’s good for there to be order in the work. In our home, we begin in the common spaces: kitchen, dining, and living room, move into the bathrooms and bedrooms, and finish by mopping it all.

Take breaks. | Break up your tasks in a way that you and your children can take periodic breaks. Pay attention to when your children naturally begin to sit down or daze off. Take a break and head outdoors for a bit. For younger children this might be a 20 minute window. Make races against the clock or against you. “Can you clean out under your bed faster than me? Let’s race and find out!” Our older children can work for up to 90 minutes before I generally notice their lagging. We tend to take a mid-afternoon pause for snack on the lawn or front porch. The girls might ride their bikes for a bit and the boys play catch. This renews them to finish the task.

Turn on music. | Rotate music you and your children enjoy listening to and play it loudly for everyone to enjoy. This helps keep the tone of our time together upbeat and light. We all have turns choosing something, which means we listen to everything from film soundtracks to Taylor Swift to Arcade Fire to Andrew Byrd or Patty Griffin. The idea is play music you all can enjoy at some point.

Cleaning and taking care of the home requires a lot of patience for ourselves and our children, but we all share the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished–high-fives and hugs all around. Since the topic of allowance is so closely linked, I’m planning to share a bit about that next week. Stay tuned. Happy Friday!



October 2015



unravel your photos 02 | see the big picture

Written by , Posted in PHOTOGRAPHY

unravel your photos


I’ve been quietly working through the photography boot camp, Unravel Your Photos, with Life:Captured and Artifact Uprising the past few weeks. These lessons are a sort of retreat for myself–efforts I know will pay enormous dividends in my own workflow, but also as my own children begin taking and editing their own photos, too. For those of you unfamiliar, the online course is designed to help organize photos in Adobe Lightroom, a photo software I’ve used for over two years now (and highly recommend). You can read more about why I’m taking it and what I learned after lesson one here. Unsurprisingly, I am shocked by how little I knew about Lightroom and am so impressed with how direct and clear Ronnie’s lessons are. (I also adore hearing her Australian accent on the videos.)

The second lesson of the course is entitled “See the Big Picture,” which tackles the more confusing topics surrounding the Lightroom catalogue, such as how to label and organize folders in one system. Do you remember how I likened my computer’s photo storage to a closet? Well, this class turned on the lights so I could see exactly how messy and disorganized my hard drive “closet” really is. My phone images were separate of my DSLR camera photos. I had photos in multiple places, labeled by date but also by writing topic. Basically, I had photos everywhere. Ugh.

In “The Big Picture,” Ronnie demystifies the Lightroom catalogue by showing exactly how to find where the master files are stored on the computer’s hard drive and what happens to the photos when you edit in Lightroom. She uses step-by-step video tutorials to teach how to create a new master folder for all of your images, clearly labeled by date down to the second. This is SO helpful! Still, perhaps the best new habit I’m establishing as a result of this class is the weekly or bi-weekly importing and backing up of my photos. Clearing my phone and camera of photo clutter and keeping all the images in one place makes the task of sorting and processing feel far less daunting. As with any area of my life, bringing order to this mess is bringing a new simplicity to my work flow and time. If this class might be helpful for you, Ronnie and Trish have opened registration for the same class beginning in January. I’ll be back with lesson three sooner this time. Wink.





October 2015



42 | 52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT


2015 | week 422015 | week 422015 | week 42


You must do the things you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

olive | You feel things deeply, and for being still so small, you often express yourself with equal emotion and zeal. Don’t ever wish it away or believe that you are too much. Your spark is a gift, one intended to bring life.

blythe | You turned nine this week. As we sat around the dinner table, telling you the reasons we’re grateful for you, your face and spirit came alive.  We love you, and it’s just so beautiful watching you grow into yourself.

burke | You are a quiet, deep thinker, something I’ve always appreciated about you. I love seeing you learning to take time away from the crowd, learning to give space for that which nurtures your heart. You’re almost finished memorizing Kipling’s If. Last night, you told Nina your favorite line is ”If you can dream and not make dreams your master / If you can think and not make thoughts your aim.” A fitting answer, I think.

liam | There is a hidden light and wisdom in you, currently cloaked in glasses and braces and boyhood.  As Paul once said to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”



October 2015



homeschooling | fighting the lull

Written by , Posted in HOMESCHOOL



Around this point in every semester, my children and I tend to hit a lull in our learning together. The enthusiasm of fresh beginnings is waning and other areas of life begin to crowd in, diverting attention and easily sliding us out of routine. Am I alone in this? We are caught in the nebulous middle of our term, far from both the start and our finish around the holidays. Perhaps it is here where I’m most likely to forget goals each year, to lose sight of what we wanted in the beginning when I felt so hopeful and full of clear vision–or at least more energy. Wink.

By this point in our unofficial school year, I’ve realized maybe some goals I had in August are meant to be pruned and left by the wayside for another year or season. Our handwork, for instance, has been slow, as we’ve encountered trouble I didn’t anticipate. I’m not intending to let it go, but I didn’t understand how long it would take to work on skills unfamiliar to all of us. Slow is okay, I have to remind myself. We have no tests or checkmarks to prove, take your time and enjoy it. This seems to be a fitting reminder in all of our work. Some of our science or history projects have seemed to fall away simply because of time, which is okay too. But it begs the honest question of myself: how do I fight the lull, the longing to shove aside what is hard and instead sink into comfortable, yet aimless days? I know, as with tidying or anything else, I’m looking for that tender balance between effort and letting go. Here’s a few things I’m trying right now.

relax the routine a bit | Last week, emotions seemed to be running fairly high around here, and I knew we needed to change our routine up a bit. I let the kids sleep in and we limited our academic work to practicing maths and a bit of reading each day. We took a few mornings out for hiking and other things. It was sort of a fall break, a way for us to experience a change while keeping with a few, small goals.

make time for yourself to be inspired | I realized part of why I feel fresh with vision at the beginning of the year directly connects to the amount of time I’m giving to learning myself. I read everything from books to blogs, sifting through ideas and finding ones that might fit our family. Once we begin our school year, this sort of time naturally falls away, too. We are busy doing! This week, I’m planning a little more time for myself. I’ve begun sifting through books and magazines I’ve read before, notes I’ve made, perusing blogs or Pinterest for help revising my original ideas and searching for fresh inspiration. In short, I’m taking time to nurture my own love of learning. It’s a good start.

ask my children | This can seem simple and obvious, and yet I sometimes forget to simply ask my children their thoughts about our routine. Since my children are getting older this is getting easier to naturally discuss while we’re making dinner or reading together. I ask them them questions such as, “How is our work going for you?” “What’s difficult or dull for you during our day?” “What’s your favorite thing you’re learning right now?” “Is there anything you’re sad we don’t have enough time for?” These straightforward questions help bond us in such an insightful way.

Do you experience this sort of lull in your routine? How do you fight your own or your children’s lack of enthusiasm?  I would love to hear.




October 2015



homeschooling | recent work

Written by , Posted in HOMESCHOOL



Although it can be challenging to find the time, I really enjoy sharing bits of our homeschooling journey with others here and elsewhere to help encourage and inspire them on their own path. I recently wrote a bit about how we memorize poetry in our home for Babiekins Magazine, which you can now read today, and also have a tutorial for making wildflower seed balls in their current print issue. This month, I also wrote quite a lengthy article on how we are preparing our children for college (and adulthood) for Wild+Free, which you can find in this month’s bundle “Woodland.” Some other bits I’ve written in the last few months that you may find helpful (and linked in one place):



October 2015



41 | 52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT


2015 | week 412015 | week 412015 | week 41

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  –Matthew 5:14, The Message 

olive | You’ve lost so many teeth the last few months, leaving large gaps in your bright smile. Sometimes when you first wake up and your hair is matted from your sleep, you look a bit zany. You smile with large gapping teeth and eyes full of spark, like anything is possible.

blythe | Most days, you’re still the first to wake up. You always come to find me and snuggle. You purchased a more sophisticated coloring book last spring, similar to one I had received as a gift. Since your toddlerhood, you have loved to order color with smooth, strong strokes. On the weekends, when life is a little slower, we often pull out the colored pencils and fill in our favorite coloring books together until everyone else wakes up. I love this simple time with you.

burke | Ten has been such a pivotal year for you. In most every manner, you’re growing more confident in your voice and thoughts, and although it can be hard at times, I love that you’re growing into a richer version of you. The edges will smooth with time and maturity. Also, this Ghostbuster tee is your new favorite, and when you walk into the room, your dad and I chorus, “who you gonna call?” And you smile.

liam | Since your young years, I’ve noticed how other children flock to you, drawn by your playful, gentle nature and magnetic in energy. Your name means “strong defender,” and as I watch you bolt more quickly toward manhood each day, I also notice your kindness and wisdom growing, too. A bundle of flowers in one hand and a stick in the other–one who defends with gentleness. You’re going to be a good leader one day.