cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



May 2015



on endurance of heart

Written by , Posted in COLLABORATION, SOUL



So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

We’re nearing the final days of May, a little shocking for me since this month has been so atypically cool and rainy. Still, I’m ready. We’re all eager to wrap up our school year, including the mister who will be finished with his own at the end of next week! I love my children. I love homeschooling. But I’m always a little weary by this point. Summer is the season where our family recovers and restores, and after a full summer expended on home projects last year, this one is long overdue.

I’ve often written about seasons here, both the literal and figurative sort. After an enormous financial loss a few years ago and two moves later, I’ve found regular comfort at the thought of seasons, the perspective that extremes of any kind–whether the heat from the sun or the hardship of our circumstances–do end or change at some point.

I know my weariness may come by surprise to some of you, as life via this space is edited and only seen in part. I select and write about bits and pieces, hinting at the whole. They are honest snippets of a larger story, but rarely reveal the grit of the day: the unwilling children, the unmet goals, the doubt, and even at times the tears. And we have a good mix of all of it. I hope that offers someone encouragement.


As I have thought about it recently, so many of our current family goals are long-term oriented: parenthood, homeschooling, home renovation. Although we deeply care about each part, the truth is: parenting is hard. Homeschooling is hard. Living in a partially-finished home is hard. My husband works a full-time and a part-time job to keep our family afloat, so that I can stay home with our children and homeschool them. I write and photograph part-time (often at odd hours or on weekends) here and elsewhere, to help fill in financial gaps for things like soccer or ballet lessons or orthodontic braces. We are a team, a duo working in tandem with one another in every capacity, and by this time in the year, our endurance is waining.

I cried over coffee with him this morning. I don’t cry very often, but this one I could feel coming, my fingers grazing the borders of our capacity for too long. I had begun to lose heart, lose focus. In this place doubt feels the loudest. He listened and then gently offered encouraging perspective. We’ve had so many drastic changes over a short period of time and have adjusted as many circumstances as possible to uphold the people and ideas we love most. I love him for always leaving me with laughter and words that point me to Jesus.


Whoever we are, whether parenting or homeschooling or planning a career, whether working through financial pitfalls or sickness in ourself or in someone we love, life requires endurance. It requires intermittent pause and breath and water–literally and figuratively–ways to gather perspective and restore our souls a bit along the way. I realized this year, I had stopped prioritizing these little pauses for myself. Focused on needs and work at hand, I had stopped exercising or making regular time for reading and praying or taking care of my overall health. I naturally gained a bit of weight and felt more sluggish in thought. I missed feeling strong, clear of mind and heart. So earlier this month, I began finding quiet for myself again. I began running/walking and practicing some yoga on my front porch a few times a week again. These simple moments and movements allow me time to stretch and pray and listen, to quiet the swirling lists of TO DOs and demands. Although these moments won’t solve life’s conflict, they give me courage and ultimately remind my heart to endure. Be strong and courageous, friends.


This post is in partnership with Hooked Productions, a small family-run business in upstate New York which designs and creates eco-friendly clothing, using bamboo and organic cotton. I love their motto: “live the life you love. love the life you live.” And I’m grateful to all of the businesses that help keep this space alive. As always, all thoughts are my own. 

Images by Kristen Douglass of Fidelis Studio. 



May 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



“Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood.”
― Pablo Neruda

olive | The Monarch butterfly on our front porch emerged from its chrysalis this week. We all gathered around watching it occasionally spread its wings to dry off. I had to keep reminding you to give it space and of course not to touch it–the hardest part for you all.

blythe | Your ballet recital was last weekend. We all piled in the car to watch your few minutes on the stage, floating and twirling, your eyes and mouth smiling wide. I love how your spirit comes alive in movement.

burke | You selected a book on baking from the library last week. You chose a recipe for banana creme pie, and we spent the afternoon rolling dough and browning butter for custard. It was both of our first times to bake a pie. Each Sunday morning, you and dad make pancakes for the rest of us.  You love being in the kitchen, although not with a crowd.

liam | This week, I took you for a haircut, and suddenly, I couldn’t see the little boy any longer. You are almost as tall as I am.



May 2015



madewell + cloistered away

Written by , Posted in STYLE + SOUNDS



I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be hosting an event at Madewell in Dallas, Texas, next Saturday evening to celebrate the beginning of summer.  I’ve always appreciated the brand’s minimalist design and simple palettes–something that resonates with all aspects of our home and lifestyle–and this is such a wonderful way to meet some of you! Come join me for delicious cocktails and nibbles while we mingle and meet one another (or even hug the neck of long-time friends!), and of course for a little discount to enjoy in the shop, too. I will be hand-picking a few of my favorite summer pieces to share–which as you might know by now will include summer whites. (Wink.) I hope to see you there!


saturday, may 30 / 5-7pm

madewell northpark / 8687 north central expressway / dallas, texas 75225

rsvp /

shop this look / sunbask tank top  / high riser skinny skinny jeans / straw mesa hat




May 2015



simple play + several books to inspire it

Written by , Posted in HOMESCHOOL


simple_play-7simple_play-6The girls received beautiful play scarves from Shovava last week, and the timing could not have been better as it has rained almost every day of the last two weeks. We’ve had almost 30″ of rain since January. The boys keep joking that they almost played soccer this season–since they’ve had more games and practices canceled than they’ve actually played at this point. A soul-crushing reality for 10 and 11 year olds.

The kids have gone out to play in the rain several times lately, although I suppose they only want to be cold and wet for so long before they return to the porch or the indoors again. After our more formal studies are finished, our time indoors generally drifts toward art-work or books or various sorts of indoor play. The boys will sometimes play basketball in their room or build Legos across the floor. The girls tend more toward pretend play, sometimes mimicking everyday life like making food or taking care of babies, and other times living in stories as animals or fairies or queens.  The scarves have added a fresh flavor for the girls’ daily pretend play. Roza, the owner/deisigner of the Australian-based shop, draws and paints the wing designs by hand before screen-printing, and the light and soft material gives the wings such presence and flight during play. This week they have worn them as wings and head wraps and neck scarves in almost every variety of role. It’s so amazing what a piece of cloth can inspire, yes?


My children play at home in quite creative, simple ways. I do allow them a bit of daily screen time, usually toward the dinner hour, and I’m not entirely rigid on this topic. Yet I learn so much about them during their play, whether the characters they become or the buildings they create. They also learn much about themselves, their dreams, their ingenuity. When they speak the word bored, I kindly remind them that boredom is their responsibility to resolve, but I usually offer them a few options to get their brains ticking. Our culture is full of passive entertainment with screens–and our family certainly enjoys that part, too–but as a parent, I want my children to begin learning now how to take responsibility for the way they live, even in small ways and at young ages. Life is something we choose, something we create daily. As adults, we choose daily how we spend our limited resources of time and money, and sometimes it requires great creativity and problem solving. These habits and lessons begin in our children in quite small, seemingly unimportant ways. Giving them space and time to create and play on their own seems small and trivial. However, it is teaching important skills necessary in adulthood, such as problem solving and decision-making, even lessons in compassion, empathy, and change of perspective.



We love reading books around here. And I particularly love books that celebrate imagination and ingenuity. Here’s a few of our favorites. If you have a few of your own to recommend, I would love to know so we can find them on our next library trip. Wink.







May 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT


2015_week20-22015_week20-32015_week20-4olive | You seem to be shifting daily, looking less and less little each day. You’ve been sleeping later this week, some days until mid-morning, an indication you might be growing or working harder to keep up with your older siblings.

blythe | Although you are maturing into older things and conversations, I’m so grateful you still love to play, to imagine. I hope that part of your spirit always remains alive.

burke | Your quiet disposition keeps me guessing as a parent more than any of the other kids, and you surprise me with the most thoughtful (and sometimes random) moments. Thank you.

liam | You helped clear another section of our yard last weekend, in a moment of rare sunshine. The next morning you woke up, your eyes sealed shut from an allergic reaction to poison ivy. Your face has now cleared, but was still puffy and patchy when I took this image of you. We’ll leave the details for our own privacy.



May 2015



an Instagram series | editing your phone photos

Written by , Posted in PHOTOGRAPHY


I like to think of editing less as a fix-it shop and more as the place where photos come to life, where the story or subject is emphasized. Honestly, there’s not an exact science to this process for me, and many of the skills I now use, I’ve learned over the years through observation and playing with settings and filters. There’s simply no substitute for practice when taking photos or editing. Generally, I prefer images with natural light, clean angles, a focused subject and muted tones. Perhaps your own style is similar, perhaps not. There are millions of different ways to edit a photo, but as I mentioned previously, this is simply my contribution to the conversation. I hope it inspires you.


edit with VSCO | There are several fantastic editing applications for phones these days. It can almost be overwhelming. Since each one works a little differently, it’s best to choose one or two and stick with them. I use the VSCO application (Visual Supply Co.) for all of my editing. I love its simple format, filter options and settings, and its ease for storing and sharing. There are several other high-quality editing applications, such as Afterlight and Pic-Tap-Go, even Instagram itself is offering more range these days, but for purposes of sharing my own tips and tricks here, this will be more specific to the VSCO application.

upload 1-3 images | VSCO organizes the photos in a grid gallery just like Instagram. As I mentioned earlier, I often take more than one image, often with different angles in mind, so I choose my top favorites and upload them into the VSCO app gallery. Sometimes I immediately have a favorite, even before editing, but usually I have more than one I like. I upload both or even three, edit, choose my favorite, and delete the other two from the VSCO.

crop + straighten  | I always take images in full portrait or horizontal orientation. So the first thing I do in VSCO is crop to make a square image for Instagram. I then use the straightening tool to either turn the image completely–sometimes the aerial shots will turn out upside-down–or I simply straighten the existing lines, i.e. adjusting the horizon to be horizontal, or the fence, windows, or tree trunk in the background to be vertical.

exposure | If the image is a little dark, I might brighten the exposure a tad. If I’ve taken an image midday, I might lower the exposure a notch to make the color more rich.


filters | I don’t use the same filter for every image. I like to have a similar feel to all of my images, so I’ll use different filters based on the light conditions to create a similar style throughout my Instagram gallery. For bright light or white backgrounds, I generally use the “bright + clean” presets (favorite: S2) or the “aesthetic series” (favorites: A4 or A6). For moodier lighting (grey days, early mornings indoor, table scenes, etc.), I use the “minimalist collection” (favorites: A8, A9, J2, J5). Occasionally, I use other filters but the ones I listed are my regular go-to’s. Also, to note, I rarely use a filter at full strength. I usually knock it down to between 6 and 8 on the filter scale, and then I tweak individually using the settings.

temperature + tint | All of the filters have specific temperature (cooler blue tones or warmer red tones) and tint (green and purple). Sometimes after applying a filter, one of the two is a little off for matching my other images, so I tweak one a bit to balance the whites in my gallery.

contrast + saturation  + sharpening | These are the final things I sometimes do to tweak after using the filter. I prefer less color-saturated images, so sometimes I knock the saturation down a notch to give a more muted feel. Or I boost the contrast or sharpen the image a tad to create a little less-muddled light or subject.


For the record, I don’t use every setting every time. Sometimes when the light and focus are perfect, I might barely tweak the image at all. Then again, some images need a little more time than others to bring life to the image’s story or the moment itself–whatever I had envisioned when I first pulled out my phone for the shot. My images aren’t perfect, and often I have to work really hard to let that perfectionism go. In the end, years from now looking back through these, I know I’ll want the memory and story more than the perfect shot. These are just helpful tips I use to make the best of it.



May 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



olive | For Mother’s Day, you hugged me and said, “mom, I love that you are always kind to me and never feist me.” “Do you mean fight?” I asked. “No,” you assured me. “I meant feist.” You hugged me again, and I knew it was straight from your heart.  

blythe | You are maturing by the moment, it seems. Somedays you are by my side, a kindred sidekick, and other days, you seem vehemently opposed to me. You’re reaching the age of standing your ground, making your own place, and learning about authority even when you disagree. Such concentrated lessons and sharply contrasting moments we’re having right now. I’m glad to have plenty of laughs to balance the latter.

burke | You told me this week how grateful you are that I help you solve problems in math, and in life, and this brought some bit of new air to me. Being a parent is hard. Growing up is also hard. I’m glad we get to work through both together.

liam | You’re still my wanderer. In your school work. On an afternoon walk. In a conversation. I regularly catch you off the beaten path, not yet realizing your confident curiosity is a gift.