cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



May 2015



an Instagram series |taking images with your phone

Written by , Posted in PHOTOGRAPHY


For the last year, I’ve intended to feature a little Instagram series here. I’m quite flattered when I receive questions on IG and in my inbox on how I use the app, especially when there are so many incredible people taking and sharing beautiful images out there. Naturally, there are several ways to take an image or edit and use it, but I thought it might be nice to finally contribute a little something of my own to the conversation. I began taking photos with my phone a few years ago after my first DSLR died. I found iPhone-ography simple and accessible. The finger tapping and swiping felt intuitive, making it easier for me to experiment with the art of photography, taking images and editing them (more on that later). Instagram’s simple platform made sharing these images equally easy, and over time, it has become somewhat of a microblog for me, for our family. Most questions I receive are about editing, but honestly, editing is easy and quick if you begin with a great image. So we’ll begin there. Here’s a few tips and tricks I use when framing or composing an image with my phone camera. I hope they inspire or help you in some way. (wink.)

use a camera app | I take most of my Instagram images using my iPhone 5 (over two years old), and have used either the Camera Sharp app or Camera+ app. Both apps give you far more control and creates sharper images overall than the iPhone camera, in my experience. Camera+ even has a macro lens option and manual control of exposure. After selecting and editing my image, I upload to Instagram. I’ll talk more about this process in a later post. 

choose a clear subject | There’s always a reason you’re drawn to pull out your phone in a moment–a specific activity or interaction, a slice of nature, a beautiful meal, a proud moment of accomplishment. Draw your image to that subject. Sometimes that might mean a close detail shot, a tight image of your  project or meal or child’s hands. Other times, it might mean pulling back, surveying a scene, the coastline, a silhouette in gorgeous light,  people interacting. Direct your image to what subject you want to convey. When possible (or just to play around), take 2-3 perspectives of the moment: one more detailed and close; another more removed, surveying the scene; and possibly a third from a different angle entirely, like low to the ground or birds-eye. Which expresses the subject more clearly to you?

use natural light + exposure | The quality of all images begins with light. Take your phone images during the day. If you’re indoors, stay close to windows. Sometimes I scoot a table closer to the window or wait for one of my kids to move their activity to a well-lit area. In the morning, light is usually soft and muted. In the late afternoon, light is usually golden and full of contrasting shadow. Use exposure buttons on your camera app–usually by tapping the screen with two fingers at once. Move the ‘E’ circle or square around your screen to see how the shadows and highlights change on your screen. Light itself can sometimes become the subject. In those instances, I might expose to the light of a window, even though it darkens my children’s faces or what they’re doing to focus on the mood of the moment.

show scale | Everyone has had that moment of trying to explain how big the mountain actually was compared or how small your tiny your infant was at birth. I love scale for this purpose, especially with children. They’re little for such a short period of time, so make sure to show it. This might mean taking an image of tiny children in a tree or having your toddler standing between your legs or a close-up of them on your hip.  The idea is to have some marker in your image to give scale to how large or small someone or something is.

find lines |  Lines exist everywhere, in furniture, buildings, along our bodies and nature. Use these natural lines to align your subject. For instance, using the grid lines on your camera app or in Instagram, make sure your existing background lines–perhaps the horizon or the window frame or building edge or tree trunk–are parallel or perpendicular to your subject. How do they work together? You’ll notice it’s easier to keep your lines straight if you phone is parallel to the subject, instead of tilted. For example, a phone that is directly parallel over the table for your food or drink shot, opposed to tilted from above. Or an eye-level photo, rather than simply tilting the phone down at your child from your standing position.




May 2015



17/52 + 18/52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT


2015_week17-22015_week17-32015_week17-5olive| You found a turtle in our backyard this week and named him Wonder Kay Douglass. Wonder–for the way you said he must think about the world, and Kay after your middle name. You asked us to keep him, and we said yes. The following day you set Wonder on a rock while you cleaned out and rearranged his new habitat. I found you crying, searching the grass for him. I gave you the biggest hug and reminded you how much Wonder liked to wonder and wander through the great big world. And then we went inside, washed our hands, and made cookies.

blythe | I find you reading most anything these days from my text messages to magazines to books. This week, you called me into your room to hear something you had written. It was a page and half of your thoughts beginning with “Dear Diary.” I hope you read your diary entries to me for a long while.

burke | You lost another tooth this week, and I can hardly believe you’re only a few teeth shy of your adulthood mouth. Then again, it will be a while before your body catches up with your old soul. Every morning you and your siblings spread the newspaper out across the porch, primarily searching for the comics. You told us today that the comics should be on the front page.

liam | You look so much older in this image. Some days I can see time in your face, the boyishness becoming man. You read more books than I can count this week, mostly anything you could find by Rick Riordan. Your heart craves adventure.

2015_week18-12015_week18-22015_week18-32015_week18-4olive | you are so expressive, shaping your eyes in a way that communicates a gamut of emotion. I love this about you.

blythe | You’re testing for a new level of ballet this month, and as you’ve taken specific classes to prepare, you told your dad and I both you prefer these classes to your usual. “I like the challenge of it,” you say, which doesn’t surprise me a bit.

burke | We’ve been walking through hard things together in our dynamic together, things I don’t want to detail here, but that I want to note. I reminded both of us this week, God is the perfect designer. He creates us and knows us and puts us into families. Burke, I’m grateful God put us in the same family, even when it’s difficult.

liam | We’ve been more removed from formally organized events and groups this year for several reasons, something that’s been very difficult for your more extroverted nature. While I know this is only for a season of time, it’s still difficult to watch you go through hard things. I know one day you’ll understand, but for now I hope this season builds a chest full of courage and hope within you, a willingness to move forward even when life is tough.




April 2015



prayers + blooms

Written by , Posted in SOUL


We planted small hydrangeas alongside our garage last month. The pathway faces our backyard garden and lines the avenue to our outdoor grill, a well-loved space in the coming months. Hydrangeas, named for the Greek words water and vessel, are one of my favorite flowers and are generally recognized as symbols of heartfelt emotion. This week, they have been blooming in vibrant shades of pink and pale purplish blues.

Over breakfast this weekend, my son prayed, “Dear God, let the people of Nepal know your nearness that their grief would not overtake them.” I thought of our small hydrangeas in the backyard, offering their blooms to the sky. Perhaps this week, they are vessels of tears, like my young son, offering humble pleas to God for comfort and peace. Grief has a way of transcending borders and large bodies of water, but the same is true of hope. Our hearts are broken for so many people we don’t even know.



April 2015



homeschool | studying the human body

Written by , Posted in HOMESCHOOL


We’ve never used a formal science curriculum over here. Instead, we’ve learned more through reading about and observing the natural world. My children will tell you it is one of their favorite parts of our days. This year, we have primarily focused on anatomy, and each has created their own body book (an idea inspired by my friend Kirsten).  We took a break from anatomy for much of March and April, as we spent more time preparing for our garden and working in the yard. As my children grow older, I’m more aware of how our school work ebbs and flows with our life work and seasons. I’m noticing patterns, more of which I hope to plan around better for next year–but that’s a different topic. Thus far, we have read about the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems. As we are turning back to our books this week, we’ll aim to complete the respiratory, skeletal, muscular, reproductive, and endocrine systems. (Yikes–that’s a lot.) We’ve taken more unanticipated breaks through this study, but the nice part of homeschooling is not being in a hurry, or limited to a particular schedule, to complete a project. And so, we gather our resources and begin again.


reference books | During our study, we’ve used many books from our local library in addition to the books we own. We’ve referenced everything from science encyclopedias to early readers, adapting as we go. I’ll usually browse several books ahead of time, to choose the ones that might work the best for us. We take turns reading and usually have several books open at once for visuals. Some of our favorite references this year have been The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, a neatly organized and detailed reference, and The Way We Work, by David Macauley, a robust and cleverly illustrated reference. We’ve also used simple readers we’ve collected over the years at used book stores or during our library trip, such as Usborne books, Let’s Read and Find Out Science series, The Magic School Bus series, and sight word readers.

projects | When possible I try to include a few projects or experiments since, like most kids, my own children love making or playing with ideas. This year we’ve done a few projects, such as taking our pulse/heart rate, identifying our senses by using a blindfold, or crafting a brain replica with clay.


body books | This year, we’ve used the simple primary composition notebooks found in office supply stores to create our body books. The primary one is set up with partially ruled/un-ruled pages as shown. Next year, I’ll move to using the Strathmore notebooks, as they’re a little larger. Each lesson, my children sketch and color an image pertaining to the day’s reading. They then illustrate, label, and write a bit about what we’ve read together. The boys enjoy creating their own sentences, so after they’re finished, we look for spelling and grammar corrections. They record their misspelled words in their spelling notebooks, which become a part of a future spelling lesson. For the girls, I still rely on the narration/dictation/copywork model. We talk about what we’ve read. They give me a sentence or two, which I write and they copy. It’s a little advanced for Olive yet, but like most youngest children, she wants to do what everyone else is doing.

making mistakes | You’ll notice Liam still struggles with spelling, but he understands the concepts and how to create clear, concise sentences, as does my left-handed Burke who still struggles with letter reversals and capitalizing mid-sentence. In earlier years, I tended to correct them along the way, often seeing their mistakes as a reflection of my poor teaching–especially if it’s something someone else might see. I’m sharing the imperfections here so you see, no one is perfect, especially not this mother. Be patient with yourself and your children and try not to control the learning process, combing for results. I’m learning to move them forward in certain areas, while returning to basic skills in other areas over and over until they master them. That means Burke still does simple handwriting exercises and Liam is still in earlier spelling years, even though they both read voraciously far above his years. We repeat again and again, knowing it will catch one day. These mistakes are a part of life, a part of our body. They do not make any of us failures.



April 2015



a conversation on trees and small habits

Written by , Posted in COLLABORATION, OUR HOME



Several weeks ago, long after my children were in bed, one snuck out to the kitchen to find me–I’ll leave names and pronouns loose to preserve the intimacy of our story. I noticed s/he had been crying, the sort of crying that leaves eyes red and swollen. During the previous hour, this one’s mind had wandered to our old home and the trees, and now s/he whispered to me, “I miss climbing our old trees. I was thinking about all of them, how we named them and would play in them for hours–especially the huge oak. Do you remember? We don’t have those kind of climbing trees here, and it made me really sad.” It has been almost two years since we moved from that home, and sometimes the ripples of our transition still catch me off guard. I didn’t see this particular thought coming at all. Large shade trees surround our current home, and it had never occurred to me that they weren’t climbable. Sometimes in our life transitions, we overlook the most ordinary parts.


I’ve reflected on our conversation several times since that evening–more often pointing out climbing trees anywhere we walk or visit. I’m thankful for the ways that my children love and enjoy the earth, the way they appreciate Creation in simple, un-fancy ways. Although we don’t have anything extraordinary planned to celebrate Earth Day today, I thought I’d share a few simple ways our family enjoys and works to preserve the environment during the other part of the year. We’re not perfect, or even what I’d term environmentalists, but every small habit makes a difference.


outdoor play | We spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the spring and fall. It’s fun to have the kids collect pieces of nature and create art pieces with it. Or other times we just kick a ball around or identify the birds.  Some days we bring our school work or our meal outdoors. In my opinion, if you want to begin nurturing the earth, you begin by enjoying it. ;)

plant trees | All of the trees my children enjoy were planted by someone else. We recently planted 18 new trees in our yard (making sure a few are climbable) for future generations to enjoy. Pay forward.

plant a garden | Our garden isn’t large enough for us to live on, but it’s enough for my children to learn about the process of food, and a little about where it comes from.

compost + harvest rain water | We’ve done this in the past, and haven’t set it up here. In progress. ;)

recycle | This seems obvious, but our small town doesn’t have curbside recycling. We have to sort and drop-off, so many people in our area still don’t recycle because of the inconvenience. Recycling helps me see the wasted packaging or bags.

purchase/sell gently-used clothing | I still purchase new clothing for myself and our children, but when possible, I always look at thrift/vintage shops first. I’ve found some really great shops via Instagram and Etsy, too.

support small businesses | When possible, I try to buy goods and food locally or from smaller businesses. Honestly, this is the hardest one for me because of finances (often the reason I purchase used), but I really love and admire small businesses, especially ones who source well and give back.

reuse | When possible we’ve refinished salvaged or hand-me-down furniture. Most of the shelves in our home are from other buildings. We try to keep our eyes open for quality materials we can use soon. We have no interest in becoming a storage yard, so you have to be thoughtful to know how you will use the materials right away. If you like a piece of furniture, know where you’ll put it before you purchase it–regardless of how good of deal it is.

hand-wash dishes | Honestly, this is because we don’t have a dishwasher. I would like a dishwasher though. And so would my children.

DIY cleaners | I’m using essential oils more and more around our home, and this is one of my favorite ways. I reuse bottles, saving disposable packaging, and help keep the air in our home clean.

Also, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate the day, here’s a list of 50 Earth Day activities to do with kids. Do you have any of your own ideas to share?  Happy Earth Day to you!


This post is sponsored by Winter Water Factory, a small business in Brooklyn, NY, specialized in organic clothing and textiles for children, made in the USA.





April 2015



15/52 + 16/52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



olive | Every morning you brush your hair and tie it up on your own. Sometimes you ask to wear lip gloss, and when I tell you no, you respond, “but you do!” as if we are the same age.

blythe | You’ve been pushing some buttons lately, which has always been a flag that you need more quality time together. You’re getting older and, as such, our time together is growing sweeter, deeper. I’m grateful.

burke | You’re often like a cat, moving from one spot to another, lying in the sun. For a boy who barely slept as a baby, I can barely wake you now. You’re making up for lost time, I suppose.

liam | You entered a Lego contest this week, and on our way there, you noted, “I just realized a lot of kids might not know what this is.” I laughed at your old soul. You won a prize for the most sophisticated entry.



olive | You weren’t feeling that well this week, so I let you climb up on my bed and enjoy the ipad all on your own.

blythe | You began reading the Little House series this week, and I can hardly bare to think of how you’ll handle Jack’s death. We have a while before that though.

burke | After spending weeks (maybe months) sketching trees, you’ve moved on to eyes. “Aren’t eyes fascintating, mom?” You ask. They sure are, kid. As are you.

liam | You began The Lightning Thief series and are currently finishing one every other day. I have regularly wondered where you are, only to find you here or in the living room chair or outside with your book.



April 2015



giveaway | a photo workshop with Ginger Unzueta



everyday beauty giveaway 5 ginger unzueta

I think all mothers sense the fleeting nature of childhood at some point. We grow a longing to pause life just long enough to breathe it a little deeper, laugh a little longer, and enjoy right where we are with our children in that moment. Some mothers might feel that way in the first days and months following birth–the quiet moments nursing, the series of firsts as they unfurl from womb to infant. Other mothers enjoy the early childhood years more, when their babies can move freely and express and interact–or even later, as their children bridge into adult years, straddling two worlds at once. Regardless, a mother’s heart always rubs up against time.

We all respond a little differently to time’s slipperiness. I met an older woman last week who saved all of her daughter’s hair clippings. “I literally have bags of it,” she told me. I honestly couldn’t imagine bags of anyone’s hair around my home, but I am forever trying to store time with words and photos. This in itself can sometimes feel like catching the tide. For many of us, parenting can feel overwhelming mundane and rote. Childhood is a collection of routine nothings that we know we’ll one day miss (at least some of them). Today we went to the park. Today you played in bubbles. Today you swam underwater. Today you carried your bag to school. How do we find the moments that matter to us, the ones we’ll really want to savor in future years? I’m not always sure myself, but I keep trying through this space, Instagram, and my own portrait project. As my children grow older, and we’ve closed the door on early years, I want to see and enjoy them more in our daily living together and somehow bottle up a bit of time in the process.


Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and professional photographer, helps parents discover the lovely bits of their days–and makes us crave summertime, too. In her online workshop, Everyday Beauty, via the Bloom Forum, she leads parents to find the beauty in our routines, in the nothings. She helps her online students understand how light and composition and detail come together to create your story, but she also covers practical topics like taking photos in public or even getting in the photo yourself. (Shock.) Her next three-week online workshop in May is currently sold out, but she is offering one lucky Cloistered Away reader a spot in the class. You can read more about her workshop here, and enter to win a spot below. Make sure to check back, since some of the options are available for daily entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is in partnership with Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and business owner who loves helping other parents find the beauty in their messy days. All images are courtesy of Ginger Uzueta. All thoughts are my own.