cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



August 2014



courageous and considerate parenting


choosing curriculum-1

I recently read a Twitter chat between a cluster of homeschooling moms mourning that one had recently been asked which curriculum to use for a three-year-old. Although these moms were well-intentioned in their encouragement of one another allowing young children to learn naturally, their very public chat seemed to simultaneously outcast a different group of homeschooling parents, possibly the ones who lean toward a more traditional approach or who are new to homeschooling in general. Although I tend to agree with many of these women’s philosophies now, I felt compassion for this anonymous woman asking about curriculum. At one point, I would have asked the same. I didn’t have a clue about homeschooling when we began, and although I felt confident as a parent, my traditional public schooling had created a sort of dualism within me regarding education: things I learned at home and things I learned at school. Over the last few years, these artificial walls have been crumbling, and I’m becoming more relaxed and confident with my own style and my own children’s triumphs and struggles. But it hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning, I planned and organized and used more formal curriculums at younger ages. I wanted my kids to be school-educated–an isolated category in my mind at the time. Most importantly, I wanted to alleviate that nagging question, “had we done the right thing?”

Perhaps that word right or best is the most confounding when removed from a specific context. For instance, what is right in relation to how we each learn or manage our family? The beauty of parenting is the unique journey. As parents, we will always have something to teach and something to learn. This is how we come to need other people in our lives–even when we choose different paths. Even within households, parents will vary in degrees, and children can be as different as moon and sun, connected and individual in purpose and disposition. At five, one of my children balked at math lessons while another at the same age requested them. One of my children learned to read fluently at four and another not until age seven. I have friends whose older children still struggle with reading for various reasons. They have learned other ways to inspire their children’s learning in the process.  I know parents who formally structure their days and others who allow their children to choose the day’s agenda. I know amazing parents who homeschool, who particpate in part-time homeschool programs, and plenty who send their kids to school and find ways to enrich their education during breaks and summers. Is there a right way? Certainly not. And I hope that in this process, we are always generous with grace for one another and our children. Educational preferences and learning styles are as personal as any other family routine. There can be overlap with another family’s choices, but in the end, it’s your story; be courageous and considerate when sharing your own.

*I took this image on my phone, so it’s a little grainy.



August 2014




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



liam // You finally finished another level of math this week, through much perseverance, I might add. Most days, you’d rather draw or read or play. You’re currently working on a series of graphic characters for a story you and your brother are working on together. I love the care you take with each one’s details.

burke // You are forever my daydreamer, drifting into thoughts like the clouds.

blythe // Although you have a determined personality, you love to be silly. This side of you often shows up in the most unsuspecting moments.

olive // You’re going to a brief dance camp with your sister this week. I found you practicing in the yard in one of Blythe’s old costumes, focused. You put all of yourself into whatever you do.



August 2014



mercy project

Written by , Posted in COLLABORATION

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 8.20.12 AM

Due to poverty, several families in Ghana are regularly forced  to sell their children to those who promise a better life for their kids–a life with food, housing, and education. Instead, these children become slaves in the fishing industry around Lake Volta. For the last few years, our friends at Mercy Project have been working to change a cycle of child slavery in the Ghanaian fishing industry. Through building relationships within the community, educating Ghanaians on aquaculture fishing, Mercy Project is rescuing and rehabilitating these child slaves, collaboratively working to educate and ultimately restore these children to their families. You can read more about their entire process here.

So why am I sharing this with you? Chris Fields, the Founder and Director of Mercy Project, is also an avid runner. As a result, Mercy Project began a local marathon here to help raise money for the work  happening in Ghana. Well, right now, Chris is in a contest for the December cover of Runner’s World, where he hopes to share more about this work. Although I don’t often ask these sort of things here, I think the Mercy Project’s work is important enough: Would you please vote for Chris today? It won’t cost you anything and takes 10 seconds, literally. You can vote once a day until the contest ends August 15.

Thank you, friends. (And so you know, I was not compensated in any way for this post.)



July 2014



a summer afternoon

Written by , Posted in WANDERINGS



Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. — Henry James

Last weekend we traveled south to a sweet family wedding near the coast. With buying and working on our home this summer, travel has been minimal, more often equating to spurts of quality moments and experiences in the everyday normality. I use the word normality loosely. Although the weekend was brief and our beach time even briefer, it was good to lather our souls with sand and salt and sun for an afternoon. We rode a ferry and climbed the jetties, watching sea turtles dive for food and various fish wiggle by us. With sticky bodies, we moved to a more remote beach, where we floated on the waves, collected mollusks,  jumped from the dunes, and chased the sun and seagulls until our bellies grumbled for dinner. It was the most beautiful of summer afternoons, the most beautiful summer gift.



July 2014



catching up + 30/52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT

week30-2week30-3week30-4I woke up this morning at roughly 3:00am unable to go back to sleep. After tossing around for a while, I decided it was a good time to catch up on this portrait project here–one of the many parts of this blog that has suffered in all of our transitions. Have I told you yet how difficult it is to maintain normal routines while living in a house you’re renovating? I thought so. Just double-checking. Each day we are focusing more on closure to projects and putting things in their proper space, and I admit, it feels really good, like sleeping in your bed after traveling. It’s the return of something familiar. I’ve been working on some exciting things for the Wild and Free conference coming up in September; are any of you going? I would love to meet up if you are! Like most everything else in our life right now, we’ll be doing a few things differently with our homeschool next year, so I’m beginning to brainstorm what our homeschool routine will look like and create my school shopping list. I’ll share more of that soon.  As for this space, due to limited time and our currently scattered lifestyle, I’ve turned down or postponed several collaborations here this summer. I’m hoping as things settle more in our home, it will settle here also, bringing back some familiarity to what feels slightly spastic.  ( p.s. If you follow this blog via email or any other medias, I apologize for giving you five posts at once. )


liam // Your dad warned you of snakes in the sand dunes, and you replied, “ok.” and ran straight for them, jumping from the highest peaks.

burke // The sand was littered with mollusks, which you began collecting until you realized they were still alive. Then you promptly returned them to the beach.

blythe // You floated alone through the water like the ocean and all that was in it was yours. I had to wade out to you when it was time to go home, much to your dismay.

olive // You swam and played with your siblings for a bit and then retreated to the sand where you happily played alone in your endless sandbox.



July 2014



on courage

Written by , Posted in SOUL



Sometimes perfectionist slips in here, only wanting to present that part of our life which is pretty and organized and complete (even in thought). I try to sit down and write out the drafted in-betweens, the messy [emotional, physical, spiritual] process of our life, only to walk away with a few words, an unfinished script. It’s not an intentional edit on our life, really. I’ve always struggled with writing in the process, writing in the middle.  I find it easier to do something and then work backward through the process, like a recipe or a book, assessing the parts based on the whole, understanding the end from the beginning. I feel silly saying this now, as if any of us knows the end when we begin anything.

Earlier this summer, my sister and I (and our six kids) drove to the coast to meet our sister-in-law and nieces for the day. Storms over the Gulf caused more substantial waves and tides, which meant fun play for everyone and close eyes on the kids for safety. We left the day with salt and sand in our hair and minimal pictures, but later Kristen sent me these. As parents, we tend to focus more on the logistics of raising up people (an important focus, by the way), mostly conversing about everything from the napping and feeding schedules of infants to the nurturing of souls in childhood to the burgeoning and transitional landmarks of teen years. However, maybe the journey of parenthood is more than raising children. Maybe parenthood is also a deeper journey into ourselves, a teaching tool for our own hearts.

As I watched Olive stand fists to the sky, the fierce waves crashing her chest, I learn more about courage, about standing firm when life bring higher, stronger tides. Sometimes courage helps us overcome loss–a job, a house, a dream, a person. In the hardest seasons, courage roots us, reminding us to stand, to endure what is hard and pushing against us. Other times courage propels us out of security into something new, into deeper waters. This is every parent’s journey, every person’s journey. When the future paralyze us with fear–the fear of failure, the need for things to be a certain way, the idea of perfection–courage calls us forth. Sometimes we must move forward alone, a personal journey or experience. In the best times, we move forward with someone, hand in hand.

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve been reading memoirs* one after another, wildly moved and bolstered by the face of courage in real people. Although with different voices and perspectives, each narrative has carried one single message: today is a gift; be brave with it.


*In case you’re interested or looking for something to read, I’ve recently read Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (I can’t recommend this enough.), A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor by Dana Canedy, Paris in Love by Eloisa James, and A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (currently reading). Before summer ends, I still hope to read: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes (really gearing myself up for that last one–it’s substantial).

All images by Kristen Douglass.



July 2014



simple summer style

Written by , Posted in STYLE + SOUNDS


We’re trying to establish routines again–a bit of play, a bit of house work, a bit of school work, a bit of rest–dividing up hours of sweltering heat. We barely go outside in the middle parts of the day right now–except for yesterday when I made the older ones run 10 laps around the house perimeter for repetitive arguing with one another. The heat combined with long periods indoors makes everyone grumpier. And don’t worry I gave them plenty of water. (wink.) Olive came home with strep throat this weekend, which means she’s spent the last few days wrapped in my arms or snuggled into my lap.  It’s the only redeeming part of sickness, really. She hates her medicine so much that each morning she tries to convince me she’s well enough not to take it, “See mom? My throat doesn’t hurt anymore, so I don’t need to drink that stuff, right?” Apparently, the idea of completing the disgusting antibiotic is too conceptual for the five year-old who doesn’t feel sick any longer.


After a summer of erratic living, I, too, am finding steadier rhythms. I’m waking up before the kids again, and although a part of me grumbles at this, my days (especially the mornings) always go a bit smoother when I begin with an hour or two that doesn’t involve me talking with someone. I enjoy my first cup of coffee in silence, sometimes writing or reading, sometimes watching the sun rise over our neighbor’s roofline. Either way, I feel more prepared to lead my children through our day, opposed to the willy-nilly routine we’ve had most of the last six months–which I always enjoy for seasons.


Although I generally have a simple style aesthetic, it’s even simpler in this heat. Most days, I tie back my hair or quickly sweep it up into a messy bun or braid. I dab a bit of concealer under my eyes–because I never want to look as tired as I am (wink)–swab on a bit of blush and lip gloss, and try to drink plenty of water (after morning coffee). I stay cool in simple summer dresses or shorts, and usually pick one piece of jewelry with it–this time the skyline medallion, courtesy of Market Colors.

You all know how I love highlighting small businesses, especially ones who give back. Market Colors is a business supporting craftsman artists in Africa. Each affordable purchase directly helps these craftsmen build a steady income for housing, food, and education. Plus, their handmade products are beautiful–like this clutch  or this wallet both crafted in Kenya. See anything you or a friend might like? Enter cloisteredaway at checkout to receive 20% off. Code expires Friday at midnight EST. Enjoy and stay cool!

shirt (similar) / shorts / necklace / shoes