cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



October 2014



for the soul

Written by , Posted in SOUL

for the soul | cloistered away

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? {Matthew 16}

Some days my soul feels stretched like dough, enlarged and translucent, waiting to tear. On occasion it does. This last week, I’ve been a little quieter here, practicing stillness and patience again, gathering my spread-too-thin soul back into a lump. The Autumn season is always busy for us, and I’ve learned it’s important to take periods of rest in the midst of it. I’ve thought about these particular words in Matthew and the ones that precede them much lately: the paradox of releasing life in order to gain it, the idea that our souls are our most valuable asset, not to be expended flippantly. I’m grateful to read them again, to remember what and whom my soul really needs.




October 2014



uncommon goods for new parents

Written by , Posted in COLLABORATION


I have several friends who are currently pregnant, including three new nieces/nephews coming early next year! Eep! Many times, expectant parents already have in mind a few things they might need or want for their new little’s arrival–especially if it’s their first–accoutrements such as clothing, feeding supplies, bedding, baby wraps, and car seats. While these important gifts anticipate the baby’s practical needs, during my own years of motherhood, I’ve learned sometimes parents need a little something less practical and unexpected.


With several upcoming births and Christmas around the corner, I thought I would share a few unique gifts ideas from Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn-based business that supports artists and designers with environmentally-conscious, mostly handmade goods. Here’s a few favorite gift ideas :

for the wall // When possible I love gifting new parents with something that will outlast the baby years, something fun for the nursery wall such as an animal head made from recycled cardboard like these here, a piece of art, or a world map. For a family who loves to travel, they might enjoy scratching off  their latest family adventures with this one here.

for beyond the baby years // Since we’ve always lived in a home with hard wood flooring, I also love a good (larger) baby blanket. With my own kids, I tried to choose blankets that would transition with them into childhood. The girls still use their crib blanket now when playing on the floor or as a throw over their bed. These oversized kantha blankets handmade in India from upcycled sari swatches are on my current wishlist and would make the perfect blanket to transition from the baby years into the adult years, really. Plus they come in a variety of unique colors and patterns.

for the older sibling // I have always appreciated when friends/family have gifted my older child(ren) after a birth. Depending on the age of your older child, it can be a difficult transition. I love the idea of a personalized book like this one or this one for an older sibling to understand their new important and exciting role in the family. For more ideas of personalized gifts, such as a hand-stitched pillow or frame, take a look here.

for mom + dad // Parenthood is difficult, and those first few sleepless months can be even more so. I love gifting new parents with a little something just for themselves in this transition, to remind them how important self-care is during the years of care-taking. I always enjoy finding something beautiful for the home that requires little maintenance like these here, a new candle that also doubles as solid perfume or body butter like this one (what?! so amazing), and of course something rad like this to aid in keeping us awake.

Obviously, Uncommon Goods has gifts for more than young parents. If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift or stocking stuffer, take a peak at some of these ideas here or here. You might even find something to add to your own wishlist (ahem). Either way, I wish you all the best weekend and a happy Friday!


This post is in partnership with Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn-based business committed to supporting artists and designers by featuring mostly handmade and environmentally-conscious goods. All thoughts are my own. 





October 2014




Written by , Posted in MOTHERHOOD + MARRIAGE



We pierced your ears last weekend, a gift and milestone for your eighth year. You sat straight and still, without so much as a flinch, a picture of your unwavering personality.  Blythe, you have an affinity for beauty and detail in everything, whether the clothes you select or the way you arrange the things and people around you. Although you are playful and giggly, you have a seriousness about your goals, about accomplishment. I so much enjoy seeing the person you are becoming, hearing the dreams and beauty in your perspective. May you always be brave with the things in your heart, sweet girl. We love you so. Happy birthday.



October 2014



a red velvet birthday cake

Written by , Posted in EAT + DRINK + GATHER

Last Friday morning, the day we planned to celebrate Blythe’s birthday, I sat with her, flipping through cookbooks and online images while she chose the type of birthday cake she wanted–something with layers and topped with wildflowers. We talked about vanilla bean and Boston Cream and or maybe a spicy carrot cake. She definitely did not want chocolate, a place where our palettes diverge. Finally, Blythe selected Red Velvet, a cake I enjoy but had never made from scratch. I always wondered which ingredients composed this magical flavor, and of course what made it red? On Friday, the girls put on their aprons and helped me create this delicate and simple cake, and by the end of the weekend, every bit of it was gone–minus a few crumbs on the platter. It was delicious and light, something we would have enjoyed as much (or more) with a dusting of powdered sugar. Next time.



2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 Tablespoons unsweetened, cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup mild cooking oil (I used grapeseed oil)
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
.25 oz red food coloring, depends how deep you want the color
1 teaspoon of white distilled vinegar
½ cup of prepared plain hot coffee (NOT optional)

Preheat the oven to 325. 

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt together in a medium sized bowl, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and oil. Then mix in the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and red food coloring until fully combined. Stir in the coffee and white vinegar. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, just until combined. Don’t over-stir.

Generously grease two 9-inch pans with butter (or cooking spray or shortening) and flour. Pour the batter evenly into each pan. Bake in the middle rack for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Check the cakes sooner than the end time to make sure they don’t over-bake. The cake will continue to cook as it cools and you want it to remain moist.

Let the pans cool on a cooling rack until they are warm to the touch. Slide a knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to loosen the cake from the pan. Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool. Frost the cake with the buttercream frosting or simply dust with powdered sugar when the cakes have cooled completely. If you desire to ice them sooner, put the cakes in the fridge. It help firm the cake, but it won’t lose its moistness.


3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-5 tablespoons whipping cream

Using a medium sized bowl or a free-standing mixer, mix the sugar and butter together on low speed until well-blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and whipping cream to the bowl and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 more minute. Add more whipping cream if needed for spreading consistency.

recipe sources: cake | icing




October 2014




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT




“a portrait of each of my children, once a week, every week, in 2014″

liam // I found an adapted copy of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in the dollar section this summer. You read it quickly then and loved every bit of it. This weekend, you picked it up to read again–a perfect story for our dreary weather. Maybe you’re tired of seeing images of yourself with books by now, but I promise you’re almost always with one in reach. They impact the way you tell and write your own stories, too. You are and will always be a storyteller at heart.

burke // If I could only tell you how often I catch you in thought, staring into space, rehearsing your favorite movie scenes, stories, and jokes. You’re so comfortable in that manner of contemplation. I so appreciate this about you.

blythe // After waiting for over a year, your father and I finally decided you were responsible enough to have your ears pierced. It was our birthday gift to you, and you couldn’t stop touching and twisting them the entire weekend.

olive // This week, you put on your apron and pretended to be a doctor. I was your patient. You listened to my heart (we’ve been studying the circulatory system) and then touched my legs, reporting, “You will need to run each morning and evening for one week.” “But what about my children?” I replied. “Oh, leave your children with your husband. He can watch them, but you need to run,” she retorted. “You also need to eat vegetables: broccoli, spinach, carrots. Then you’ll feel better. Come see me again next week.” I laughed at your wise council, and think it might be exactly what I needed to hear right now. (Wink.)



October 2014



here + there

Written by , Posted in LATELY


This week has felt so difficult for some reason. Maybe it was the thick heat that made its way back here, forcing us to shut our windows and turn on the AC again, or maybe it’s simply a cycle our emotions and souls go through, the inevitable wear of giving ourselves over to life so fully. Either way, I’m grateful for the weekend and plan to use it to play and rest well with the kids. Blythe turns eight on Sunday–so hard for me to believe.  Since my husband will be working in Europe the next week (without us–sad face), we’ll have our family celebration for her this evening, complete with “crispy” chicken, a layered cake with flowers, and getting her ears pierced–something she’s been pleading to do for over a year now. Today, the kids and I will be busy in the kitchen getting ready. Other than that, I hope to spend some more time in my PJs reading the rest of this book and watching a movie and playing outdoors with the kids.

there + elsewhere

  • With this heat, I’m dreaming even more of wearing slouchy sweaters like this one again.
  • It seems everywhere I look online, friends are picking apples in orchards–a luxury for those who endure long, cold winter, I suppose. The best we get in the south is a good pie, and I’m dying to try this galette soon.  
  • Also have you seen this pottery yet? So lovely and hand-thrown in Vermont, the state where I was born. The two points are obviously unrelated. ;) 
  • I read this post on competition this week, which seemed to dovetail nicely with some of what I wrote on “doing it all.” It’s so refreshing to remember we’re best when simply being ourselves. 

What are you guys up to this weekend? Are you doing or planning anything fun with apples this season? Do tell.



October 2014



on “doing it all”

Written by , Posted in MOTHERHOOD + MARRIAGE


Last week, I received an email from a sweet reader asking how I manage to do it all and make it look so easy–”I’m not even homeschooling and I can barely hold it all together,” she added. From where I read her words I surveyed the mess around me–my unfolded laundry still sitting in the basket, our books and notebooks scattered across the table and chairs and floor. In that moment, I might have spouted a whole series of unfinished TO DOs, everything from meal-planning and some sort of exercise with the kids to finishing a writing piece, calling a friend, paying a bill, or arranging an overdue date night. When had my floors last been swept and wasn’t there something my husband asked me to do on his way out this door? I might have actually laughed out loud at myself. For anyone who has ever asked me this question, I can only ever respond, “I really don’t.”

For those of us who really long to parent well–the majority of you reading this, I imagine–it is that word well that can often result in our trying to do everything in the first place. We want to raise well-adjusted, well-educated, well-dressed, well-informed, well-liked, well-prepared, well-[whatever other goals you may have] children and yet remain well ourselves. We want to look and feel well. We want to perform well in our work in and outside of the home. We want to eat well, read well, pray well, and of course rest well.  We want to take care of the of earth well, take care of those outside our homes well–and of course, our homes, too!  It sounds ridiculous written out like this, yes? Yet we try. And then we scroll through our media feeds and other online communities, where we all share our beautiful [homes, travels, children, partners, friends, meals, work, etc.] and it appears as though other parents are actually doing it! We have somehow missed some well-known secret or truth to meeting all of our goals–or maybe that’s just me.

The truth is my house is not always clean. Our meals are not always gourmet. I sometimes wear sweatpants all day or let my kids play and draw/paint instead of doing their “school” work (ahem–like right now). I am sometimes grumpy with my family and often forget to brush my own or my girls’ hair. For every beautiful moment or thought I write here or elsewhere, there are other potentially beautiful things I am not doing. It’s the nature of living with limitations of time and our humanity. They force us to choose. Although I have no magical secrets, I do have a few things I’ve learned in my journey of motherhood and home-education that help me choose well for myself and my family. Here’s a few, just in case you’re interested:

let go of perfectionism // You cannot give 100 percent of yourself to everything. Something will always give. If you tend to be a perfectionist (ding, ding, right here), as a parent, it will serve you well to learn and practice the phrase “well enough” and to see each piece of your life in the context of the whole. Perfectionism can be valuable at time, but it can also waste time.

do what you (and your family) love //  Each family will value something a bit different, and it’s good to know what those values are. Many times in parenthood, instead of choosing between good and bad, we’re forced to choose between two good options, two things we want. In those times, my husband and I begin to assess which option more closely aligns with what our family values as a whole. Sometimes this can help us choose spending money on travel or a new home project. Other times it can be making a decision about our extra activities. 

evaluate how you use your time // This seems perhaps the most obvious, but spend a week recording how you use your time–and be honest. (There are several apps to help with this if that’s easier.) How does your time match up with your values? For instance, I really value writing and photographing, which can sometimes compete with time I need to spend with the kids in our school routine. Each morning I wake up at 5 am to write/work until 7 when I force myself to stop and switch gears to our usual routine. If I need to resume working, I’ll do so in the afternoon when possible. Although these are two things I value, I have to choose how to prioritize my time.

say “no” confidently // For some of you, this will sound ridiculous, but I actually have a hard time telling people no. I want to support what others are doing and honestly I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. There’s simply not enough of any of us to say “yes” to everything. Don’t feel guilty for turning opportunities down, even good ones. Also, there are certain seasons in motherhood that require us to say “no” more often. If you’re in one of those seasons, enjoy it. Those seasons can be some of the sweetest times, and they’re sure not to last forever.