cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



August 2015




Written by , Posted in WANDERINGS



Take me someplace where we can be silent together.
― Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

We left for New Mexico before the sun, my one hand in his, the other holding coffee. I’ve always struggled to speak in the early morning, and after 14 years of marriage, I love that he doesn’t require it of me. Instead, music softly wafted through the car. We floated along the highway side-by-side, grounded only by touch and with respect for the dark quiet. Our words loomed with the glowing line on the horizon, a nebulous and powerful light. Over the week, we would speak often and laugh. We would eat, drink, wander, and enjoy one another in every possible way, but we were also silent of heart and spirit. We went away to listen.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOArroyo Seco, New  MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTwo note-worthy roads lead into Taos from the South, the High Road and the Low Road to Taos. Although not originally intended, we entered by way of the Low Road after missing a turn earlier in our drive. The metaphors feel endless. Winding along the Rio Grande River, between the rising rock ledges and the cold rolling rapids, one cannot help but feel small and vulnerable, a more humble perspective of glory compared to the sweeping vistas of the high road, a path we’d take home at the end of the week. We turned off the highway at some point, onto a tiny two-lane road, a more direct route according to our map. “Are you sure this is the right way?” he would ask. I would merely shrug, looking at our moving dot on the screen, “yes, according to the map.” Eventually, this path would lead us through Orilla Verde and then up a winding dirt road through the Rio Grande Gorge. The nearby Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a common tourist stop, would have been the safer, more obvious route, providing stunning and broad views of the canyon below. But driving up the canyon wall on a single-lane dirt road held a different sort of splendor and gratitude. The low road held quiet beauty and gentle lessons.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOTAOS, NEW MEXICOEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New Mexico

We spent the week in a more remote, off-the-grid home on the Taos Mesa, running solely on rain water and solar power reserves. Nestled within the Earthship Biotecture community, this spot seemed both educational and restorative, a perfect pairing for the level of simplicity we had in mind that week. We craved something quieter and more in tune with the natural rhythms of the wild. Souls are rarely stitched back together with city lights and busy streets, certainly not our own. We yearned for creation, to rise with the morning sun and rest with the afternoon rains, to purchase local whole foods and prepare them ourselves, to somehow again become comfortable without agendas and imperatives to see and do. 

Over the week, we would read, write, dream, and pray. These routines were not rigid or forced, but organic and restful. Our conversations occurred everywhere without the formalities of deadlines or time constraints. We reflected on God’s goodness in the same breath as our casual banter and joking. The time was slow but not boring, one activity and thought rolling into the next, mixed with idle afternoons and naps, glasses of wine, and long walks. We strategized ways to carry this same spirit into our daily life at home, how in spite of busy days we would live more slowly, more intently focused this coming academic year. For two driven people, this would require practical steps.

TAOS, NEW MEXICODH Lawrence Ranch | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe summer air in northern New Mexico is hot and arid. Cold summer rains commonly arrive in the afternoon, soaking the hot earth like tea, infusing the wind with faintest aromas of Silver Sage. Hiking guidebooks warn travelers of thunderhead clouds while in the mountains, as they drop rain quickly and can even cause hypothermia in the summertime due to the elevation. The lower areas near the river can rise quickly. We mostly hiked in the morning, just after our coffee and view of the sun cresting the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’m convinced anyone could be excited about the early morning if they woke up to this light.

On our favorite morning, we climbed to Williams Lake in the Taos Ski area. The hike is a somewhat steep 2 mile-trek to an alpine lake through national forest and streams and snow (even in late June ). If we ever return, I’ll carry a blanket, books, and picnic lunch with us. We could have stayed all day. Around the lakeside, over the rocky perimeter and tucked behind the trees, a waterfall parades down the mountainside. We found a large piece of driftwood wedged between large boulders there, and he carried it back across the lake and down the mountain so it could rest in our home, a tangible memory.

Rio Grande Gorge | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOWilliams Lake | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoTaos, New Mexico

The town of Taos is casual and varied, as are the people. Like many small and beautiful places, artists flock, earning money by selling their wares in tourist markets near the Rio Grande Gorge bridge or in one of the local shops of Arroyo Seco or Old Taos. My favorite stop was Weaving Southwest, a minimal shop full of hand-dyed yarns, locally woven tapestries and apparel. At the back of the store, one of the shop-owners was giving a private weaving lesson to a beginner. I wished to join them and decided again to learn weaving with our children this year.

We traveled one afternoon to DH Lawrence’s Ranch, now owned and kept by the University of New Mexico. As we drove through the rolling outskirts of Arroyo Hondo, it is not hard to imagine why this British writer might have chosen this sunny place to begin a utopian society. There, Georgia O’Keefe painted his famous tree. The bench and the tree still remain just behind the main house, a tribute to legendary artists and ideas.

On one morning, we visited a public hot spring nearby in Arroyo Hondo. We traveled down single lane dirt roads and bridges and along the grassy riverbanks searching for two naturally-occurring warm pools. Instead we discovered only the higher pool–the lower temporarily swallowed by the river–and four nude strangers already bathing in it. We stayed for almost an hour (swimsuits on) carrying awkward conversations out of politeness. When the sun and two more travelers arrived, we gladly exited the tiny pool and clumsy talk. We changed into our clothes and went out for coffee, where we laughed at ourselves.

Earthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New Mexico

Before arriving, we had stopped in Santa Fe to pick up fair-trade coffee beans, wine, fresh bread, and other foods that might make the 2 hour ride north. In Taos, we’d discover Cid’s Market, not too far from where we were staying, and stock up on leafy greens, berries, and locally sourced cheeses and sprouts. We had decided ahead of time to make food on our own, both for economy and simplicity, with the exception of one evening where we would eat at The Love Apple, a quaint local eatery recommended by a neighbor, serving delicious organic foods sourced in and around the Taos area.

It rained that night, leaving the air too cool for my causal sundress, too wet for delicate sandals. I had opted to wash clothes earlier in the afternoon, when the outdoor line was dry and hot, just before the rain came. When it was time to leave, my denim still laid strewn about the studio, damp and waiting for sun. I wore what was dry: a random skirt, a mis-matched tank top, fleece jacket, and my Chacos. Again, I would find opportunity to laugh at myself, to get over myself, as no one else seemed to even notice.

The Love AppleEarthship | Taos, New MexicoLake Williams | Taos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New Mexico

Something foundational shifted in us that week in Taos. It often does when one rests. Over the last few weeks at home, we have been quietly re-ordering our home life, cleaning out unnecessary things both spiritually and physically, simplifying goals and roles, preparing for another academic year and homeschooling. More defined boundaries between work and rest will be a large part of our routine, one I’m sure will trickle out into this space over time.

Although Taos is a small town, with a few obvious musts, below I listed our favorite spots in the area, in the event you ever find yourself wandering there.





June 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground.

― Christina Rossetti

olive | your heart is full of laughter, especially when your father is swinging from a tree limb.

blythe | watering the large oak, you look so small, but you love being helpful and take great pride in your work, whatever it may be. this week, you informed us you want to study math and chemistry at a university some day. I have no doubt you could.

burke | helping your father clear out the garage this week. you are so good at taking care of details and are learning to be patient with those who tend to overlook them.

liam | every day you help me search the garden for unwanted pests. i appreciate this time with you, a bond formed by protecting a space we both love dearly. you are changing, as most boys your age are, and although some days it catches me off guard, I am not afraid. I expect they will be sweet in a very different way.



June 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.
― Wendell Berry, Given

olive | every evening you come outside with me, to pick pests off the plants and to water them. this week, we picked our first fruit: cucumbers, jalepeno peppers, green beans, and a tiny butternut squash.

blythe | lounging in my room, recovering from strep throat, you suddenly appear so grown up. it must be your new specs.

burke | snuggled up, recovering from strep throat, watching a movie that you can now see from the back of the room.

liam | you and burke have been mowing lawns this summer to earn and save money. finding and studying insects is an added bonus.



June 2015



homeschool | on finishing

Written by , Posted in HOMESCHOOL

We just quietly finished our seventh year of homeschooling. We didn’t have an award ceremony or any large posters or completed books or projects to show off this year.  Instead we simply wrapped up our lessons–some of them neatly at the end and others midway–and decided we were done for the summer. I write a lot publicly about homeschooling here and elsewhere and I think it unfair to only talk about the beautiful and successful parts of this journey (and there are many) without noting the adversity, too. And it should be noted:

Last week, I hit a wall.

Perhaps it is easy to sit with pen and paper and draft the way you expect and hope home education will occur, and in some seasons and years, things have gone generally as such for me. In previous years, I’ve spent part of my weekend planning for the week, reviewing what lessons we’d need to cover. A natural balance between planned and unplanned learning occurred. I even shared some of that process here and here. But this academic year, I didn’t really plan much at all. I felt exhausted and almost adverse to it. In our more formal studies, like math or reading, we’d simply turn the page to find another lesson and work from there. We had a few regularities in our routine, mostly surrounding our mealtimes, but in between, our days seemed more in-the-moment, an unorganized journey through books and ideas and play and life-work (daily chores, yard+gardening, cooking).

Sometime a few months ago, I began referring to this as our water table year–the place in the marathon where you pause and drink and use the latrine. This sounds theoretically lovely (minus the last part), but what that meant was: I threw out most of my original plans for the year. I love this journey, even the hard parts, but I also felt mentally exhausted by it. I needed to find a new pace, to continue but in a much smaller way. We struggled to keep up with most of our planned lessons for most of the year, and by early spring, we had stripped our days down to the basics of math and spelling lessons and reading. We still read a lot and often but we didn’t produce much writing (ironic, I know). We did an assortment of random projects and continued with outdoor play and work. We shelved our formal science and history studies, leaving these discussions to whatever they were reading in stories or learning outdoors. We researched bugs and plants in our yard/garden, and while this would be an excellent journal of its own, we haven’t yet recorded it. In short, our learning has been practical and somewhat random. We’ve allowed our routines to breathe a bit, something I desperately needed in the seventh year.

I realize some of you will read this as an affirmation that you shouldn’t homeschool, that somehow you would be like me, too disordered or lacking in simple routine. Trained by traditional education, you might perceive non-linear learning as a lack of progression. Regardless of style and method, this journey is certainly not linear–and perhaps this is what causes myself and other homeschooling parents the most doubt and conflict. Lessons, formal and informal, build upon the other, but not always in the way we expect. The nuances of home-education are innately more holistic and organic, they ebb and flow with life seasons. Like a run through the hills or a mountain climb, the terrain is varied, and progress can feel downward, wayward, or challengingly upward. Still, it progresses. I hope this encourages us, all of us, to remember sometimes in life we run these figurative races with steady breath and strength, and other times we crawl, sucking wind. Either way, we must keep moving. We must cross the line.

It is difficult to discuss homeschooling without discussing the rest of our life. It seems one always gives and takes from the other, one of my favorite aspects to our learning. Last week, I figuratively hit a wall, but this was only in part due to our homeschool. It was more an exhaustion of soul, a stretching of my heart over too many things, too many concerns. I’m looking forward to pulling back a bit in every area this summer, to some travel, to some quiet. I need the space to listen, to more fully reflect and set new goals. I will be posting here in the process but more sporadically during the summer months. Last week, I remembered this short film I had seen a few years ago, the image of a runner crawling the finish line and a parallel story of her running coach battling ALS. I watched it again and felt so inspired by her finish, her will to follow through. I felt stronger listening to his perseverance, his fortitude and determination against a degenerating body. Take three minutes to watch it. I’m sure it will inspire you, too.

The Finish Line 2 – Short Feature from Evolve on Vimeo.



June 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT


2015_week23-22015_week23-3When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.
― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

olive | I actually took this image of you in April, as you hopped along the garden borders when it was newly sprouting. One day I’ll see this image and remember when you too were just a sprout.

blythe | Moving our basil pot to another spot on the porch, away from the leaf hoppers in our garden–you have such a nurturing spirit.

burke + liam | You both helped your dad chop a few dying trees in our yard this week, and stack them for firewood when it gets cold again. Although you both are being silly in this image, I love how much it says about the both of you: Liam, witty and sometimes stirring trouble with your words; Burke, quieter with his words and faster his hands. We all are learning ways to love and respect each other a little better in this home. I love your friendship.



June 2015




Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, everyone of them sufficient. ― Marilynne Robinson

olive | your laugh is deep and rich, the sort that stems from your belly and echoes a room. God knew I needed your electric spirit and lightness of heart.

blythe | when I returned home last weekend, you couldn’t stop talking, spilling details about your day–a sweet surprise to me as I always find you quietly focused, building Legos or drawing or writing. You require a balance of time between people and solitude.

burke | you and Blythe both had strep throat this week, and although it seemed so very painful, I think you may have enjoyed lying around in PJs and shirking chores for the day. (Wink.)

liam  | your feet have outgrown me and soon you will be taller, too. You test your growing strength by picking me up–yet wasn’t I the one just holding you?



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.