cloistered away | enjoying simplicity



March 2015



on creating spaces for kids | the girls’ room tour

Written by , Posted in OUR HOME



When we first bought this home last year, several large projects needed our immediate attention, meaning repairing leaks and holes and years of abandonment had to begin before we addressed any of our more aesthetic wants. Our children loved our last home (the only one they really knew in childhood) with its large climbing trees and playful indoor nooks. Most of the indoor spaces they loved so much, I had created for them in their infant/toddler years or even before their birth. Although I realize they were cultivated with time and care, it’s hard for them (even as they’re getting older) to always have such perspective. If life truly is always trying to teach us something, I suppose the lesson we are all working through is this: all good things develop with time.

girls_room_play_tent-8girls_room_play_tent-15Still, I want our children to attach here, to live and enjoy right where we are, to learn that home and beauty are within us, not always the space itself. With a little intention and several individual conversations, I have focused on the kids’ rooms more this new year. Here’s a few ways we’ve managed these changes.

begin with small, inexpensive changes | Even the smallest, most inexpensive changes can make a room feel like their own: fresh paint, new pillows or throw blankets, a piece of art, a few favorite images.

repurpose something  | When we purchase or make something for our home, I like to choose something that could work anywhere. Several of the pieces currently in the girls’ room weren’t always intended that way. Shifting adult furniture or art around the house can give the room or the piece a fresh look.

create a cozy reading/play nook | Cozy nooks are quite necessary in shared spaces, especially for introverted children. They can be the perfect hiding spot to read, play, or enjoy a little quiet alone time. My friend Terri makes the sweetest play tents and cushions for her shop Blue House Joys. She recently made one for us and my girls are smitten with it, swapping sleeping in it at night and enjoying everything from reading to tea parties in it during the day. If you’re interested, I’m hosting a $50 giveaway to her shop over on my Instagram page.girls_room_play_tentgirls_room_play_tent-11find one special feature | If you spend anytime looking at other kid spaces, you might find yourself wanting to add too much in one room. Instead try to narrow down one or two (if the room’s big enough) special features that your child(ren) would love. In the girls’ room it is a play kitchen area and a play tent.

use multi-purpose furniture | I prefer kids spaces without tons of clutter, since they always manage making a mess all on their own. To help keep their spaces tidier, our children own minimal toys and their furniture easily tucks their dearest knick-knacks away to make clean up easier, like a storage bench or a play kitchen. Since Olive still adores pretend play and being in the kitchen, we found a used kitchen set on Craigslist for her birthday. I painted the pink panels and damaged corners and roughly sewed new curtains for the hutch–just like new. Both girls adore it and since it’s a little larger, I imagine they’ll use it for a while, enough to justify the space it consumes.


| sources |

Although I’m leaving the sources for all of the room details, I’m doing it more so that you can see how spaces collect and evolve with time in our home. We tend to purchase or build pieces that can be used in any room in our home, shifting as our needs change. For instance, Blythe and Olive currently share a queen bed, which belonged to me and Mark in the beginning of our marriage. It now belongs to them and also doubles as our guest bed when friends or family visit.


  • headboard, a stained panel of walnut, formerly my sister and brother-in-laws
  • side table, found on the side of the road and we refinished
  • chair, bought at a thrift shop several years ago
  • storage bench, IKEA, bought 10 years ago when toddler toys were stored in our townhome living room
  • play tent and floor cushion, Blue House Joys (be sure to enter the giveaway!)
  • play kitchen, Pottery Barn Kids purchased significantly cheaper on Craigslist
  • table lamp without shade, Target
  • floor lamp, Target
  • shade, Anthropologie
  • toys buckets, Target
  • wood floor chairs (rolled up in the bucket), Howda

| art |

  • Iso Satakieli fabric canvas (above kitchen), purchased for Blythe’s first birthday
  • Instagram photos of the girls
  • Palm tree painting , purchased on a trip to Cuba before children
  • French flags print, purchased in Paris before marriage
  • Chinese wedding scarf, gifted to us on our wedding day from friends who had lived there
  • Floral tapestry bought when Olive was born, Anthropologie
  • Framed watercolor, Blythe age 3
  • “Joy” and “be strong and courageous” prints, The Lovely Words shop
  • Dreamcatcher, Wildflower Dreamcatcher



  • denim stars apron set, Odette Williams
  • play masks, Opposite of Far
  • wood blocks, Haba
  • bunny, Anthropologie, bought when pregnant with Olive
  • woven purse, thrifted
  • dress-up and dolls, tucked away in the chest (wink)






March 2015



11/52 + 12/52

Written by , Posted in THE 52 PROJECT



11 | What was the most interesting thing you learned this week?

olive | Learning how to tie my shoes! | We’ve had so much rain the last two months. Our yard has been more like a marsh than a lawn, perfect for hunting worms and frogs and watching the birds gather their morning meals. On this day, with your rain gear and ear muffs, you wandered the yard, watching and singing.

blythe | In the book Pollyanna [what I'm reading right now], Pollyanna loves being outdoors and is always nice and polite and happy, even when the people around her are grumpy and mean. She teaches people the “glad game.”  | You, Olive, and I made wildflower seed balls together for a project this week. We’ve been now listing all of the places around town we plan to deposit them. Making and planning both make you so happy.

burke | Octopuses have three hearts. | Your collections of Calvin and Hobbes are tattered and coverless, some of them losing pages with every read, yet you still laugh aloud at your favorite parts.

liam | Terrapins are in the same family as turtles but are a little smaller and live in marshlands and beaches in the US. They almost became extinct because of hunting. | I recently purchased a few new picture books for you guys, and you can’t manage to put aside this one. I’ve been so grateful to remember your need for picture books, even as you grow older.

2015_week12-12015_week12-22015_week12-32015_week12-412 | What was your favorite part of our trip this weekend?

olive | I loved everything! Roasting marshmallows, the zip-line, being with friends! Just say everything. | On our first step into the freezing river, you squealed, “We’re living in the wilderness again!” Somehow your spirit seems proportionately sized in the outdoors, large and alive and full of endless curiosities.

blythe | My favorite part of the weekend was getting to hike and paddle-boat. | In spite of the icy cold water, you pleaded to swim in your clothes. And once you were quite wet, you wanted a dry, warm towel. It really was a little too cold for swimming yet.

burke | I love sleeping in a tent outside. | All weekend we kept finding you slinging arrows at the target or searching for various wildlife–the most unusual being a green lizard with a blue belly you discovered. You seem so peaceful and relaxed in nature, as though you have a mutual respect for one another.

liam | I liked all of the hiking we got to do. | Our friend had a high-powered pellet gun that you were able to use over the weekend. Although guns still somewhat terrify me as a mother, it was sweet to watch how responsibly you handled it, always making sure the other kids were nowhere near. Everyday I seem to notice more ways you’re growing up.



March 2015



pausing for spring

Written by , Posted in WANDERINGS



Last weekend our family traveled several hours west to spend a few days with friends near the Frio River.  I always love visiting that place. Tucked away from cell phone service and internet access, it is a gift of quiet connection in our increasingly noisy, constantly attached world.  Each of our hearts and bodies wander and breathe more slowly, more deeply again, and we connect again in the simplest manners: conversations around a fire, simple meals, difficult hikes and refreshing play near the water, with sand or rocks. We are together and untethered at once, a rare gift for modern families.

On one morning, while hiking alone with my boys, we stopped to take in the view, to rest and appreciate our moment, our smallness. Liam turned to me and asked, “mom, can I take your picture with your hands to the sky? You’re always so free up here.” For all we hope to learn and notice about our children as parents, it is always the most humbling that they see us, too.

Although often brief and simple, I’m grateful for these small adventures with our children, the way they remind us to slow down and enjoy one another right now, to pause and welcome a new season.



March 2015



on shared rooms, bed-making, and bedding

Written by , Posted in OUR HOME



Our boys have shared a room since their crib days, something I will always cherish for them. Through their childhood, it has given them someone to share a funny last joke with at night or someone to build Legos with on the floor. In other moments, it has taught them how to work through conflict and how to respect one another’s differences and need for solitude–important people skills I know will follow them throughout life.

At age three and four, we moved both boys directly to a bunk bed to save space and give them more play area in their room. It was an adventurous place in their early years, one where they often suspended sheets to make forts and would spend long hours reading or playing together. But honestly, as one who loves tidy kid spaces, I’ve always missed the simplicity of the crib–the single sheet with their favorite snuggly blanket–a time when their beds felt so easy and clean.

In spite of years of making their own beds (a requirement each morning in our home), the boys have not yet mastered the bunk bed–I barely can! And washing their sheets and putting that fitted sheet on, well, that’s almost short of nightmare for all three of us. For years, they’ve slept without a top sheet, trying to minimize their bedding, and we’ve had dialogues like, “Liam, you didn’t make your bed yet. Please, go finish.” “Yes, I did!” Ugh. With their best efforts, their bunk beds never look fully made.


Since our move last year, I’ve been looking for ways to make both of the kids’ rooms more cozy and fun for their changing ages, but also easy to maintain and keep tidy. It’s a delicate balance between all of those things, but that’s a different topic.  While I try not to overly focus on product here, I love finding and sharing beautiful, helpful things we use in our family and how we use them. Last month, we received Beddys bedding for the boys’ bunk and let me tell you, IT’S FANTASTIC! The entire bedding (flat sheet and comforter) is in one piece with two running zippers on each side along the seem. It goes on like a fitted sheet (you can see the underside of the top mattress in the images) and can be washed and dried (one at a time) right in the washer. Honestly, it’s a little pricey for children’s bedding, but the ease of use and tidy appeal is worth it in my opinion. The boys literally make their bed in under a minute now, and the best part for me–it actually looks made! They absolutely love how cozy the underside material is, and we chose a color that would easily transition with them over the years.

This summer, we plan to add a few wall shelves for their bedtime and daytime reading (since our boys do both), and hang a few new art prints and images of their adventures together to update their walls. Slowly, slowly each space is feeling a little more like home for all of us.



March 2015



homeschool | artful and playful learning




When I first began homeschooling, I always imagined learning fundamentals of math, language, science, and history in a playful and artful way. At that time, my oldest really struggled with writing-and-paper approaches to learning, and although we still included this aspect in our structured learning time, it worked best when I balanced these periods with stories, art projects, or outdoor/indoor play. These less structured lessons also helped me to include my three younger children, too. I should note here, so you don’t begin imagining a perfect world over here: my son (and my other children now) still balked at some of our more routine work, but mixing our days with play and art did create sweet incentives for the more challenging work.

At some point in the tumble of life and moving (twice in one year) last year, I lost the more artful aspect of our learning together. With so many other logistical things to finish around our home, I relied more on simple book lessons to work through our basics and then would release my children to their own whim. Our formal routine had reduced to reading and daily math, so I could make sure they were covered, and a ton of free play and self-directed learning. On a side note, if you’re new to homeschooling or even parenthood, be generous with yourself, your children, and your goals during this journey. As in nature, the rhythms within your home will have variegated seasons over the years, and each one will offer you something special to learn just the same, if you pay attention. Where ever you are, receive every bit and aim to be present.

Over the last year, I’ve been re-evaluating the way we learn together at home and have adjusted a few details to include more artful expression and play, more dress-up and making, more discussion and room for independent pace of work. It’s certainly not a perfect science or formula. Some days, our routine seems to work well, in spite of the mess and distractions, and other days feel simply disastrous. But I’m learning as a parent to receive and enjoy those days, too, even if just to remember, tomorrow is new.

If you’re wanting to add more play and art to your learning experience, begin with an area that feels most natural in your own routine. For our family, studies in science and history have been the most natural place to begin again. This year, we’ve been creating body books about the systems in our bodies, and are also just beginning books about the natural world, too–one for animal life and one for plant life. Obviously, we don’t use each of them all the time, but the idea is to create a place to begin cataloguing the various lessons we’re learning along our way.


At the beginning of this year, we received a yearly subscription to the Opposite of Far’s Endangered Animal Mask Club. This has been a small and simple way to intertwine our learning about the animal world, writing, and art together. Each month the kids receive one new mask and information card featuring a specific endangered animal. We check out books from the library or use our Animal Encyclopedia or new favorite picture book, Animalium, to see more images and read more about the animal. Because we have an entire month, we have plenty of time to create several types of lessons or play experiences from them. Here’s a few ideas we’ve tried or plan to try with our mask club:

READ / Read the included card and any library books together. Learn about the animal’s environment and the reasons for their endangerment. Is there any way we can help?

DIFFERENTIATE / Study picture books and the illustrated card together. Discuss colors, shapes, and sizes of the animal. Are they always the same? How are they similar or different from other members of their family?

PLAY / Use the masks for pretend play. Re-create animal environments with sheets, furniture, or cardboard boxes. Even your older children will enjoy this. Give them some of the harder details, such a painting or cutting paper for a backdrop. My kids often do this on their own, especially when a new mask arrives or when the days are rainy and keep us indoors like here.

DRAW or PAINT / Take time to draw and paint your animal within its habitat. Refer to color and shape again and how you might mix paints to create the colors you need. If your children are young or struggle with drawing, try to find drawing books at your library that might show step-by-step instructions. We really like the Draw Write Now series, which also includes a few sentences to use for copywork with early writers. Some of the more rare endangered animals will be harder to find a drawing book. Consider how you might break down the strokes for your child to copy from you.

WRITE /Discuss what you’ve read about your endangered animal together. Help your older children find the main ideas: Where do they live? What do they look like? Why are they endangered? How can we help? Older children and advanced writers can write their own sentences and paragraphs, whereas younger children and those who find writing a more difficult skill might benefit from copying a few sentences they dictate to you (from what they learned).

For our family, I love using these animal masks as a simple way to encourage more pretend play and to inspire our own animal books. In busier months, we may have only used one or two of these, using them more for simple play around the house. You might find a ways to use them differently–or even for a birthday party or a gift. Either way, what a fun way to learn together about some beautiful animals that are currently struggling for survival.

For any of you interested in trying any of the Opposite of Far products, Jessica Near, the OOF founder, is offering 15%OFF any purchase using the code ENDANGERED. If you purchase a (6 or 12 month) subscription, you’ll also receive the Polar Bear mask and card for free. Regardless, I hope these ideas inspire some new ways to incorporate the arts and play into your learning at home.


This post is in partnership with Opposite of Far, a business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. 



March 2015



on childbirth and miracles

Written by , Posted in MOTHERHOOD + MARRIAGE, SOUL


There is a moment during childbirth where you no longer care what is happening in a room, who is staring or what they might think of the gaping parts of your body. Your attention is solely directed at the baby within you, and the process by which your body releases him or her into the world. Birth is miraculous, no doubt, but not because it is sprinkled with fairy dust or is easily accomplished. It is sweat and blood and pain tossed with purpose and breath and intense amounts of love. In the most vulnerable ways, childbirth appropriately initiates women into the strong, vulnerable role as mother.

Although six years removed from my own experience, I’m still learning a million lessons from those hours of childbirth, the hours of waiting, of breathing through fear and doubt and pain. Life–the real sort, the one where we are honest and cast aside pretense and edits–is a hard and beautiful mixture. It is a place in which the warmest light and softest kisses of hope touch the barest limbs, the grittiest disappointments and unknowns, if we allow it.

I don’t know most of you and don’t presume to know the context of your life struggles, the physical or abstract pain of the heart which often labor with their own sort of birth pangs. Some of you reach out with emails and vulnerably share bits of your own story, and a few of you I will graciously cross paths with in person. But for the most part, we are relative strangers sharing and reading snippets of an otherwise complex life journey. Where ever you are today, this week, in this season, I want to remind you of this: breathe, take courage, and always hope. Miracles are coming.


This is my sweet new niece, Wren Elizabeth, born just over three weeks ago, and now napping on my bed. I have a new nephew, Brayden Michael, who I have yet to meet, and a second nephew who will be born halfway around the world so very soon. Each new life is always a reminder to me of miracle, of the patient gift of life given in such a raw and vulnerable manner. Grace to us all.

Enjoy your weekend, and remember, the ecru giveaway ends tonight at midnight! xo



March 2015



on packing a minimal weekend bag




In so many sweet ways, motherhood has been a journey in simple living for me, one I’ve always craved and not always known quite how to live. It may seem insignificant to some, but learning to pack a minimal, efficient weekend bag is one of the more concrete lessons I’ve learned in simplifying over the years. Haunted by those words just in case, I often carried too much, having a bag filled with the repertoire of Mary Poppins, and finding I didn’t need most of it–I’m sure there’s a good metaphor in there somewhere. But that’s another conversation.

This weekend, our family is leaving for a long Spring Break weekend, and as we prepare, I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the lists I make and questions I ask myself in order to pack well (and minimally) for a long weekend away.  For parents, I often use the same questions to guide my children in their packing, but on their lists, instead of a purse, they pack an activity bag, something similar to what I wrote about in this post here. For future reference, I store each of my lists labeled with the trip name in a “packing list” folder on my Google Drive, so that I can easily check off or refer back to previous travels. This might seem neurotic, but it is extremely helpful, particularly as a mother packing for/with young children.

I hope the tips and questions below will help to simplify your and your family’s travel plans in someway this spring. If you’re looking for a fantastic weekender bag, I’m loving the Kith&Kin weekender gifted to me, and right now, you can pop over to their shop and receive 20% OFF any bag using the code CLOISTER20.



Take a moment to think about your weekend.  Who will you be with? What sort of activities are you planning? Is there an event? Will you need to wear something specific or special at any point? Will you be staying in one locale the entire weekend or traveling around? Where will you be? What will the weather be like? Are there unknown plans/details you need to know for packing purposes?


Make a list with the following categories: clothing, shoes, underwear, accessories, toiletries, purse. 


List each day you will be away, leaving space to write next to them. Write down what will you need or want to wear next to each listed day. If you don’t know specifically, use general terms until you fill in the specifics, such as casual dress, dressy top, or comfy shorts.

Choose one bulky item. If you need a winter coat, boots, or a bulky sweater, wear it in the car or on the plane to save space. Some people like to bring a favorite bathrobe or pillow.  Choose only one to pack, ideally one you could wear more than once, if necessary.

Choose interchangeable pieces. Pack jeans, sweaters, or skirts that you might be able to wear more than once and would style in a new way.

Choose a specific color palette. Everyone has traveled somewhere and wanted to improvise their clothing options in the moment. If you stick with a similar palette you leave yourself more flexibility to change your mind in the moment without taking up too much extra space in your bag.

Pack an unplanned piece. I like limiting the bulky clothing, so that I have room to add an unplanned top, skirt, or thin sweater. I may not use it, but it helps give more spontaneity for changing throughout the weekend.


Choose 2 pairs of shoes, a third if it’s a thin sandal or flip-flop. If you’re needing a shoe that will only work with one outfit, reconsider it, and if necessary, the outfit.


Make sure you have enough and the right sort for your weekend activity.  Self-explanatory, I think. Wink.


Don’t forget the small extras. I always pack a small clutch and a thin scarf that might double as a wrap, and I generally travel in whatever jewelry I’ll wear during the weekend. If you need anything dressier, write it down here.


Consider your typical style routine. Will it be necessary for the weekend? If it’s involved, are there ways to improvise or shorten it?

List everything you will need to get ready over the weekend. 

Pick one hair styling tool, if you need it. Hotels and rentals generally have hair dryers to use, but call ahead to find out.  If you’re staying with good friends, check to see if they would share their tools with you.

Use small bottles. This is a must if you’re flying, but even when driving somewhere, I like having all of my personal toiletries neatly in one dopp kit. 


Pack any devices or chargers you’ll need for your weekend.

List the tiny necessities. I always pack a small snack, bottle of water, cash, chapstick, hand lotion, peppermint essential oil, and headphones for our trip.

Bring something to read. Choose one book or magazine to travel with you.


This post is in partnership with Kith&Kin, a small family business of handmade goods crafted by a family of makers. All thoughts, opinions, and images are my own. Final image taken by Tim Douglass of Fidelis Studio.