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.
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.
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.
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
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?
/CREATING YOUR LIST/
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.
olive | I love that we can play outside again without blankets or coats! | I cried on the day you were born, partly out of physical relief, partly knowing you’d be my last birth. Even as an infant, you were busy and independent, reaching each movement milestone early and with pride. When we caught you scaling furniture or flipping over the side of your crib or doing pull-ups from the countertop overhangs as a toddler, we called it “training” although we had no idea for what. Today, now age six, you rarely keep still (except to sleep) and are always busy making, building, singing, or creating. Last week, on your birthday, I watched you serve pretend tea and toast to your sister and cousins still in your PJs, and I realize perhaps this will be the best combination of all–a wild heart, busy body, and a willingness to serve and love others. I can’t wait to see who you grow up to be. I love you, wild one, and all the many ways you stretch me.
blythe | I like how pretty Spring looks with all of the sunshine and flowers. | You always find ways to add color and beauty to life around you, whether by drawing or singing or painting. As a toddler, you had such vibrant and ordered art work, each line and color specific to just the right place and mixture. Years later, I see that same vibrance and order in everything you do, from the artful checklists you create to the way you work around our home or play with friends. I love that you see beauty everywhere.
burke | I love that we can lay on blankets in the warm sunlight. | Ten years ago you came into the world in a quiet and peaceful labor. You were small and wide-eyed, silently taking us in. A decade later, you still study the world with patient tenderness, noticing details more of us dismiss or pass by in our haste. I have learned so much about the gift of slower living from you and am so grateful we are in family together–so grateful you are my son. I love you and all the lessons you’re teaching me so dearly.
liam |I love playing, riding bikes, and planting our garden–anything outside! | From your earliest years, you loved being in trees and climbing to their highest parts. Maybe it’s your visionary spirit or your love for adventure, but it seems right when I see your standing on limbs far above me, looking out on the world–as if it’s exactly where you are meant to be.
Although I enjoy a good scone most anytime, there is something almost magical about eating them straight from the oven when the edges are still crispy and the blueberries are still warm and soft at the center. They are one of the more subtle morning pastries, ones I tend to prefer most in their simplest form without the jam-filled centers or decadent icing tops. When we planned Olive’s small morning party, I knew lemon-blueberry scones would be an easy pairing with her tea, and serving them with sliced strawberries smothered in a little maple-cinnamon whipped cream would substitute the traditional birthday cake perfectly–without becoming too labor-intensive for me. (Wink.) But more about that later. To make Olive’s scone a little more special, I pinned two scones together using six ecru party picks–six tiny balloons just for the birthday girl–with a layer of whipped cream in the middle, something special, without being over-the-top.
When Kara, from ecru collection, first introduced me to her shop, I immediately fell in love with the minimal design and muted tones of her aesthetic. Her handmade pieces, whether for the home or body, are playfully simple and transitional–and I always enjoy things that can be used in more than one way or for more than one occasion. I asked Kara to share a bit below about her inspiration as well as a few tips for mothers of crafty children and young women starting a new business. You’ll find her responses below along with my newly favorite blueberry scone recipe and a chance to win $100 to Kara’s shop, ecru collection.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Kara. Though I currently live in LA, I’m an East Coast girl. I grew up in DC in a house full of lawyers, and never really considered I could make things for a living. I spent a year studying painting, and art history in Florence, Italy during college, and was lucky to land an internship in Emilio Pucci’s palazzo, working with his vintage textiles. It was a pretty great education in color and pattern. And if that wasn’t enough, I met my hunk of a husband, Giampiero, while I was there. Talk about the trip of a lifetime.
How did you begin making jewelry and home wares? What inspired you to more specifically begin Ecru? I have always been a maker. After graduating college, I started working the safe 9-5 but needed a creative outlet. As much as I love the world of fine art, I wanted to make something more accessible so I started making simple statement necklaces. People really responded to their minimalist, almost sculptural quality and I started selling them off my neck. It kind of just snowballed from there. Now I’m interested in the intersection between home decor and fashion; how something functions in both realms. I decorate the same way I get dressed so it feels like the natural next step.
I was immediately drawn to your choice of materials and muted color palette. How did you select them? Palette mixing was always my favorite part of painting and often I liked the look of my palette more than the painting itself. I could experiment with the way colors balance or fight each other all day, every day, but I wanted to incorporate geometric form so I began making my own beads. The clay gave me both the tactile process and color mixing. Life in Los Angeles has really influenced my sense of color and my use of natural materials. A lot of color combinations are born from walks with my dog, pausing to check out a succulent garden. I know the people on the East Coast are hating me right now.
You often reference another piece of art in your product descriptions. Do you have an artist who has inspired your work more than others? I love the art world but it can feel stiff or exclusive so I wanted to incorporate the artists and processes I love, with a wink. Right now, I am really into Alex Katz’s paintings. His colors feel like shapes outside of their subjects. I’m also drawn to Cy Twombly’s fantastic squiggles. There is so much artistry to his work, but that appearance of effortlessness is really the mark of a genius. Helen Frankenthaler, Amy Sillman, and Esther Stewart’s works are also a great inspiration.
Do you have any advice for mothers who have young daughters interested in jewelry making? Use what you have! I have seen some pretty chic pasta necklaces. Truly! I rarely go into bead stores, finding much more inspiration at the hardware store, the sports store, and supermarket. I go just to check out materials and consider shapes. Materials don’t have to be expensive if they’re well considered. Just don’t tell your brother or dad I told you to steal their tools!
Do you have any tips for young women wanting to start a new business? I’m still figuring it out myself. I’ve worked for small businesses for years and you think you know what it takes until you start your own. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I work harder now than I ever did for anyone else but I love it! I will say though, balance is a struggle. My husband is constantly reminding me to step away from the computer to enjoy a meal together. You have to remember that though it is your business, you have other things going on. Don’t stay in your PJs all day! Sometimes going out with friends or getting dressed up for a date night puts everything in perspective. But the rejection can be tough. It’s hard not to take it personally because it can feel like they’re rejecting you. You need a thick skin for sure. I can’t tell you how many emails I send out everyday and it feels like they just go out into the ether, never to be heard from again. So when I get a rejection I actually plot to turn it around because at least they took the time to respond. Ha! But that’s what makes finding good collaborators and people who are stoked about your business so awesome!
Enter the giveaway below and all Cloistered Away readers can enjoy 10% OFF ecru collection during the month of March with the code CLAWAY10. Happy weekend! xo