Connecting and Disconnecting

I have felt disconnected from this space a bit lately, from online life in general really. Perhaps it’s the pace of life the last few months or the thoughts I can’t manage to catch. Quite possibly, it’s the new puppy in our home, now competing for that early hour of morning quiet, or even simpler, the reality of writing online about out life for so long. I realized just last week that I will have been blogging for ten years this coming autumn. TEN YEARS! Although I haven’t always written from such a public platform, I have still been recording some portion of our family’s life and my thoughts on the internet for most of my marriage and mothering years at this point. And something in that reality has caused pause.

Most days, my mind and heart feel brimming with thoughts and ideas; it merely requires tweaking external logistics to make it happen. But the last month or so, I’ve felt a greater disconnect somewhere within me, one that has left me staring at a gaping hole in content here. I have sat down to write so many times, only to stare at the blinking cursor, typing words that felt forced and empty, only to erase them moments later. Delete. Delete. Delete. In March, I lost two large portions of our family trip to a defective CF card, and simultaneously, my phone has been shutting down regularly or draining battery unnecessarily fast, creating a sort of stalemate in spontaneous photos and videos. Sigh.

This isn’t a moment to address the current state of my technology, but only to say I’ve wondered if all of these factors together aren’t trying to tell me something deeper about my own needs right now. Mark and I just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our youngest, Olive, turned eight, and we are wrapping up our eighth or ninth year of homeschooling––the details of time seem fuzzy. Liam will be fourteen in the fall, and Burke will be thirteen soon after and Blythe not far behind that. The brevity of these years with children at home is visceral.

So yes, my online spaces and social medias have felt sparse and random lately. And some days the empty pages buck against my longing for productivity, my want to actually produce something with my writing hours, other than deleting them. I feel anxious at times that I can’t produce or actualize what seems so easily jotted down on a list or planner. But the internal tension––the push and pull of doing and being, writing and listening––is teaching me something about my boundaries and needs, and more specifically how again to gently receive myself as I am––whether I am performing as well as my inner-critic would like or not.  I have found over the years, it is vain for me to try and produce anything when I am locked up in my head or feeling this deep sense of disconnection. It is best for me not to stare at a screen or a keyboard or even hover my planner and lists, but instead for a time to simply step away and live.

I know I am not alone in this cycle of inward push-pull of self, this tug-of-war of what it means to be connected in the digital age. So for you, here are a few ways I have been finding authentic connection again, and also making peace with my own limitations:

Take a walk. A brief, slow walk around the block is the most instinctual activity when I have writer’s block or am having trouble quieting/hearing my thoughts. I wander and listen. That’s all. This is one of my favorite articles on the connection between writing and walking: one activity orienting us to our environment, the other orienting us to our thought. I realize not everyone is seeking connection for the purpose of writing, but I tend to think it benefits us regardless of intent.

Meditation/Prayer. I’ve mentioned this so many times in this space, but regularly quieting my thoughts with focused meditation on Scripture and prayer is essential for my well-being and sense of deep connection to anything I put my hands to in a day. This doesn’t require long periods of time. I typically find brief quiet moments randomly throughout our days to quiet my thoughts, and pray often. Wink.

Go outside. So many books have been written on our need of nature. But there is something metaphysical nature speaks to us, something tangible for our souls and bodies that we need to orient us through our lives in the digital world. Breathe fresh air. Go for a hike or a day trip to a nearby beach or river. Sprawl a blanket in the lawn, swing in a hammock, stargaze on the rooftop––whatever works best for your temperament and locale.

Unplug. Instead of searching the web for inspiration or looking to see what others are doing, unplug. Pay attention to the people and patterns of your day. Take mental snapshots instead of grabbing your phone or camera, close your eyes, and savor the image for just a moment.

Listen to music. Thoughts like rhythm. They like movement, even melodic movement. Let uplifting music waft in your home as you play with your children or go about the ordinary.

Read. Read anything that might inspire you or grow you, offline. Visit the library or a local bookshop with your kids (or without them, too). If you’re curious, I share four books currently on my nightstand every month with email subscribers. Wink.

Spend time with others outside of your home.  Make a playdate. Meet up with a friend or creative, ideally someone who inspires you. The simple goal for me: get out of your head.

The list is simple, isn’t it? It’s incredible how such simple choices can breed inward connection, and often as a result, a sense of connection for me here, as well.

Skin Wellness for Tweens + Teens

Our oldest bridged into the teen years last year, with the next two following close behind. I’ve found myself in a whole new world as a parent, reading books on the teen brain and hormones (this one and this one have been my recent favorites), learning to adjust my parenting a bit, coming alongside them more often with questions rather than directives. Somedays it feels tricky and confusing, filled with emotion and challenging conversations, but I’m truly loving this new season for our family. For all the uncertainty and new terrain, there is so much adventure, laughter, and wonderful depth right now, too. I wrote an article for Wild+Free this month on how we are currently shifting our homeschool with teens, and you can find that here, if you’re interested to read more. But today, I want to talk about skincare and personal hygiene, a common topic around our home these days with all the growing and changing bodies. 😉

My mother has often said, “we’ll sometimes do for others what we won’t do for ourselves.” Isn’t that often the mantra of parenthood? I’ve butted into this truth so many times on this journey, and I was recently reminded in The Soul of Discipline, “Kids pay attention to our actions much more than they do what we say.” This is true about most things in parenting, and as our conversations about self-care and skin begin to deepen, I’m mindful to reflect again on my own personal care. Our children are always watching us––how we handle stress, the foods and drinks we consume, the boundaries we create for myself––all of it. As a parent, I’m learning, this isn’t about being perfect, or only showing them what I want them to see. They need to see my humanity and struggle, too. They need to see how I adapt to unexpected happenings and even the times I make exceptions or bend the rules. Still, I am mindful that as a parent, if I want my children to follow a certain habit, it’s always easier if they notice me cultivating that habit, too.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS

Like many parents, Mark and I have always encouraged healthy self-care practices in our children: regular bathing, teeth brushing, early bedtimes, limited sugar and screen-time, plenty of water, and so on. But as they have grown older, they naturally have more questions about these boundaries, often challenging us with the ubiquitous why?  As a result, our conversations about wellness are deepening, extensions of the same topics, shifting in purpose. As skin breakouts and hormones are becoming a more relevant topic in our home, so are these other conversations. How do we take care of our skin? And what are the factors that affect our skin?

Hydrate / Water. Water. Water. Our skin is our largest organ, made up of cells composed mostly of––you guessed it––water! When our bodies dehydrate, not only does it affect our digestion, circulation, and brain function, but it also negatively impacts our skin, preventing the toxin elimination and even leading to dry, flaky skin and premature skin aging. Proper hydration helps our brain to function more clearly, too, improving cognitive function in children and adults, too. According to the University of Wisconsin Health Center, our skin is the last organ to receive water, so it’s imperative to add water to the skin topically (through baths/showers) and moisturize skin within a few minutes to retain hydration, whether on our face or body. This may seem irrelevant to teens, whose skin quickly rejuvenates collagen, but again, we’re trying to build lifetime habits now!

Protect / While at the beach last week, my sister and I were laughing how we used to fry our skin in our teen years, thinking that was the way to golden, luminous skin. How silly! Baking light skin in the sun for long periods will only lead to sunburn and skin damage. I love this video taken with a UV camera for understanding the importance of sun screen daily (it’s crazy!).

Nourish / Your skin can sometimes tell you something about the inside of your body, too. Inflamed or irritated skin may be provoked by food sensitivities or diets too high in saturated fats and sugars. Skin breakouts in our home have welcomed deeper conversations about the foods we eat and how it is connected to our health. Oodles of books and blog posts have been written on this, and while the details sometimes vary, some basic tenants we return to are: limit sugar, eat whole foods and plenty of veggies, make it ourselves, and drink water. These practices of course affect more than our skin, and I hope they forge habits in my children than continue long after the finicking teen skin years have passed.

 

BEAUTYCOUNTER

I’ve written a bit here before about Beautycounter and their never list, their commitment  to never use over 1500 harmful or potentially harmful chemicals in their products. This has become a larger conversation in our home in recent months as my children have more and more questions about their skin, whether it’s why my daughter’s skin breaks out in a rash when she uses over the counter lip glosses marketed to children, or a more mature conversation about the effects of heavy metals and certain chemicals stored up in our body over time. While the choices to clean our home of toxins by making our own home cleaning products, filtering our water, and purchasing safer products may seem arbitrary to my young adults, they are not. Again, the point is not to cultivate perfection or fear, but to educate them in a natural way that what they do matters. I love the way essential oils and Beautycounter products have naturally opened these conversations within our home.

SKINCARE

Because teen skin can be ask fickle as the hormones beneath it, I love Beautycounter’s charcoal products for purifying and restoring balance to uneven or oily skin.

Charcoal Bar / This little bar contains activated charcoal, coconut oil, and green tea, and can be used on the body or the face. It’s perfect for teens (or adults) who struggle with regular breakouts, or who tend to have oily skin. To stretch it a little bit or to share with more than one child, I put the bar in the microwave for 3-4 seconds and, using a sharp knife, chop the bar into 4-5 smaller rectangular bars (the reason my current bar is a little short). 😉

Charcoal Mask / Masks seem so exotic and special, and they should be a regular part of your own weekly routine, too, mamas. But here’s one you’ll want to share with your teens, although they may be a harder sell for your teen boys. Wink. With a blend of activated charcoal, kaolin clay, and peppermint, this mask also exfoliates, leaving skin feeling cleaner and clearer. You can use it as a spot treatment, too, to help remedy a pimple quicker, or to help the tube stretch a bit farther. Start yourself or your teen at one mask per week, watching how you skin responds.

Nourishing Night Cream or Day Cream / Moisturizing sometimes seems ridiculous to young adults worried about breaking out. I remember thinking moisturizers would cause more breakouts, but our skin needs the topical hydration and moisture retention. The Nourishing moisturizers are lightweight, non-greasy moist

Nourishing Cream Exfoliator / I love this exfoliator and use it myself 2-3 mornings a week, in lieu of my morning cleanser. I encourage my older kids to use it once a week, too. This exfoliator is so creamy and gentle, using jojoba beads instead of harsh abrasives. This is a wonderful option in addition to or in lieu of the charcoal mask, especially for teens with drier skin.

MAKEUP

We haven’t yet bridged into makeup with our girls yet, although they sometimes ask for a bit of lip gloss or blush when we’re at home. But for those of you with older daughters, I highly recommend this book, as it gives a more in depth picture of the cosmetics industry and the businesses and organizations who are working to establish stricter legislation in the US. I love the way Beautycounter is working to create change in our laws for everyone, not just their business. They are also highly selective about their ingredient list and honor their commitment to the never list. Their makeup colors are very natural and fresh looking, opposed to heavy concentrated color, an ideal way to introduce your teen daughters to makeup palettes that are safe to use and also complement their youth.

To help your parenting dollars stretch a bit, here are a few ideas to consider beginning with:

Cream Blusher / The cream blush in the Hibiscus color can be used on cheeks and lips , in the Caramel color can double on the cheeks and eye lids.

Sheer Lipstick / This lipstick can also double on the lips or cheeks, too and has a large variety of concentration. One product, two uses. High-fives.

Lip Shine or Peppermint Lip Conditioner / If you’re not yet ready for your daughters to have color, but you want something out of your own bag to hand them while you get ready for the day.

Mascara / Made with shea butter and beeswax, this mascara goes on light and easy (perfect for younger teens) and builds really well for women who want more definition.

Creating Space for Spontaneity

I tend to be a planner, an achiever, a doer. In fact, I could write paragraphs on the benefit of goal-minded living, and the need for patience and steadfastness in parenting, business, or home projects. In each of these endeavors, my days have always unfolded better with a little planning ahead, even with the smallest of lists. These lists help me sift through what is necessary in work and home life, to say no more often, to put my limited energy toward what I value. But how did Mary Oliver phrase it, keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable? Perhaps the greatest lesson in the midst of living-out planned days has been learning to temper them with space––space for spontaneity, for whim, for something unimaginable. . . .

READ MORE AT THE FRESH EXCHANGE

On Working from Home

Possibly the hardest part about living, schooling, and working from home as a mother is establishing boundaries, even as they fold into one another. I am a perpetual student learning the balance. And yet balance isn’t exactly the right word––treating time as though it were a tray of poured wine glasses, a balance beam, or a ball tottering on a seal’s nose. Time is more abstract than any of those things. It is more like water, shifting in matter and motion based on its context, possibly a mountain river, a misty cloud, or an unmoved glacier. The ideal of cupping time into some sort balanced measure can feel defeating. In my experience, shifting between roles at home requires intuition, patience, and a bit of planning ahead.

We recently emptied our garage to transform it into a studio space for Mark and my brother-in-law’s creative work, and eventually a space for our family to enjoy. We found this desk in the process and set it near the window in our bedroom. I have been writing there often lately, enjoying the change of place and view. Mark spends the morning with our children, working through morning chores and math and logic lessons (thanks, Babe!) while I write blog posts/editorials, edit photos, or develop my Beautycounter business. I typically try to get out of the house to work, as I can grow easily distracted by the conversations and questions and activity of the house, and even at times, by the house’s care-taking itself. It’s never-ending, yes? But at heart, I am a homebody. I leave for the joy of returning. So it is a gift to have this little space right now, tucked in my bedroom with plenty of light and cozy privacy.  Although the shifting roles in marriage, motherhood, and self-paced work can be challenging at times, it is a gift to live with my family, to learn and work here alongside one another. And ultimately, I am relentless in tweaking routines in various seasons to make it work.

I know there are many women who work from home, and others who are interested to try. So I wrote out a brief list of lessons I’ve learned over the years of my own journey, often learned through making mistakes. Wink. Here’s a few big ones that might apply regardless of the type of work itself.

Set and Honor Work Hours / Blocking specific hours for personal work at home is imperative. Home can be a haven for work life, but it can also distract your focus when you’re trying to manage too many things at once. I know it can be humdrum to think of life in terms of hours, especially when children are involved and the days can feel different each day, but setting aside a specific time for the work you want to accomplish, whether it is starting your own business or making room for a hobby, is important. When I first began blogging, I set aside hours I knew my young children would be occupied: rest time, early morning, or after their early bedtime. Currently with Mark’s help, I am now able to work in the morning most weekdays. Yet I still have to be disciplined about honoring my allotted work hours. When time is up, I get up and walk away for the day, having to release all that is unfinished (because regularly something is unfinished).

Create a Designated Work Space / For a long time I worked at our desktop computer in the kitchen. As my children grew and our homeschool days shifted, it was helpful for me to be able to write, edit images, or email while also keeping an eye and ear on the home. In years where I have had a babysitter or now Mark’s help, I try to leave the house and set up at coffee shop corner. But I prefer the quiet, small spot in my bedroom right now.

Create Realistic, Contextual Goals / Set goals based on your personal context. Are you needing to make a certain amount of income? What time do you have available? How long will specific, regular work tasks take you? I learned many of these lessons the hard way. For instance, for months at a time, I would try to write out an editorial calendar for this space. I have always had plenty of ideas and images I want to share, but I always underestimated the amount of time it took to put it all together. I would find myself frustrated at not meeting my own agenda, but I was planning content for a pace I wasn’t able to contribute at that point. I had young children at home with me, needing my attention and eventually longer stretches of lessons and read aloud. What I needed was to keep a list of ideas and work through them at a more flexible pace. At some points, I am able to work through the list quickly, and other times I seem to move at snail pace. Part of this process is learning to receive all seasons of work and home life: the quiet, slow winter and the burgeoning spring alike.

Say No, or Protect What You Value / This is still the hardest for me. I am a yes person, a pleaser and accommodate-r, so saying no is extremely difficult. But learning to turn down opportunities (even good ones) or even limit the expectations I put on myself has been the most powerful and beneficial lesson for my work and home life. Motherhood is a gift, and having my children at home is truly only for such a short period of time. I have to protect time that I want with them, even at times when it costs me income-producing work. These are ongoing conversations in our home and will vary home to home based on what your family values. Again, trial and error have taught me so much. Sigh. But the better I am able to estimate the time it takes for various work, whether writing an editorial article, taking a call, or running an errand, the better I am about saying no and prioritizing. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend reading Essentialism––one of my favorite books of all time.

Be Patient / If you’re starting a new business from home, whether it is a blog, an online shop, direct sales or something else altogether, be patient with yourself, as you make space for it in the sphere of family and home. Some days will work smoothly and as planned, and other days will feel futile. It’s okay. Tomorrow is always fresh waiting for you again.

Ask for Help / Whether hiring a babysitter for blocks of time, getting help from a family member, or swapping childcare with a friend, ask for help as your business grows. There will be seasons where you can work during a nap-time, and other years without naps. For the latter, have a plan that fits your family budget and needs.

Let Go of the Working-Mother Shame / I recently was re-reading a section of Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Girls and noticed this passage I had previously underlined, “Mothering is a sacred profession that has, in our day and age, been relegated to a sub-profession; hence, mothers live today in an unavoidable tension, a juggling of selves, and at times, a kind of shame.” I love my husband and family deeply, and sometimes, my work costs them something, too. There can be a shame that all mothers carry in some form, but especially ones who work, that they are not enough. I know the mothering years of small children are short, and so I look to make sure when I am with my children, I am really with them.

Make Space for Rest and Play / In the toggle between roles, it seems there is always something to do. Make sure you set aside time each week to rest and play. Although for those of you motivated by efficiency and productivity, this will feel of lesser importance, it is the glue that holds all the roles together. This is the place where connection (to self and family, spiritual and natural) is fed and grown. If you are not taking time to rest or enjoy life, you will quickly burn out.

Nurturing Winter Skin + Reforming the Beauty Industry

winter_skin-1 winter_skin_beautycounter

In the winter, my skin tends to feel like the branches outside my door: pale, dry, and brittle. It is more sensitive in the drier, cold air, more prone to patches of flaky skin on my cheeks and pronounced fine lines around my eyes and mouth. I crave moisture, inside and out. After writing about the importance of taking care of our skin and my personal journey with Beautycounter in this post last fall, I thought it might be helpful to share how I am nurturing my skin this season with warm liquids and safer skin care.

HYDRATE FROM THE INSIDE

Two brief notes about me: I am cold-natured and I love coffee. This means when the temperature drops and our home becomes drafty, I really struggle to remain hydrated, often mindlessly swapping drinking water for coffee in effort to keep warm. For obvious reasons, juices and smoothies tend to loose their allure in the cold months, too. I know dehydration is an enemy to our wellness in general, especially our skin wellness, so entering this winter, I needed to find other ways to nourish and hydrate my self and my skin. With the encouragement of a dear friend, I began making a small pot of loose-leaf herbal tea each morning and sipping on it throughout the day. I still have a cup of coffee in the morning, but most mornings not until after I’ve had a full cup of warm herbal tea and a large glass of water, both typically during my morning alone time. Homemade broth, bone broth, and tasty soups are other ways I nourish my skin and keep warm in the winter.

winter_skin_beautycounter_2 Nurturing Winter Skin with BeautycounterHELPING REFORM THE COSMETICS INDUSTRY

As I mentioned last fall, after reading Beautycounter’s Never List, I realized how many “all-natural” and “organic” products were in our home loaded with toxins linked to things like hormonal imbalances and even cancer. Although I had already been using essential oils in our home, even with a few skin care recipes, I felt like my skin needed a little more attention. I tried Beautycounter and immediately loved how simple and light their products are and of course how my skin felt. While I am not typically an MLM fan, I have loved partnering with Beautycounter’s initiative to educate the public about what we’re putting on our skin and their political activism to see change in legislature holding the beauty industry more accountable. Whether you use Beautycounter or not, you can find out more on how to write your senator for cosmetic reform here .

Nurturing Winter Skin with BeautycountDAILY WINTER SKIN CARE ROUTINE

morning / Each morning, I rub a fingertip of the Cleansing Balm into my skin and let it soak in a bit while I brush my teeth. Using warm water, I gently massage a few handfuls of water over my face, removing some of the balm with my fingertips (instead of the cloth). I pat dry with a towel and pump one bit of Nourishing Day Cream onto my fingertip, adding a drop or two of Hydrating Face Oil, and gently massage it into my skin. And that’s it! If I’m planning to wear makeup that day, I wait a bit before applying it and give some space for the moisturizers to soak in a bit more. This is a good time to dress and make my bed. Wink.

evening / When it’s time to get ready for bed, I rub a generous fingertip-sized amount of Cleansing Balm over my skin and eyelids (especially if I’ve worm mascara). I often run the cleansing cloth (included with the Cleansing Balm) under hot water, squeeze it out and rest it over my face. This only lasts about 30 seconds, but it always feels therapeutic, a gift at the end of the day. I pat my skin dry and immediately spray my face with one broad pump of Rosewater Mist. The cool contrast to the hot cloth feels wonderful. I finish with one pump of Nourishing Night Cream on my fingertip, adding two drops of Hydrating Face Oil and a dab of Rejuvenating Eye Cream around my eyes (a little creamier in texture to the Nourishing Eye Cream).

THE ALL-PURPOSE CLEANSING BALM

You might notice the emptiness of the jar, but I have loved the Cleansing Balm this winter. Although it is one of the more expensive products, it is still my favorite, with an plethora of uses. I have used it for washing my face, and also as a mask 1-2 times/week for extra hydration. I often use it as a moisturizer on my children’s faces when they become chapped, too. I use it to remove makeup. I have clients who have used it to help with eczema and dry heals, and I recently encouraged one client, who is an avid runner, to try wearing her balm before a run as a mask to preserve the moisture in her skin.
Nurturing Winter Skin BeautycounterCAUSE FOR CONCERN

Did you know many makeup lines (even expensive ones) contain toxins and heavy metals in their products that can affect our endocrine, reproductive, and nervous systems? I encourage you to begin research of your own to make your own decisions, but here’s a helpful start as to which chemicals to be concerned about and why. Although I don’t wear much makeup, I’m grateful for Beautycounter’s initiative to provide makeup that is free of these harmful things. I realize there are many women who choose not to wear makeup, and I say high-fives and way to go. When I go places without a splash of color on my cheeks or a dab of concealer under my eyes, people tend to ask if I’m feeling okay or tell me how tired I look. All to say, I’m not yet to the place where I’m swearing off makeup. Beside the point, I feel better about myself with a little color. Wink.

WINTER MAKEUP ROUTINE

For daily wear in the winter, I prefer makeup that adds moisture and a little natural flush. First, I gently apply Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer (No. 2) with my fingertips. It has a bit of a sticky texture at first, but quickly adds a dewy look that feels really good in the winter. On a day I need extra moisture, I may skip the Dew Skin altogether and just add a bit of the Cleansing Balm to my skin, letting it soak in like a mask. Either way, I then dab on a little eye concealer (fair, pictured below) to brighten my inherited dark under-eye circles, followed by a few light strokes of mascara. Depending on the day, I use either the cream blusher (Hibiscus, in the picture below) or the blush duo (Tawny/Whisper), with a quick swipe of the lip sheer (Twig, pictured below) to moisturize my lips. I just purchased the Coralbell lip gloss to dab on top for a bit more color this spring. 🙂

Nurturing Winter Skin with Beautycounterwinter_skin-1-5

A GIFT FOR YOU

As a way to say thank you to my readers and to help encourage the use of safer products in your home, I am reimbursing shipping on all orders of $100 or more placed through my personal site until 11:59pm on January 31, 2017. No commitment or membership sign-up necessary. Wink.

JOIN THE BUSINESS

For those of you interested in joining the Beautycounter movement, there are two separate ways to do so:

become a member / The membership does not require you to sell anything; it allows you to receive free shipping on purchases over $100, receive special promotions, and earn 15% credit on each purchase toward future purchases. You also receive a free gift from Beautycounter if you purchase $50 or more when you sign up, currently the Rose Neroli Hand Soap. Right now, for any reader who signs up through my personal site to become a Band of Beauty member and also places a product order $100 or more, I will reimburse 10% of the order in addition to the automatic free shipping and the Rose Neroli hand lotion. Offer ends 11:59pm on January 31, 2017. 

become a consultant / As a consultant, you would officially join my Beautycounter team and have access to several other people on this same journey. Consultants receive a discount on all product immediately upon signing up and generally take a more active roll with the Beautycounter movement. Whether you are drawn to the activism, wellness, or educational aspect of the business, consultants earn income doing something they care about that benefits themselves and their homes. Through my team, you will have access to an assortment of training and business helps and are free to move toward goals however gently or assertively you desire. Plus you will have access to other training and equipping events and socials hosted by the company around the nation. If you are interested to learn more or have any specific questions about becoming a consultant, please email me: bethany <at> cloisteredaway.com I would love to talk!

Nurturing the Whole Self | Retreating

Nurturing the Whole Self | The Practice of Retreating

“a series dedicated to nurturing and nourishing the self from the inside out”

I have always appreciated winter’s wisdom, its encouragement to retreat and to listen. It merely requires a window or a walk outdoors to understand there is purpose for this season of brief light and bare limbs, of quiet fields and still, cold air. Winter gently reminds us of our need to pause and turn inward for a time, our need to listen.

It sounds simple enough, and yet, the truth is retreating from people or activities we love can be difficult in practice. Life doesn’t pause on its own. Children still need to be clothed and fed and nurtured. Bills still need to be paid. Work needs to be finished. Modern culture esteems Spring and Summer type energy, the more productive, vibrant work. We read courage-imparting imperatives at every turn, online and on walls and billboards, inspiring us into action, and yet in some seasons or parts of our day even, the most courageous thing we can do is rest, to linger in solitude and quiet. It appears to be nothing, and yet I have been learning in the past 18 months that the rest discovered in retreating can be the most productive and beneficial of all. Winter is the season that gently leads the way.


THE PRACTICE OF RETREATING

I use the term retreat in its simplest form: pulling back or away. This reclusive act can sometimes be viewed as selfish or antisocial, and I’d submit it is. I’d also suggest that in a world of constant connection, in a home with unending needs and conversation, in a marriage that requires two whole people in loving connection with one another, there is great value in prioritizing the care of self, in carving space to connect with your thoughts and emotion apart from it all.

As an introvert, I think I have always sought after this sort of personal space at home, in marriage and motherhood. For me, retreating is not something to wait for on a weekend away once or twice a year, it is a necessity to make space for daily, even if the time is smaller in nature. The quality accumulates. In the winter, it tends to involve candles and cozy corners and a warm drink. In the spring or fall it more often involves the being outdoors, possibly on a blanket in the warm midday sun, or maybe on a walk in the woods. In the summer more often I am outdoors in the early morning when the sun rises or as the sun sets. Nearly always it includes a bit of meditation and prayer, a book, a little music, and when possible the outdoors. It may look different for you, but I implore you, find a place to quiet yourself.


MY CURRENT PRACTICE

For me, retreating is simply a practice of stillness, silence, and listening. Since the majority of my days are spent with people or communicating in some form, this quietness provides balance. Currently, I begin my morning ritual, with silent meditation, a renewed priority in 2017. This fraction of the day is not a time to accomplish and produce but to hear, to pray, to allow whatever is unsettled in my thoughts and body to rise to the surface. For me, it is a time to let go of anxiety and fear, to connect with God and to meditate on gentle truths from the Bible, currently Proverbs 3.

During this period, I light a candle nearby and then begin by lying on my back, flat on the floor, face to the ceiling, palms up, arms at my side, feet relaxed. I close my eyes and lay still and listen. Sometimes I begin to feel anxious about the day or something else in life. Sometimes everything is simply empty. Sometimes I find fearful thoughts or anticipation and excitement about something that day. I listen and let go. I do this for 10-20 minutes, depending. Then I transition more toward mediation. I generally have the Bible nearby and I read and meditate on these words while I slowly stretch and release, physically and mentally. This part might be another 15-20 minutes, and then I continue on with the rest of my morning ritual, reading and journal if there is time before the day begins. For now, I have let go of early morning work, instead choosing to begin the day from a place of connection and rest.


WAYS TO RETREAT

There are many ways this practice can take form. I know for extremely extroverted people, the idea of sitting quiet and alone for a long period of time sounds boring and tiresome. Try something small, like 10 minutes of stillness. Here’s a few ways the practice of retreating looks in my life. It will look different in yours, and it should. Find your own style and rhythm.

daily / Although it will vary person to person, establishing a daily period of retreat is a wonderful place to start. Consider your day. What period of the day would work for your own time the most consistently? The morning? Evening? Nap time? Think through what is restful practice for you. If there is an activity that is restful for you (running, baking, painting, etc.), take a few moments to begin with stillness and quiet reflection. Listen to your thoughts. Are the erratic or sad? Are they running through your head without breath? Are they exhausted? Listen to yourself, to what you are needing: Is it peace? Joy? Patience? Hope? Release and receive through prayer. Read or recite things that are true about yourself, your circumstances, about others.

impromptu / For those in a season of life that feels absolutely void of personal space and time, pay attention for the moments as they present themselves. Sometimes these impromptu retreats can be the most meaningful because I need them right them. I notice cues, like losing patience, anxiety, frustration, etc., and so I stop whatever I am doing. I find something for the kids to do, or I clear whatever I was planning to do–even sometimes meeting with friends or going to run an errand. I find a small quiet spot in or outside of the house for meditation and prayer. If I have a bit more space in time, I might relax into reading or journaling. More often, I need to jump back into our daily routine, but I do so feeling a bit more grounded.

weekends / Weekends are a natural place for many people to find a little reprieve. If you have children, consider a swap of time with your spouse. In the last 18 months, our family has developed a Sabbath practice, a ritual borrowed from Jewish culture. We are still learning so much about this gift in our life. We begin with a Shabbat meal on Friday evening, and Saturday, we each find space for silence and solitude, for letting go and receiving. Sometimes this will be taking a long walk on my own or laying down on a blanket in the sun. We take the posture of rest, of turning our thoughts from house projects or school work or creative ideas to rest, to enjoyment of one another and also of silence. To read more about our developing Shabbat meal and Sabbath practices: here and here.

bi-annually/ These are the retreats we more often associate with the word, and they’re beautiful for having consecutive hours away from usual responsibilities to dream, to play, to learn. I have yet to take a retreat on my own. I have been to conference weekends on my own, but I have yet to go to a place alone for a weekend with no purpose. I would love this for a time in the future. For now, Mark and I try to take time of this sort together once or twice a year, and they are pivotal for both our marriage connection and well-being and for family vision. But even in our togetherness, we allow space to one another to be alone, to connect from the inside out. The same is true for weekends away with friends. They are beautiful for deepening friendships, of encouragement, but I always appreciate finding time apart from the group.

day of silence / This is new for us, an idea I picked up in this book last year, but Mark and I are sampling a day of silence for each of us, once a season. This will be a day to disconnect from our phones and computers, from work and home, for a full day of quiet, to listen and read and receive. It is a simple way for two introverts who spend a lot of time with people (including our children) to protect our spirits and souls. My first day begins next week.

More thoughts on SELF CARE.

Light the Path | Reflections to Welcome the New Year

Reflections for the New Year

Each new year is a baptism of sorts, a release of one thing, a grasp for another. Whether one toasts champagne or simply turns the paper page on the calendar, we cross over, like mystics. Each of us. All of us. A new year.

I realize for most of us, life carries on today as usual, cup of coffee in hand, laundry, email, work. The ordinariness of time can sometimes mask its importance. I have been cleaning out closets and re-ordering spaces around the house this last week, recalibrating our home after the holiday whirl. These sort of inventories offer the best sort of reflection, a practical accounting of days and time and space. Let it go or put it in place, practically and metaphorically. The process has been that simple.

Yet through it, I have noticed more gentleness toward myself, an ease in letting go without excuse, something atypical to me. I have packed a large box of books we have outgrown, supplies we do not use, work we have completed. I threw away old planners and tangential ideas scratched on paper, opting instead to begin with a clear mind and working space. It is difficult to toss ideas aways, but they can become cumbersome and distracting to new ones. I am trusting that the ideas that matter will circle back on their own again, in their own time.

2016 taught me more about this, about letting go of failure and disappointment and unfinished dead ends, about working with steadfastness and patience. 2016 taught me more about creating in the face of fear, dreaming in spite of failure, putting down the litmus of comparison. It taught me about the power of voice and the value of silence. It’s funny how such powerful lessons can be woven amid difficult circumstances.

Like many people, I typically journal on the cusp of each year. This year, I will be journaling daily in this archival journal my friends Ronnie and Trish just released, filled with daily prompts for cataloguing the days. For me, this annual period of reflection is less about marking tasks to accomplish in the new year and is more about noticing the hidden narrative of my days, the magic lying within the ordinariness and even the hardship. I generally reflect on our year as a family relationally and spiritually. I reflect on our community relationships. I reflect on our homeschool year. Since I am goal-oriented by nature, I prefer to jot down goals for the year ahead. Sometimes I flounder; sometimes I rise. Either way, I am learning how to hold these plans a bit more loosely, to allow them room to take organic course. They are more or less a flickering light for the path ahead. They often keep my feet moving when I feel a bit lost, even if only toward the next step.

For those who are interested, here are a few of the thoughts below I use to process each new year. May they be a flickering light for your path, too.

soult-journals

REFLECT

What was the biggest success of the last year (expected and unexpected)? 

What was the biggest disappointment or obstacle? Were these temporary circumstances or something ongoing/long-term? 

Were your expectations/goals at the beginning of the year reasonable?  Were you trying to do too much at once? Did others involved respond how you anticipated? Finances? Time?

How did you use your free time (unplanned time)? Did you even have free time? Did you rest well?  List some factors or circumstances that prohibit rest/oration.

How did you take care of yourself? Write one thing you did for yourself that you’d like to continue.

How well did you connect with or take care of others? Name a meaningful point of connection last year. Is there a way to re-create it in the new year?

How do you feel entering the new year? (excited, anxious, fearful, expectant, overwhelmed, etc.) Are any specific life circumstances contributing to this feeling? How does this emotion fuel you? Your family’s relationships/learning? Your work? How does it deplete them?

LET GO

Take a moment to let go of accomplishment and disappointment. Acknowledge your emotions and release them. Imagine yourself being emptied and cleared. Pray and ask for wisdom.

PLAN AHEAD

What is one specific way you want to take care of yourself this year? Is this daily, weekly, monthly? Write it down. If possible, share it with someone you trust, someone who will help you prioritize it.

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with those in your home in a more meaningful way this year? Just one. Is this a daily, weekly, or monthly practice?

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with someone(s) outside of your home in a more meaningful way? Begin with one. Is this a daily, weekly, monthly practice? Write it on the calendar.

What is one area of your family daily routine you’d like to shift? (I ask myself this specifically for the homeschool, too.) What do you need to eliminate? Simplify? Add? Have more consistency in? Write it down.

What part of the follow-thought do you need the most help? Physically? Logistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

What encourages you the most in your daily living? Write down one habit change to cultivate encouragement.

On Acts of Kindness and Thanksgiving

cheddar_apple_galetteThere’s something about baked foods straight from the oven that warms both the soul and the belly. However divided a room or community or nation may be, there is solace in shared food, and most especially in pie or tarts. Perhaps it is the concrete-ness of metaphor, the whole parsed out and shared between many–or more simply, the one thing a table of empty bellies can agree on. With Thanksgiving arriving next week, I realize not all table gatherings will be peaceful in light of the election. Sometimes families and even friendships rift because of politics. The table can be a place to set aside disagreement and division. It can be a place for finding a shared sense of gratitude. This month can also be a time to attend to the thousands who will not have a table on which to eat at all–children, teens, and adults alike. There can be a shared gratitude in the community when serving others, too.

In honor of Thanksgiving this month and the oodles of discussion around food, our family has been looking for ways to cultivate gratitude in others through a few acts of kindness. As W.J. Cameron noted, “Thanksgiving, after all, is a call to action.” Serving others this season can be the exact pause they need to find gratitude, even if it’s simply putting something warm in their belly. There are many ways to nourish one another and also to stir up gratitude, but as we turn our thoughts to our own tables next week, here are a few ways to think of other’s bellies, too.

ACTS OF KINDNESS AROUND FOOD

/ bake something delicious for a neighbor, like this apple cheddar galette

volunteer with a local food bank

/ bring a pre-chopped meal to another family

/ invite someone to your table

/ pay for a stranger’s coffee or meal

/ offer babysitting for a single parent or couple

/ drop off groceries to someone

volunteer with a local non-profit to feed the homeless, teen mothers, disaster relief victims, nursing home members, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

nurturing the whole self | skin care

nurturing_self_skin_care_beautycounternururing_self_skincare_beautycounter-2

“a series dedicated to nurturing and nourishing the self from the inside out”

Perhaps I am noticing my own skin more as my children grow older and I help them cultivate their own self-care practices. As in every other area of life, it is easier to lead them if I honor the practice well myself. It’s the hidden gift in parenting: we can’t give what we don’t have. Yet having a conversation about skin care is as much a conversation about genetics, food, sleep, and stress as it is about skincare product; it’s also a conversation about self-image and social norms. Each impacts the other whether we intend them to or not.

I have always been a simplest in terms of skin care, using minimal product and make-up, and for the most part, it has worked for my skin. But in the last year or so, like many other things, my skin has changed. Parts of it have become drier while other parts have become more prone to break-outs. (What the heck?!) Fine lines are forming, revealing where I smile or how I focus with a furled brow. And with my thirty-eighth birthday arriving next week, I am honestly asking myself this: how will my attitude be toward myself as I grow older?

While in a waiting room with my children the other day, my girls noticed a magazine with a Botox ad in it: a beautiful woman, peacefully closing her eyes while a needle pushed into the skin at the corner of her brow. Their expressions told me all. They didn’t remark at her loveliness or her content mannerisms, they only noted the injection with horrified expressions, looking to me to explain whether this would be their fate as women. In a very simplified way, I explained the cultural pressure to look young and wrinkle-less, to which they both looked pained and shocked. Blythe responded, “Why? Wrinkles are the fun part of getting older!” I immediately jotted those words down so I can remember them now and forever. As I head into all the middle years of life, I want to be gentle with myself and my skin. I want to look forward and not backward, to view my forming wrinkles and lines not as an indicator of waning beauty, but an invitation into a deeper one.

This year, I read (and loved) the book Skin Cleanse and initially followed her journal and elimination idea with my food and lifestyle for 7-10 days to begin making note of what might be causing negative reactions in my skin. Taking some time to learn about this part of my body has been teaching me another way to appreciate, nurture, and take care of myself. So it seemed natural to share these thoughts and practices here, too. nurturing_self_skin_care_beautycounter-2nururing_self_skincare_beautycounter-9SKIN WELLNESS

It’s possible to choose the highest quality skincare and yet still negatively impact our skin by living with high amounts of stress, malnutrition, or sleep deprivation. Over-straining the nervous or digestive systems can naturally result in skin flare-ups, rashes, itchiness, flakiness, and so on. Conversely, it’s just as possible to eat and rest well and yet rub harmful products onto our face and bodies. These sort of products––with hidden harsh chemicals or metals––disrupt our endocrine system, negatively affecting our hormone levels leading to changes in mood, sexual development, metabolism, and our skin’s appearance. That’s right, ladies. Here’s an informative article from the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Although I’ve always known our skin is important, I have never really thought of it as an organ. In fact, it is our largest organ, and according to this article, it makes up 8 pounds or 22 square feet of the human body. With three separate layers, it is both a protectant and sealant, waterproofing and guarding our internal organs against bacteria. It is connected to our nervous system sending and receiving signals to the brain, helping to regulate our body temperature. And the briefest truth is how we take of the inside of our skin is just as important as what we apply to the top of it.beautycounter_nurturing_self_skincare-3beautycounter_nurturing_self_skincare-5 BEAUTYCOUNTER

I have always been particular about the products I use on myself or my children, even making several on my own with essential oils. But with the skin changes I’ve experienced the last month, I wanted something more consistent in quality to help narrow factors in why my skin was breaking out in certain spots or dry in others. I first heard about Beautycounter at the beginning of the year through a friend and was shocked by what I learned about the beauty industry after watching this brief video. I valued the company’s clear ingredient list and their commitment to the never list. As someone who has always purchased natural, plant-based products, I could not believe how many I had around the house with the toxic chemicals listed on the never list. Yikes! It’s been helpful for more than just skincare.

After trying Beautycounter, I decided to sign up as a consultant this last summer––a way to share things I’m learning, products I’m absolutely loving, and a way to help support our family. I especially love the business––their emphasis to educate the public about what we use on our bodies and to also transform the legislation around the skin care industry. Naturally, I have slowly been transitioning all of my skincare to Beautycounter and am now shifting my cosmetics as well. I know they are not the only quality skincare around, but I wanted to be clear about what I’m using and why.

SKINCARE / For the most part, I use the Face Collection, with the Cleansing Balm and Hydrating Face Oil at night. I am slightly obsessed with the Cleansing Balm, so much so that if I could have only one Beautycounter product to use day and night, that would be it. I only use about the amount in my hand shown above, unless I’ve worn more eye make-up, and it removes all of my makeup really well (even mascara) and comes with a washable muslin cloth which helps gently exfoliate my skin each night. It’s a wonderful hydrant, so I can use leave it on my clean skin in lieu of a moisturizer. I’ve occasionally used it for my elbows or heels, something I’ll be grateful for in the winter. It’s perfect for eczema and psoriasis, too. I also keep the Peppermint Lip Conditioner on our bathroom counter, which I swipe on several times during the day (as do my girls).

MAKEUP/ In terms of daily wear at this point. Most days I use Dew Skin, especially if we’ll be outside for a while since it has an SPF. Like it’s name, it leaves my skin with a dewy look that I’ll appreciate more in the winter when I’m sweating less. Wink. I use the Skin Concealer Pen and the Lengthening Mascara daily. The concealer pen has a brush on the tip instead of a wand, which I love. It makes the application so much smoother. And the mascara is the best mascara ever compared to other non-toxic brands I’ve tried. It has beeswax in it, which helps it build really well. Most days I swipe one little stroke for a little definition. And for the evenings I’m going out, it will build really well. The Cream Blusher is next on my list.

I’ll also briefly note here that they’ve just released their holiday collections which can be a great way to try or gift a few products at once. I’m hoping to get this one this year to sample several colors at once. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.  nurturing_self_skincare_beautycounter-8nururing_self_skincare_beautycounter-3

LIFESTYLE FACTORS

But as I noted above, what I’m putting on my skin is only part of the equation. In the last year, I’ve also re-evaluated my entire lifestyle (hence this series), noting how each can positively and negatively impact my skin, too.

sleep / I know there are often other people and circumstances that affect our sleep (I hear you, parents!), but sleep is SO important for all manner of wellness, including our skin wellness. According to this article, beauty sleep is in fact a real thing, as blood flow better circulates to our skin while we sleep, affecting our skin’s dryness, puffiness, and color. If it helps, I shared some tips and thoughts about developing healthy sleep habits here.

hydrate / Our cells are mostly water, and when we become dehydrated it affects everything, including our skin. I have to really watch this in cold months, when I tend to want hot coffee and tea to help stay warm. But I can tell when I’m dehydrated. My tongue feels dry; my brain feels cloudy; my body feels tired. Drink water! To help, I try to start my day with a large glass of water.

protect alone time / Stress affects our skin! And in a very small way, carving out space for yourself in the day can help decrease stress. At the very least, it can give you time to rest or sleep. I often find my own time alone in my morning routine.

exercise / I am learning that exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous, but it can be. A daily walk can be as effective for relieving stress and promoting blood circulation as a run. Try yoga or Crossfit or running or swimming. Do what works for your lifestyle right now, but do something a few minutes each day.

eat or drink your veggies / All of our bodies are unique and uniquely process foods differently. But we all need fruit and veggies. I love all foods and try to eat whole foods with plenty of fruit/veggies as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I love a strong cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening. I sometimes eat leftover cake for breakfast on the weekend. Balance is always key. But I’ve found something that always help calm my skin is making a glass of fresh juice a few times a week. Here are two of my favorites:

A Hydrating Glow : 1 beet, 3 carrots, 3 celery ribs, 1 large cucumber, 1 lemon (or orange if I want a bit of sweetness)

The Immunity Boost : 1 apple, 1 orange, 4 carrots, 1 cucumber, 2″ piece of ginger

Like so many other areas of living, the goal is not mastery. It’s not achieving a perfect ideal. The goal is again to pay attention and to quiet the noise of our lives and listen to our bodies. When my eyes begin to puff or carry dark circles, I may apply concealer, but I also want to learn to pause, to ask myself about my sleep and hydration. When break-outs or new lines appear, I may be frustrated and try to fix them, but I also want to consider my stress levels and the foods I’m eating. All of these things are connected, all of these things matter to my well-being.