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On Removing the Television from Home

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

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.

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Growing Character

Our family has been studying the 19th century this year, and while we are only scratching the surface of events and topics, it has been incredible to read the various narratives of women before women had the right to property, work, or education. From Sacagawea to Queen Victoria to the numerous women in pioneering homesteads to slave narratives and abolitionists and women who bravely took up new roles in the Civil War, I have been moved to read so many stories of courage and compassion, of perseverance and fortitude with my children. As a parent, I hope these powerful words become descriptions of their lives one day, too.

Although books are an important way we build character in our home, it isn’t the only one. Many of the practical character lessons our children learn occur just outside our doors, where they play with friends and build forts and garden. When possible, these lessons extend when we travel and experience other parts of the world or plan outdoor excursions. Today, I am partnering with Keenshoes our family has loved for yearsto share their new Moxie line for girls, and also a few character lessons growing in our girls through outdoor play and exploration.  

There are accumulating piles of research on the benefits of outdoor living for our children’s health: Vitamin D, decreased stress and anxiety, calming for ADD/ADHD, physical exercise, and so on. Yet as a parent, I also notice the ways outdoor living and play teaches my girls something about courage and compassion, about perseverance and beauty. When they climb trees or hike long trails, when they experience new people or ideas from history, when they rove through rivers or gather wildflowers, they are developing a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around them.

Naturally, I do not know who exactly my girls will grow up to be, but I have glimpses now when I see them try something new or speak the truth clearly, when I watch them work hard at a task or serve someone when they think nobody’s watching. As Marmee noted to her girls in Little Women, “I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know they will make it a better place.” Here are a few ways giving my girls plenty of time outside is equipping them to do just that.  

Perseverance / We love to hike, especially in the spring when our Southern air is still cool. There are times, our girls grow tired before we are done, especially our youngest. These experiences are opportunities of perseverance, of continuing despite the hardship, despite knowing how much longer until we are through. To lighten the experience, we might make a game, racing to certain points or playing “I spy.” I might hand them my phone to take pictures along the way. When they finish, we always high-five and celebrate!

Courage / There are plenty of opportunities for courage in the outdoors, whether in casual tree climbing, swimming, or in learning about wildlife. One summer we camped in the mountains in Colorado, and I remember the park ranger giving us instructions about bears. One of the girls looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Did she say bears?” When we venture into new areas together and learn about the land and wildlife, sometimes it is scary. Sometimes unknowns are scary and unpredictable, a sign for us change course. Other times, they are an opportunity for courage.

Compassion / Spending time outdoors, even simply in our backyard or growing food in our garden, cultivates a love and appreciation for the natural world, and subsequently, a longing to preserve and protect it. When we are walking and find trash in the grass or bushes, we collect it. When we garden organically, we are learning about how to take care of the earth and our bodies. When we interact with homeless on the city street, we say hello and offer them something if we can. All of these seemingly small habits are growing a deeper awareness of the world and people around us, and how we participate in caring for them.

Gratitude / Even in the youngest years, children notice bugs and leaves adults might pass by. They listen to songbirds and the rustling leaves. They enjoy animals and wildlife and playgrounds and picnics. Playing outdoors has a way of cultivating gratitude, simply by its enjoyment. When we pray together, we often thank God for pieces of nature we’ve experienced that day.

Determination / There are moments my girls spot a specific tree or boulder and are determined to conquer it. Sometimes they slip and have to start over, but I love watching them beeline for something specific to work toward. I love it even more when they find a way to help one another, by coaching steps or lending a boost.


This post is sponsored by Keen, a business our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep our family and this space afloat. 

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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.

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Thirteen | A Welcome into Manhood

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Mark and I always knew thirteen would be a monumental year for our children. We want it to be. The teen years are such a unique and sweet window of time, chocked full with beautiful and large changes––puberty! driving! hormones! oh my. There are umpteen reasons for parents to panic about these transitional years, and for the most part, it seems those panicked concerns receive the bulk of attention in the parenting world. Why not instead welcome the teen years, celebrate the closing of one period of life and the opening of another? We took notes from the Jewish Bar Mitzvah tradition, adapting the ceremonial part to our own faith and style.

We invited close friends and family to the evening, asking our parents to prepare a blessing and inviting friends in our community to do the same. Our home projects lurched into overdrive over the summer to finish painting the house and clearing the debris from the trees that came down this summer. Mark built tables for the driveway, and my parents came to help hang lights and fill the garden beds and window boxes my father made. My brother smoked brisket and several friends from our community brought sides and helped cut the cake. I completely forgot to pull out my camera, meaning I didn’t take a single photo, so I feel particularly thankful for these two images above that my sister took before everyone arrived, for the phone images friends and family have shared, and for the video my brother-in-law put together below.

I’ve often remarked that the longer I parent the less confident I feel as a parent. Perhaps it is age and wisdom, or simply the accumulation of small failures over thirteen years. What life has taught me so far is that grace and gentleness is necessary for everyone to give and receive, and also that perfection, whether in aesthetics or behavior, is an empty goal. Life is valuable because of the connection we have to others, both inside and outside of our family, both in giving and receiving. Although Liam directly received so many beautiful and encouraging words that night, Mark and I feel we quite possibly received the most. Our hearts feel weighted with gratitude by the ways those we are connected to loved on our son and welcomed him into his young adult years. Here’s a snippet of the evening below, including bits of the letters each member of our family wrote to Liam. We hope you enjoy.

real talk real moms | on comparison in motherhood

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I imagine much of the comparison that happens between mothers begins simply and honestly, a way to observe and emulate other women we admire for one reason or another. We actually need one another in this way. We need other mothers in our lives to share experience or to bounce ideas and inspire us when we find ourselves overwhelmed or in a rut. We need to know that other women have endured sleepless nights or cleared poop from the floor or learned how to love their postpartum bodies. We need to hear various ways other mothers have taught their children kindness and how to share, or how they learn to clean up after themselves or where they go to school. These are the easy comparisons, the ones that remind us we’re not alone in the difficult choices and sometimes crappy parts of motherhood. Literally.

Perhaps comparison between us takes a downturn when in our estimation of others, we begin criticizing ourselves, nitpicking our own choices, style, and circumstances to fit in with another’s. We visit a friend’s house or scroll through our social feeds and feel it: we are not measuring up. We’re not organized enough, thoughtful enough, traveling enough, creating enough, thin enough, experienced enough, successful enough, strong enough. Our children aren’t dressed well enough or experiencing enough or playing enough or reading enough. Our homes are not clean enough or decorated enough or organized enough or environmentally-friendly enough. The list goes on and these thoughts, muddling our perspectives and vision, can be a slippery slope into doubt, shame, and even depression.

As mothers we need honest community, even if at times it is only one other person. We need someone with whom we can openly share our not enoughs, and one whom we trust will speak truth and courage to our darkest thoughts. Although I always write honestly here and do sometimes share bits of these personal hardships, these spaces are not the primary places I share the underbelly of our life. That said, know there is an underbelly. I wrestle with doubt and anxious thoughts. I regularly question my ability to actually do all I want to do. I sometimes find myself wishing for those illusive descriptors more and better. You are not alone. I encourage you, the next time you’re feeling ill-fitted for the task at hand or less than pleased with how your body fits in clothes, pause and begin listing gratitudes aloud, even if it begins with the simplest gift of being able to take a breath.

For those of you who need ideas or courage in finding community in motherhood, I wrote about that here.  For those of you who tend to guard your underbelly and struggle with perfectionism in motherhood, I wrote about that here.


This post is a part of the collaborative “Real Talks” series. To read more thoughts on comparison in motherhood:

Alexandra from Ave Styles | Rebecca from A Daily Something | Erin from Design for Mankind | Amy from Parker Etc. | Catherine from The Life Styled | Kat + Em from The Refined Woman | Hillary from Our Style Stories

 

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one equal temper of heroic hearts

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I gave Mark a wallet for father’s day in June with the last line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” I might have inscribed the last seven lines, if it would have fit, and so I inscribed the words on my memory instead, and of course here with you.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I do not know what it is to set sail onto the sea without knowing where I am going, as Ulysses and so many great explorers and adventurers across time have. And yet––metaphorically, I do. I know what it is to face a new homeschool year and wonder where our family might land, or what it is like to bring a new baby into the earth and wonder who they might become and whether I can stay the course. I know what it is to stare at a young business or a forgotten house and feel compelled to go and do something with it, even when I’m unsure where it might take me, or how it might remake or destroy me. Perhaps the point of living isn’t so much about where we are going, but the fact that we are going at all. To live purposefully in any manner requires courage.

Wherever you find yourself on this Monday morning, cheers to you, to your heroic heart. May you find strength of will to accomplish the things in your hands today and the courage to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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printing childhood artwork + homeschool notebooks

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Childhood art is magnificent, isn’t it? Children have a way of seeing and coloring the world in the early years without the constraints of reality, without the pressure of perfection. I’m not exactly sure why or when the majority of us quit producing personal art, and I’m sure the response will vary. Although I imagine for many of us, we simply decided we were not good enough. This is the primary reason during our academic year, I aim to have the kids paint or draw a little something everyday––not that they become famous artists, but that they develop a habit of making time for creative work.

In those early years, I dreamed of creating keepsake books for each child with their childhood art, and so I kept an archival box for each of them and stored my favorite pieces, labeled with their name, the date, and the title if it had one. But nearing a decade later since beginning this endeavor, I have yet to scan or print one book. Which begs the question: when exactly do busy mothers find the time for scanning, organizing, and printing? Is it after children are grown or is it in the odd hours of the day, wedged between work and meals and books and errands? It’s hard to know sometimes.

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My children have always kept notebooks of some sort during their school years, often in partially lined composition notebooks, where they could easily write and illustrate what we’ve read through the practice of narration or copywork. But they grew frustrated with how paints would bleed through pages, and alternatively when they painted on thicker paper, I grew frustrated trying to keep random pieces of their work together in a cohesive way and off the floor and countertops. So last year, I moved to keeping their notebooks in page protectors in binders. Life. Changing. And I knew at the beginning of the year, I wanted to create a book for each of them of their work. Throughout the year, when they seemed sloppy or disconnected from their art or something they had written, I would remind them, “I’m going to print this at the end of the year, so do your best!” It was a simple way to encourage quality both in their writing and artwork.

In the spring, I began looking for printing options, when I discovered Plum Print, a company that would scan, design, and print for me. I knew I could scan everything and design a book on my own, but I returned to the time factor again and the fact that we already DIY most everything else in our life. For this project to actually happen, I needed to delegate a bit of it, even if it cost a bit more to do so. I wanted my children to see their work as valuable and to inspire them to have a different view of their work for the future. I also love having a simple way for them to share it with friends or family. More practically, I cleared the clutter that these sort of papers create in the home and made room for the new school year. Hello, empty notebooks.

The process was delightful. Since I was ordering four books, I received four different boxes on my doorstep, one for each child. From there, the instructions were simple:

  1. Load the art into the included bag (with the option to include 3-D art and photos)
  2. Fill out the brief instruction card: title for the book, instructions for pagination or selecting the cover, option for captions, etc.
  3. Close and seal the box with enclosed strips.
  4. Place the included pre-paid FedEx label on the box.
  5. Drop off at a FedEx location.

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I did not include every piece my children created this year in their books, but again selected their best work, including at least one sample from each book or person they studied––a practical choice for sticking to a budget, as the price varies on the size of the book and the amount of pages. I also chose to have my kids’ books assembled in a specific order, since I wanted their nature studies together and their scientists together and so on. This took a bit more time but was as simple as deciding the order and then paginating each piece on the back in pencil. I should note, you also have the option to have your child’s artwork returned to you for an additional fee. I didn’t opt for this, but that might be helpful for parents who aren’t quite ready to part with the original pieces. You can also include images within the book, ad I selected one image from the school year of each for their title page. The rest of the book I reserved just for the written and illustrated work.

Plum Print sent me an email when they received my boxes and then another one when each book design was ready for preview. I tweaked a few things, like fonts, background design, and a couple of pages that were in the wrong books. They promptly made the changes and the books went to print, arriving at our door a couple of weeks later.

The kids LOVE them! I wish I had had my camera ready when they first flipped through them, with bright eyes and giddy expressions. Olive squealed “this is the first book I’ve ever made!” And I can relate. There’s something about seeing my own work printed onto a page and bound professionally that makes my heart soar, too. It feels weightier, and somehow more precious.  I love how they flip through one another’s books, too; one reading the other’s words or admiring their sibling’s artwork. As we begin notebook-ing again next month, I hope this will inspire them.


This post is in partnership with Plum Print, a small business encouraging parents to make beautiful archives of their children’s creativity. Cloistered Away readers can enjoy $15 OFF of each order until September 30 suing the code ‘CA15’. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

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cultivating kindness in children

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A simple act or word of kindness can be a light for the soul, so can be a listening ear. From personal experience, the two are not entirely separate. During those playful and harrowing toddler and preschool years, it didn’t take long for me to notice, when my children were acting out with unkind words, gestures, or attitudes, it was often caused by a need for sleep or a need for more attention. It might surprise you to know, it doesn’t change as they grow. Children feel and think deeply, often beyond what they can articulate. It seems simple enough, that if we as parents are kind to our children then our children will naturally be kind in return. But rarely is it that simple. Our tone and words certainly impact our children, but they are also their own persons. They have their own thoughts, feelings, impulses, and perspectives––even the exact moments we share with them are experienced differently. This means some days kindness may trickle off of them like rain, with ease and effortlessness; on other days (or seasons or years), kindness will need to be filled and drawn from them like a well.

Our children have been squabbling more often with one another, and as result, we’ve had many conversations about kindness, about honoring one another with our words and actions. We often encourage our children that learning these skills now will help them learn how to love and treat others kindly outside of our home. Here is a brief list of how we work to cultivate kindness in our home, in case you find the same conversations spinning in yours.

watch and listen / So many things I’ve learned about my children hasn’t arrived through a book, but instead by observing and listening to them. Most children (even into their teens) are not articulate enough to explain their emotion, nor are they aware enough to see connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Parenting is a patient process in helping them learn to connect dots. For instance, “I’ve noticed when you feel angry, you do/say ___, which is hurtful to ___. It’s important to recognize and share when you feel angry. Can you think of a better way to tell them/me you’re angry?” If you are struggling with consistent unkindness in your home, look for patterns when it shows. Is it around a specific environment? Person? Activity? Does it happen more often when your children are left to independent activity too long or when they are indoors or with others for too long?

carve out space for more quality time / I noticed very early in parenting, when my toddlers or preschoolers were consistently whining or throwing tantrums, it was was typically a sign they needed more quality time with me. I can assure you, with older children (and teens, I’m expecting), it doesn’t change. Even as an adult, I can act grumpy and unkind when I haven’t taken time for myself. Children want positive, quality time with you, and it needn’t be heavy or deeply conversational either. Watch a favorite film or read a favorite book together, snuggled up and undistracted. Sneak away for an errand and stop for a coffee together. In some instances, life is too complicated or difficult to just sneak away with one child. In that instance, plan time at home to enjoy a treat  together while the others are occupied. In our home, I let the other children know when this is happening so there are fewer interruptions. In short, time shared with loving words and physical affection go a long way in teaching kindness.

create tighter boundaries / Sometimes my children simply need tighter boundaries, a little more structure to our day or to be watched a little more closely. Anytime I am trying to redirect behavior, especially in the little years, it is best to set aside a few days to watch them more closely, correct and bless. It helps with my consistency as a parent and also to give immediate feedback when they handle a situation well.

speak to their identity / When I am correcting my children for unkindness (which has sadly been happening more often the last few months), I take a moment also to speak truth to their identity, to who they really are. For instance, I might say, “I know it feels good to speak unkind words when you are hurt or angry, but that is not who you are. You are kind. You are gentle. And as you grow into adulthood, I am here to help support and protect that part of your heart.” Even when I’m correcting them or grounding them or telling no, I try to give a positive blessing so they have a glimpse of why it matters, why they matter.  Daniel Siegel notes in the book Brainstorm, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.” Although I am not perfect and sometimes blow it in this area, I aim for my own corrective words to be delivered kindly, elevating them to see beyond the moment at hand but who they are capable of becoming.

practice kindness / Most of us learn best through practice, and one of the best ways to help cultivate kindness is through giving them opportunity. This might be as simple as a handwritten note or sharing a baked good or bunch of flowers with someone. Also consider volunteering regularly somewhere together. Working together for common good always builds character, and tends to also cultivate gratitude and kindness.

seek help / I am not a medical or psychological professional, I am simply sharing what I have learned through my effort and education as a parent and person. If you feel these tactics are out of reach for you or your child, or if your child is destructive to him/herself or others, please consider seeking help. There are so many wonderful ways to to help children through play and art therapy, and there are plenty of professionals wanting to help mothers and fathers, too. There’s no shame in ever asking for professional help.