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Music for the Afternoon Mess

A Music Playlist for the Afternoon Homeschool MessSomewhere amid the tidy online images, the Mess exists. I capitalize Mess because it seems to live and exist on its own, creeping in and out of corners unannounced. Between the creative projects and delicious meals are spilled paints and sprawling colored pencils, stacks of books and papers with scribbled writing and illustrations. Sometimes a glass jar of bugs sits with us. Nearly always a small cup lingers with the last bit of coffee, cold. The energy of our homeschool day pushes and pulls between cleaning up and pouring out. These rhythms seem in conflict with one another, yet they are connected, one requiring the other. The tidy space draws us to create, to read, to write, to build, and yet our busy hands and minds can destroy a table space, a living room floor, a kitchen counter in a heartbeat. The Mess is a part of the process; it is a part of our home, a part of living. On the days, I am overwhelmed or frustrated by it (more than I wish), I remember our learning is not a tidy experience, coiffed and prim. It is wild and organic, ordered and sometimes pruned, but so full of life. Mess does not always equate to disorganization. Our days are fairly organized in the order and routine, and Mess is a part of it. Here is what our table often looks like at the end of an afternoon, and as two older mothers reminded me last week, I’ll miss it one day.

To keep the Mess at bay, we’re focusing on three brief periods of clean up and chores during our day at home: just after breakfast, just before lunch, and just before dinner. I hope it will help us learn how to better partner with Mess, to let it move freely during our learning, but also prepare the space for the next segment of our day. We’ll see.

Several people have asked about the music I sometimes play in my IG Stories, so I put together a playlist of favorites for our afternoons of read-aloud, illustration, and writing. A playlist for the Mess.  Enjoy.


Apertura Gustavo Santaolalla | Digging Shelters Neil Halstead | Where’s My Love Syml | 33 “GOD” Bon Iver | Try Escondido | Riptide Vince Joy | Yes/No Ears of Light | Break Apart Bonobo | Celeste Ezra Vine | White Noise Ella Vos | Planet Earth II Suite Hans Zimmer | Everything Ben Howard |  Heartbeats José González | Stanley Park Aoife O’Donovan | Mushboom Feist | All Yours Widowspeak | I Need a Forest Fire James Blake | String Quartet in F Major, M.35:2 Maurice Ravel | Lullabye Emitt Rhodes

Playlist on Spotify

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MUSIC IN THE HOME | a playlist for Daily Rhythms

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“Music is the art of thinking with sounds.” ― Jules Combarieu

Books and music have always created a backdrop for our days at home together, even as the specific rhythms have varied through the years. During our children’s early childhood, I kept a small basket of instruments on the shelf for play throughout the day. And often we set aside a small portion of our homeschool morning for raucous singing and dancing together. Music time doesn’t always need to be serious, and these sort of moments can be a simple tool for bonding and playful experiences with sounds. If too much of this tends to stress you out as a parent (raises hand), my advice is to tuck certain instruments away until this daily time together. Wink.

Although much social and scientific research has revealed the positive effects of music on the developing brain, I’d argue it’s also good for the soul of the home. Music can lift and encourage heavy days, help heal fragmented emotions, and quiet noisy hearts and attitudes. It can even at times give language to emotion in ways young children might struggle to express. One moment a few years ago, when Olive was unhappy with me, she stomped away and then abruptly turned to the piano. She looked at me, pounded out three staccato bass notes, and then walked away. I laughed aloud of course but was also awed at how much she had communicated to me through those three notes, more than she might have been capable with her words. For her, sounds intuitively connected with her emotions and thoughts, even at age three.

As our children have grown older, music still makes up much of our days and evenings together. A record is often spinning or the iPod is humming through the speakers, sometimes quietly in the background, other times blasting for energetic clean-ups, impromptu dance parties, or even in the kitchen when the kids love to play “guess which soundtrack?” We listen to a variety of sounds during the day here, often complimenting (or re-directing) the activity and mood, and although we own a lot of music, I have also used the Spotify app for years to easily browse new music and create private and public playlists for the home. The kids have several of their own, too––a fun way for them to explore their own style.

For those of you interested, I’ve included a playlist below entitle Daily Rhythms, a sample of songs our family is enjoying together right now. The music feels quiet, but varies in energy, much like the plot line of our days at home. Spotify also now has a Kids & Family category in their app/site, too, which includes specially curated playlists for different age groups and activities––an easy cheat when we begin to feel in a rut. We particularly love Milk & Cookies and Bedtime Stories––a playlist with short stories, like Peter Rabbit and the Three Little Pigs (perfect for rest time). Pop 4 Kids is always fun for a brief dance party in the living room when our bodies and brains need rejuvenating. Enjoy!


This post is sponsored by Spotify, a seamless way for people to enjoy and share music anywhere together. Images by Kristen Douglass. All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

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for the weekend | an outing to the garden shop

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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver, When I Am Among the Trees

Summer is always hot and sticky in the South, and this one is proving the same. My bedroom windows face the rising sun, and on my favorite mornings I am in bed long enough to wake to it. Even then it is hot outside, but I try to make my way out of the door anyway while the light is still sleepy. We do not live among the mountains or near a cold river or the sea. But we have the morning and the evening and of course also the green trees. And that is enough to fill me with hints of gladness, and to teach me how to walk slowly and bow often, as Oliver writes. And so I take a brief walk twice a day, once to begin and the other to close it.

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Yesterday morning, while the boys finished their breakfasts and morning readings, the girls and I visited our local garden shop. We are planting new ivy for our backyard wall and also a late-season garden. Although it feels odd to be planting in the peak heat, sometimes sewing new life into the hardest circumstances sews life into the soul as well. So we walked about the shop’s property yesterday, noticing the sun-loving blooms and vines. We took refuge in the potting shed, grateful for the mid-morning shade. When we grew tired, we paused near the pond and enjoyed the sound of water running over the fountains. Beauty truly can be found in the smallest places.

As I consider the remaining summer days (and months!), I’m learning how to find joy in these types of simple moments and outings. As it turns, my children are learning the same. Of course, our favorite summer activities this time of year revolve around water, but without a backyard pool or pond or ocean, water activities need to be planned in advance for travel or with friends. The garden shop can be a place to play outdoors, to experience a variety of plant life at once, and to inspire a personal garden space. For me, it was a place to visit and be filled.


This post is in partnership with MUNY, a Brooklyn clothier creating handwoven, hand-printed clothing for women and children. Cloistered Away readers can save 25% off of anything in the 2016 line before July 15 using the code summer25. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

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packing light | family travel with economy

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Deciding what is essential to pack for each family trip can feel like simplifying a complex math equation, one that includes a limited travel budget, growing children, and shifting weather. Roughly nine years ago, when I had three babies under four and all the baby things to transport [and all of the eye rolls from Mark while packing them], I began honing my packing lists––really considering what we need to travel as a family. About five years ago, I began keeping an online file of my packing lists, titled with the date and location of our travels. I’m realizing, as I type these words, this might be a little neurotic, but having a record has helped me pack well for new trips and even share the lists with others at times. They also function as a journal of sorts, revealing odd family quirks and things like diapers and blankies as they disappear from the list altogether.  

Although having a list doesn’t mean everything occurs as planned or that I never forget something, it does save money in our budget and space in the car. Travel is a beautiful gift and an additional expense to our typical budget, so when it comes to preparing for it, I want to purchase only what is necessary and use the rest of our budget on good food and special experiences together. Below are some tips for how I efficiently shop and plan vacation essentials for our longer family trips away from home.

make a list two weeks before travel /  When it’s time to plan for packing––typically a week or two before travel–– I open a new document on my computer, titled with the location and date, for example, “Colorado, June 2016.” To save time and thinking power, I often copy/paste from a previous travel list and then revise the details using these minimal packing tips. I categorize each list so it’s easy to see what the kids or I might be missing. On a side note, printing a list for everyone in the family to hold, make notes on, and cross off might be very helpful. Consider dictating a list (or printing one) for older children to pack themselves, too. My children enjoy the independence of having their own part to manage.

borrow or shop secondhand  / With growing children, it seems there are always holes in the wardrobe to fill: outgrown, stained, or seasonal clothing and shoes. I note the things we need on the same packing list in a category “THINGS TO PURCHASE OR BORROW.” This list helps me stick to what we need and not be distracted by everything else. When possible, I borrow items from friends that my kids might not use again after our trip, especially seasonal items that might not be sold right now. I also often shop secondhand to stretch our budget, although in the last year or two I’ve had less time to run out and browse our local shops for what my kids need and more often shop online, looking for the best sales. I recently learned about thredUP, an online store that sells like-new items secondhand, and was able to find almost everything we needed there for our trip and summer closet. High. Five. I found a like-new REI fleece and pair of shorts for the boys, a couple of Crewcuts sundresses for the girls (one even still had the tags on it), and a light-weight denim J.Crew top for myself. The best part? I paid a fraction of the original cost, saving $362 which was enough to purchase groceries for the week, plus send the boys down the zipline and the girls bungee jumping at the Durango Mountain Resort. My children each had a missing piece or two of their wardrobe filled, and Mark and I still had enough money set aside for the experiences we really care about.

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set a bag limit for each family member / When anyone travels by plane, the airline sets a bag limit (and size) both for fuel efficiency and the capacity of the plane. Somehow that doesn’t always transfer to car travel, and early on in our family years, I lived by the unspoken mantra, “when in doubt, throw it in the car.” But this is cumbersome and exhausting for everyone involved. It impeded travel space and sometimes also safety, when it blocked our mirrors. Our family now has an inferred bag limit for travel. Each member gets one duffel or backpack for clothing/toiletries and one small book bag to keep at their seat. This naturally forces us to pack efficiently and positively turns our attention to the experience itself, instead of feeling as though we’re preparing for a family move. Here’s some quick ways we keep packing light:

pack clothing within a similar palette / In general, I prefer to purchase clothing in similar palettes for myself and my children. That way, we can more easily mix and match pieces again and again to recreate what we wear. I stand by the same philosophy when packing for a trip. And I loved that thredUP not only allowed me to limit searches by size but also by color. I quickly browsed sundresses in the blues and purples and found one for each of my girls that worked, and also a black fleece for Burke (the color he requested).

choose clothing for more than one purpose / Packing minimally requires each piece to work harder. My rule is every piece must be able to work for more than one purpose. Pack a sundress that is loose enough for playing and hiking, but nice enough to wear to a museum or to dinner. Pack shoes or sandals you can wear anywhere, and also get wet in a river or by a pool (Saltwater sandals and Keens are family favorites, and here’s a pair on thredUP!)

be realistic about the activity bag / I notoriously overpack on books, often because I’m wanting to make too much of the time. I’m learning to really consider how I’ll spend the time away, and now encourage my children to do the same. This trip, they each packed a couple of books, a sketch pad, colored pencils, pencil, and headphones for audiobooks and music.


This post is sponsored by thredUP. Cloistered Away readers can save 40%OFF on your first order by using the code CLO40 before July 31. Thank you for supporting businesses that keep this space alive.

essentially styled | a warm cashmere sweater

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simple style | cashmere sweatersimple style | cashmere sweater

Once upon a moon, I shared simple basics from my closet here. It was a way I celebrated what I already owned and some of the ways I reinvented these essentials with a new piece or two each season. (And yes, these are inadvertently the same jeans from this post almost two years ago–still an essential in my closet, although I admit a little bit tighter.) But somewhere through life, this part fell through the cracks here. I am not a fashion blogger or a trendy shopper, so I wasn’t sure how my clothing actually fit in this space. Unashamedly, I do love quality design and even shopping, yet just as with other areas of our life, I’ve been learning the joy of living with less, of living within our budget (even when it’s quite small), and of course learning how to choose pieces I love not just for this season but also for the next and next. I am a maturing essentialist in every aspect of home life, work, and style, and that does fit here. All to say, I’m bringing my closet back into this space again. Wink.

I recently cleaned out my closet again, preparing it for the colder season by tucking away summer dresses and tops and pulling out warmer sweaters and knits. Seeing my favorite pieces from previous seasons feels a bit like Christmas. I again took notice of the colors, textures, and fits I’m drawn to year after year, shedding pieces from the summer that I didn’t wear and asking myself the hard questions about why that is. These little inventories help me understand my personal style and also to better recognize the types of pieces that compliment them. I tend to stick with soft textures in neutral tones, and although I wear do enjoy wearing dresses, I tend to be a daily jeans and t-shirt/sweater type of person. I’m okay with that.

Everlane, a company I’ve long admired for their simple basics and transparency, recently sent this V-neck cashmere sweater from their new collection to me, and I can tell already it will be a long-time favorite for its softness, versatility, and [let’s face it] color. Although I do have one sweater from a few seasons ago in a warm chartreuse and another in a deep plum, most of my knits are in various shades of grey and brown. Some might call it boring. I call it versatile. Wink. More than one of my children have even commented on this sweater’s softness when they’ve given me a hug or are snuggled up during a read-a-loud, rubbing their cheek on my shoulder a bit longer. It feels like a thin, luxe blanket, something I can get excited about having in my own closet for many years.

On a different note, Everlane also launched its first kid’s line this week, including a piece similar to this one if you’re looking to add a super soft basic to your wee one’s closet. My girls and I have a few matching pieces in other brands, and I’m always heart-warmed by how much they love dressing like me. Unfortunately, they’re already too big for this line, as they would certainly love it.

an interview with fresh tangerine

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Living on a small budget, I really appreciate quality clothing and accessories that outlast trends and time. For those of you who know me, I tend to stick with fairly simple basics in neutral palettes that I can easily shift across seasons or occasions. Recently fresh tangerine, a boutique jewelry shop based in Seattle, WA, interviewed me about personal style, daily life, and how I wear their stacking rings over on their blog. As a mother who is often at home, I especially love how their rings make the simplest days of jeans and a t-shirt feel put together and intentional. If you’re interested, you can read the full interview over here and even find a discount code if you want to try your own.

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on endurance of heart

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So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

We’re nearing the final days of May, a little shocking for me since this month has been so atypically cool and rainy. Still, I’m ready. We’re all eager to wrap up our school year, including the mister who will be finished with his own at the end of next week! I love my children. I love homeschooling. But I’m always a little weary by this point. Summer is the season where our family recovers and restores, and after a full summer expended on home projects last year, this one is long overdue.

I’ve often written about seasons here, both the literal and figurative sort. After an enormous financial loss a few years ago and two moves later, I’ve found regular comfort at the thought of seasons, the perspective that extremes of any kind–whether the heat from the sun or the hardship of our circumstances–do end or change at some point.

I know my weariness may come by surprise to some of you, as life via this space is edited and only seen in part. I select and write about bits and pieces, hinting at the whole. They are honest snippets of a larger story, but rarely reveal the grit of the day: the unwilling children, the unmet goals, the doubt, and even at times the tears. And we have a good mix of all of it. I hope that offers someone encouragement.

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As I have thought about it recently, so many of our current family goals are long-term oriented: parenthood, homeschooling, home renovation. Although we deeply care about each part, the truth is: parenting is hard. Homeschooling is hard. Living in a partially-finished home is hard. My husband works a full-time and a part-time job to keep our family afloat, so that I can stay home with our children and homeschool them. I write and photograph part-time (often at odd hours or on weekends) here and elsewhere, to help fill in financial gaps for things like soccer or ballet lessons or orthodontic braces. We are a team, a duo working in tandem with one another in every capacity, and by this time in the year, our endurance is waining.

I cried over coffee with him this morning. I don’t cry very often, but this one I could feel coming, my fingers grazing the borders of our capacity for too long. I had begun to lose heart, lose focus. In this place doubt feels the loudest. He listened and then gently offered encouraging perspective. We’ve had so many drastic changes over a short period of time and have adjusted as many circumstances as possible to uphold the people and ideas we love most. I love him for always leaving me with laughter and words that point me to Jesus.

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Whoever we are, whether parenting or homeschooling or planning a career, whether working through financial pitfalls or sickness in ourself or in someone we love, life requires endurance. It requires intermittent pause and breath and water–literally and figuratively–ways to gather perspective and restore our souls a bit along the way. I realized this year, I had stopped prioritizing these little pauses for myself. Focused on needs and work at hand, I had stopped exercising or making regular time for reading and praying or taking care of my overall health. I naturally gained a bit of weight and felt more sluggish in thought. I missed feeling strong, clear of mind and heart. So earlier this month, I began finding quiet for myself again. I began running/walking and practicing some yoga on my front porch a few times a week again. These simple moments and movements allow me time to stretch and pray and listen, to quiet the swirling lists of TO DOs and demands. Although these moments won’t solve life’s conflict, they give me courage and ultimately remind my heart to endure. Be strong and courageous, friends.

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This post is sponsored by Hooked Productions, a small family-run business in upstate New York which designs and creates eco-friendly clothing, using bamboo and organic cotton. I love their motto: “live the life you love. love the life you live.” Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. As always, all thoughts are my own. 

Images by Kristen Douglass of Fidelis Studio

madewell + cloistered away

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I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be hosting an event at Madewell in Dallas, Texas, next Saturday evening to celebrate the beginning of summer.  I’ve always appreciated the brand’s minimalist design and simple palettes–something that resonates with all aspects of our home and lifestyle–and this is such a wonderful way to meet some of you! Come join me for delicious cocktails and nibbles while we mingle and meet one another (or even hug the neck of long-time friends!), and of course for a little discount to enjoy in the shop, too. I will be hand-picking a few of my favorite summer pieces to share–which as you might know by now will include summer whites. (Wink.) I hope to see you there!

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saturday, may 30 / 5-7pm

madewell northpark / 8687 north central expressway / dallas, texas 75225

rsvp / [email protected]

shop this look / sunbask tank top  / high riser skinny skinny jeans / straw mesa hat

 

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on packing a minimal weekend bag

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

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

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

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/BEFORE PACKING/

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

/CREATING YOUR LIST/

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

/CLOTHING/

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

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

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

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

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

/SHOES/

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

/UNDERWEAR/

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

/ACCESSORIES/

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

/TOILETRIES/

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

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

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

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

/PURSE/

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

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

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

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This post is in partnership with Kith&Kin, a small family business of handmade goods crafted by a family of makers. All thoughts, opinions, and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this place afloat. 

Final image taken by Tim Douglass of Fidelis Studio for Cloistered Away.