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Mother’s Day is this weekend in the US, and although it seems there is now a day to celebrate all sorts of things, of course this one and Father’s Day feel most precious. As both a daughter and a mother, I love that we have a day set apart to say thank you, to remind these precious women in our lives that they matter. I’m not quite sure what this weekend will look like for us yet, but if you’re looking for a few ideas in how to celebrate (or pass along to someone else–wink), here’s a few favorite ideas below. Happy Mother’s Day!


 

for the foodie

If mom is generally the one feeding others, it will certainly gift her to have someone else prepare something tasty for her instead this Sunday morning. For most any mother, breakfast in bed with a favorite book or magazine will feel luxurious, more like a bed and breakfast than a typical morning at home. Consider sesame toast with a poached egg and greens or  lavender french toast or a grain-free cherry crumble or of course my favorite blueberry scones. For a simpler option, run to get her favorite coffee or make a mimosa. Family brunch is another popular idea, and a fun way to include all the kids in preparation. For this option, consider something simpler to eat, like banana-blueberry pancakes or yogurt-granola parfait. Of course, even a morning out at her favorite eatery can be special. Check ahead to make a reservation as it’s a popular option.

last-minute gift ideas | this book | this subscription (use CLOISTEREDAWAY for $10 off) | this handmade kettle | these wood nesting bowls

for the gardener 

For the woman who appreciates nature and plant life, plan to spend the day outdoors. Pack a picnic and head to a local flower garden or park. Consider these secrets for the perfect picnic or take this simple idea and create a beautiful spread in the backyard. Last year, I spent the day planting flowers in our beds on Mother’s Day, so possibly a trip to a local greenhouse or giving her time to work in the garden at home (alone or together, depending) might be a gift, too.

last-minute gift ideas | these scissors | this book | plants for the garden | gardening hat

for the adventurer 

Some women feel most at rest playing outdoors. Consider places you don’t typically go together. Would she love a day trip rock climbing or hiking or kayaking? Consider taking a family bike ride or offering her a day to herself to hike or ride on her own.

last-minute gift ideas | If there isn’t anything specific she needs, give the gift of experience here. Wink.

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On the first day of this year, I woke up long before the sunrise, seized with anxiety. The same thoughts were spinning circles through me again, doubting my abilities as a mother and educator, doubting my work here, doubting whether I’m good enough at any of it. Overwhelmed, I laid there staring at the lines of street lamp light crossing our bedroom walls, my husband sleeping deeply beside me. Why do I have such a hard time doing the same? Why do I run myself through an analysis, looking for fault and unfinished work instead of simply celebrating all that has been accomplished? Why is it so hard for me to do my best and let go?

I quietly slipped out from my sheets and began to write. I wrote to release the tightness in my chest. I wrote to find the woman buried in my thoughts and soul, the one who I am always comparing myself to and yet never measuring up with somehow. I needed to meet her. I began with these two lines.

I am deeply perfectionistic. I say this not with pride but with a tinged face of embarrassment, a confession that I’m hoping to release a bit more even if simply by writing it out.

Perfectionism. Damn. This was about perfectionism. I’ve always known I’m a perfectionist. Always. I have handfuls of childhood stories in how I learned to walk or ride a bike, form my letters or even save/spend money.  Honestly, I’ve always thought of this part of myself without much weight, much like handedness or style preference. If the topic ever came up in a conversation, I might have even felt a sense of pride. Yet when I wrote those first two lines, I noticed something deeper for the first time: embarrassment and an inferred shame about this part of myself. Somewhere deep within me I know perfection is illusory and unrealistic. Embarrassment arises by my striving for it anyway.  Shame reminds me I’m never measuring up.

I wrote for an hour that morning, describing the woman  in my head among other things. I wrote her out as honestly as possible, every standard that I hold myself to in parenting, marriage, writing, self-image, wellness, and so on. At times, I laughed at myself, recognizing the absurdity of my expectations. At times, I cried, recognizing the burden of my ideals. With every line, every word something in me began to release. Sometimes writing out my thoughts can be the most tangible way to recognize the lies, the expectations, the disappointments, the standards.

Motherhood touches every part of us, even the parts we didn’t know yet existed.  I’ve often heard people say having children is like having your soul/heart forever walking outside of your body. While often used as a sentimental line used to demonstrate the amount of love we carry for our children, I will also note it is true about our insecurities, too. Motherhood releases a deep capacity for love. It also reveals our deepest fears and failures. Motherhood and marriage have been the most vulnerable journeys for me. They require me to bare my heart again and again in the best possible way, even when its ugly. And sometimes, it is ugly.

Since the first day of this year, my heart has continued to unfold. I have never felt so undone, so seen. I won’t discuss all of it here, because I’m not sure this is the place for that, although I imagine bits will trickle through my writing in various ways anyhow. But I can say this: I’m am seeing–I mean really seeing–parts of my heart for the first time, and it’s so good. It’s hard. But it’s good. The kids and I are talking about our own interactions in a new way. We’re having more conversations about shame, about hurt feelings, about conflict. I want them to have tools as they grow into adult years. I know I’ve mentioned it umpteen times here and on Instagram, to friends and family alike. Go and get yourself a copy of Rising Strong.  I began reading it not far into the new year, and it is wrecking me in the best possible way. It should have been on my parenting list, although I would retitle it as a parenting book, “how to deal with you sh$t, so your kids know how to deal with theirs.”

At the end of last year I read Big Magic, a nicely dove-tailed book to Rising Strong, concerning fear and the creative process. But Elizabeth Gilbert notes this, words I have returned to again and again the last few months:

I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men. Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.

The truth is perfectionism–whether in my mothering or home or marriage or work–distances me from others. It secretly whispers that I am never measuring up. It keeps me tucked away from other people’s stories and experience, from realizing I’m not alone. Through sharing experience with one another, through writing out or discussing (or in the hardest times, crying) about these fears or burdensome areas where we don’t measure up, we leave a place for truth. We leave room for light and connection and encouragement with one another. Ultimately, vulnerability with people we trust, even the most uncomfortable bits, leaves space for healing.

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Weekends are always the best time for personal reading. On Saturdays, I tend to stay in my PJs longer and often meander back into my bed with coffee and a book, a small gratitude with having older children. A couple of people have recently asked me about my favorite parenting books, so I thought I might share a few here for those of you interested in the books that have helped shape the strategy and heart in our parenting thus far. Truly, my mother and other dear friends have been my favorite resources, although I know not everyone has parents they can trust for advice, or friendships nearby with whom to share a drink and swap parenting joys and woes. On a brief side-note, if you are in the latter group, please don’t be  discouraged. I have found myself in similar places after moves or in new transitions or simply due to the fullness of our family life, and there is a sweetness, too that comes with seasons alone with your children. You might find a few ideas for meeting friends in what I wrote here last year.

Parenting books are wonderful for hearing ideas and strategies outside of my immediate circles, especially when I have felt in a rut of routine or simply defeated. Let’s agree now: no book is entirely perfect or will match one family or child exactly. But I’ve learned if I’m willing to listen and observe my own children and habits and not assume I have to know everything or get it right all the time, it’s easier for me to hear just the right lessons anywhere. Also, prayer matters. Taking time to bless my children (and husband), to ask God for wisdom in how to lead them, is a bold act of humility; it also shapes my own heart. I digress again. As we grow nearer to the teen years, I’m looking again at these books and turning to a few new ones. Of course, I’d love to hear any of your own favorites (and so would other readers), so feel free to share in the comments.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson | I want to read this again as an older parent. This book covers a broad range of topics and is written in a way that explores and exposes research than gives didactic steps for parents to practice. It’s smart and narrative-drive, and the writers have clearly titled and sub-titled each chapter for quick reference or if you’re simply interested in reading a part. The book is intriguing for exploring some of the common social beliefs/stereotypes about children and teens.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne | I mentioned this book here, so you might have known it would appear on this page, too. It is a “less is more” book on parenting and is clear, gentle, and well-written. I should also note that although it addresses the clutter of toys and routine, it’s truly a deeper philosophy, one that if begun in little ways while children are small will be a gift in upcoming years, too.

Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk | This book is written from a Christian perspective about loving and empowering your children with self-control over punishment-driven tactics. It is narrative-driven, brief, and easy to follow. Although the ideas are his own, Silk often references Parenting with Love and Logic, another reference I’ve heard other parents rave about over the years, although I have never read it.

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The Seven Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation  by Becky Bailey | I read this when Olive was a toddler, when I found myself exhausted of strategies to nurture her emotional self while setting boundaries that worked for my other children. This book is clear and highly practical, and always address the parent’s heart/thoughts first before addressing the children. The seven basic skills are clearly outlined with sub-titles (for skimming or reference as you need it). I wish I could put one in the hand of most adults, who it seems could benefit from learning these skills as much as children.

Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey | This book has little to do with parenting and much to do with understanding people. We all know our partners and children are different than us, and yet it’s still difficult to resist making them like us. This book, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), has been so helpful over the year for noticing the nuances of temperament. I don’t limit myself or family member to their boxes, as some might fear, but rather use it as a tool to see, “you’re not doing this to frustrate me, you truly experience the world in a way that doesn’t value or see this.” It leads to all sorts of interesting conversations.

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Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe. ―Susan Cain, Quiet

It feels redundant to mention the messy and loud work of motherhood, let alone with the homeschool. Whether by the practical work of our hands or the soulful work of the heart, it is simultaneously the most beautiful and depleting work, requiring  every bit of our reserves, regardless of educational choices or occupations outside of the home. Parenthood will turn our hearts inside-out in the best of ways, and while it is inherently about our children, parenthood is also a journey of self. I encourage you, dearest readers, do pay attention to this less obvious part too.

On a recent weekend, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen on my own, listening to music and working with my hands. At the end of the evening as the kids were bathing and sliding into bedtime routine, I recognized an internal energy that typically isn’t there at this point in the day. I’m more likely in these hours to fall asleep during read-a-loud or slip into my own sheets just after the kids. Our children had played or worked outside all day, taking full advantage of our unseasonable warm weather. The overflow of energy, I realized, came from quiet, from spending a few hours working with my hands, listening to music, and simply allowing my thoughts to drift without the need to talk or explain a process. I had simply worked.

Knowing how much solitude or quiet activity fuels me as an introvert, the choice to live and learn with my four children all the time may seem funny to others. For years I have wrestled with guilt about this personal need. Taking time for the self can often feel secondary and selfish in the wake of all that can be (or should be) done for our children, and we mothers can be hard on ourselves in the process. After reading Quiet several years ago, I realized this need of mine is as much a gift to my children as any other. I can only say it this way:

The point of solitude is not merely to be filled but to be filled often enough to overflow into something or someone else.

Motherhood is not a life of solitude (even though a mother with a newborn or young toddlers might feel differently). It is a conscious practice of living out-loud, of talking through actions and patterns of thought in order to teach our children. This is a tree. This is a book. This is a bed. This is food. We teach them how to handle anger and happiness, how to talk through hurt feelings and where to look up answers to practical questions. This is anger. This joy. This is laughter. This is hurt. Here is how we speak, how we use our bodies to share our emotion. Here is how we ask for help. We show them the paradoxes and contexts for living. This is a stranger. This is a new friend. Here is how and when you greet them.  We teach practical skills in self-care. Here is a toilet. Here is a bath. Here is a toothbrush. We also teach them about boundaries, about the connection between self and others. This is yours. This is mine. This is sharing. This is fun. This is tired. This is a tantrum. This is the need for rest.  Homeschooling simply adds the layer of academics. The same lessons spiral over and over in a new context. Here is frustration. Here is joy. Here is perseverance. Here is respect for others. Here is a need for rest.

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By honestly sharing my own boundaries and limitations, I am likewise teaching my children to recognize their own. I am also teaching them it is okay to say remove myself from people or activities I love in a healthy way. Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to find quiet during my homeschool days and in motherhood in general over the years:

rest time | Take an hour in the afternoon for rest time. This is a time of quiet, where littles can nap and non-napping children can listen to audiobooks or play independently. Quiet is the emphasis for our home during this hour, and the rule is you must choose an activity that won’t disrupt someone else. This last bit gets easier as they grow older, although sharply protecting this time is more difficult. During this time, I typically take care of online work. On the best days, I just grab a book and a cozy spot on my bed.

go outside | Anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise in my head or environment, I step outside. When my children were young, I would load them in a stroller or wrap them to my body somehow for a journey to the park. Now as my children are a little older, we may take our work outdoors or I may just go and sit in a sunny spot in the backyard for a few minutes. Sometimes emotion and thought need to be free of the physical home.

take a time-out for yourself | Time-out has such a negative connotation, as it feels equated with toddler tantrums or other misbehavior. I realized during those early mother years, that sometimes I was the one who needed a time-out. Some moments I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or like I might lose patience, I learned it was better to take a ten minute break for myself before addressing them. I might put the baby in the crib or the toddler in a high-chair with a snack or on their bed with a book. I might send pre-schoolers outside for a bit to swing or play. I still do this, no longer because of tantrums, but because some days the work at hand does feel overwhelming. It’s always good for me to find a quiet spot in the home or yard, take a few slow, deep breaths. These moments feel almost trite, but they work wonders for finding perspective.

offer screen time | Let me pause here and say there’s no shame in using a screen for help. Most modern parents are aware it’s best for children to learn with our hands and by human interaction. And yes, make that type of experience the bulk of your day together, but remember to show compassion to yourself, too. Are you dressed or needing a shower? Are you feeling emotionally anxious or stressed? Have you spent more time playing the sibling referee or working through toddler tantrums than normal? Take 30 minutes. When my children were little, they had a daily 30-60 minutes of screen time. They watched (and loved ) the BBC’s Planet Earth, which we still own and watch, and several documentaries on Netflix. They also watched PBS shows or Leap Frog Letter Factory or Math to the Moon.

send the kids outside | As my children have grown older, I often send them outside. I may give them a specific task or the simple imperative to play and enjoy fresh air. As our studies grow more complex and difficult, they need the balance, too.

Also: Rest Time in Our Home

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I love date nights at home. Honestly, I’d choose a quiet night at home with Mark over going out almost anytime. We started these dates when our children were babies and went to bed early. It felt expensive and tiresome to regularly set up babysitting, never mind looking for the perfect window between feeding a baby. Home felt simpler.

Once a week, we’d tuck our children in early as usual, turn off our cell phones and computers for the night, pour a glass of wine, and unwind together. Over the years, as our family has changed, so have these dates. Our children aren’t ever asleep at 7pm, making it trickier to schedule, but I also have a bit more energy to spice these evenings up with special desserts or cocktails or snacks. I’ve also planned them for different times of day, like I previously wrote here. Of course we still go out occasionally for dinner or concerts or special events, but honestly these times at home still win in my heart.

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For Valentine’s Day this year, I’m planning a tapas style meal, full of dips and sauces, breads, roasted and raw veggies, cheeses, meats. These small plates are textural, sensorial, entirely engaging, and dare I say sexy? Paired with your favorite wine, they’re perfect for a late evening rendezvous. And the best part for busy parents everywhere? They’re relatively easy to make, since you can make much of it ahead of time and most of it can be served cold. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

roasted asparagus + tomatoes 

kalamata olives

fresh green pesto

spiced pinot noir + goat cheese turnovers [best straight from the oven]

brie cheese

caramelized onions

sautéed mushrooms 

sliced french baguette [toast them if you prefer crunch]

Italian dry salami + prosciutto 

sweet red pepper relish

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HELPFUL NOTES

+ I made the spiced pinot + goat cheese turnovers last weekend, and they are truly swoon-worthy. I prefer them best straight from the oven when the creamy goat cheese and sauce run out from the pastry. If you’re needing a gluten-free option, consider making the choux pastry dough from this book.

+ Add cold meats and cheeses when possible to save time. For a fancier meat option, try sliced beef tenderloin. My favorite recipe is in this book, as well as tons of other inspiration for seasonal date night meals.

+ Use high-quality jarred sauces for an easy stand-in on homemade ones. I snatched this sweet red pepper relish from this month’s Hatchery box. Since it was in a sample size already, I simply popped the lid and added a spoon for serving.

+ Take a few moments beforehand to style all of the ingredients on one board, tray, or tablecloth. It will feel a little more special than the average dinner at home.

+ Eat by candlelight and turn on soft music. It feels cliche, but it can successfully drown out the distractions of an unclean kitchen or a pile of toys lingering nearby.


As a partner with Hatchery, I receive a small portion of whatever is purchased through the links. As a perk, any friends + family of Cloistered Away can get their first Hatchery box for $10, using the code CLOISTEREDAWAY. All images and thoughts are my own, as always. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. Happy Valentine’s Day. 

 

 

 

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I took these images a few weeks ago on a typical Sunday morning at home: the kids piled in my bed playing; my planner and hot coffee in hand; the smell of fresh fruit pancakes wafting through the air. Although this room belongs primarily to my husband and I, from the time our children were toddlers, they have always loved meandering into our bed for snuggles, reading, little talks, or even playtime. The busyness has changed over the years, but I know I’ll miss all of this energy one day.

When you live in a small home, every thing and space within it occupies more than one purpose. While during the late evenings and night our bed is a place for my husband and I, in the day it might morph from workspace to reading space to trampoline. I don’t mind the last part as long as their feet are clean. On the days I need a little more privacy or “alone time,” as we refer to it around here, I set boundaries that provide it (since my children are a bit older to respect them), and I often encourage my children to the same when emotions run high, wanting to model for them at young ages how to recognize and take care of themselves when they feel overwhelmed or in need of some quiet. This sort of conversation and shared language is helpful with so many shared spaces, especially as we all spend so much time together.

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I tend to linger in PJs most of the morning on these days, taking my coffee and planner back to my bed where I think about the upcoming week. Taking a rest from work on Saturday often helps me approach the new week with a fresh perspecitive. I write out a few simple goals for my personal work, our school work (projects or activities), and our home, and use these lists to help guide my time and work during the week ahead. The last few weeks I’ve lost this quiet planning time due to travel or some other circumstances, and I can tell you it deeply effects the quality of my week, especially when busy weekends happen in a row. I’m grateful to be reaching the upcoming holiday week, where I can collect my scattered thoughts and routine again.

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In many ways, the holidays have quickly crept in this year, and I’m just now beginning to think about Thanksgiving next week (insert: shock and awe) and Christmas close behind. It’s good for me to have a short list of what our family really needs or wants, and to also have an idea of how those gifts impact others. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to feature a couple of brands and products that we love that are working to make a difference in the world in some way. I hope this inspires you, or at the very least helps you cross off some things on your list, too.

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This post is sponsored by Sudara, a small business dedicated to rescuing women from the sexual slavery in India, making clothing “with hope.” All images and thoughts are my own, and as always thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space going. 

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Everyone likes having a little cash in their pocket, even if it’s not much. There’s a freedom of choice attached to pocket money, a subconscious autonomy in how we spend, save, or share it. My husband and I both have an allotted bits of personal money in our monthly family budget, a small amount of cash budgeted (even in the hardest financial times) for each of us to use how we will without excuse or explanation, without the internal conflict of self versus family needs. I tend to spend my own on books, something to wear, or tasty drinks with friends, while my husband more often patiently saves. I notice the same confidence of choice in my children when they receive birthday money or their bi-weekly allowance. They have the power to choose whether to purchase something small and instant or to save for something bigger in the future.

Since my husband and I have always both agreed that every family member, even the littlest, needs to contribute to the home’s well-being, we haven’t given allowances until more recently. In my idealism, I’ve always hoped the completed work itself would be a reward. But seriously. They. Are. Children. A clean home and completed school work will never feel the same to them as purchasing something they really want when it’s not a birthday or Christmas. As they grow, their own lists of personal wants and goals seem to grow also. So we opted to give each of our children a bi-weekly allowance related to their responsibilities around the home, hoping an allowance will serve both as a small, concrete reward for their work and provide simple lessons about financial responsibility.

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The children’s allowances are allotted by the amount of their responsibility. Liam, at age twelve, naturally has more work than Olive, at age six. At this point, they each currently receive what equates to $3-4/week, and we distribute it every other week, as we take out our own cash for all of our family expenses. Since one of our goals through this is to teach our children about fiscal responsibility, they immediately divide their bi-weekly cash into three categories: GIVE, SAVE, SPEND. We use re-purposed (and clean) gelato containers for their cash. Fancy, right? ;) There is one family GIVE jar, and each child has their own SAVE and SPEND jar. Each week, they are required to put something in both the GIVE and SAVE first.

GIVE | This is our one community jar. As our family becomes aware of needs around us, one might suggest, “I think we need to take $__ out of the giving jar to give to __.” We then talk about it as a family and decide an amount together. As the holidays approach, we’re already beginning conversations about how we might use our give jar during the season. This jar helps our children recognize need and see the ways our money, even the smallest bits, can encourage, inspire, and love others.

SAVE | The save jar is treated as a long-term savings. Again, we let each child determine how much they want to add, but we do require they add something to their savings from each allowance. When they reach $100 (only one has yet), we open a savings account for them to begin storing their money at the bank. We treat the jar like a real savings account: deposits only. This is an area we use to talk about long-term goals with them: purchasing a car, saving for college, or traveling the world when they are older.

SPEND |Whatever is left over goes into their pocket or spend jar. Here they also save but for purchases in the nearer future. For instance, last year, the boys chipped in together and bought a video game console. This is where they often buy birthday or Christmas gifts for one another, or tiny treaties that I might not. Olive loves to carry her purse everywhere and will often keep a dollar or two in her wallet to buy gum! Either way, it’s theirs.

Our children earn money in other ways, too. The last two summers the boys have mowed lawns in our neighborhood and the girls have helped bag leaves. If there’s a larger home project, such as cleaning the garage or washing/vacuuming the car, they may also earn an extra bit of money, too. It’s not an exact science, but a simple way we hope to teach them about the world. On the rare occasion (as it happened last month), if their attitudes are poor or they are consistently complaining or not finishing their work, we withhold allowance. Although it pains us, we want them to remember, this way of earning money is a privilege, not an entitlement.

What about you? Do you have an allowance set up for your children or a way they can earn pocket money?

 

 

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Dearest children,

We are now several weeks into our school year and have been reading oodles of fables together lately, samples from the more familiar Aesop’s Fables to India’s Jataka Tales to West African Folklore, and while the characters and cultures these tales represent dramatically shift, the themes within them often do not. Each in its own manner offers a simple lesson on how one ought to live or possibly in some instances, such as the devious Anansi or other foolish characters, how one ought not live at all. Perhaps one day we will think on your childhood summers in a similar manner, unique versions of the same narrative, personal tales and images that become a tonic when life demands us to be more focused and diligent.

Naturally, as you each grow older, life will require more diligence of you. It is the mark of maturity, the preface to adulthood. While you are young, I hope to store enough adventure and courage in your thoughts and heart so that you learn to seek it on your own someday, a tonic for the harder parts of adult living. You are children now, and while I can’t imagine it differently, you will not always be. It is the nature of every living thing to change and grow, and so it is with you. Part of this portrait project has been a catalogue of this change, a small way to bottle your childhood for all of us to enjoy when it is gone. Maybe one day, like the simple fables, you will sift through them and discover lessons tucked beneath our play, travel, and silly stories. At the very least, I hope as adults, they will remind you to leave space for frivolity, room to cast off form and simply play or explore possibilities when necessary. Wisdom and discipline require the balance of a wild, courageous heart. These too are lessons for us in how one ought to live.

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You will soon discover that some seasons in life will force you to create or make something with very little. You may feel overwhelmed by possibility and endless choices. Perhaps then you might remember the feel of our paper roadmap in your hands, not a smooth, glass computer, but paper, bound and wrinkled with use. You might recall the way you traced your small fingers over red and blue and green lines, each one overlapping and leading some place distinct. Like that map, your life also will one day freely spread across veins of unknowns. It will require courage, as doing anything new or unknown often does. I hope then you will also remember your toes in the cold Pacific Ocean or climbing the red rocks in Southern Utah or picking fresh blueberries on the mountainside of North Carolina or even random no wheres on the road in between. All paths lead to distinct, unknown places, and you will need courage and wisdom to get there. Like our own summer travels, you’ll discover in life also, the longer, harder journeys often have the sweetest rewards.

As a mother, I am learning my own lessons of sorts, the hardest being how to slowly release you. My maternal instinct naturally cringes at watching you climb or slide down boulders, walk across waterfalls, or coast down rapids, but right now we are with you and have the privilege to participate with you. It’s exhilarating to see how you come alive with accomplishment and how you manage unknowns. These moments, too, are a gift, ones I will return to when you are older and off on your own adventure without us. I am grateful it’s not time for that quite yet. Travel has been one of my favorite experiences with you all. While I know most lessons from your childhood will come through our everyday living. I expect our summer adventures will always hold a special place in each of our hearts. I’m so proud of you.

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Although the American West has my heart, this summer we traveled East, leaving Georgia and South Carolina as the only states we haven’t visited in the Southern half of the U.S. While your father and I were in Taos, you all were at grandparent camp with Nina and Papa and your cousins. They make that time so special for you with night swims, library trips, art projects, and fun excursions. You each look forward to this week all throughout the year. And of course, I don’t have a portraits of you that week since I wasn’t there. At the back end of summer we visited PoPo and JoJo, who took you to a trampoline park and introduced you to eating crab legs. Olive, I had to sit there and crack every one for you, to which you’d turn and say, “can I have some more of that white meat?” as though it were just that easy. On the other hand, Liam and Burke, you loved having a meal that required tools in order to eat.

In July, we spent a week in Asheville with good friends in a beautiful cabin generously lent to us. There the older three white-water rafted, while Olive and I enjoyed our own time together playing with friends, reading together, and picking blueberries for dinner. Blythe, Dad says you giggled the entire time on the rapids, and I can’t wait to do it again when Olive is a bit bigger. Blueberries grew right off the back porch, and each day before meals you all would take bowls and fill them. Liam, you often led the initiative knowing it might amount to blueberry pie or pancakes, which it did.  We hiked beautiful trails, although Burke, you informed me you prefer the Rocky Mountains in the West, to the dense forests of the East. I appreciated having this little inlet into your thoughts. We only briefly strolled the downtown area, visiting the general hardware store and listening to the rotating musicians play outside its doors. We also ducked into a small art gallery before it began to rain and we headed home. We rode bikes through the incredible Biltmore Estate and walked through the warm house, if you can even call it a house. On our way home, we visited Dave and Kara in Alabama, where we again hiked gorgeous green woods, played with new friends, went to the science museum and walked around large space rockets. As they prepared for work one day, Olive asked them, “you have to work during the summer?” and I realized how special this warm season really is for us. We have chosen a smaller life in effort to have time, and I don’t regret it one bit.

We went to Houston with your father, and while he attended meetings at Rice, we cruised through both the Fine Art and Natural Science Museums and swam in the hotel pool–a rare luxury.  At one point we attempted a midday walk around Hermann Park and nearly melted, and opted to go back to the room and watch episodes of Shark Week instead. When we finally returned home, you all attended a local drama camp, where you made your own costumes and participated in a small musical. Liam you sort of despised the singing and dancing parts but loved making costumes and developing the set. Burke, you were the laugh of the show playing the giant with an over-sized head. Girls, you both adore singing and dancing and felt right in your element. What a great finale to summer’s end (and a helpful way for me to get a few projects in order before the school year began). I’m so grateful for every bit of it. And for you.

With all my heart,

Mom

wren_elizabeth-1-2There is a moment during childbirth where you no longer care what is happening in a room, who is staring or what they might think of the gaping parts of your body. Your attention is solely directed at the baby within you, and the process by which your body releases him or her into the world. Birth is miraculous, no doubt, but not because it is sprinkled with fairy dust or is easily accomplished. It is sweat and blood and pain tossed with purpose and breath and intense amounts of love. In the most vulnerable ways, childbirth appropriately initiates women into the strong, vulnerable role as mother.

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

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

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

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