I purchased an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo several years ago at a book sale, and it has been shelved in our home ever since, always passed by for something less cumbersome or somehow more practical. 1500 pages are intimidating for anyone, even a book-lover. Yet after reading this brief article in The New York Times on the lost pleasure of binge reading, with a little nod to the Count, I decided to brush off the dust, put down my phone, and commit to binge read this summer. A couple of my children read this way, disappearing into a quiet spot for hours to read and read and read, and something in me wanted to remember that feeling. 900 pages into the book, I love it and am not looking back.

Binge reading doesn’t require a long book or a heady one. And for those of you looking for a quick read to close the summer, here are a few books that you won’t want to put down.


Where the Crawdads Sing | Taking place in an impoverished, coastal marsh in the South, this story follows the life of a young girl left to raise herself at age six. It is a coming-of-age story with a resilient heroine, but also a murder mystery and a commentary on the power of inquisitive nature and self-education. In short, this book lives up to all the hype and will keep you curious to the end.

The Lost Vintage | Like any novel written by a food writer, this one begs to be read with a glass of wine in hand. Set in the wine countries of California and France, this lighter-hearted novel follows one bright, young woman’s return to her family’s generational vineyard in France and the lessons she learns about her family during WWII. Straddling time, place, and the curious happenings that compel us home, this is a light, quick read. Also to consider: Delicious!: a Novel

The Great Alone | Set in 1970s Alaska, this book will transport you, compelling you with Kristin Hannah’s compelling prose and unexpected twists. Written with such richly developed characters, this novel trudges through weightier topics and themes, but it also served as a swift reminder of how far we have come in my lifetime in terms of women’s rights and understanding the traumatic effects of war. Also to consider: The Nightingale

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine | Quirky and unexpected, I loved the hidden humor and compassion tucked into this story, the reminder that, at times, even our own hearts can be hidden from us.

Educated: A Memoir | Although a memoir and not a novel, Tara Westover’s writing and personal story will certainly keep you turning pages. Raw and vulnerable, her story will make you cringe and cheer her on all at the same time. Also to consider: The Glass Castle

Nestled next to Moab, Utah, and only a few hours Southeast of Salt Lake City, Arches National Park is worth the trip even if only for a day stop-over. We drove into Moab in the early evening, dropping our things at one of many economy hotels in the town, and continued into the park for a sunset hike up to the infamous Delicate Arch. Racing the sun, we practically ran the 1.5-mile climb to the arch, laughing at our ragged breath and tired legs. The exertion was welcome after a full day’s drive from Texas. The views were impeccable, shifting with the light and shadows. If possible, prepare to stay in the park after sundown to see the night sky. We packed lunches and spent the entire following day in the park exploring and hiking. Below is a list of some favorite spots and tips from our day and a half here.


TRAILS WE ENJOYED

Delicate Arch | About three miles round trip, this iconic arch is a popular one. It often represents the park and even the state of Utah (on license plates). There are some steep sections during the ascent, so allow more time if you’re traveling with children. At the base of the trail, near the parking lot, there is a cave of petroglyphs, too. This spot is a favorite for photographers at sunrise and sunset, so be prepared for crowds, especially in the summertime. Also, consider bringing a flashlight and fleece jacket to stay and enjoy the night sky.

Landscape Arch | This arch is nestled along the Devil’s Garden trailhead and is the world’s largest arch. Spanning 290 feet, the scale is incredible and worth seeing. The trail is easy and manicured, which also means it’s heavily trafficked. Unlike some of the other arches in the park, visitors are required to view it from behind a fenced area after a large chunk of the formation broke off and fell a few years ago. Hiking enthusiasts and climbers should continue past Landscape Arch toward a primitive trail that climbs up onto a couple of towering rock formations. This was our favorite part, but would be more difficult (and dangerous) for young children. A longer, more difficult primitive loop trail also diverts from the main trail just before Delicate Arch.

Park Avenue | This trail is an easy out-and-back and perfect for geology lovers! You could see the rock textures and formations really well and the way erosion and time have created patterns in the rock. You can also park at the trailhead for a sweeping view or walk down a few steps into the canyon to get a feel of the space. Unless someone in your group is interested to study the rocks, there’s little need to walk the full mile where it connects to a different part of the main the road again. Also, because the path is in a canyon of formations, it was really hot, even early in the summer day.

Balanced Rock | This anomaly is just off the main road, so it’s possible to drive by and enjoy it from afar without stopping. For those who want a closer look, the trail is an easy quarter-mile walk from the parking lot.


GENERAL TIPS

Prepare for the Weather | This is the high desert, so temps can fluctuate with the hour. In the summertime, the day temperatures climb into the 90s and in certain spots tucked away from wind gusts, it feels like an oven. Be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Pack a fleece jacket to have on hand when temps drop at night, even in summer.

Plan for Stargazing | Pack headlamps or flashlights to enjoy the night sky at Delicate Arch or an easier trailhead. We missed doing this, but I hear the views are phenomenal. Also, if you have one, pack a large lens for your camera to catch the night sky.

Arrive Early in Summer |Like every national park, Arches is more crowded in the summertime. Lines begin to form at the entrance around 9 or 10am, so arrive early if you’re staying outside of the park.

Drive Instead of Hike | Not everyone enjoys or is able to hike trails, but Arches offers sweeping views to enjoy from the car windows, too. Even if you’re passing through Moab, it’s worth the time to drive through and view the arches and formations near the road. Balanced Rock, Park Avenue, the Petroglyph caves are easy spots to enjoy just off the road. Landscape Arch is a short, easy walk in.

There are over 400 national parks in the United States and a variety of ways to enjoy them. Whether you plan to visit all of them or simply select a few bucket-list spots, a national park annual pass might be a valuable resource. We used an America the Beautiful pass for our travel this summer, and here are some things I learned that might be helpful when deciding whether it’s right for you.

  1. Check if you qualify for free entrance without a pass. There are several opportunities to visit national parks for free during the year and skip the pass altogether. More than half of the national parks and lands do not charge admission, so do your research before you plan your trip. Also, thanks to the Every Kid in the Park initiative, families with fourth-grade students will automatically have admittance to all national parks and government lands during their fourth-grade school year. For families with multiple children, that means multiple years of passes (or opportunities anyhow). Plus, the National Park Services offers free entrance days a few times each year. One is coming up next month on the National Park Services Day.
  2. Share the national park pass with a friend. The America the Beautiful pass can be shared by two separate people or households. As long as you are not planning to travel together in more than one car, you can split the cost and enjoy any park for almost the same cost as one of the more popular parks.
  3. Read the fine print. National Park passes cover entrance into the park for one vehicle carrying up to four adults and unlimited children. It does not cover amenities like camping, parking, permits, or special tours. If you’re planning to stay in the park, plan for extra uncovered expenses.
  4. Upgrade on the road. If you visit one park and decide to upgrade to an annual pass later, show your entrance receipt at an NPS fee site and they should credit it toward your annual pass.
  5. Purchase your pass online, but don’t lose it! If you know the parks you plan to visit, order your pass online ahead of time to save time in line at the visitor’s centers. This is particularly helpful if you are traveling in the summertime when national parks tend to be more crowded and lines can be longer. Keep in mind, online purchases through NPS may take upwards of 20 business days to arrive so allow plenty of time for it to arrive. You can also purchase passes online at LL Bean or REI locations around the country which may ship more quickly. Once you receive your pass, don’t lose it! They are not replaceable.
SUMMER ROAD TRIP on Spotify

The summer season offers us opportunities, wrapped in sunshine, beyond our normal experience. The blur of passing scapes paired with a good tune creates whimsy and a sense of adventure. Guitar chords. The changing horizon. The hum of rolling asphalt. Rhythm. Whether you are on your way to the water, the mountains, or a friend’s house this summer, I hope this playlist will feed your sense of adventure.

I Know Bayonne | Wheat Wilderado | Fool for Love Lord Huron | South Hippo Campus |We Will All Be Changed Seryn | Notice Vodi | Town & Country Bibio | Pictures of Girls Wallows |Better Views Yellow House | Down the Line Beach Fossils |Seabirds Monohans | Same Bayonne

“Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” ––John Ortberg

Sometimes I find myself chasing tasks when what is needed is stillness. This stage of parenting has seemed busier than ever, not because I am constantly moving in the way I did when my children were young, but because as my children are growing into adulthood, I find my heart and mind never rest. The stage is joyful and active in an entirely different way. My teens introduce me to new music and comedians and perspectives. They help with all the housework and increasingly manage more of their own educations. They do their own laundry and run their own tiny businesses. They help make dinners and mow the lawn. But they are not yet adults. They are straddling two worlds, with changing bodies and emotions, with swelling spiritual questions and complex realities, and in the process, my inner person is rarely still. I worry and wonder and plan. I make lists and set reminders and appointments. I try to remain one step ahead of them in all of their transitions.

I am prone to lean into busyness to pacify a restless heart. Sometimes as parents we can find relief in juggling all the things; other times our efforts wear us out, possibly even exasperate us. As a younger mother, I needed physical stillness to rest my feet, to take a nap, to think. In this stage with older children and teens, stillness has become the pathway into God’s presence, toward trust, toward rest, toward joy. The physical stillness reveals my restless heart and invites me to surrender it. Again and again, much like I wrote a few years ago here.

Long road trips require a lot of sitting and stillness. They also require patience. As any parent might attest in answering the curious little person in the back––ten hours is still ten hours. You cannot hurry time. Perhaps it’s why I enjoy road trips so much. They provide a physical reality of what is always true in life: we’ll get there when we get there. The secret, as they say, is to rest and enjoy the ride.

Family travel is such a privilege and gift, and still, the process can be harrowing. As we packed for our current road trip, I realized there are a few habits I have developed over the years that help planning and packing for the road feel smoother and more approachable. I jotted down three impactful tips below for you to borrow and make your own.

1. Delegate Packing with Lists / Getting everyone properly packed and ready to go can be stressful! Regardless of age, children are often eager for travel, so several years ago, I began channeling that energy into letting them pack their own bags, even if it was just for the weekend. I would then check and edit what they packed and they were done! Now everyone packs their own bag, but to ensure we don’t leave out any of the essentials, I create a list ahead of time for all of us. It saves so much energy and tugs-of-war about what is essential. These lists are extremely helpful for me, too, as there are so many details to keep in mind. Here’s my process:

  • Create a Reproducible List | Make a family packing list in GoogleDocs (or some other program), titled with the season, location, and time period, i.e. “Two-Week Summer Road Trip / UT, WY, MT.” This will be helpful to reference and copy/paste for future travel.
  • Label Lists Clearly | Make the list easy for everyone to use. Make specific lists for each child if they are too nuanced, or label one general list for all to follow. I find numbering items of clothing is helpful, too!
  • Print + Distribute to Each Child | Print a list for each child (maybe with images for non-readers) and clip it to a clipboard. Hand each one a clipboard and have them check off as they create their piles to pack.
  • Check + Edit Piles | When they announce they are finished, use the checklist and double-check their piles. Make any necessary edits, and have them load their bag and set it aside.

2. Pack Individual Food Bags / For longer travel trips, when food stops are imperative, we tend to pack our own food and drinks to save money and make wiser food choices. This idea works whether you are flying or driving. Sometimes distributing all the food during the trip becomes a part-time job, so we make food bags for each person to enjoy during the day, including a variety of dried fruits, meats, and nuts, little treats, fresh fruit, and bars. The idea is for each of us to choose what we eat and when during the day, but also to fill our bellies with foods that won’t make us feel bad or damage our digestion while we sit for hours in one space. For this trip, I purchased everything ahead of time on Amazon or at Trader Joe’s. Although I typically avoid pre-packaged snacks, for this purpose, it’s worth it for me. The same concept could be created from bulk. Also, for day-long drives, we pack lunch in a cooler to stop at a park along the way, to play, stretch our legs, and enjoy time in the fresh air. Here’s what is in our food bags this trip:

  • New Primal Beef Thins / These are crispier than most beef jerky and made without any of the preservatives. We love them! And this package came with them pre-packaged––perfect for individual use.
  • Justin’s Cinnamon Almond Butter packets with fresh apples and banana / These nut butters are delightful, and the individual packets help us to avoid needing utensils. There are a variety of flavors to choose, too! I also like having fresh fruit available for them to eat. It’s best if the banana is eaten early on since it tends to brown
  • Rx Bars or Clif ZBars / I love Rx Bars for their whole ingredients and substance, but not everyone in my family agrees. Wink. So I also ordered a box of Clif ZBars for the kids.
  • trail mix packets / You can find these on Amazon, too, but they are less expensive at TJ’s. I choose the mix without chocolate to prevent a melty mess.
  • a cranberry-orange scone / I picked up a packet of these at TJ’s so everyone would have a breakfast treat in the car to enjoy.
  • personal water bottle / Many places in airports and travel stops have refill stations for water bottles.

3. Create a Personal SOS Bag / SOS is a little dramatic, but we all relate with needing a few things on hand for TLC when we travel. Everyone brings something to read or draw/write on in the car, but I also have a little SOS bag for random needs along the way, even if it’s just for me. Wink. Here’s what I packed this trip:

  • Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Organic hand sanitizer / This is helpful to have on hand for all obvious reasons. I even use it to spray surfaces in a pinch. It’s made with lavender oils and without any of the toxic chemicals or preservatives. Plus, it smells so good.
  • Beautycounter Face Cloths / These are wonderful for travel! I use them to refresh, first with my face and then at times my pits and feet. They’re made with safe ingredients, are oil and fragrance-free, and are compostable, too!
  • Beautycounter Melting Body Balm / My skin tends to dry out when we travel, and this luxurious body balm feels so good on my hands, feet, and elbows. For the kids’ dry patches, I prefer this unscented option. It is also wonderful for mild eczema.
  • Ningxia Nitro / A friend gifted these to me for our trip, and I love them for the afternoon slump when I tend to crave an energy boost. These are less expensive through wholesale, so if you don’t know anyone who sells YL, I can connect you!
  • Essential Oil Roller / There are SO many resources with EOs for travel to cover here, but I love having 1 or 2 on hand while we travel. Sometimes I carry my own blend or one premade. My favorite blends are Peace+Calming, Stress Away, and Valor from YL.
  • Hydrating Facial Mist / Can you tell hydration is key for us? Lol. Sometimes I don’t need to wash or clean my skin, I just need a little moisture. This facial mist is fantastic! It releases a gentle mist with just the right amount of hydration. Two sprays is often plenty, so it often lasts forever. The peony ingredient smells so lovely, and it’s safe for the whole family, too.
  • Lip Moisture / I always keep lip balm, lip conditioner, and a Twig Sheer Lipstick (if I want some light color) on hand for family moisture. Spending time in the car AC or traveling to drier climates always dries out our lips. I reach for one of these often during travel.

Meals can be like writing for me at times––I have plenty of ideas and inspiration until I sit down to write them out. I’ve found the same has been true for my children in their meal planning. At first, their personal favorites take lead, but moving beyond those easy ideas can be challenging. Having recipe books, Pinterest boards, and a list of meals we’ve already made can be so helpful for this. It’s also helpful for me to give them a topic, i.e. a large salad, something grilled, a vegetable I might have on hand. You get the idea. We have a variety of recipe books on hand, but here are a few we are enjoying the most right now.

The Forest Feast for Kids | We gifted this book to my youngest a few years ago and she has loved it! The recipes are simple and easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to find or substitute, and the images are clear and colorful on every page, making it a perfect start for younger chefs. Wink. The one downside is that the amount of recipes in the book is comparatively slim, but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind returning to her favorite ones again and again. Family Favorites: quinoa edamame salad, pasta with carrots and zucchini, swiss chard quiche, pear galette.

Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family | Here is another recipe book we have enjoyed for years. Think of it less like a recipe book and more as a visual cooking manual for children (and adults). It does offer plenty of recipes, but more importantly, it shows how to build their own [salad, sandwich, burger, smoothie]. The book offers lists of ingredients, toppings, or condiment options, combinations of smoothie mixtures or sandwich or burger fillers. The format is easy for children to flip through and enjoy, with clear instructions and images (although not an image for every recipe). This is a wonderful resource! We’ve made salad dressings, drinks, smoothies, condiments from this one.

Love & Lemons Everyday | This is a new book on our shelf and already a growing favorite. The images are clean and colorful, and more importantly, the instructions are clear and the ingredients are found in most any grocery store. To note, the recipes are vegetarian, but most would be easy to adapt with a grilled fish or an animal protein. Family favorites: Raspberry Basil Sorbet, Peach and Pole Bean Salad with Dill

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables | This is one of my personal favorites! Color-coded with six different growing seasons, this recipe book sparks broader conversations and ideas about the types of vegetables in season (when they are most economical and available at local farmer’s markets or through CSAs). The recipes are a bit more complex for children and there are fewer images, but teens and adults looking for new ways to enjoy seasonal veggies will enjoy it!

It’s All Good | Our family has enjoyed this recipe book for years. The recipes may be somewhat complex for children, but the beautiful images of the food or Gwyneth and her children will spark interest. Family favorites: Crazy Good Fish Tacos; Whole Grilled Pink Snapper with Herbs, Garlic, and Lemon; Thai Chicken Burgers.

Eat What You Love | I received this at one of Danielle Walker’s book events in the Spring, and although we haven’t made a lot from it yet, we’ve enjoyed the images and stretching into new ingredients. She has included several of her family’s favorite foods, from cookies to sweet potato fries, so your children are sure to find something they enjoy. The downside is the ingredient lists are often long, and if you don’t regularly eat GF or DF, you may find yourself spending a lot of money on the ingredients. If you’re looking to make a jump into a Paleo or Grain-Free lifestyle, this is a win! Family favorites: seasoned sweet potato fries; chicken caesar salad; white wine, mushroom, and spinach sauté.

Our family table has long played a central role in our home, whether in mealtimes, school work, or neighborly connection and yet, by the end of the Spring, it seemed to be dissolving somehow. Mealtimes were irregular or rushed. We struggled to find time for other people to join us for dinner. My children’s curiosity about food or what was happening in the kitchen seemed to be waning. I found myself shouldering most of the planning, shopping, and prepping meals again. Sometimes when life begins to spin, I become caught in the whirl, tossed by the chaos, when what is needed is for me to stop and rearrange our family life so that genuine connection regains priority. We have many regular family conversations about the collaborative work required to make a home. In short, everyone contributes; everyone’s effort matters.

On that note, last month, after a family conversation where I shared all of this, the kids took responsibility for four dinners a week again. They paired off, taking two nights per pair, rotating who leads the meal making/planning and who is the helper. Each child plans one full meal a week, checks what we already have, and writes down what we need for the grocery list. They do have to submit ideas to me for approval, mostly to make sure there’s diversity to our meals and that they don’t select anything that might be too complex for our schedule that week. I encourage them to flip through recipe books or think back to the meals they’ve enjoyed most. I still help them, of course, but I am an aid to them, available for questions and to help how they might need it, rather than leading the charge. And many times, they enjoy the freedom to direct the kitchen without my help at all. It has been refreshing.

I included a few guidelines for our meal planning below, as well as a few meals they have made. I linked to a few of the recipe resources, too. We have just started discussing meal budgets in meal planning and may in the future add that boundary to the mix. For now, the goal is simply for them to be creative and inspired by the kitchen again, to be reminded of the healing nature of community around the table and the responsibility we each have in cultivating it. I am the check-and-balance, keeping a loose idea of how rare or expensive the ingredients might be or how long a meal might take to create. It is all a part of a conversation in our Sunday meal planning together.

SIMPLE MEAL GUIDELINES

Vegetables are required at every meal. Meat is not.

Pasta only once a week, with veggies.

Limit oven meals in the summer. Use the grill when possible.

Eat seasonally, when possible.


MEALS THE KIDS HAVE MADE

rainbow chard quiche + mixed berry spinach salad

creamy pasta pomodoro + mixed green salad

roasted poblano fish tacos (we make these a variety of ways)

pulled pork sliders + jalapeño coleslaw + caesar salad

grilled herbed salmon + quinoa edamame salad

BLTA subs + sliced watermelon

pasta with zucchini + carrot ribbons + spinach salad

grilled chicken + white wine, mushroom, spinach sauté

gemelli pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes, garden basil, spinach, and fresh parmesan

baked sweet potatoes with various toppings + spinach salad

grilled chicken sandwiches with avocado + sun-dried tomatoes + parmesan truffle potato fries

Evening routines have become tricky with teenagers in the home. As fatigue sets in and I crave my bedroom space, they seem to move in the opposite direction, refueled after dinner and ready to settle into their most social hours. Yes, hours. Mark and I have laughed at how many times our boys have plopped onto our bed with a big question just before 10 pm as our eyes flutter to keep awake. We find ourselves setting new, unexpected boundaries in this stage of parenting, including no critical conversations after 9 pm or all personal devices (including our own) tucked away in a basket at 9 pm. Of course, these boundaries are not always popular and can be challenging even for me, but protecting evening routines are crucial for healthy sleep habits and worth the effort.

Truthfully, as our family grows older, it seems more difficult to prioritize sleep in our home. As it turns out, we’re not alone. A quick internet search on sleep deprivation among adults, teens, or children will turn up pages of results with dismal statistics. How is it––when so much research shows the importance of sleep in connection with mental, emotional, and physical well-being––that we came to think of sleep as a dispensable luxury?  

To help our children and teens establish healthy evening routines and sleep habits and maintain them ourselves, we do practice a few simple habits. We limit screentime and late-night important conversations that might be better heard during the day. We enjoy time unplugged together, like weekly game nights or time around the firepit, and have always encouraged a reading hour before bed to wind down our bodies and minds. We dim the lights, a practice that can be most challenging in the winter months when the dark arrives earlier and the gloom feels endless.

We also recently swapped all of the bedroom lightbulbs and reading lamps with Soraa Healthy LED bulbs. After learning more about the negative impact blue light can have on sleep rhythms and personal health, we were so excited to discover the only energy-efficient bulb with zero blue light! It blocks the light waves that inhibit melatonin production (the hormone that signals our brain to ease into sleep), the type of light that deters our bodies from sleep. I wish these bulbs had been around in my early years of mothering! Maybe it would have curbed all those last minute asks for water or for one more bedtime story. Wink.  

With the increase in screens and artificial light in households, more research is cropping up on the ways blue light might be connected to sleep deprivation. In one particular study, research showed that “the blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).” As any sleepy parent or teen can attest, 90 minutes of more or less sleep can make such a difference! Yet these results are not just for teens. Another collection of studies found that 60% of women sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep a night, meaning most of the women in our lives (including ourselves) exist in a constant state of sleep deprivation. I realize there are pockets of time where sleep deprivation feels inevitable, but how many of us lose that needed sleep as a result of our screens and blue light in our homes?

Sleeping rhythms naturally change after puberty––I get it. I also know that before long each of my teens will be living in their own spaces, creating their own boundaries and lifestyles. For now, establishing healthy boundaries for our screens and filtering the light in our home with Soraa Healthy bulbs feels like a step in the right direction to protect our need for sleep.


This post is sponsored by Soraa Home, a business our family supports and loves. Images taken by myself or Hannah Walls for Cloistered Away. All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.