Holiday Gift Wrap, Three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap, Three Waysmpix-2Holiday Gift Wrap with Photos

It may sound silly, but gift wrapping is one of my favorite parts of gift giving. It is the icing on the cake, the thoughtful finishing detail to what I always hope is a thoughtful gift. That said, like many other areas in our life, I have paired down this process over the years, opting for more economical and ecological options to create less waste. As it turns out, simplicity and economy can be just as beautiful as all the glittery frills. Today, I’m partnering with Mpix to share a few ways I am using nature and photographs this season to beautifully and economically wrap our gifts.Holiday Gift Wrap, three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap


sturdy craft paper and natural twine / For starters, I keep a large roll of sturdy craft paper (found at most hardware stores) and natural twine on hand at all times. Having a natural colored base allows for versatile, seasonal details based on the holiday or celebration at any point in the year. Plus, with craft paper, there’s the opportunity to transform it to kindling, coloring paper, or a craft project after the gift has been unveiled. Another option might be to use small swaths of cloth or cloth bags for wrapping.

washi tape / It’s easy to find washi tape anywhere these days, the dollar store to high end paper stores. I like to keep a couple around for my children’s artwork and crafts, but they come in handy for taping branches or photos to gift wrap, too. Wink.

twigs with colorful leaves or berries / This is an excellent way to include children in gift wrapping. They can help search for fallen leaves or twigs, or even learn how to prune a few on their own. In the past, I have also snipped stems from our Christmas tree for wrapping, but this year, we gathered a few bits from our nature walk earlier this week––colorful cedar branches and assorted tree berries.

Holiday gift Wrap, Nature and PhotosHoliday Gift Wrap with Nature + PhotosHoliday Gift Wrap with Nature + Photos


photo prints / For friends and family who might who might appreciate an updated family picture for a frame or even a landscape from a favorite trip during the year, try taping an image to the wrapping or tucking it in the twine. I used double-sided tape on some and washi tape on others. Double-check the washi tape first to make sure it won’t ruin the photo paper. Pair smaller natural accents with larger images and vice versa for images that take up less space. Use natural pieces that complement the colors in your photo. I loved how the orange cedar complimented the sunrise in one of my images.

photo magnets / A medium sized photo magnet can be ideal for minimalist family members or those who love to keep images on their fridge. They’re strong enough to hold a piece of paper, too. So if you have littles, this might couple well with a handmade card or Christmas drawing. I used washi tape for the photo magnets, accompanied with purplish leaves that complemented the images.

mini-photo gift tags / You know those little scraps of paper leftover during the wrapping process? Tape a mini-photo to a piece of torn scrap paper and use it as a gift tag! I hole-punched the paper and used twine to tie with a small branch. Write a small message on the back and presto! It’s something special for the recipient to keep and more economical than purchasing pre-made gift tags.

Happy wrapping, friends!


This post is sponsored by Mpix, a photo lab based in Kansas, committed to quality printing services. All images and thoughts are my own. 


“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Esther Meinel-Zottl, the warm-hearted voice and photographer behind Mama to the Little Ones and My Little Treasures of Life. Esther is the mother of twin preschool girls and lives in the Bavarian Alps, where her family has established a home culture that reflects nature, especially in the kitchen. Welcome, Esther!

A lot of my childhood memories are connected to the kitchen. I grew up in the former GDR, in communistic times. My parents had four kids and we always lived in really old and simple flats. No heating systems. Only some of the rooms had ovens to heat our home, and they were fueled with black coal. We had to carry up the coal from the dusty, dark basement. That was one of our chores. The kitchen with the oven was the first room to be heated in the morning. We all gathered there and I remember that my mum used to dress us there as well. She placed pots of water or milk on the oven to heat up for breakfast, and even though the kitchen was old and simple and sometimes dusty from heating with black coal, it was my favourite place to be. I connect the warm, tender, and gentle side of my mother and father with it. Sure, we had arguments and loud discussions there as well. But when we gathered at the wooden sitting area my father built, it was the most connected feeling of togetherness, the thought “we are family”. Until now, most of our long, precious, and deep conversations take place in my parent’s kitchen. It always has been the most delightful room for me, no matter the flat they or we lived in. Even now, when visiting Oma and Opa, the kitchen is where the grandchildren run first after they wake up, and most of the time, they find their grandparents in the kitchen. It’s funny that much later I realized that we also created a wooden sitting corner in our kitchen. My husband and I both grew up with wooden sitting corners, and now we have created the same, but somehow unconsciously. in_the_kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-9in_the-kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-6In the Kitchen with Esther -- on Cloistered Away

When we built and designed our house and when it came to make decisions about our kitchen, I must say that our ideas and perceptions were really high and clear. We wanted out kitchen to be the centre of our home and to be the place where we feel comfortable and at ease. We didn’t want to save money on that part of the house, where we both love to spend time cooking, baking, gathering and talking. And even though we built an ecological wooden house, we choose a kitchen with real, old wood. Oh yes, a lot of wood in our house. For us wood symbolizes warmth, our love and passion for nature and the natural things, and our value for the old. We wanted our kitchen to be spacious and connected with our living area. We wanted it to be a place where we all like to gather and spend time. 2 years later, I must say our kitchen really has become the centre of our house.

The girls have their own little wooden play kitchen in there and they spend more time playing in our big open kitchen than in their own room. Even though our kitchen might look and feel more like a living room, we of course also have the functional kitchen cupboards and corners. Some of them are easy to reach for the girls, so they can take out plates e.g. and help us prepare setting the table. When the girls were babies we bought the Stokke Tripp Trapp Highchairs, which are very often used by German families. Those wooden highchairs are so handy in many ways. Not only for the littles to sit on the table, but later on for them to push them around in the kitchen and to get up and stand up on them to reach our kitchen island or the sink, to be more independent and help out. For me, it always has been important to involve the girls as much as possible in my kitchen work. A lot of times that has meant I have way more work with three year olds around, more work cleaning up afterwards, more work because to instruct them and to let them try. But I know it that way now, and I want them to feel good and to enjoy the food we’re preparing, so I think it’s necessary. A year ago, it was more playing or ‘getting to know’ food ingredients with their textures, smells, colours and tastes e.g. when I let them be part of baking bread. Now they help wash/brush vegetables we have plucked from our vegetable field. They cut vegetables (the thick carrot slices are easily recognized) and fruits or squeeze our orange juice.

in_the_kitchen_esther_-meinel-zottl-7In the Kitchen with Esther - on Cloistered Away

This year’s spring, summer, and autumn have been really remarkable for me. It was the first time that we planted and grew our own vegetables at our neighbour’s field. He is an organic farmer and we’re over at his farm nearly every other day. His generous offer was truly the highlight of my year. I involved the girls with sowing and taking care of the vegetables by pulling up weeds. They loved to harvest all our vegetables and the wonder in their eyes by dragging out the carrots, by trying to get the huge zucchinis, by seeing how our peppers finally turned red or by searching and digging for the potatoes… my heart was full. They didn’t even clean the dirty carrots and they ate so much soil when they ate the carrots like little rabbits. Their pride and curiosity and their naturalness of eating our home-grown veggies in our dishes surprised me. I harvested so much mangold/chard over the summer that I tried in different dishes and I didn’t have a problem to convince them to try it. Of course potatoes and carrots are still their favourites. The gardening project this year really helped me to see that its worth investing time to involve our kids in the preparation of food and in gardening. They learnt so much and we had such wonderful and delicious meals all together.

Seasonal and regional food plays a big role for us, especially now that we moved from Munich to the countryside. We get eggs from our farmer neighbour and buy their organic certified (demeter) meat. The girls and I get milk every second or third day from another farmer in our village. That has become a wonderful routine we love to combine with an afternoon walk before. We have a really good alpine dairy half an hour from where we live. We love to buy and supply ourselves with lots of good cheese and fresh butter (you get in a huge bar. I cut that bar in 5 pieces and freeze them) there once in a while. We hiked through lots of alpine meadows this summer, here in our region, where lots of the cows live during the summer and it did not only feel like in the movie of ‘Heidi’, but it was such a joy for me to see how freely the cows live and move up there, where we get our milk and sometimes our cheese and butter.

in_the_kitchen_esther-3In the Kitchen with Esther -- on Cloistered AwayAnd because our life on the countryside here in the Bavarian Alps influences our weekly routine and our kitchen life a lot, I chose a really typical alpine recipe for you. One we all love a lot.

Kaiserschmarrn is really simple and originally from Austria. There’s probably about 50 different recipes for it, but the recipe I’m going to share with you was handed to me by my sister. She uses it to make thin pancakes (almost as thin as Crèpes). So you can try it for both. We love Kaiserschmarrn and I can’t count how often we eat it. We don’t make it that often at home, but on weekends that demand a lot. We especially love to try it at different mountain huts. It has become our hiking motivation when hiking up to a mountain hut. They usually serve it. So even though we live in the Bavarian/German Alps I choose this Austrian recipe simply because it’s typical for the alpine region (no matter if in Bavaria or Austria). I have become really picky about the right consistence of the dough/batter. It shouldn’t be too eggy or too floury or too dry. Some like it with raisins, some not. Some like to eat a sort of plum compote with it, some like applesauce with it. Some like it caramelized, some flambé.

Because I’m not the person that can go with an exact recipe (I always vary) this recipe changes as well. If I use the recipe and dough/batter to make pancakes/thin Crèpes, than I use less milk and a bit more flour. If I use the recipe for its original purpose as Kaiserschmarrn, than I use it exact like that, but I beat the egg whites and gently fold them under by the end. So all you need is:

Ingredients (serves 2 pans):

200g flour (I use spelt flour but originally wheat flour is used)

4 eggs

1 pinch of salt

750 ml milk (I mostly only use 600ml)

  • Mix the milk with egg yolks and salt and slowly add the flour. After beating the egg whites, you can carefully fold it in with the rest of the batter.
  • Use a big heatproof coated frying pan for the dough/batter.
  • Then use quiet a lot of vegetable oil with a butter flavour or butter to gently roast it.
  • Then pour in half of the batter, but don’t wonder if it’s really liquid and thin.
  • I use medium heat to cook the underside until light brown, then turn over the dough using a spatula and bake/roast it again until its golden brown. (you could also bake it for 6–8 minutes in the pre-heated oven)
  • Then I tear the Kaiserschmarrn into small pieces, using two forks or the spatula.
  • You can now spread it out on the plates and top it with icing sugar.

I love to caramelize some nuts with maple syrup and butter that I spread over the Kaiserschmarrn before I top it with icing sugar. And as mentioned before, you are welcome to cook the Kaiserschmarrn with raisins. If you do so, just spread some over the batter after you poured it into the pan.

Enjoy your meal or as we in Bavaria/Germany would say: an Guadn, lasst’s eich schmeggn!

All images and words by Esther Meinel-Zottl for Cloistered Away. You can follow more  from Esther on her blog, My Little Treasures of Life, and on Instagram, @mama_2thelittleones. Thank you, Esther!


The Advent season has arrived, and with it so many favorite things: carol-singing, beeswax candles, tree trimming, hot chocolate, Christmas cards, afternoon tea and read aloud, baking, and of course gift-giving. Last year, I created a gift guide for the homeschool that has been requested several times again this season. For new readers, I suggest you begin there, as this list feels like more of an extension of the first. I also articulate some of our gift-giving philosophy in the last post, which might be also be helpful. In short, we purposefully select gifts that fit our family budget, home, and lifestyle. Read: minimal. We tend toward beautiful, well-made tools, toys, and resources that encourage ingenuity and creativity, and those which can also be passed down or gifted to someone else when we outgrow them. When our budget is tighter or when we want to avoid more things at home, Mark and I have often gifted experiences. I referenced several experiences in last year’s gift list if that is where your own family fits best.

Naturally, this guide isn’t exclusive to homeschoolers, nor is it exclusive to Christmas. Here, I have gathered a list of things we currently love or things we’re interested in for our own home. You’ll find it loosely categorized by interests, including gifts for a broad spectrum of ages, preschool to teen. This list, dear readers, is my gift to you this season, as it has taken many hours to gather. I hope it is helpful to you, a gentle guide in a sometimes stressful part of this season.  Merry Christmas!



1. Wood Multiplication Ring | 2. Indoor Outdoor Toddler Swing | 3. Wood Working with Children | 4. Wood Carving Tools + Knife Kit | 5. Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors | 6. Camera Obscura Kit | 7. Sarah’s Silks Play Streamer + Play Silks (not numbered) | 8. The Art of Tinkering  | 9. NUN Studio Doll Kits and Pattern Books | 10. Hedgehog’s Filled Sewing Box (or an empty one to fill) | 11. Stick-Lets Mega Fort Kit | 12. Wood Peg People | 13. Kikkerland Animal Multi Tool | 14. Lyra Rembrandt Watercolor Pencils | 15. Fair Trade Peruvian Hand Drum 16. Makedo Cardboard Tool Kit

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_naturalist[ YOUNG NATURALISTS ]

17. Bug Bingo (also Bird Bingo and Dog Bingo) | 18. Student Insect Collecting + Mounting Kit | 19. A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky | 20. Wood Microscope | 21.  Animal Tracks Casting Kit  (not numbered) | 22. The Year in Bloom 2017 Calendar Kit | 23. Sturdy Stilts | 24. Play the Forest Way  | 25. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music | 26. Moon Phases Wall Hanging | 27. Travel Telescope | 28. Flower Press Kit | 29.  John Muir Wilderness Essays | 30. Compact Kids Binoculars  | 31. 59 Illustrated National Parks | 32. Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature | 33. Audubon Society Field Guides 




34. Mechanica | 35. mini 3D printer | 36. Morse Code Kit | 37. Wood Go Cart Kit | 38. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World  | 39. Aristotle’s Number Puzzle | 40. MEL Chemistry Experiment Subscription | 41. Rosie Revere Engineer | 42. 52 Amazing Science Experiments cards | 43. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind | 44. Block + Tackle Wood Pulley | 45. Da Vinci Catapult Kit  (or the Ornithopiter Kit) | 46. Tegu Magnetic Wood Block Set | 47. Grimm’s Nature Inspired Math Cards | 48. Leonardo Sticks | 49. The Story of Buildings

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_techie_inventor[ YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS ]

50. How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons | 51. Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? (or other book from the series) | 52. Kano Computer Kit | 53. Seedling Design Your Own Headphones ( also the punk rock version) | 54. Dover’s Great Inventors and Inventions Coloring Book | 55. Digital Microscope and Camera | 56. Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: First Computer Programmer | 57. Kindle Fire Kids Edition | 58. Osmo Coding | 59. Sphero SPRK + STEAM Educational Robot | 60. GoPro Hero | 61. littleBits Electronic Base Kit | 62. First Computer Patent poster | 63. The Inventor’s Notebook



64. The Forest Feast for Kids | 65. Water Garden Fish Tank | 66. Williams Sonoma Junior Chef Set | 67. Camden Rose Tabletop Play Kitchen | 68. Food Anatomy | 69. Lyra Ferby Pencils | 70. The Foodie Teen | 71. Odette Williams Pinstripe Linen Child’s Apron Set | 72. Solid Wood Tea Set | 73. Opinel Le PetitChef Set  | 74. How to Be a Blogger and Vlogger in 10 Easy Steps | 75. Tombow Brush Pen (or in assorted colors) | 76. Kindle for Kids | 77. Olive Wood Mortar and Pestle | 78. I Am Story | 79. Handlettering 101 | 80. Cursive Alphabet Tracing Board | 81. Rory’s Story Cubes | 82. Woodland Pencils | 83. Leap Write In! | 84. Spilling Ink

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

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


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

volunteer with a local food bank

/ bring a pre-chopped meal to another family

/ invite someone to your table

/ pay for a stranger’s coffee or meal

/ offer babysitting for a single parent or couple

/ drop off groceries to someone

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






in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-2in_the_kitchen_cecile_moliniein_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-4“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Cécile Molinié, the inspiring creative at Cécile Moli and contributing member of See My Paris. Cécile is the mother to four children and lives in Paris, France, where she cherishes her kitchen as both the center of their family life and the touchpoint to nature. Welcome, Cécile!

I grew up in the French countryside and at a very young age became used to helping my mother grow the vegetable garden, pick the berries, plums or apples. I learned how to preserve some of them for winter and also about the real connection between man and nature. We had a very big kitchen with a view on the garden, and as I loved cooking and found it creative and relaxing after long days at school or in college, I tried a lot of recipes, from the daily ones to the very elaborate ones. I loved it!in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-13in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-7 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-9 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-8When I first moved to Paris to study law more than 20 years ago, space was scarce and the kitchen was very tiny. But there is a story about Parisian kitchens, even in very chic an large classic Parisian apartments. The first time I entered such a beautiful place, I was amazed that the kitchen was isolated from the rest of the apartment, put at the end of a long, dark corridor, close to the back stairway (in French, escalier de service: the staircase used by the maids and cooks to enter the apartments by a back door in the 19th century). Most Parisian apartments are made like this. The kitchen was the place no one should see. The living room, dining room and library were very large and opulent and the kitchen very small. It was the case in the three first places we lived in with my husband and growing family until we finally bought our current apartment six years ago.

It was a big space in a modern building which had been occupied by offices for 40 years and needed a full renovation. The architect and I decided to put the kitchen at the heart of the house, close to the bedrooms, the living room, dining room, with lots of light from the terrace and a place to eat or work at a big table, a place specifically dedicated to cooking. in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-3in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-11 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-5in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-12So this is our Parisian kitchen, one that doesn’t look so Parisian in a way! This place is where we all gather for meals or after school for homework or tea time with friends. It is always warm and welcoming. I often take my computer there to work with the kids around me. The kids like to help me cooking when they have time. Little Miss always sets the table with the silver, while the others help me with the vegetables, or the sauce, and of course with the dessert!

I decided to share a typical French dish, La Blanquette de Veau. Even the name is evocative for an English speaking person; blanquette pronounces exactly like blanket.  It is the perfect comfort dish for the cold Autumn and Winter days that all my children love and ask for––the very same one my grandmother cooked when I visited her. The recipe was inspired by the children’s cookbook pictured, one that was mine when I was a child. It is really easy to make. It just takes time to prepare and must be watched. Afterward, I always keep the remaining broth and use it to make a soup for the evening with angel hair pasta or these small letters pasta, very popular in France with the children.in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-6in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-10LA BLANQUETTE DE VEAU (Veal Stew in a White Sauce) 

Serves 6

You need :

  • 1,2 kg (2 ½ pounds) of veal shoulder cut into little cubes
  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into slices
  • 1 big onion, peeled with the cloves stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut lenghtwise
  • 2 leeks mostly the white part (keep one green leaf for the bouquet garni below)
  • 1 bouquet garni (ie : 1 little branch of bay leaves, one of thyme, one green leaf of leek, a few springs of parsley) or at least only the bay leaves ; Tie all the herbs together into the leek leaf.
  • 1 table spoon sea salt
  • ground pepper
  • parsley or chives (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup 100 ml crème fraiche (optional)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 500g white rice

Method :

  • Put the veal pieces in a large pot (cocotte in french) add 2 liters of cold water and bring to a boil.
  • Skim and add all the vegetables, bouquet garni and salt.
  • Add some water to cover everything if necessary
  • Cover, lower the heat and let cook for one hour.
  • When the veal and vegetables are tender, remove the bouquet garni.
  • Let it cool a little bit and leave the meat in the pot and put the broth in a large bowl.
  • Cook the rice
  • Make the roux : melt the butter in a large saucepan, add  the flour, it must get a little beige (not brown), add one or two pinches of salt. Then add, one at a time, 7 to 8 laddles (3 ½ to 4 cups) of broth into the saucepan, stirring constantly between each addition. The broth turns thicker and makes a creamy white sauce.
  • Mix the creme fraiche and egg yolk.
  • Add the creme fraiche and egg yolk mixture to the sauce and stop the heat.
  • Pour this sauce into the cocotte with the meat and vegetables.
  • Sprinkle with parsley or chives if your children like little green things on their food (mine don’t )

Serve immediately with the rice. Bon appétit !

All images and words by Cécile Molinié for Cloistered Away. You can find more of Cécile’s work on Instagram @cecilemoli and @seemyparis.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-10 “In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Susanna Hindman, the gentle, candid voice at Revisionary Life. She is the mother of two young children in Baltimore, Maryland, with a desire for simple foods and quality meal times, greatly inspired by her childhood home. Welcome, Susanna. 

I have a few distinct memories of sitting around the table as a family when I was a kid. The words chaotic, messy, loud, delicious, simple, and fast come to mind as I try to piece back together the scene of 7 kids sitting around the table my mom had stripped and refinished all on her own. She was a do-it-yourself kind of woman before it was popular to be so, refinishing furniture, painting better-than-wallpaper murals and details around our home, and homeschooling each and every one of us. She knew only one recipe when she first married, and even though it was my dad’s favorite, she refused to make it for their first year of marriage and diligently worked her way through the Betty Crocker cookbook instead. Today, she’s a free spirit in the kitchen and hardly ever glances at recipes. Spices and seasonings fly this way and that as she indiscriminately tosses dashes of them here and there, often creating little clouds and puffs of aromatics.

While she tried to pass on the experience and skills she’d gained over the years, I wasn’t always keen on absorbing them. So into marriage I went, armed with nothing but some serious pancake and pie skills. (I was a carb lover early on.) Predictably, I repeated the cycle, and the Better Home and Gardens cookbook and I became real good friends. In a way I’m glad, because learning to cook is one of the favorite things my husband and I did together as newlyweds. And thankfully my mom is only ever a phone call away.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-11in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-6in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_lifeEven though my abilities were lacking, my mom did manage to equip me with the basics early on. Already we’ve started introducing our 5-year-old to a few basic kitchen skills in the same way. We’ll see if she’s a better student than I was. My goal is to draw her into the process and give her a bigger vision of what goes in to creating a meal. I have all kinds of dreams about what that will look like as she grows, but for now, involving her can be anything from 5 minutes of chopping vegetables, to practicing fractions while measuring flour, to setting the table, to showing her how to discern when certain fruits are ripe enough to eat. All of that lives within the broader lesson of hospitality and welcome that we want our kids to catch a vision for as we entertain friends and invite in the unlikely stranger. We want so much more for our children than to simply master the mechanics of preparing a meal. Our hope is that in viewing and participating in the preparation that they would grow in identifying and offering the love and generosity that comes with the labor and creativity of that service. For now that looks like teaching them gratitude, proper table manners, and modeling heart-directed questions and dialogue. Pretty normal, often monotonous stuff, but foundational and necessary.

With an 11-month-old roaming underfoot, meal prep needs to be fast and uninvolved most nights. Embracing this particular season with young children, I’ve let go of fancy and labor-intensive dishes, and I tend to gravitate towards simple and easy instead. To me, when done right, simplicity has a sophistication all of its own. When our budget allows, I dress things up with fresh herbs, a special drink, or set out snacks of nice nuts and fruit.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-2in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-8family_meals_revisionary_life-11Menu planning is something that helps me keep things simple and focused. I do this weekly, usually on Sunday night, preparing me to shop Monday morning. An Everlasting Meal and Family Meals have been recent sources of inspiration for me. To give my mom-brain a break, I’ve adopted a more systematic approach this year, assigning categories of meals to different days of the week. The structure narrows down my choices and helps me make decisions quickly and easily. The categories shift and change with the seasons, making room for variety and natural rhythm.

M O N D A Y | meatless

T U E S D A Y | tacos/soup

W E D N E S D A Y | salad

T H U R S D A Y | chicken anything/roast anything

F R I D A Y | pizza

S A T U R D A Y | leftovers or maybe out to eat

S U N D A Y | pasta

Since we’re still in the early years of parenting, gathering around the table for a meal isn’t always pretty and is rarely relaxing, but we try to keep a few habits in mind to help everyone enjoy the meal and each other’s company. Habits such as:

Practicing gratitude through prayer and compliments for the chef(s).

Exercising intentional relationship using open-ended questions. “What was something that made you sad today?” Can you tell us one way you were able to love someone today?”

Encouraging discovery through requiring everyone to take at least one bite of everything that’s served. (Bribery is sometimes employed for this job. Hashtag: honest motherhood.)

Our meal-time isn’t structured since my husband’s schedule is ever changing, and sometimes I scrap our menu plan and pull out my awesome pancake skills or go out for fast food instead. I’ve been known to cry over uncooperative piecrust and utter curses under my breath when something isn’t going as planned. Those are the nights we order pizza and my 5-year-old reminds me to “take deep breaths.” But there’s such value in the effort and so many benefits to the home-cooked, gather-around-the-table routine, that we aim to make it happen, night after night.

One of my favorite, low prep meals is spatchcock chicken. About an hour before meal-time, I prep the chicken and put it and some potatoes in to roast. 15-20 minutes before it’s done, I’ll add in some vegetables. That’s it! When my husband is home, he gets fancy with the vegetables, and no bribery is needed to polish off every last bite. That’s his recipe below.



fresh whole roasting chicken, ~5 lbs.

coarse salt

cracked pepper

lemon, optional

fresh thyme, optional

1/2 pound small roasting potatoes, quartered

olive oil

Prep. Rinse chicken and remove the giblets. Pre-heat oven to 425. Remove the chicken’s backbone (per Martha Stewart’s handy step-by-step instructions). Place in oven-proof skillet, 13×9 pan, or roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper.

Sides. If there’s room in the pan, place quartered potatoes (drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and rosemary or thyme) alongside the chicken. Otherwise, place in a separate pan and roast simultaneously with the chicken.

Cook. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until juices run clear and potatoes are tender.

Serve. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the meat and sprinkle with fresh thyme just before serving, if desired.


2-3 strips thick-cut bacon

12 oz brussels sprouts, bases removed and cut in half

sea salt

cracked pepper

¼ cup white wine

handful of walnuts

handful of gorgonzola cheese

Prep. Chop up and fry 2-3 strips of thick-cut bacon in a cast iron skillet. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan and set aside for later. In the remaining bacon grease, sauté 1 clove of minced garlic. Once the garlic is golden, remove it from the pan and set aside for later.

Cook. Place brussels sprouts cut side down in bacon grease. Cook until tender (I prefer a slight crunch). Salt and pepper to taste while they are cooking. Immediately before removing the pan from heat, add 1/4 cup of white wine. Remove pan from heat.

Serve. Add bacon and garlic back to the pan. Sprinkle in walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. Best eaten while hot. Be aware that serving them in the cast iron skillet is great but that they will continue to cook some. So if you will not eat them soon, they may get overdone.

All images and content by Susanna Hindman for Cloistered Away. You can  find more from Susanna at Revisionary Life, and also on Facebook and Instagram

handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-5handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-6 handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-2handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-4Although I love sharing and receiving gifts for special occasions, my favorite gifts are the ones shared for no reason at all. Don’t you love receiving random gifts from others? Maybe a stranger in line before you purchases your coffee or maybe a friend drops by a new candle or a neighbor leaves you a baked good. While small, these thoughtful acts can shift the course of our day. They gently remind us we’re seen.

This last weekend, my sister and I arranged bare branches, succulents, and candles across our backyard tables for Liam’s birthday, when she had the lovely idea to wrap some grasses I had purchased for our yard and use them, too. I tend to always keep some craft paper and twine around the house for these sort of ideas, and with several hands to help, we had added just the right mixture of textures to the table for early fall. These hand-wrapped plants would also be the perfect way to surprise a friend or a neighbor with a little gift for their own table this season.

The project is simple enough for the smallest of hands and the materials needed are quite simple, too: craft paper, twine, scissors, and a small plant or cutting flowers from a garden. You might also consider drafting a brief note to attach or adding a drawing/painting from your child. Discuss together with your children who might like a new plant for their table, or who might simply need a gift from a friend? These small gifts can remind us all to pay attention to those around us, especially to those around us who may need a reminder that they’re seen.

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There are a thousand thousand reasons to love this life, everyone one of them sufficient.

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

drawing and listening to an old Sheryl Crow CD


chopping peaches for dinner

learning to kayak


cleaning the kitchen together after dinner

snacking on an early summer nature walk

making salsa from our garden

sketching in the mountains

sifting through recipes in a library cookbook

sanding wood for home projects

saving seeds from our garden

playing with sparklers, talking about light in darkness

reading and listening to books

writing a play and creating characters for it

reading in a hammock

I realize most everyone in the northern hemisphere has begun their fall routine and been whisked into the hubbub of pumpkins and fall leaves and school supplies. With Liam turning 13 this month, our home and time turned largely to finishing home projects and preparing to celebrate this life-transition for him. As a result my homeschool posts have lagged a bit, although honestly I’m still piecing together what this upcoming year will look like for our family, even as we’ve already begun it. It’s comforting to remember my ducks don’t always need to be in a row to begin our school year, but I do intend to write about our goals and such very soon. For now, I need to pay tribute to our summer of learning, both formally and casually––and also resume sharing our monthly recap in images and books here.

As with many homes, our homeschool tends to take a laissez faire attitude in the summertime. Routines relax. Home projects and travel ensue. Late evenings feel inevitable. After the energy and work Springtime requires of us, it always feels welcome to shift a bit. Still our family lives together best with a little bit of structure in the summertime, a loose expectation for the day. This summer we focused on daily practice of math facts, spelling, and reading (for Olive), some of the weak spots that can easily be lost with too long of a break. The rest of the day was given to play, reading, exploring, and home projects. And probably too much to the latter part than any of us like. Below I’ve linked to the books we read, independently or together. It takes so much time to write reviews for each, so if you have any questions about any of them, let me know.

As for myself, Eligible was a fun, quick read, but if you adore the original Pride and Prejudice, you may be saddened by some of the short-comings of this modern re-telling. Although a witty premise, it sometimes seemed to try too hard. Gilead is soulful and rich. And A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is both beautifully crafted and heart-breaking, as anything written around late-1990s Chechnya might be.


Liam | Little Britches | The Phantom Tollbooth | Where the Red Ferm Grows | The Hiding Place | Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Fatih | Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine PactHarry Potter The Sorcer’s Stone | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanWarriors: Rising Storm | Warriors: A Dangerous Path | Warriors: The Darkest Hour

Burke | Call It Courage | The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring | A History of the US: The New Nation | The Story of Napoleon | The Louisiana Purchase | Diary of an Early American Boy | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat | Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine PactHarry Potter The Sorcerer’s Stone  | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Warriors: Rising Storm |  Warriors: A Dangerous Path | Warriors: The Darkest Hour

Blythe |  The Hobbit | Pollyanna | The Story of Napoleon | A History of the US: The New Nation | Diary of an Early American Boy | The Louisiana Purchase | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat | How to Train your Dragon | Survivors: The Empty City | I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 | I Survived the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 |

Olive | Rapunzel |Hansel and GretelWilliam Carey: Bearer of Good News | Palace of Versailles | Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphs | several Junie B Jones books | Frog and Toad | Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin | Lewis and Clark: Explorers of the American West | Lewis and Clark: Into the Wilderness | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat

Myself | Gilead | The Way of the Happy Woman | Skin Cleanse | Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice | Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems | A Constellation of Vital Phenomena 

Read Aloud | North! or Be Eaten | Trial and Triumph | Of Courage Undaunted | Paddle to the Sea | The Wind and the Willows (our own copy was purchased in a used book shop, but I love Ingpen’s illustrations in this one)

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Rolling beeswax candles is perhaps one of my children’s favorite activities for the home, a task that needs tending more often in the autumn and winter seasons here. Most days, rolled candles array our mantle or tabletop, ready to light whenever the mood of our home needs a little twinkle––whether a family meal or a hum-drum school day. And every Friday night, when the kids set the table for our family Sabbath meal, the candles neatly wedge between our food and plates and flowers. I keep spare sheets in our bureau near the dining table, to quickly roll in a pinch, as they also make the perfect handmade gift for a loved one, a new neighbor, or a seasonal celebration of any sort.

With a little guidance, even preschool children can help with this activity. I’ve purchased this set several times and have never had any trouble with broken sheets or brittle-ness. And of course they always smell divine. It’s a nice starter set, as it includes everything you need, but I do recommend you also purchase an extra spool of wick, as we tend to run out of the pre-packaged wick before the wax sheets. I’ve considered contacting the same company to see if they offer an option to purchase only the wax sheets, but I haven’t done so yet. It seems silly to keep purchasing the same set when we have wick already.

We usually half the large wax sheets into smaller squares, which I recommend unless you’re looking to create particularly long or wide candles. I also encourage my children to keep their fingers straight and to roll slowly like dough––gentle, but tight rolls––as they initially want to use their finger tips to push and sometimes fold the wax instead of rolling it. This has happened a couple of times, and we’ve simply massaged the wax back together into a roll.

Sometimes I prefer the tidy, smooth lines of a tapered beeswax candle, which you can purchase nearly anywhere now. If you prefer the same, especially for special holiday meals later in the season, I’ve purchased and loved these. This fall, I hope to melt and dip our own candles with the kids, a more occasional activity as it requires more time and clean-up. I would love to hear if you have any favorite beeswax sources, for sheets or lumps of wax? I’m sure other readers would like to hear, too.