We have fully flung ourselves into summer over here, giving ourselves to the day’s whim, swimsuits, frizzy hair, and all. What a contrasting rhythm from the other months in the year! Without our typical homeschool routines, my children and I gladly welcome a few more hours in our days for curiosity and restoration of all sorts.

As idyllic as that sounds though, the free hours with young adults bear their own level of responsibility. Primarily, there are more technologies competing for their affection and attention, the longing to connect with peers more through devices, the awareness of what other people are or are not doing. And while sometimes I want to crawl into the past of their childhood when they were more oblivious to these things, this is part of modern adulthood, too. They are the same wrestlings I have––how to connect to friends, how to avoid comparison, how to enjoy empty space in time or sit with uncomfortable moments without needing to fill it with a screen. I have a habit of filling blank spaces, whether a shelf, a calendar, a fridge, or an hour in the afternoon. Idleness feels foreign and uncomfortable in the active juggle of home, community, and work. Chances are it feels foreign for your children, too.

This brings me to a conversation our family had over blueberry pancakes this weekend, one prompted by the simple question: what are you dreaming about right now? I wasn’t fishing for a specific answer, only wanting them to reflect inward for a moment and share a peek of their thoughts aloud. So much of parenting is partnering with who are children are now and helping them grow into who they are to become tomorrow. Often the best hints are buried in their daydreams and interests, the littlest seeds sprouting beneath the surface.

Younger children can often be more transparent and concrete about such things––I want to learn to sew. I wish we went hiking more! I wrote a story today! Can I play baseball this year? Older children and young adults, who have lived long enough to experience disappointment and comparison or who may be more aware of the context of circumstance and personal aptitude, may keep their dreams hidden out of plain view. It’s also quite possible they are asleep to their dreams themselves.

Have you asked yourself the same lately? What are you dreaming about? It’s easy to respond with the next thing––needs, work, projects, meals; isn’t it? But this question goes deeper; it can become a source of vision, of motivation, of editing. Watch the clouds, swing in a hammock, take a road trip. Play with your children, get together with friends, swim. Allow the dreams within you to rise.

Although our family began a formal practice of Shabbat and Sabbath four years ago, we had struggled with it for the two years previous, wanting to make it a family practice yet not understanding how in the wake of our family’s needs and lack of time. At that time (six years ago), after an unexpected financial collapse, we were struggling to make ends meet. We sold nearly everything we owned, including our house and my car, reducing spending to a minimum and picking up work anywhere we could. We moved in with my sister and her family for a year, testing out co-habitation to help relieve financial pressure on both of our families. Mark worked out of the home six days a week as an educator, also working part-time online in other hours. Both of us were committed to homeschooling, which at that time fell more to me during the weekdays since Mark worked outside of the home. A few evenings a week, we swapped roles, and I tutored university students in writing. In other odd hours, especially the early morning and afternoon rest time, I began blogging again, learning photography and writing editorials, both as a way to work creatively toward something of my own and also to help add income to our family home. Mark and I worked all the time in one capacity or another, tossing roles back and forth, trying to preserve our children’s childhood and honor our family values while also moving forward financially again. Sundays became a day for us to catch up on home projects and to prepare for the week ahead. How did a practice of Sabbath fit into it all?

There are deeper layers to that personal story, but it feels important to write some context to this conversation. In my perspective, Sabbath was something I had to wedge into our life. In the beginning and without realizing it, I treated it as something else to do, another task or a time to relax when all the work was done. Yet Sabbath is not only for the wealthy or the privileged to enjoy; it is not something we earn as a reward, like retirement or annual vacation. It is a gift for all of humanity, a rhythm established in creation for everyone’s benefit. Sabbath reminds us, regardless of our circumstance, that we are human. We are not machines enslaved to our work.

In the ancient creation story of Genesis, rest was the first thing given to humanity. Rest was given before work. In Exodus 20, when Sabbath was first given to Israel through Moses, it was given to everyone in the household, including the men, women, children, servants, and any animals. No one worked, meaning for this agrarian culture, even the earth itself rested. There are so many more layers here, but the short point: the practice of Sabbath in our home is based in freedom, not law. It is not a practice of “can’t” or “no” but instead a day set apart to honor God and one another. It is a day we do not discuss or think about work or the mortgage or car repair or braces or unfinished school work or clothing needs, so that we can enjoy one another and enjoy what we already have. And while that discipline of letting go has been learned and practiced, the fruit of setting aside the thinking of those things for the day has been a salvation for us. On Sunday (our family’s first day after Sabbath), all of those normal life stresses are waiting for us, but our hearts and minds are restored to face them again.

I know this practice will nuance based on circumstance. But I hope this inspires you to remember: the practice is foremost a gift of freedom in time. Below you’ll find some more answers to recent questions from readers.

What does this look like with young children and babies? This question came in a variety of forms so I’ll try to answer here concisely. My youngest was four when we first began, and I wish now we had started sooner. My brief encouragement: do not wait. The nuances of this practice will evolve with you and your family. Adapt it to make it work for where you are now, but make time for this practice. It is a rare gift of time. Like many things in parenting, with the practice of Sabbath, you are setting an expectation for your children about what is important, inside and outside of your home. It isn’t a stuffy, prosaic practice, it is a life-giving rhythm for every stage of life. I encourage anyone––single, married, families with young or adult children––to practice Sabbath but have flexibility for the nuances to shift in different times.

For the Shabbat meal (the tradtional meal beginning the Sabbath) with young children, keep the mealtime blessings brief and the table simple: a special candle, some flowers/greenery, and if available, a tablecloth. If need be: use paper plates. Wink. Other ideas to include children ages 2 and up:

  • beginning the meal with a simple song they can learn and sing each week
  • setting the table
  • painting placemats or name cards
  • gathering flowers or greens for the table
  • helping to prepare the food

The Sabbath day might take more intentional juggling between parents or grandparents, if available, to accommodate babies or toddlers. In our current stage with older children and teens, we are moving away from screens on Sabbath, since they are becoming more a part of our daily living. But with young children or toddlers, putting on a movie or favorite TV show so that parents can sleep/nap or enjoy a quiet restful activity for that hour may be exactly what’s needed. I still encourage parents to tuck away personal devices, if possible. Having a day free of texting, email, phone calls, etc. is a rare gift in modern culture. Other restful activities to consider regardless of age:

  • take a family walk
  • play a game
  • read a book together
  • rotate who wakes up with the kids in the morning
  • take a nap

What ages do you think is the best for your kids to join? Any age. Sabbath is for everyone.

How do you keep it from being a source of stress and obligation? The most stressful day is the one preparing for Shabbat/Sabbath. On this day, we are very busy cleaning the house, wrapping up work, preparing food. But at dinner, it stops. All of it. No phone. No work. No school. No cleaning. It is never an obligation; it is true freedom. And it’s highly motivating for all of us.

How do you handle Saturday activities (birthday parties, sports, etc)? Case by case. We tend to look at the big picture or the month as a whole. Do we have three weekends of travel or event invitations? What is most restful for or family in this season? Sometimes a birthday party can be connecting and restful, and other times it can feel exhausting and disruptive. Be intentional about choosing restful, joyful, restorative activities for Sabbath. For example, maybe a two-hour birthday party for your son would be a blast for him but taxing for you. Can you drop him off or send him with a friend?

How do you protect this day/time? With intention (see more above). In the beginning, it was awkward and difficult. After years of practicing, I notice the gift of this day of rest, how it quiets my anxiety and sources my body, mind, and spirit for the following week.

Any set specific readings? Yes, I always open the meal with a blessing and prayer as we light the candles. The prayer is organic but the blessing is the same. Then we bless the children and mother, wash hands, take communion together, and bless the meal.

When do you find the time to do home projects? On Sunday or another day of the week.

How do you include the kids in blessing explanations without making your kids seem like know-it-alls? I am not quite sure if I am answering this questions correctly, but in our home acting as a know-it-all is treated more as a character lesson than a matter of information. We are eager learners in all of these things, but none of us knows everything. We are always learning in this practice, and as our kids grow older they are taking in new parts of it. Whether they decided to practice this

How is Shabbat different in different seasons? (Swimming and pizza in the summer?) Yes. It follows the seasons in the same way our family dinners do. In the winter, Shabbat feels quiet and cozy. We make hearty stews or roasted meats and vegetables. It is dark outside and glowing inside. In the summer, the light is bright and our table is often filled with grilled fish and vegetables. We eat outdoors in the in between seasons. We have picked up takeout for Shabbat on weeks we feel utterly exhausted or our prep day is full. There is freedom. The point for us is that it remains special, distinctive in some way. If we order takeout, we still set the table with candles and flowers.

How does it work with non-Christians? Of course, the nuances will be different. But there are still many people who practice a secular Sabbath.

Do you still do blessings at dinner? Yes, we have a brief scripted blessing for the boys, a blessing for the girls, and a blessing for the mothers. I am not sure why there is not a traditional blessing for the fathers, but sometimes we add our own.

When did you find time to plan and make food with little ones? Read more details in this blog post.

Can you share you linen sources? White Linen and Natural Linen (both 108″+ for long tables); linen napkins

How do you handle questions about observing Saturdays instead of Sundays? With honesty. It’s the day that works best for our family rhythm, but Sabbath can be practiced in any 24 hour period during the week.

How often do you involve company? We celebrate our Shabbat meal with my sister and her family most weeks since they live down the street. It helps offset the meal prep and brings a fresh level of energy for both families each week. Other guests join once a month.

Do you make a large meal for leftovers the day after? Meals on Sabbath? Because we feed at least 11 each week, there’s rarely a significant amount of leftovers. Typically, my husband will make pancakes with one of the boys or it will be a simple breakfast and lunch, and we eat out on Saturday night.

How is practicing Shabbat/Sabbath similar or different before having kids? Sadly, we didn’t begin the practice until after having all of our children, so I’m not sure. Although it’s easy to think it would be easier because there would be less chaos to manage, I imagine in some ways it would feel harder to be disciplined about shutting off work or tech for a day or making a special meal. Either way, I think it’s worth doing! I loved this teaching from a single woman on her practice of Sabbath.

Do you go to Synagogue before or after for the shuir? We do not.

What days/hours do you celebrate? Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It’s what works best for our family rhythm, since we have a weekday church meeting and Sunday is generally a prep day for the week.

What does a typical day look like leading up to dinner, prep, clean-up? The morning is often schoolwork. Some weeks we have math tutoring into the early afternoon, and those days are harder for prep and we do some on Thursday afternoons, too. Generally, we school then shift into deep cleaning mode: wash linens, clean bathrooms, floors, etc. We prep the meal––my sister and I usually plan ahead of time which parts each family will contribute. We aim to sit down to dinner around 6 pm. We clear the table, but are working toward not doing dishes afterward. It’s stretching!

How do you encourage this as a family routine, involve your children? For one, it isn’t optional. We do cast vision for the benefits of rest and play in our home, as well as their need for it when they leave our home. Everyone has roles and responsibilities and we have an ongoing conversation on the way individual parts serving and affect the whole. Every part matters, even the seemingly small ones.

Are any of your children not ok with it? How does everyone respond? All of our children love Shabbat and Sabbath. Although we spend a lot of time together during the week, we are busy with schoolwork and work and tech and friends. On Sabbath, we stop. The kids sleep in and we focus on a brief period of quiet solitude (a rare practice for children and teens). We play board games or go for a walk or hike when the weather is nice. Sometimes we take a day trip together, especially on weeks where Mark and I find it hard to part with an unfinished home project or work.

What are your favorite resources to learn more?

read / The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel / Sabbath: A Gift of Time by Bonnie Saul Wilks (We adapted the blessings we use from this one. ) / Garden City by John Mark Comer / Subversive Sabbath by AJ Swoboda

listen / Sabbath series from Bridgetown Church (faith-based)

Everything in my life has brought me here. ––Rainer Maria Rilke

Each new year, like many of you, I toss the figurative pieces of my life in the air to reimagine myself, our home, our work, our life. Culture-wide, it is the great re-evaluation of what we are meant to do, how we are meant to live, what or whom we truly value.  To keep my thoughts free of expectation, I pen them quietly in my journal as I go about cleaning forgotten corners and shelves, emptying the house of unnecessaries. Clearing the contents of a closet or an unsorted drawer seems to inspire my brain to do the same. And like the contents that end up piled by the door to pass on to another home or donate, I often discover it is not that I need more, but to be more disciplined with less. The same can be true of my goals. As I flipped through four journal pages of scrawled lists and fragmented thoughts cluttering my headspace––everything from our family’s core values to the spilled soil in the car that needs vacuuming to unfinished creative projects to a book I want to read aloud with the kids this year to something on this blog that needs fixing and so on––I was surprised to learn that my reaction was not to organize or optimize these thoughts, and it certainly wasn’t to add to it. Instead, I wanted to pen inked lines through them, to discern which mattered the most and fold the rest away with the unnecessaries by the door.

The underlying truth? Everything is a trade-off. I know this. You know this. Whether it is the space in our home or calendar or the more figurative space in our head, choosing one thing always requires us to give up something else. And yet, still, I find myself living and making choices, ignoring this core principle. I learned this the hard way recently. I am home for the bulk of my day, and from the time I wake up through the dinner hour, our energy seems high and buzzing, frenetic even. The hours fold into one another with personal work and chores and schoolwork and play and social media and meals and emails and walks and character conversations. The evening hours have always been life-giving for me in a different way than the day. They restore and quiet me. They allow space for my introverted person, for reflection or reading or time with Mark. Yet not wanting to compromise my daytime rhythms and work, I was scheduling more and more meetings and meet-ups during the evenings.

During much of this last fall, I felt this ongoing frustration at the lack of order in our days. The evening chores were often sloppy and only mostly done, meaning our mornings often started there. I felt this growing exhaustion and grumpiness in me coupled with a lack of creativity. I stopped picking up my camera. My writing felt flat, lacking in soul and often remained in drafts or in journals. Much of my time typically allotted to writing here or on social media was spent in restorative prayer and reading to curb a growing current of anxiety in my chest. There were regular piles in my bedroom: schoolwork needing reading/checking, books and articles I wanted to read, clothes folded and waiting to be put away somewhere in my messy drawer. I planned out my lists weekly and daily, crossing off, crossing off, crossing off; I had an assistant a few hours a week to help manage it all, and yet still, I sensed this looming sense of disorder and disconnection. As I cleared spaces and thoughts last week, wondering and making notes, I realized I had been giving too much to other people in the evenings. I had said yes to meetings and meet-ups with others because the hours seemed available. Technically, I didn’t have things scheduled, right? Without realizing it, I was trading off an essential part of myself, a crucial part of my own creativity, restoration, and connection within the home. One fresh start for the new year? Protect evening margins during the week.

Naturally, your own trade-offs will be different. Your home, core values, and energy will differ, too, sometimes year to year. The aim is not sameness. Rather, it is understanding your/family’s highest value and how to best protect and honor the energy required to work toward it. Sometimes it will mean folding up and shelving something for later; sometimes it will mean better-organization of time or resource; sometimes it will mean letting go of something altogether.

This post is sponsored by Bed Bath & Beyond.    

On the day we purchased this old house nearly four years ago, Mark fell through the pantry floor. Read: he landed in the crawl space below (gratefully, unharmed). The space was in poor shape, and although a good sized pantry, it lacked the proper storage for the space. There was a 30 year old hot water heater in the corner, too, one that exhausted right back into the pantry, leaving film on everything and polluting the air. In short, our pantry felt like a dark cave I barely wanted to enter more or less store food. But if you’ve followed any bit of our home’s evolution, you know this is only one sliver of the work this home needed. Like many things, we had to be patient with this small space, too.

We cleaned it up a bit, eventually replacing the water heater with a tankless one on the outer wall, a strategic move for the future day we renovate our kitchen the way we intend. Mark used old wood boards from a building tear-down nearby and built some shelves at the back, but mostly, our attention was needed in other places in our home. And this pantry space remained both inefficient and unwelcoming. Take note of the BEFORE image. Yikes! Naturally, when the opportunity arose to partner with Bed Bath and Beyond, I knew their one-stop-shop with all things kitchen organization would be a perfect way to redesign the pantry and make it a more useful space for our home.

But here’s the deal with any sort of home organization in our home, especially the pantry. Since my children make and take food and use and put away dishes away, it’s important that I find ways to organize so that it can be maintained without me. Otherwise, I end up having to rearrange regularly which doesn’t seem very efficient, right? To make the pantry prettier and also easy to organize and maintain with all of our kids regularly in and out, here’s the list of needs I wanted to address:

  • Hide the hot water heater
  • Stock and label clear jars for less waste and easy visuals
  • Organize pots and pans in a way that’s easy to maintain
  • Clear out any unneeded or unused appliances and pots
  • Store the bread in a place where it wouldn’t get crushed
  • Store the coffee beans where they won’t spill
  • Add light
  • Cover the floors
  • Paint, to refresh the stained walls and cover the unfinished wood spice/oil shelves
  • Find storage for onions, garlic, scallions, and ginger
  • Remove the pantry door

Keep scrolling to see the changes up close, as well as the specific Bed Bath & Beyond products we used along the way.

Paint and Add Light / We began by emptying the pantry, painting, and adding lights to freshen up and brighten the space. Mark had already built oil/spice shelves for me in the space, so we sanded and painted them to blend into the wall. But I really love this spice/bottle organizing option for pantry doors or for a wall space, too.

Hang Baskets + a Pot Rack / To hide the water heater, Mark installed a clean wood board, where I attached this chalkboard and copper basket wall organizer to use for the produce basket. We narrowed down our pots and pans (which always feels SO good!) and strategically hung our favorite ones on this beautiful copper pot rack. We raised the microwave up a shelf and put our three favorite soup/stew pots there, giving them their own space (making it easy to return to a proper place).

Find Stackable Canisters / We found this perfect vintage style bread box to keep the sandwich bread in tact and a white canister for the coffee beans, which both neatly nestle in the space next to our water jug. The flat bamboo tops make them both flexible for stacking and sealed to keep from spilling.  

Use Various Sizes of Glass Jars for Dry Goods and Label Them / For the glass storage, I mostly selected various sizes of the Luigi Bormioli Lock-Eat jars for grains, nuts, special flours, seeds, and plantains. I  love the wide tops on these jars and the minimal feel. I also used four Kilner 3L jars for the larger needs of dry cereal, oats, and flour. To label, I kept it simple with small, white labels for the top. I like keeping the sides clear, featuring the food only. And for the most part, the label’s purpose is to help us notice when we need to restock, or to separate all the flours from one another.

Rugs and Plants Bring Closure / Our pantry has uneven, non-matching wood floors that can feel harsh on bare feet, and can make it seem weird to store small appliances there. Adding two small jute rugs felt like a simple way to hide the rough floor details, while making the space more inviting for bare feet or heavier kitchen appliances. It was a beautiful, inexpensive way to finish this space. The plant is just for me, a visual from the stove or the doorway, an organic touch to a windowless space.

Can I tell you how easy it has been to maintain so far, with everyone clearly understanding where things belong in the pantry? It’s like a massage for my soul.

This post is sponsored by Bed Bath & Beyond. All images and thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

Liam turned 14 last fall, and he is currently the only one of his peers without a cell phone. This isn’t a statement for or against it, just the reality. With Burke turning 13 in a few weeks and Blythe doing the same next year, you can imagine cell phones are regularly apart of the table conversation. According to this Pew Research in 2015, only 12% of teens (age 13-17) do not have a cell phone, and of the ones who do, 92% claimed to go online daily, and 24% claiming to be online “almost constantly.” Whether your children currently have cell phones or not, the growing role of technology in the family home can be anxiety-producing. But it doesn’t need to be.

Our home does regularly interacts with different screens within our home for work, school, and entertainment, including my cell phone. Our children watch math lessons online, learn to play instruments via apps, research and write papers about animals, people, and interesting places and events. They write stories, listen to music, take photos, and even sometimes record their own DIY videos. They text and Facetime with friends and family. But they do not yet have unlimited or unfiltered access to any of these places.

For the last two years, our home has had countless conversations about technology, the internet, and its role in our home. We’ve also used Circle––a small white device and user-friendly app that easily pairs with our Wi-Fi to help manage the content and time online––a helpful tool for navigating this new territory together. While every family must decide how to navigate these waters for their own home, here are some helpful ways we bridge the topic and manage it together.

Talk About Tech and the Internet as a Family / This may seem obvious as a parent, but sometimes talking with our children about the Internet can be the hardest, most complicated part. It’s so important to help create vision in your home for the gifts and vices of the abstract online world, to establish yourself as a trustworthy advocate for them and their interests. As with many areas of life for tweens and teens, their world and perspective is broadening and awakening. Whether they are able to communicate it or not, they need us in their corner. They also need to understand sometimes that means setting boundaries for their time or on the places they’re able to navigate online. If you’re using a helpful tool like Circle, introduce it to them. Set up their profile together, and show them the ways you will help them navigate the online world together.

Create a Clear Plan / Plans are empowering, especially for children who depend on predictability and consistency. Discussing the harder parts of this journey ahead of time, and how to handle them, also creates harmony and trust within the home. Consider how your family wants screen-time incorporated within your home and life. How will you handle social media? Will technology be allowed in every room? How will your choices vary from friends’ homes? How will your children or you bridge those differences together? Create a plan for your children to implement if they are exposed to something inappropriate or explicit online (within or outside of your home.) This is a wonderful reference we use. 

Set Helpful Boundaries / Clear boundaries are also empowering and life-giving within the family home. Naturally, each home’s boundaries will vary, sometimes even between older and younger siblings, but the idea is for you to settle into what your home needs for the time and be consistent. Last summer, we tucked away the television for several weeks just to reset as a family. Now we pull it out each weekend for use, tucking it back into the closet to help direct our focus toward work/school and family time during the week.  Circle has been the most helpful way for me to be more consistent with those trickier boundaries during our busy school days when my attention and presence is spread between the four. Here are my absolute favorite ways it helps our entire family (including me!) manage my time better.  

Off-time | This feature within the app allows us to set regular blocks of time during a day or week to not be available for the internet. As a parent, I use this during my school hours with the kids, so I’m not distracted by notifications or app-browsing. I also use this for my children during hours we typically allot for play, outdoor exploration, and study.

Bedtime | This feature is my absolute favorite, even for myself. Although I know screentime right before bed isn’t helpful for any of our sleep habits, I still find myself scrolling and working sometimes in the evening, and sometimes just after dinner is Liam’s only free time to connect with friends via text. I love being able to set a bedtime for specific days of the week, for my boys (who are enjoying staying up later) and for myself and Mark, who tend to want to work.  

Pause | In moments when we need a quick focus for the entire family, I can hit a pause button on the app and pause the internet for everyone at once. Although we don’t use this feature often, this can be particularly helpful when friends are over to play or join us for dinner, or when we’re simply enjoying some quality family time for a game night or conversation and I don’t want to be interrupted with notifications.

Filter Content / I like to think of an internet filter as floaties for the internet. It helps protect our children (and teens) from explicit material even when they think they don’t need it. And like toddlers wearing floaties in the pool, it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook to pay attention either. At this point, our children often have a specific purpose for being on the internet, but I appreciate having a filter in our home as a safety net. Circle has five different general filter levels: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, and Unfiltered. Within each profile, you have the option to filter specific apps and websites, too, allowing me to tweak it as my children grow in maturity and responsibility.  

Reward Efforts / We all love rewards! Celebrate the way your home honors your boundaries and collaboration. Celebrate with a night out together, or a family excursion. Give them a later night bedtime on the weekend or have a sleepover. Set rewards that do not require technology or screens. For those of you who keep track of chores and home responsibilities online, Circle also connects to Mothershp, Chore Monster, and Landra. We don’t currently use this feature, but it may be helpful for some homes.

Circle Go/ For those of you with children/teens with personal devices, Circle Go is an optional subscription  feature that allows you to filter your child’s device wherever they go, including data plans and other wifi networks. Wink.

Raising children in the digital age is intimidating and foreign to many of us. This doesn’t need to be a tense or fearful conversation, but it does require mindfulness and more intentional connection with one another. At the very least, as parents it’s a gift to know we are not alone in the journey.

This post is sponsored by Circle, a business committed to helping families manage the ways they connect and one we’ve loved for years. All of the images and thoughts are my own, and as always, thank you for helping support the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

I have been in a creative slump the last few months, which may not be a surprise considering the recent season of withering. Lack of vision, clarity, or inspiration in one area of life often begets the same in other parts, too. During these last few months, I mostly neglected my camera, felt a bit bored with social media, stared at blank screens toggling between letters and the delete button. I lacked the typical enthusiasm for this joyful work, and it showed. And it showed in our home, too.

Where this might be a natural point to talk about a new photo project or writing prompt, I sensed there was something larger that has needed tending first––a vital shift within our home atmosphere, a fresh connection with one another and the space we inhabit. The creative culture of our home needed nurturing. For those of you needing a little bit of the same, below are seven habits we’re paying closer attention to in the new year, to refresh and tend to the creative atmosphere of our home.


Make Your Bed / What? I know. That’s what my children say. The ideas feel disconnected, but making our beds each morning does two things: it turns our attention to details and begins our day with a sense of accomplishment and clarity. Most creative endeavors are really a summation of small processes, one part building on another. Beginning with a small and clear task, helps us begin to notice the small, approachable tasks in other areas of life, too. At the very least, there will be a neat spot to take a photo, enjoy a nap, or read a book later in the day.

Add Fresh Flowers + Indoor Plants / I love a good excuse for indoor blooms, especially in the Winter when the world feels dull and grey. Whether a few clipped evergreens from a walk or a small bundle of Wild Chamomile found at the grocery store, the effort always pays noticeable dividends in our home. And there’s increasing amounts of research on their mental benefits, too. According to this study, indoor plants can even boost creativity up to 45%. So if you were ever looking for an excuse to have more plants around, you have it.

Make Time and Honor It / Many of us have days filled with ordinary things pertaining to home and work or school. It can be easy to view a block of time set apart just to work on a craft as a luxurious expendable. If you are wanting to shift your home/personal  culture, this part is indispensable. Find a part of your day that works best for you or your children. The early morning is still my favorite time to work personally, so getting up early before the rest of the house feels necessary to my creative process and worthwhile. For my children, I find the afternoon, after their more focused studies are finished, when their bodies feel particularly antsy is a great time for handwork. We have also added a more defined space in the morning alongside read-aloud. 

Keep Supplies Stocked and Prepared / Making sure our house is stocked with art materials is the second most important practical part, especially during our school day. Although there are bits that are used more often than others, I try to keep paper, paints, colored pencils, scissors, charcoal pencils, string, glue, sewing needles, carving knives, and clay accessible, stocked, and in the same place so they’re easy to find. At the onset of each week, I have the kids sharpen pencils and colored pencils so they’re fresh for the work ahead. We make sure all the right things are in their correct place to have on hand when whim appears.

Bring a Camera/ Photography teaches me both to slow down and to see the world around me differently, but I barely picked it up in the Autumn of last year. I feel my lack of creativity during that period is intrinsically connected. And so I am myself bringing a camera with me again. I’m also including my children in the process, letting them observe when I edit or letting them frame a shot. 

Practice Fluid Movement / We all know it’s better to move our body than not. After all, sitting is considered the new smoking. And for those of us who practice creative arts that require stillness, movement is necessary.  According to this study from Stanford University, certain types of fluid movement stimulate the same fluidity of creativity. Think: hula hooping, tai chi, or yoga. This article even adds belly dancing to the list. Wink. 

Sleep at Least 8 Hours / Every parent shouts for joy! Our bodies need sleep for so many important reasons, but one of them being creative thought and memory retention. Right now, I tend to naturally wake early, and I’ve found it’s often the best part of my day for entering creative flow in this stage of life. Maybe it’s the quiet and dark. Maybe it’s the freshly slept brain. I’m not sure, but after watching this brief video from a Neuroscientist at UC Berkeley about the affects of sleep deprivation on the brain, I knew I needed to get in bed earlier. I’m doing the same with my kids, too, especially the older ones who think “they’re not tired.” This article goes into more depth on the different things happening in our brain while we sleep, especially the way the REM cycle may impact the way we create.

We happily stepped back into our school routine last week, sharpening pencils and opening fresh notebooks, flipping through old books on our shelves and thumbing through new ones, too. I know not every home feels as enthusiastic about this shift toward structure and routine again, but I LOVE the start of a fresh school year––even the ones we arbitrarily create at home. Wink.

The key to fluid days around here is keeping snack and lunchtime simple, synchronous, and á la carte. I know. You expected some other deeper bit of wisdom, perhaps even something more specific to our studies? But this is truth: having or not having food in some amount of order for our days can make or break it. Meal times form the backbone of our day’s rhythm, and as it turns out, having a purposeful pantry and fridge at the beginning of the week is not only a miraculous gift, but also a contributor to peaceful days spent at home.

I realized several years ago, that although we don’t need to pack lunches for our homeschool, choosing a few quality pre-made snacks to have around the pantry is a life-saver to mix into the day, whether for lunch or a snack or a last minute outing. And I’m happy to partner with Annie’s Homegrown this week, as their organic snacks are longtime favorites to add to our school day table and beyond.

Since our children each have meal responsibilities during the week––helping to chop, prep, and create meals one day a week––they also choose how to pair and prep various fruits and veggies during snack and lunch. The á la carte style options allows each of the kids to choose how to create and re-create, even within limited options. Perhaps chopped apples and Annie’s White Cheddar Bunnies for snack one day will feel entirely different when swapping apples for berries or carrots and hummus. Even with young children, it offers variety while empowering them with options as the helper. Snacks often are planned at the beginning of the week together, which offers the benefit of choice but without the hassle of snack-time bickering during the day.

As for other ways we keep daytime meals simple, it’s important that everyone eats at the same time. Otherwise, our kitchen is a non-stop train of grazing, mess, and incomplete meals. Snack-time might be as simple as adding a box of Organic Snack Mix to our afternoon table, passing around––or more importantly, playing with––Organic Really Peely Fruit Tape, or setting a bowl of fruit at the center of our work table. The same can also neatly pack in a backpack on days we go for a nature walk or play with friends. It depends on our own needs for that part of the day, but it’s important we all snack at the same time so we’re ready for meals together, too.

Lunchtime is a more distinct pause in our day, a meal together without the distraction of any books or projects. I love creating lunch boards with my helpers to again create a selection for everyone to choose from and build on their own. They vary day-to-day sometimes with leftovers from dinner, or fixings for sandwiches or wraps, meats and cheeses or peanut butter and jelly. White Cheddar Bunnies are always welcome. We’ve also more recently discovered using cloth napkins with a lunch board can save time washing dishes and paper towels, too.

Whether you’re packing your littles off to school or trying to create fluid days within your home, having your children help can save you time and empower their independence, too. Let them pack their lunches the night before and plan with you a bit at the front of the week. Are they happy to eat the same thing every day or are there simple ways to swap one part for another? And for all of you mutual lovers of Annie’s Homegrown, use your Target Cartwheel app all month to save money and stock up on your family’s favorites.  

This post is sponsored by Annie’s Homegrown, snacks our family has enjoyed for years. All thoughts and images are my own. And as always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Target & Annie’s. The opinions and text are all mine.

I tend to be a planner, an achiever, a doer. In fact, I could write paragraphs on the benefit of goal-minded living, and the need for patience and steadfastness in parenting, business, or home projects. In each of these endeavors, my days have always unfolded better with a little planning ahead, even with the smallest of lists. These lists help me sift through what is necessary in work and home life, to say no more often, to put my limited energy toward what I value. But how did Mary Oliver phrase it, keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable? Perhaps the greatest lesson in the midst of living-out planned days has been learning to temper them with space––space for spontaneity, for whim, for something unimaginable. . . .


cultivating_peace_at_home-2cultivating_peace_at_home Sometimes as a parent I find myself chasing shadows in our home life, trying to repair or address symptoms––consistent sibling squabbles, whininess, regularly unfinished chores, meltdowns, etc.––without taking time to notice something fundamental is broken or hurt in the atmosphere of our home. I’m not talking about a single meltdown or hard day; I’m referring to the days or weeks or months when the abstract connections in the home feel weathered or possibly broken altogether.

The last few weeks have felt a bit like that here. I’ve found myself as the referee between siblings too often or noticing things scattered about carelessly on the floors or counters or tables more often than not. The TV seemed to be on more than usual. The attitudes lower than usual. Meals have felt hustled. And I was exhausted, red flags everywhere shouting pay attention. I talked with Mark about it and we opted to try a small process we used when our children were younger and I felt overwhelmed: set aside a few days for focused, intentional training. Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.

Clear your schedule for a few days. Set aside 2-3 days for full relational attention and care. No playdates or trips to the grocery. No friends over for dinner or answering emails or checking social media. Create space for full attention and care. If you work full-time out of the home, consider taking a personal day attached to a weekend. If you work from home, plan to keep specific and clear hours for a few days. Sometimes simplifying time restraints can immediately calm the emotions in the home.

Begin with tidy spaces. Clutter promotes stress and works against peace in the home. It just does. This isn’t a mantra or a flag touting a perfect home either, but sometimes when our homes become littered with little things on the surfaces and floors, it effects our home emotionally more than we know. I’m still learning the balance of living with my children (when all the things come out) and keeping things in their place, but I always find it helpful when we begin to feel disconnected emotionally, to begin with tidying our spaces. If this feels like too much, simply walk around the house with a box or bag, collecting things and put it into a closet for now. The goal is a quick clean-up to focus relationally, not to necessarily clean out your house. Mark that for another date. (Makes note.)

Limit or eliminate screen time for these days. Screen time can be a wonderful way to connect as a family, and also a way to buy a mother of young children 30 minutes of quiet. But it can become a slippery slope in our home, so when emotions are high, it’s easiest to eliminate screens from the equation for a bit. So instead of snuggle movie night, we’ll enjoy game night or playing HORSE on the basketball goal together. Instead of video games, we’re enjoying tether ball matches and skateboarding outdoors. This also helps heal broken bonds.

Offer heaps of affection. This seemed particularly important when my children were young and would become consistently whiny or throw regular tantrums. Many times, they simply needed more positive quality time with me, reminders of their safe place with us and at home. But older children need large amounts of affection from their parents, too, something I forget a bit as they grow and exert more independence. Holding time strengthens connection and also reassures children (of all ages) that they’re loved and safe. So during these 2-3 days I snuggle my children even more, and try to make space for alone time with each of them, a time for each to feel heard.

Hold value boundaries more tightly. Things can seem simpler in our minds or plans than they are when carried out. I can know our children need sleep and become distracted during bedtime routines, often prolonging them. I can know our children need more whole foods and yet still cave and offer goldfish or easy processed snacks. When there’s an argument or some harsh word exchanged between siblings, I can delay in addressing it because I’m busy doing something else. This is life. But during these few days, Mark and I focus to reinforce the boundaries we value. Bedtime routine begins a little earlier, allowing for a slower pace. Strife, harsh words or physical outbursts of any sort are addressed immediately. Eating becomes a little cleaner, and so on. This part work because of the heaps of affection being poured out at other times. One part establishes structure for them; the other part establishes the loving context. Since young children are really concrete, it is particularly helpful for them to have immediate consequences and rewards, and heaps of affection and snuggling for context.

Infuse the air with uplifting scents and sounds. It seems small, but turning on uplifting music and diffusing the air with essential oils can quickly help calm emotions and shift the mood of the home. On harder days, rubbing some right on your neck (or theirs) can help, too. Some of my favorite oils to diffuse are:

  • orange, clove, and frankincense
  • lavender and eucalyptus
  • bergamot and lavender
  • ginger, orange, and cedarwood
  • YL Stress Away or Peace and Calming II blends