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I love that my children share bedrooms, even when it causes friction about personal space and ownership. Which. It. Does. For instance, Blythe prefers neat and tidy spaces and values privacy. Olive on the other hand, values playful fun and loathes cleaning. She also has little reason for personal space and tends to feel rejected when others want privacy. Naturally, this causes friction about everything from clothes on the floor to alone time. It also offers plenty of conversation-starters about gentleness, patience, consideration, and respect. Still, as the girls both grown older––Blythe will be ten this fall––we needed to rework their room to grow with them, to give each a little space of her own, a personal bed and work space to manage and keep as they will (within reason, of course).

Enter: loft beds. Playful enough for Oli and private enough for Blythe, a personal treehouse for the both of them.

We had just the right amount of space on both sides of the window to build one for each. And since we have ten foot ceilings–one of my favorite features in our old home–we opted to design the beds ourselves and take advantage of the height. I wanted the lofts to feel like little cubbies in the sky, a place for sleeping, reading, or drawing, with plenty of head room underneath, so we opted to build walls instead of stilt legs to create a sense of coziness within the larger room.

I hung the self-adhesive Chasing Paper wallpaper, with a few minor mistakes due to our old, uneven walls and floors (insert: forced smile), but you can only tell with up-close looks. Sigh. The floating leaves in shades of grey, blue, and green are exactly how I wanted the space to feel: whimsical, feminine, organic, and with a touch of history. We used a soft putty grey cabinet paint on the wood to finish them out and a compliment to the wallpaper. I also added a fresh coat of “White Dove”, which has a bit more ochre in it than the “Chantilly Lace” that was there before. It’s a softer white.

After scouring online classifieds and estate sales for months, I found this Vintage iron bed on Craigslist to keep as a guest bed. Fist bumps and high-fives. We kept the linens simple, a white coverlet previously on our bed, a new linen throw, and floral pillowcases. I still need to add lighting in the room, near the guest bed and in the girls’ sleep space for bedtime reading. I also plan to repaint and change the hardware on the armoire, but seriously there are always finishing projects to do. for the time, we pulled out twinkle lights from our Christmas boxes and strung them underneath for a delicate, warm glow.

Although we still do much school work together at the table, sofa, or lawn, we’re moving to years where the kids want personal study/work space. They now each have desk space with small shelf space for their art supplies and books. The armoire is awkwardly placed in front of the door for now, to block the door to the boys’ room. Let’s just say it acts as a peacemaker. Wink.

SOURCES

Chasing Paper Removable Wallpaper: West Elm

Loft Bed Paint Color: Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter

Wall Paint Color: Benjamin Moore White Dove

Antique Bed: Craigslist, similar here 

Floral Pillowcases: Target, similar here

Striped Linen Throw: MUR Lifestyle

Cavallini Penmanship Poster : Amazon

Cavallini “Papillon” Poster : Amazon

Black Cross Mini Banner : Matriarch Handmade

Dahlia Painting : Vintage Cloud Shop

Print of “La Rue Montorgueil” by Claude Monet (1878) : a keepsake from Paris, similar here

Drawing Paper Roll : IKEA, similar to purchase online here

Art Pencils: (Olive’s desk) Amazon; (Blythe’s desk) mixture of vintage pencils and these 

Camden Rose Wood Paint Jar Holder : Amazon

Play Kitchen : Craigslist

book baskets : Target, similar here and here

Armoire : inherited antique, planning to change paint and hardware

Olive’s Vintage Desk : Craigslist

Blythe’s Desk : made with legs from our first breakfast [antique] table that broke, plywood top

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The use of technology in childhood is one of the hottest topics for modern parents, and it seems where ever you land on the issue, it can be a potential point of shame and judgement, one where each family must establish strong justification for their home choices in the sea of varied opinion. Before I share my own, I think it’s fair to preface with this: let’s be gentle with one another on this parenting journey. Ask questions. Test ideas. But let’s always be gentle and give space for the various family contexts.

As with most things our family treats screentime and the internet with moderation and respect. Briefly put: we enjoy both with boundaries. Screens have never been a central part of our family narrative, and we prefer to keep it that way. But we do use them often during the school year for research, writing, audiobooks, music, and educational play. Still, to keep these helpful uses in check, we try to keep this educational screen time to a minimum and periodically discuss: How does this benefit us? What does this cost us? These have been helpful questions as our children grow older and more of their friends have personal devices––something we haven’t opted for them yet. How do screens change your time together? How do they affect your attitudes or relationships? How do they benefit you? What might they cost you? This ongoing conversation is also an education.

The truth is, as an adult, I’m still learning how to navigate and set boundaries for myself in the abstract Internet space. And although I want my children to enjoy and learn to create with modern tools, part of my goal as a parent is also to help them understand boundaries, why they exist and how they are ultimately for our good even as we grow older. Healthy boundaries in childhood can be stepping stones to healthy habits as adults.

During the school year, we allow our children 30 minutes of daily free time on a screen (watching a show, playing a video game, playing with a new app)––after school work, home responsibilities, and outdoor play have happened. And since it’s generally not practical for me to sit and count minutes with each of my children while they enjoy this screen time (that’s usually when I begin checking emails, finish a bit of work, or prep dinner), I’m grateful to have recently found Circle, a device that pairs with our Wi-Fi to help me manage ALL the internet usage in our home during the day, including my own. I’ve only been using it the last month, and already I am loving it. Parents with children and teens who have personal devices, listen up!
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TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREENTIME AND THE INTERNET IN YOUR HOME

As a parent, it’s one part to create the rule and another part to hold to it. I do want my children to learn how to manage and use screen technology, to view it as an asset to imagination, education, creativity, and outdoor play––not a replacement. As we slip into our new school year this week and our routine fills up a bit more, here’s a few ways Circle has been a gift to me as a parent, a help in setting and holding the boundaries we value, even boundaries for myself.

Pause the Internet // One of the largest distractors from my time with the kids is the internet on my phone. Whether I’m editing and sharing an image or trying to quickly check my email, it can quickly become a bunny trail, especially in our homeschool morning. With Circle, I can actually pause the internet on my phone (or any other device), helping me to keep focus. This fall, I plan to use this feature often during our school hours, keeping me free of notifications and even quick email checks at the wrong time. It will also keep them from sneaking off with the iPad or from browsing the computer without permission. If they need the computer or an app during our time, I can simply click a button and allow them to do so, pausing again when their allotted time is up.

I also plan to use this feature for myself during our weekly family movie nights and family meetings, too. This will even be handy when Mark and I enjoy date nights at home, since it can be difficult for both of us to shut off our screen work. With Circle, I can pause the internet for an individual device or for our entire home by clicking a pause button. Win win, as they say.

Create Filters and Establish Time Limits // First, I should note our children do not ever have free reign to browse the internet or certain apps (YouTube) on their own for all the reasons one might imagine. Even knowing how to search the internet is a learned skill, one we’re practicing together. There are of course a variety of softwares and ways to set filters for computers and phones, but I appreciate how easy it is in Circle. I created an account for each child using the app on my iPhone, where I could hand-select the apps they’re allowed to use and even change how long they can use each app. For instance, I de-select YouTube and Amazon since I don’t want them on those apps without my knowing. You can also set a general home filter for all the shared screens, which are most of ours.

I like that I can have an itemize list of all the sites and apps that have been used on each device. If I’ve given them the iPad during school hours to review math facts or play a specific game, Circle let’s me know if they’re actually doing it. I can also choose the general level of content they can access by person or device, i.e. kid or teen? This feature also filters sites that might contain content more mature than you’ve selected for the person or device (pornographic or violent).  

If your children have personal devices, this would be particularly helpful, as you can see and regulate the sites they visit and how long they spend on the internet or on a specific app each day. You can also help your children regulate their time by adjusting how long they use a specific app or the Internet in a day, an especially helpful feature as the school year approaches and the day demands more of them. On a side note, this has been so good for me, too, as it allows me to view and occasionally set limits on the amount of time I spend in my social apps. Wink.

Set a Regular Internet Bedtime // Since our children don’t take any devices to bed with them, this isn’t really applicable for them yet. But after writing about the value of unplugging a few weeks ago, I’ve recognized how often I still pick up my phone before bed, even when I have intended to do something different. Habits are so difficult to break. To shift and create a healthier evening habit for myself, I’ve set my own internet bedtime using the Circle app, leaving myself the time to read and unwind without distraction.

While Circle is valuable to me as a parent, especially heading into teen years, it’s also valuable for myself and my own time management, to help me remain focused on what I really value for daily family living. I’m grateful to have a system to help re-direct my attention when I lose focus and also impose set boundaries for my children when I forget or lose track of time.

I’m curious, how do you handle the internet in your home? Do you have a set age in mind or another litmus for when your children are ready for personal devices? Id’ love to hear. 


This post is sponsored by Circle with Disney, a new way for parents to manage devices and time. For those of you interested in trying Circle, you can purchase it on discount for $89 at Amazon, Best Buy, Target, or meetcircle.com until August 31, 2016. As always all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that keep this space afloat.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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A small bundle of fresh flowers for the home can be water for the soul, especially in these late summer months when the temperatures soar and the fields lie crispy and parched. I tend to sprinkle small bundles or sprigs throughout the home, on tables, night stands, and bathroom counters, even in the boys’ room. Although I do this year round, it feels more satisfying somehow in August.

Georgia O’Keefe once said that “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time,” but I imagine more often, one might appreciate fresh flowers long before pausing to study or paint one, possibly even without consciously knowing it. Perhaps we don’t quite understand why a certain spot in our home or in another’s feels peaceful or inviting, or why we feel happier doing the dishes or quietly taken care of as we flip off the bedside light. Perhaps those little blooms are hydrating us, even when we haven’t time to notice.

Fresh flowers do not need to be large or expensive to shift the countenance of a room. A humble market bundle will do the job beautifully, and economically I might add. I keep my weekly budget at $10-$15, bumping only on occasion for special dinners or guests or on a particularly crushing week. Most weeks, one of the children join me, snipping stems and filling pitchers with water. It gives them joy to create simple arrangements, and more indirectly, they experience how flowers might water or bring life to many things––a home, a soul, a friendship––in oppressively hot seasons. Welcome, August.

simply living

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ― Mary Oliver

On my personal (and familial) quest to live more simply, I have learned one overarching truth: simple and easy are not always the same. Living simply requires thoughtful planning and hard work, but foremost it requires paying attention. When our days become out of sorts, many times what I need is not a new method or even a new book, but instead to take time to clarify or clean up what we’re already doing. This webinar will not have any cleaning tips or Mary Poppins wizardry, but I will share five general principals that help keep me focused in my days, balancing home and work life, and that also bring me back when our routine tends to drift. Life is complex, especially as a parent, but maybe our days don’t need to be. Grab a cup of coffee, and join me to discuss how our family returns again and again to simply living. Click the link to register.

Simply Living; Five Steps to Clarify Your Daily Routine

August 2, 10am CST

FREE!

Q+A included, and the webinar will be recorded

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I realize white for the home may seem rather dull or unoriginal, but I love it unashamedly, especially in small spaces with ample natural light. It always looks fresh and broadens the visual space, and I knew from the moment we purchased our old home two years ago, I wanted the dingy pink-tiled and sage-walled bathroom we would share with our girls and guests to be swathed with shades of white, a prominent mirror, and a few well-placed pieces of art. Still, knowing and doing are different processes, especially in home renovation. Our home needed far more than we had the initial budget to accomplish, and as it goes, the bathroom renovation fell several lines down the prioritized list. For small beginnings, we stripped the wallpaper border and painted the walls in Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace along with the rest of the home. Then we turned to other projects and settled into life with tired pink tiles and a low-set, cracked mirror. It was one of many invitations from our house to look more deeply at the idea of home, and also to live with gratitude and patience.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” Perhaps the slow renovation of our home, although frustrating at times, is training me to see what is hidden, not necessarily in the pink tiles but within me. Waiting reveals a motive, a heart-attitude, an expectation. Sometimes the patient remaking of a space reflects the process of the soul, a beautiful evolution happening one piece at a time.

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Last August, we had a bit of money saved to throw into a new project. It wasn’t quite enough to re-tile the bathroom, but we could re-finish the existing tile. Mark pulled out the mirror (in pieces) and filled in the space with matching square tiles. Generally, the floor and wall tile were both in good shape, even with a shifting pier-and-beam foundation, so we hired someone to fill the few minimal cracks and refinish the entire space in a glossy white. He sprayed the sink and the tub, too. On a side note for those who may opt for this, I recommend staying elsewhere for a few days during the process, especially with children. The odor is strong.

We replaced the broken toilet and also the damaged sink and bath hardware. We opted to clean and keep the vintage towel racks and soap and toothbrush holders. We haven’t yet put them on again. The existing cabinetry was vanity style, a low counter top for sitting, with an open space in the middle for a stool or chair. For our lifestyle, that space was wasted, as none of us sit at the bathroom mirror. Also, the far cabinet was shallow and awkward, so Mark pulled off the door and built open shelves across both areas for towels, toilet paper, and baskets of bathroom miscellany. We re-painted the cabinetry in Benjamin Moore Winter Gate to add depth to the space, and a close friend offered me the drawer pulls she had found at the Habitat Re-Store. I added $5 paper blinds to window and a couple of rotating green plants to the space. But we still didn’t have a mirror. Again, we waited.

For eight months we didn’t have a bathroom mirror, and the space felt obviously blank. With all of the white, I wanted to add a statement piece, a mirror preferably in wood or antique gold. We scoured online classifieds and ebay for months. I’d pop in antique stores when I had the chance. It was the sort of purchase I knew I would randomly stumble upon. And then on a recent weekend date with Mark, we did. Mark discovered this one in the back room of an antique shop, within our budget, waiting for us.

Like every space, this one isn’t yet finished. I’ve added little details here and there: a framed print from Paris, a framed botanical from a hike with the kids last year, a delicate milk glass soap dish found at an estate sale. A home is like people in this way, always evolving, waiting. The best details tend to unfold with time.

 

 

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At some point I’ve realized many of the boundaries and routines I create for my children are habits intended for me, for my well-being as well. How often do I manage my children’s intake of nutrients and need for rest only to ignore the same needs for myself? Instead of napping, I drink a cup of coffee. Instead of winding down my day with a book, I catch up on email or social medias or return to an unfinished projects. I sometimes push myself through tired yawns to meet deadlines or sometimes catch myself mindlessly staring at my phone at night when what I really need is to go to bed. The simplest truth of our humanity is this: guidelines for living are easily advised and more difficultly practiced. We are all learners, and living mindfully in any regard requires patience with ourselves and others. Still it is worth the evaluation and–as we sometimes say in our home–the good, hard try.

After writing about the importance of morning rituals, it seemed natural to turn to the other part of the day, to consider the importance of evening rituals–the way I wind down and release my day’s efforts–and of course also the importance of a good night of sleep. Morning rituals seem more easily formed for me than evening ones. In the morning, the choice feels somehow simpler: when and how to begin? I’ve always been a good beginner of things, and perhaps beginning my day contains the same sort of optimism and possibility as beginning anything else. Evening routines, on the other hand, require a different sort of attentiveness and discipline. These practices acknowledge that rest is as valuable as work and play. They require me to prioritize rest, even as the factors change, such as nights out with friends or late family dinners or too many scheduled evening events. They require me to face the pieces of myself that have been expended, to acknowledge my limitations, and to put aside work, even when it is still unfinished. For those who live in the world of TO DOs, or for mothers and entrepreneurs and homeschoolers who always live somewhere in the middle of things, this last part can be the hardest.

It doesn’t require much to convince a sleep-deprived mother how it affects her brain, how much over-exhaustion impacts cogent thinking and moodiness. Early on, I felt both clear-mindedness, stable emotions, and quality sleep had been lost forever. I’m grateful in this stage of mothering to understand certain things do pass, even some that I wish wouldn’t. Still, as science would have it, sleep and clear thinking are in fact related–only the research isn’t just about or for mothers. Sleep matters for everyone. For those of you who are wondering why, here’s a clever infographic neatly gathering studies from the Center for Disease Control, the Journal of Neuroscience, the UC Berkley Walker Sleep Lab, and others. The original article was found here. While evening rituals will not guarantee we always sleep as we should, the regular attentiveness may help pave the way.

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MY CURRENT PRACTICES

Honestly, the specifics of my evenings often change based on mood and circumstance, but I have noted my favorite evening rituals are the ones where I am in bed at 9pm-ish with an hour for meditation, reading, and/or time alone with my husband before we flip the lights out at 10:00-ish. These rituals (although they seem boring) are restorative and healing, a needed compliment to the busy day. Like many people we enjoy late summer dinners that push into late summer bedtimes or nights out with friends or movie nights or drinks too close to bedtime or evenings where we simply lose time altogether. We try to save those for the weekends, when the day routine is lighter and more flexible. Generally during the weekdays right now, we eat dinner early, send the kids to bathe/shower when the conversation and clean-up seem to dwindle, and settle into family read-aloud by 7:15ish. We read until 8:00/15, when the girls are tucked into bed, and the boys head to their beds to read independently until their bedtime at 8:30/9:00. After tucking the girls in, I try to immediately take my evening bath. Sometimes I may do a quick tidy around the house, although most nights I’m too tired. I’m still trying to break the habit of checking my phone during this period, as I tend to lose time quickly there, and I rarely feel rested afterward. I aim to be in bed at 9ish–I love to read during this period–and to turn the lights out at 10:00 or so to be ready to wake at 5:00. But like I said, I’m still practicing and learning how to be mindful in this way.

IDEAS TO ESTABLISH EVENING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF

create a steady bedtime / Set a regular bedtime for yourself during the weekdays, ideally by 10-11pm pm if you wake early. According the National Sleep Foundation, most adults should aim for seven to nine hours each night, and note not all sleep is the same. For those of you with young babes and wakeful nights, do your best to nap during the day, even for 10-15 minutes. Also be encouraged, it will pass. You’ll sleep again. See suggestions for all ages here.

set reminders to establish a new routine / If you’re trying a new routine, use your phone to set little alarms or reminders for yourself to create the habit. My husband has an alarm set for 9pm every week night to remind him (and me) to go to bed. Time tends to slip away from me easily in the evenings, so it’s nice to have a gentle bell that signals me to transition for bed.

take a warm bath / There’s a bit of controversy as to whether bathing before bed actually affects the quality of your sleep, but according to this study it may help you fall asleep faster. Make sure you bathe 1-2 hours before bed though, as most all research agrees you need a cooler body temperature to sleep. Add bath salts with lavender or chamomile or cedar-wood essential oils for gentle soaking aromatherapy.

avoid screen time (especially on your phone) / This will be a topic of its own soon, but it needs mentioning here, as my phone or computer can be a detractor from rest in the evening. Here is the best lesson: create boundaries for your screens. Instead of catching up on work or social medias (guilty!) in the evening, choose soothing rhythms to help you wind down. Spending the last minutes of your day working on your phone will actually hinder the quality of your work the following day. Plus, the blue light from screens at night hinders melatonin release in your body (which helps induce sleepiness)–even backlit e-readers negatively impact your sleep at night. The easiest way to begin this practice is to plug your phone/computer in (away from your bed) an hour or so before you go to bed. There are of course no final boundaries here; we are adults. For me, this issue is more about awareness of emotion and time, and sometimes hard boundaries are necessary for a time to keep things in check. If you’re wondering whether the phone, computer, or television affect your sleep or sense of general rest, try turning it off at night for a few days or a weeks, and see how you feel.

make a list for the next day / If you tend to worry about unfinished work or looming deadlines, make a list for yourself and wake early. This is an especially good idea for those who tend to feel anxious when the lights go out.

reflect, meditate, pray, journal / The evening is a perfect time to repair and recover from the day’s demands, to let go of your best efforts. Use this winding-down period to reflect. Ask yourself how you are feeling emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. Write it down if that is a peaceful activity for you. Talk about it if you need to. Take a few moments to close your eyes and release disappointments or frustrations or TO DOs. Meditate or spend time in prayer. These activities needn’t be heavy or long to be important.

drink hot tea / Trade in late-night glasses of wine for hot herbal tea or water instead. While alcohol can make you feel sleepy faster, it actually decreases your REM sleep and can decrease the amount of sleep overall. Enjoy your glass of wine with dinner or on the weekends instead. Wink.

read a light book / Choose evening reading that is lighter and enjoyable: literary fiction, memoirs, poetry, the Psalms can be examples. Look for books with cadence and beauty, books that feel like lullabies for adults. Save the self-help, design, DIY, and recipe books for the daytime, when you’re more prepared to rise to action.

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NURTURING THE WHOLE SELF

As a mother, it has become easy for me to define nurturing as something I give to others–whether in marriage, mothering, friendship, creative pursuits, or service–but I’m slowly realizing as life increasingly grows more full and complex (even in the best ways), I simply cannot give much of anything without first receiving. There is a reason flight attendants remind passengers in the event of an emergency to give oxygen to themselves before helping another: it’s not always instinctive. To most mothers, it might even seem counter-intuitive.

Honestly, I’m not always good about protecting and maintaining self-care practices. Even though I have always been attentive to food and exercise, at times even these practices have been harsh, a perfectionistic pursuit detached from the rhythm and season of life. This has more often led me to crash-and-burn type cycles, rather than discovering a steady way to love and take care of myself right where I am. At some point two years ago, I decided I didn’t have the energy to expend on rigid exercise regimes and stopped almost altogether. In terms of longevity and wellness, that’s not really a great option either.

This year, I’ve felt the need more than ever to strengthen the whole of me again, to pay attention to my changing body, skin, energy, and emotions, to nurture and nourish myself from the inside out, not just just merely “get in shape.” At 37, I believe my best self is still in front of me, opposed to a shadow in the past to whom I’m trying to make my way back. 2016 is teaching me about gentleness and patience with myself, in short how to allow my whole self to unfold. And so I’m beginning this new series Nurturing Wholenss here, where I hope to share gentle practices I’m learning along the way.

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MORNING RITUALS

The deeper I grow into womanhood, the more I recognize the importance of morning rituals–gentle, patterned ways for me to begin a new day. I learned this from my own mother, who from my earliest memories was always up before me, reading and journaling, drinking warm English tea, talking with my father, or listening to morning talk radio while she made breakfast. We tease her now, how she would wake us for school with her chipper songs and loud movements in the kitchen, as though she had lived half a day already. In some ways, she had.

Although I prefer waking naturally (with the sun), I began setting a morning alarm several years ago to wake early in the morning before both the children and the sun. I couldn’t do such things in the earliest years of motherhood, when nights were at times as wakeful as the day. Life with small children and babies is rarely divided into equal parts: some hours are lit by the sun; many are lit by the moon. I found myself a more sane person working with our unusual home rhythms in that stage: sleeping as much as possible at night, briefly napping during the day, and waking to snuggles or coos from my earliest birds, often ready for breakfast. That too was a morning ritual of its own. Still as our family grew, I noted on the rare mornings I naturally woke before the kids, our days felt a bit smoother. My busy days with them naturally stemmed from a more peaceful, nourished place within me. I felt a bit more prepared for the questions, “what are we going to do today?” I decided then to be more intentional about this beginning portion of my day and six short years later, this is why I still wake early.

Friends often remark to me that they could never wake early because they’re not a morning person. I assure you, I am not naturally a morning person either. I like to wake slowly and quietly. I don’t enjoy talking when I first wake up, even when I’m fully rested. Waking earlier, although harder at first, has given me the space for silence and thought that I need before having to offer anything to anyone else in a day. I have used this brief period of time in different ways over the years. Morning rituals are more an art than a science. The intention is that this period of time always serves what I’m needing to restore in that specific season.

MY CURRENT PRACTICES

Currently, I set my alarm for 5am on weekdays, since it’s difficult for me to find uninterrupted time during the days with homeschooling right now. After brushing my teeth, I’ll drink a full glass of water and spend a few minutes stretching, praying, and/or meditating. I do this long enough to feel awake and present. I then refill another glass of water and make a cup of coffee. I light a candle at my desk (an idea I borrowed here from my friend, Kirsten) and write a blog post or edit photos until 6:45 or 7am. I try to save emails for later in the day since they don’t often require as much concentration, and I try my best to avoid social media and my phone altogether. as they can distract me from my own voice and time constraint. Two to three mornings a week, I fill a water bottle after stretching and pick up my sister for simple strengthening workouts at the gym together (a new habit I’m making space for this year, and part of the reason for more sporadic posting here). I’ll share more about that another time. At 7am, it’s time for me to transition to breakfast, and this of course is the hardest part, especially when I’m in the midst of good writing flow. On those days, I jot down a few notes and stop anyway to start my day with Mark and then the kids. I blow out my candle, a signifier that this period of quiet is over until tomorrow. I wake up the kids, and sit down with Mark for a few minutes before he’s out the door. In the wake of busy family life, these few moments can mean much in our marriage. The kids and I then begin making our breakfast and aim to meet at the dining table at 7:30am for read-a-loud and memory work. We’re not overly rigid about this routine, but I find having simple goals keeps us focused and an early start leaves more room in the afternoon for whimsy.

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IDEAS TO ESTABLISH NURTURING MORNING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF

wake at the same time daily / Each person has different Circadian Rhythms, leanings toward morning or evening energy. Regardless of when your day begins, aim to wake at the same time daily to create consistent rhythms through the rest of your day.

unplug / This is the most obvious and yet the most difficult for me to follow. My alarm is on my phone, so it’s natural that I’d begin checking social medias or email from my bed to begin. I’m re-training myself to do other things first. It’s easier for me to hear myself think and not be distracted by what other’s are doing. The focus of this time isn’t to produce or connect, it’s to nurture my soul, to restore and wake up for the day. My day. I’ve learned it’s best to save emails and social connections for later in the morning after I’ve had some time alone.

hydrate / According to this study, mild dehydration in women directly affects focus and mood. It can lead to headaches and decreased energy throughout the day. Since I tend to forget drinking water as consistently later in the busy day, I always begin my morning by drinking a full glass or two of water first thing in the morning. It always helps wake me up, and generally I feel more alert and attentive from the start.

stretch, meditate, pray / Taking time, even five to ten minutes, for stretching helps me connect with my body. I tend to notice if I’m sore or inflexible in specific areas. I notice stress–I generally get a knot in my top right shoulder–or anxiety in my stomach and am able to begin releasing those things physically through movement and spiritually through prayer.

read or write / Journal, blog, write a letter or a poem. Writing can be restorative, as can reading.

drink coffee or tea / This is one of my favorite parts of the morning. The smell of coffee comforts me and feels kindred to writing and reading practices, but if I’m feeling anxious on a particular morning, I’ll wait until later in the morning, as it can upset my stomach.

play soft music / I don’t do this every morning, but I find playing music is always soothing to my soul. I tend to choose instrumental music during this time so I don’t become distracted with lyrics. My current favorite album for the early morning is Bethel’s “Without Words Synesthesia” or Balmorhea’s “Balmorhea.”

make your bed / I know. This is mom-ish thing to write, but making my bed somehow makes the space and my day feel more orderly.

take a walk / Sometimes it’s nice just to be outdoors in the early morning, especially when the sun rises. Walking doesn’t require tons of focus, but it can be a quiet way to wake up your body and soul for the day ahead. Physical exercise can be a great way for many people to begin a day.

 

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We moved into our cozy 1920s home two years ago this month, although it hardly feels two years of work have passed. When we purchased the property, the house was neglected and unsavory, stained from leaky faucets and uncleaned dirt. Indoors, it was infested with fleas; outdoors, it was infested with poison ivy (both of which we discovered after moving in). (You can see images here.) I still remember one of our friends walking through with us, wide-eyed, whispering  “don’t do it.” But the place was within our modest budget and located within walking distance of friends. We’ve renovated every home we’ve lived in, and the romantic in both of us wanted to uncover the beauty buried beneath it all. I suppose we love a good redemption story, and isn’t that what home renovation ultimately is?

I’m so honored when readers and friends leave comments or questions about things they love in our home, even though I sometimes lose the time to respond. As with most anything, it’s hard to see the progress while you’re living in it. Two years into this process, I would be lying to say this has been an easy journey, especially considering we have much more to go. We choose to live without debt, which simply means, everything occurs intentionally and slowly. Every dollar counts and has a purposeful place in our budget. But even that part can become exhausting, too. Some days, like in my mothering or marriage or homeschooling, I can only see the undone bits, the missing doorknobs or unfinished trim, the paint-splattered floors, the hole in the backsplash, or our missing bathroom mirror (all currently true of our home). If I’m not careful, these thoughts will suck me in like a gyre.

I’d prefer this renovation process Mary Poppins style, with the blink of an eye or the snap of a finger or something like that. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, there’s something so sweet about the slow unfolding of a plan (even the unplanned bits). Like working through umpteen reading or math lessons with my children, or the repeated conversations about kindness and gentleness toward others, or how we make our beds in the morning or wash a dish after a meal–all of the small redundancies accumulate. Hidden gifts live within anything that unfurls itself slowly, even when it beats against my impatience. A deeper gratitude. A greater compassion. A strengthened patience. Slowness leaves room for the interior work of my person.

Sometimes the images in our medias don’t tell the whole picture. They can’t. I’m writing these things out to remember but also to give context to our home and space. We all have limitations of sorts, and somehow must learn to live and work within them. We have three different (unplanned) countertops in our kitchen. We went the first year and half in our home without a dishwasher. We went six weeks without electricity in half our home. We went the first year without bedroom doors (and although we now have doors are still lacking doorknobs). We lived the first year with large slatted outdoor windows in our bedroom (it felt like camping). Our bathroom is still missing a mirror and fixtures. Is this necessary for everyone? No. Would I prefer it? No. Am I learning contentment where I am? Definitely.

When I recognize myself spinning with regret, disappointment, or want–because sometimes I do–here is a very practical thing I’ve learned to do: I take a loop through the home finding something in each space for which to say “thank you.” The words aren’t long or articulate. Thank you for these windows and natural light. Thank you for hardwood flooring. Thank you for bookshelves. Thank you for a space that holds our table. Thank you for soft beds. Thank you. It changes me. In a very small way, this practice of gratitude is renovating my heart, and I am learning patience and steadfastness with every unfolding.

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Haven Magazine recently published their second issue and within it an article I wrote on forgiveness–a more obscure lesson unfolding through our slow home renovation process.  The article is published with a favorite image my sister took of the kids and is wedged between handfuls of beautiful words and visuals from other mothers, makers, writers, cooks, and photographers I admire. If you’re interested, you can find a copy here.

ALSO : Our New Home | Working Hands: The Other Side of Our HomeschoolKitchen Phase 01 |  Kitchen Phase 02