simple_living_not_simple_simple_matters_book-4

For as long as I can remember, Mark and I have used the term simple in relation to some aspect of our life and personal aesthetic. For us it has always been a way to draw attention to quality over quantity, to enjoy having less amid the cultural tide of wanting more. Simple? Definitely. Easy? Definitely not.

Of all of the modern terms, simple can certainly feel the most complicated and convoluted. Used to describe everything from the way we live, parent, decorate, eat, exercise, and dress, it has become a catch-all term translating to a variety of things depending on those who use it.

For some, simplicity is a way of grassroots living, a homesteading life with clear attachment to food and materials. For others it is an aesthetic of clutter-free living, minimal extras, and clean color palettes, and still for others it is a detachment from home and things altogether, a prioritized way of living in simplicity with God or nature. While I can see bits of each on are own path, the short note is this:

Simplicity is not simple.

Ask a farmer, a minimalist, a monk, an environmentalist, or even another parent. Simplicity requires choice. It requires clear YESes and difficult NOs. For me, this is always the rub. Choosing quality–whether in food or objects or relationships or spiritual life or social commitments or home–always requires an intentional choice. Honestly, sometimes I grow weary or distracted with the process. Sometimes I need a little encouragement or new tactics for a different season of life. Sometimes I need to spend a winter weekend tucked with books that remind me  why it’s important.

That was last weekend for me. After breakfast, I made coffee and a snack and headed straight back to my room with Erin Boyle’s new book Simple Matters. Filled with her refreshing writing and images, I have barely put it down since. I was encouraged most by her final words: “we are more than the sum of our possessions; we are more than white-tiled walls.” A hearty yes.

Other resources on simplicity that have encouraged or inspired me recently: this one if you tend to overcommit or struggle saying no;  this one for spiritual simplicity; this one for simplifying family life and routines; this one for the honest work of eating locally and more sustainably; and this one of course for tidying. Stay warm, and happy weekend, friends!

allowance-1

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

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

pocket money

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

children_chores_responsibilitychores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Over the years of early motherhood and homeschooling, I have learned to be flexible with our home cleaning routine. At times, we have hired help to wash the floors or scrub the bathrooms, a life-saving gift in early homeschool days and newborn-dom, but in more recent years as our children have grown older, I’ve looked for ways to make this a more regular part of our family rhythm.  These too are [quite practical] lessons I want my children to learn.

The word chore is most often given to the these sorts of home tasks, but honestly I’ve never really preferred it. Chore tends to convey a certain dismal attitude about housework and the importance of the home in general, I think. Even the word itself sounds dreadful and uninviting. Chore.

Although it may be a small semantic matter, we more often use the word responsibility in connection with our house work around here. Opposed to a chore, responsibility is a gift and privilege that comes with maturity.  In short, I like the noble attitude of responsibility a bit more. But does it mean they or I always feel like cleaning or tidying our home? Of course not. But as our children’s freedoms and experiences are growing in one hand, so is what my husband and I require of them around the home in the other. As they inevitably grow up, connecting joy and responsibility is a helpful reference point in all of our family conversations .

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Our family cleaning routine loosely divides into two major categories right now: daily and weekly tasks. My children’s daily responsibilities fall more into the tidying up category such as

  • making beds
  • washing/folding/putting away laundry (they do their own 1-2 times/week)
  • cleaning the kitchen (washing/drying/putting away dishes; wiping down counters and table; sweeping floors–each child has a rotating role)
  • putting away their toys or school work at the end of the day

Aside from the kitchen, we do little actual cleaning during the week. Then every Friday afternoon, prior to our family Sabbath meal, my children and I set aside a couple of hours for our weekly responsibilities of cleaning of our family home. We spend a lot of time in and around our home, so it’s nice to have a hard finish to our week by tidying up any remaining clutter from our work and play. Ending Friday with fresh linens and clean floors and bathrooms feels celebratory before the weekend, even for the kids. In our current season, Friday seems to work best for this, as it adds an extra layer of enjoyment to Saturday’s play and rest. I try to help them (and myself) remember that part when the tasks become mundane. As with everything else in life, I’d say we’re not perfect but learning. Our home is certainly not spotless all the time, and some Fridays we run out of hours before everything is finished. But isn’t that too a lesson in real life?

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with childrenchores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Since these sort of conversations can often be interesting to parents. I thought I’d share a bit about our family cleaning responsibilities and routine here in the event it might be helpful in your own home.

Begin laundering the linens in the morning. | After we have eaten breakfast, the children strip their beds instead of making them. Since we have four beds worth of bedding  and bath mats to wash, I like to get this moving in the morning so it’s finished by our dinner hour. Bedding and bath rugs are the only laundry for this day. Clothing and towels are washed during the other weekdays. We switch the laundry throughout our school morning

Gather and refill all cleaning supplies. | Since we now make most of our own cleaning products, I usually take a moment to make and refill all of our spray bottles (using my favorite non-toxic cleaning recipes) just after lunch on Friday. I make sure the duster, broom, mops, cloths, and scrub brushes are all in an accessible spot for everyone.

Create detailed cleaning lists for each space. | Over the years, I’ve realized my children do not see things the way I do when it comes to what is clean. Ha! Imagine. When I set them on a task, whether washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom, our ideas of “finished” vary dramatically. This year, I wrote a list of very specific tasks for each space in our home for my children to check off during our weekly cleaning time. Some of the tasks seem almost silly to write out, for instance one from the bathroom list, “Place toothbrush holder and soap dispenser  back on the clean counter” or “place the shampoo/conditioner/soap in the shower after it is cleaned.” For adults, these imperatives seem laughingly intuitive, and yet you have no idea how many times I’ve walked into a “finished” bathroom to find these bottles on the floor or another surface. Lists help create a sense of sameness and agreement about what “finished” really means. Although the lists look longer, each task is smaller, giving a sense of accomplishment as each is finished. I’m sure there are beautiful cleaning lists or templates you can purchase on Etsy or elsewhere, but I made ours in a moment with only lined paper and a pencil. I plan to go back to create a cleaner, laminated copy one day, but this works for now. If paper isn’t your family’s style, consider an app like ChoreMonster to help organize your lists and rewards.

chores, responsibilities, + cleaning with childrenchores, responsibilities, + cleaning with children

Find age-appropriate tasks. | This is the hardest part, yes? I’ve begun by simply taking notice as we clean or work in the yard/garden together. What types of work can be more challenging or too  much for them? Is it a matter of attitude or a lack of skill? Then I adjust the work as necessary. For instance, Olive at age six still needs much encouragement every step of the way through folding and putting away her laundry. Leaving her alone for too long with a large basket can be overwhelming and frustrating for her, even though she is capable, so I first ask her to first sort her basket by category: tops, bottoms, undies/PJs, and hanging clothes. I then check back and ask her to fold the tops neatly and put them away, then the bottoms, and so on. This helps break up the tasks she’s completing on her own into manageable bits for her age, whereas the older three (ages nine-twelve) take care of their laundering start to finish. I do often prompt them, “Do you need to do laundry today?” The goal of our parenthood is never to crush the children with burden, but to give them enough weight to make them stronger as they grow. Since at every age they are all learning, we still come alongside them in the process. Also, begin small. If your child doesn’t have any current cleaning responsibilities, begin with simple tasks such as vacuuming or sweeping or wiping down surfaces. I’m convinced all children love using spray bottles, and I keep a child-sized broom and mini dustpan/brush set hanging in the girls’ room, since it’s easier to use than our larger broom. Vacuuming is of course more thorough for children to collect dirt before mopping.

Work in sync. | Again, this seems obvious, but when we are all working at one time, it’s good for there to be order in the work. In our home, we begin in the common spaces: kitchen, dining, and living room, move into the bathrooms and bedrooms, and finish by mopping it all.

Take breaks. | Break up your tasks in a way that you and your children can take periodic breaks. Pay attention to when your children naturally begin to sit down or daze off. Take a break and head outdoors for a bit. For younger children this might be a 20 minute window. Make races against the clock or against you. “Can you clean out under your bed faster than me? Let’s race and find out!” Our older children can work for up to 90 minutes before I generally notice their lagging. We tend to take a mid-afternoon pause for snack on the lawn or front porch. The girls might ride their bikes for a bit and the boys play catch. This renews them to finish the task.

Turn on music. | Rotate music you and your children enjoy listening to and play it loudly for everyone to enjoy. This helps keep the tone of our time together upbeat and light. We all have turns choosing something, which means we listen to everything from film soundtracks to Taylor Swift to Arcade Fire to Andrew Byrd or Patty Griffin. The idea is play music you all can enjoy at some point.

Cleaning and taking care of the home requires a lot of patience for ourselves and our children, but we all share the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished–high-fives and hugs all around. Since the topic of allowance is so closely linked, I’m planning to share a bit about that next week. Stay tuned. Happy Friday!

tidy_family_home-3the tidy family home

Perhaps most parents want to know the secret behind keeping tidy homes and teaching children to clean up after themselves. It feels nearly impossible at times, doesn’t it? Abandoned blocks on the rug, a random sock on the sofa, books on the table, dishes in the sink, clothes on the bathroom floor. If I turned a corner in my home, I might find any one of these right now. “These are the indicators of family life,” my mother often gently reminds me. “Mess happens because life is happening. Be patient. You’ll have time for a neat house again.” I’ve always appreciated this perspective as a mother, the grace to allow the mess. In different seasons of motherhood–such as newborn stages or when life feels more frenetic–I have lived by these words. But mess is not peaceful for me. I work better, think clearer, feel happier in clean, tidy spaces. Honestly, I imagine most people do, including children. While it is impossible for our home to be both comfortable for play/work and tidy all the time, here are a few ways we have tried to keep things neater in our home over the years. Like most things in life, it is mostly a balance in effort and letting go.

Purchase less. Have you ever counted how many outfits you could assemble from your child’s closet? Or counted how many toys or dress up are in the bin? I love children’s clothing. I love purchasing new things. But honestly, children do not require much. My children tend to find their favorite shirt or dress and wear it over and over. Take notice of the clothing they gravitate toward and purchase a couple of those. I keep something special for dressier occasions, and unless one of them is really longing for a special toy or book for their birthday, we tend to give experiences. Owning less means managing less. It also means they own things that really matter to them.

Clean out. My children and I clean out the toys–less necessary as they get older–and their closets twice a year. This often happens with seasonal change. I fold up clothes that are in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. We might cut up the clothing that is overly stained or hole-y to use for an art project or as cleaning rags.

Use baskets (within reason). I love a good basket. They’re functional and beautiful at once, but they also can be overused and feel clutter-y in a space. Each of the children’s rooms have a couple of baskets for tidying toys or their soft throw blankets they insist on sleeping with at night. I keep two more in the living and dining, with extra blankets and floor pillows since we only have one sofa in our small living area.  This makes clean up super quick at the end of the day. I also use woven baskets for laundry, as one doesn’t fit in our closet and it is prettier than a plastic alternative.

Set a regular clean-up time. Each day, around 3:30/4:00pm we stop what we’re doing and clean up. Since we homeschool and often use our dining table, it’s a great way to make sure our work is put in the right spot and our materials are cleaned-up before dinner. Books go on the bookshelf.  Pencils are returned to the jars. Chalk pieces are collected. Unfinished projects are tucked in a safe place. Laundry is folded and put away. Beds are cleared of art projects, books, or toys. Shoes are collected and returned to the closet. Everything is put back in its home. This is not a deep cleaning time or organizing time. This daily clean-up is simply a returning things to their place for use the next day. We try to do it within 30 minutes, so we’re not bogged down in details. If something doesn’t have a home, I make mental note to find a home or re-organize something over the weekend when there’s more time. This little time allows us to be a mess during the day, to freely focus on our play and work, but also to reset to do the same tomorrow.

Begin with small children. If your children are little, they will of course be able to do far less, but they can still help! Give them single tasks that they can accomplish on their own while you’re nearby. “I need you to put all of these blocks in the basket while I pick up the books.” If they’re easily distracted, as most littles are, work on the same clean-up together. You may also consider having more than one clean-up time in a day, for instance, one at the end of the morning playtime and one at the end of the afternoon. On days that seem overwhelming or particularly exhausting, remember a messy home is a sign of a well-loved home. Take a deep breath and return a bit later.

Point out the rewards to your children. When our home is neatly ordered, I point out to my children how it inspires them to create and play and build. “Isn’t it nice knowing exactly where your things are? Look at how nice it is to build Legos on a clear desk.” These words are not badgering in tone, but simply a way for me to show them the gift of their hard work, the reward for cleaning up when they don’t feel like it.

My home isn’t perfect. If you stopped by at any given moment, you might find toys and books and projects spread across the floor or table top. Although my bed is often made, you might find a load of towels or clothes atop it waiting to be folded and put away. For us, tidying is about reaching homeostasis, a place where we can live and enjoy the life in our home, but also take care of it.  If you follow my Instagram, you already know I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpShe offers inspiring and more detailed helps in this area and probably has a tidy home all the time. For us, it is certainly a process and journey.

How do you or your family handle mess? Do you have helpful tips and tricks for tidiness to share?

 

practicing sabbath

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.  — Ecclesiastes 3:1 

After our trip alone to Taos this summer, my husband and I realized we needed more boundaries between work and rest. Our current season of life doesn’t naturally afford stops (apart from night sleeps), so we needed to intentionally carve out time to restore spiritually, physically, and relationally. We have always been intrigued by the idea of Shabbat (Sabbath), a traditional Jewish practice of rest, family togetherness, and spiritual attention, but with our Protestant backgrounds, this concept was intimidating and foreign. Over the last couple of years, we have talked with several friends about the ways they practice rest within their homes, and this summer, we took more to read and learn about importance of Shabbat.

I’ve always thought about time in terms of utility, something used for something else entirely. In his book, The SabbathRabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes time not as a commodity, but as something holy in itself. He refers to Sabbath days as cathedrals of time which create a sense of longing within us, and poetically notes, “[Shabbat] is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” Sabbath is the enjoyment of time itself and the weekly recognition that time is a gift from God.

Last month, we began our own formal practice of Shabbat in hope of living deeper in Jesus together and not allowing our lives to be ruled by work. In just a few weeks of practice, already the Sabbath, especially the Sabbath meal, has become a place of longing and expectation for all of us, even the children. My husband let go of his Saturday work, and I have limited the amount of my own. It is helping us create the boundaries we have longed for, but more importantly, it is teaching how to trust God with our time, to know when to stop working and to celebrate. We are building the habit of saying enough to our work and the “acquisition of the things of space.” We are obviously still learning, but this is a good beginning. Below I have shared a little bit about how we prepare for this time as a family. Naturally, it will look a little different for everyone, but I hope there will be something to glean for you, something to help you treasure the holiness in time.

practicing the Sabbath | Shabbat mealpracticing the Sabbath | Shabbat meal

PREPARATION

On Thursday each week, the children and I write out our weekly meal plan and shop for groceries after school work is finished. On Friday mornings, we work through whatever schoolwork we can complete, and we stop at lunch time. Friday afternoon is for deep cleaning our home: putting things away, but also larger jobs like washing floors and scrubbing down the bathrooms. It’s shocking how dirty our home can become during the week. I often turn on loud, upbeat music for us to enjoy and we pause for an afternoon snack somewhere along the way. This cleaning period requires most of the afternoon, and then we transition to preparation for our Shabbat meal.

I begin by making our weekend cake, a rotating baked dessert we can enjoy all weekend. The children begin by setting the table with a large, white linen tablecloth; our china that we picked up at an antique store in Kansas City ages ago; cloth napkins; candles; and fresh flowers. They often make name cards, practicing their cursive on nice white paper, and position silverware and glasses near each place setting. We fill bottles with water to refrigerate for dinner and begin chopping vegetables or preparing meat. Since it’s still quite warm here, we’ve mainly prepared fish that we can grill for these dinners, although I look forward to oven roasts for colder days in upcoming months. We often roast some vegetables and make a complimentary salad. Although we’re hoping to make our own challah bread at some point, right now, we pick up a couple of loaves of baked bread from the grocery bakery for ease.

When dinner prep is complete, I fill two more glass carafes, one with red wine and another with Italian soda for the children. We quickly wipe down counters and wash the dirty prep dishes, although some weeks we run too close to dinner-time for this and clean-up happens afterward. We all get dressed for dinner, freshening up and putting on something nicer than our ordinary daily clothes. This dinner is special for us, and we want to dress accordingly. Our home is generally very casual and our family dining out is as well, so our Sabbath meal is also a great way to teach our children simple rules of dinner etiquette, such as placing a napkin in your lap, keeping your elbows off of the table, or requesting/waiting for someone to pass food to you.

My younger sister, Kristen, is married to my husband’s younger brother–I know, crazy! Brothers married to sisters. Since traditionally the Shabbat meal is intended to be a family event and they live nearby, each week, we all share this meal together.  Before grocery shopping, Kristen and I talk about which meal we want to make and divide up the dishes. Sharing the meal preparation is such a gift! They arrive to our home, dressed, and we all sit down in our named places. Everyone has a place at the table, toddlers included.The baby might be playing in her infant seat or on a palette of blankets on the floor near the table. When she’s restless, we all take turns holding her.

 

THE MEAL

practicing the Sabbath | Shabbat mealpracticing the Sabbath | Shabbat meal

The first part of our meal time is quite formal. My husband wrote down several Messianic Jewish prayers on a notecard that we use, including a blessing of the meal, lighting the candles, sharing of communion, a formal hand washing as a posture of our hearts, and a formal blessing of sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers. Communion and the blessing of the family parts is by far my favorite portion of this time in our meal. Although brief, it celebrates and recognizes each family member and declares noble truths over each person.

After the blessing and prayer time, we pour drinks, serve plates, and eat. This part has been the greatest surprise for me. The adults and children slowly enjoy a nice meal and conversation together, even the youngest ones. It is not rigid or dogmatic but a natural enjoyment of all of our work and effort. As the children finish their meals, they head off to play, while the adults linger and talk together.

After the mealtime when Kristen and Tim leave with their family, our own family piles on the couch for a movie night together. Bedtime is pushed back due to our movie night, a pleasure for all the children, with the intention that everyone can sleep-in the next morning. From the moment the Shabbat meal begins, work ceases. We do not check emails or any other work related thing (unless an emergency) until after sundown on Saturday. This can be the most challenging part, especially since I work from home, So I usually tuck my planner and notepad away and stay clear of the computer during those hours. Although difficult at times, this has been the most restorative practice for me.

________________________________________________________________________________

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

___________________________________________________________________________________

 

THE SABBATH DAY

2015_week22-3

Sleeping-in on Saturday morning is highly respected by everyone in our home (a perk of older children). Our youngest child is six (and often one of the last to wake up), so everyone is old enough to entertain themselves quietly until everyone is awake. During the Sabbath day, our routine is not open and flexible. We usually begin with fresh fruit pancakes my husband and Burke make together, and after that we relax as it seems fit for the day.

As the weather cools more in the next few months, we hope to make day-trips to hike, but until then and while we’re indoors more, we tend to read or play games with sporadic walks or trips to the park during cooler parts of the day. I often let the kids have time playing video games (since we rigidly limit this during the week).  Whatever we do, the point is to do it together and enjoy time without the obstacles of home projects or work.

I hope to have more to share about this part the longer we celebrate this day.  I’m curious, do you practice the Sabbath or another time period of regular rest in your home?

Recommended readings on Sabbath: || 1 | 2 | 3

 

 

 

snickerdoodlessnickerdoodles-26snickerdoodles-6snickerdoodles-18snickerdoodles2snickerdoodles-20Early last week, the girls and I baked cookies together before bedtime. It was a necessary therapy following several days of harrowed conflict and petty arguments between them, not to mention my own exhaustion having managed it. Although making quality time for them in any way always helps navigate us to calmer relationships, the kitchen always has a way of healing these broken connections, of becoming a salve for the rifts caused by careless or hurried days. Honestly, my motherly reminders tire all of us some days–Use kind words. Be generous with your touch. Share with one another.–but a warm cookie that we’ve made together just before bedtime might be the precise tending our tired souls need. (And just in case you’re interested, we made the grain and dairy-free Snickerdoodle found in this tremendous recipe book.)

These moments in our home are often small and spontaneous. We largely rely on whatever I have in the fridge or shelf (or that of my neighbor’s). They tend to be messy because my children love making messes, and cooking with them is not a time to be clean or perfect or style the ideal plate.  Cooking with my children is about mixing and measuring, about tasting and inhaling, about sharing in a small and concrete process together, and above all, savoring. Literally. Figuratively.

——————————–

This post is in partnership with Odette Williams, a small business owner and inspiring mother who designs and manufactures simple and playful children’s apron sets in Brooklyn, NY. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. Also for a chance to win a free OW apron set of your choice, hop over to my Instagram page. 

the_common_table-1A large farm table sits at the center of our home between windows and books and doorways to other rooms. It is the place where we eat and work together as a family, where we naturally gather with one another and friends for food or craft or talk. Yet in a more abstract way, the table is also a telling of the soul, a litmus test of our family’s connection and availability. As our little everyday things–mail, school and art work, groceries–accumulate and sprawl the surface, the table always asks us honestly, have you made time for one another today? Have you cleared the lingering clutter of your life to sit with food and story?  . . .

READ MORE of what I wrote about our family table life for The Common Table today.

 

spring_cleaning-1spring_cleaning-2

As the dreary (and rather long) winter weather draws to an end, something shifts in us too, doesn’t it? The spring sunlight has a way of imparting new and necessary energy to our souls as well as our environments. It becomes what Leo Tolstoy called “a time for plans and projects.” Although we’ve spent much of our recent days working outdoors clearing and planting (more on that later), indoors we’ve been welcoming the new season in a few simple and specific ways, too.  The flannel sheets and heavier linens have been tucked away and exchanged for crisp white linens and lighter coverlets. Oil diffusers replace most of the warmer candles and small hand-picked flowers gather in glass jars along our surfaces and shelves again.

There’s a reason so many people talk about cleaning in the springtime. The bright air and soft light draw attention to all the collected dust of winter, the closed window crevices and unused shelves. For years, our family has aimed to practice more natural cleaning, making or purchasing products that rely on naturally occurring ingredients rather than harmful chemicals. Since we’ve always lived in old homes, I’m also always looking for natural ways to brighten the scents that linger in older spaces.

spring_cleaning-3spring_cleaning-4

Over the years, I’ve skeptically dabbled with essential oils, trying to distinguish truth from trend, and while we haven’t subscribed to any one organization or product, I can testify essential oils are wonderful for a variety of purposes from personal health to home. If not used medicinally–although we’ve dabbled a bit with that too–they are incredible for bringing new life into spaces through natural aromatherapy. A few of the oils, including tea tree oil, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint have also been known to contain antibacterial properties, too–making them an ideal choice for safe, non-toxic cleaning around the home. Like most concentrated substances, it’s best to leave the blending of oils and carriers to adults.

After a discussion about the benefits of oils, Nicole recently sent me a bottle of Young Living‘s Thieves (a blend of clove, lemon, rosemary, cinnamon, and eucalyptus) to try at home. I’ve included it in a few cleaning recipes below, and it smells divine. Beyond house cleaning, I’ve added a few drops to my own and my girls’ baths, to our diffuser, and even tried using it a bit topically. Although in several ways, I’m a novice to the world of essential oils, I jotted down a few ways our family is currently using oils to create natural cleaners for our home. I purchased amber glass spray bottles to use since oils tend to encourage the leaching in plastics. Happy spring!

 

| multi-purpose spray |

16 oz. glass spray bottle

2 cups filtered water

4 tsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Eucaplyptus soap)

40 drops of Thieves (or another anti-bacterial oil)

Shake and spray on any surface. We use this on most any hard surface in our home, including kitchen counters and tabletops, cabinet doors and knobs, bathroom counters and sinks.

 

| linen spray |

16 oz. spray bottle

1 cup filtered water

4 tbsp witch hazel, rubbing alcohol or vodka

20 drops lemon oil

20 drops eucalyptus oil

20 drops lavender oil

Shake and lightly spray on any linens, including bedding, fabric pillows, sofas, or rugs. As always, if you’re nervous about the material’s reaction, test a small spot first. Thank you, Kaylan, for the recipe.

 

| window cleaner |

16 oz. Spray Bottle

1 1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup filtered water

8 drops of any citrus oil  (I always lean toward lemon or orange.)

 

| tub |

hand scrub brush

1 cup baking soda

1 tsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Eucalyptus)

5-10 drops lavender

Mix all of the ingredients together. Add just enough water to create a paste and scrub the tub with it.

 

|toilet|

toilet brush

16 oz. glass spray bottle

2 cup distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. Thieves essential oil

1/2 cup baking soda (I prefer the shaker style lid.)

Mix the vinegar and essential oils together in the spray bottle. Shake and spray all areas of the toilet. Sprinkle the baking soda in the toilet–it should bubble a bit with the vinegar–and scrub.

 

| freshen the air |

add the following to your oil diffuser:

1 drop lime oil

1 drop grapefruit oil

2 drops lemon oil

6 drops orange oil

I also love diffusing the YL Purification blend (Citronella, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Melaleuca, Lavandin, and Myrtle).

girls_room_play_tent-1-2girls_room_play_tent2

When we first bought this home last year, several large projects needed our immediate attention, meaning repairing leaks and holes and years of abandonment had to begin before we addressed any of our more aesthetic wants. Our children loved our last home (the only one they really knew in childhood) with its large climbing trees and playful indoor nooks. Most of the indoor spaces they loved so much, I had created for them in their infant/toddler years or even before their birth. Although I realize they were cultivated with time and care, it’s hard for them (even as they’re getting older) to always have such perspective. If life truly is always trying to teach us something, I suppose the lesson we are all working through is this: all good things develop with time.

girls_room_play_tent-8girls_room_play_tent-15Still, I want our children to attach here, to live and enjoy right where we are, to learn that home and beauty are within us, not always the space itself. With a little intention and several individual conversations, I have focused on the kids’ rooms more this new year. Here’s a few ways we’ve managed these changes.

begin with small, inexpensive changes | Even the smallest, most inexpensive changes can make a room feel like their own: fresh paint, new pillows or throw blankets, a piece of art, a few favorite images.

repurpose something  | When we purchase or make something for our home, I like to choose something that could work anywhere. Several of the pieces currently in the girls’ room weren’t always intended that way. Shifting adult furniture or art around the house can give the room or the piece a fresh look.

create a cozy reading/play nook | Cozy nooks are quite necessary in shared spaces, especially for introverted children. They can be the perfect hiding spot to read, play, or enjoy a little quiet alone time. My friend Terri makes the sweetest play tents and cushions for her shop Blue House Joys. She recently made one for us and my girls are smitten with it, swapping sleeping in it at night and enjoying everything from reading to tea parties in it during the day. If you’re interested, I’m hosting a $50 giveaway to her shop over on my Instagram page.girls_room_play_tentgirls_room_play_tent-11find one special feature | If you spend anytime looking at other kid spaces, you might find yourself wanting to add too much in one room. Instead try to narrow down one or two (if the room’s big enough) special features that your child(ren) would love. In the girls’ room it is a play kitchen area and a play tent.

use multi-purpose furniture | I prefer kids spaces without tons of clutter, since they always manage making a mess all on their own. To help keep their spaces tidier, our children own minimal toys and their furniture easily tucks their dearest knick-knacks away to make clean up easier, like a storage bench or a play kitchen. Since Olive still adores pretend play and being in the kitchen, we found a used kitchen set on Craigslist for her birthday. I painted the pink panels and damaged corners and roughly sewed new curtains for the hutch–just like new. Both girls adore it and since it’s a little larger, I imagine they’ll use it for a while, enough to justify the space it consumes.

girls_room_play_tent-9girls_room_play_tent-1girls_room_play_tent-10girls_room_play_tent-24

| sources |

Although I’m leaving the sources for all of the room details, I’m doing it more so that you can see how spaces collect and evolve with time in our home. We tend to purchase or build pieces that can be used in any room in our home, shifting as our needs change. For instance, Blythe and Olive currently share a queen bed, which belonged to me and Mark in the beginning of our marriage. It now belongs to them and also doubles as our guest bed when friends or family visit.

|furniture|

  • headboard, a stained panel of walnut, formerly my sister and brother-in-laws
  • side table, found on the side of the road and we refinished
  • chair, bought at a thrift shop several years ago
  • storage bench, IKEA, bought 10 years ago when toddler toys were stored in our townhome living room
  • play tent and floor cushion, Blue House Joys
  • play kitchen, Pottery Barn Kids purchased significantly cheaper on Craigslist
  • table lamp without shade, Target
  • floor lamp, Target
  • shade, Anthropologie
  • toys buckets, Target
  • wood floor chairs (rolled up in the bucket), Howda

| art |

  • Iso Satakieli fabric canvas (above kitchen), purchased for Blythe’s first birthday
  • Instagram photos of the girls
  • Palm tree painting , purchased on a trip to Cuba before children
  • French flags print, purchased in Paris before marriage
  • Chinese wedding scarf, gifted to us on our wedding day from friends who had lived there
  • Floral tapestry bought when Olive was born, Anthropologie
  • Framed watercolor, Blythe age 3
  • “Joy” and “be strong and courageous” prints, The Lovely Words shop
  • Dreamcatcher, Wildflower Dreamcatcher

|bedding|

|toys|

  • denim stars apron set, Odette Williams
  • play masks, Opposite of Far
  • wood blocks, Haba
  • bunny, Anthropologie, bought when pregnant with Olive
  • woven purse, thrifted
  • dress-up and dolls, tucked away in the chest (wink)