Reflections for the New Year

Each new year is a baptism of sorts, a release of one thing, a grasp for another. Whether one toasts champagne or simply turns the paper page on the calendar, we cross over, like mystics. Each of us. All of us. A new year.

I realize for most of us, life carries on today as usual, cup of coffee in hand, laundry, email, work. The ordinariness of time can sometimes mask its importance. I have been cleaning out closets and re-ordering spaces around the house this last week, recalibrating our home after the holiday whirl. These sort of inventories offer the best sort of reflection, a practical accounting of days and time and space. Let it go or put it in place, practically and metaphorically. The process has been that simple.

Yet through it, I have noticed more gentleness toward myself, an ease in letting go without excuse, something atypical to me. I have packed a large box of books we have outgrown, supplies we do not use, work we have completed. I threw away old planners and tangential ideas scratched on paper, opting instead to begin with a clear mind and working space. It is difficult to toss ideas aways, but they can become cumbersome and distracting to new ones. I am trusting that the ideas that matter will circle back on their own again, in their own time.

2016 taught me more about this, about letting go of failure and disappointment and unfinished dead ends, about working with steadfastness and patience. 2016 taught me more about creating in the face of fear, dreaming in spite of failure, putting down the litmus of comparison. It taught me about the power of voice and the value of silence. It’s funny how such powerful lessons can be woven amid difficult circumstances.

Like many people, I typically journal on the cusp of each year. This year, I will be journaling daily in this archival journal my friends Ronnie and Trish just released, filled with daily prompts for cataloguing the days. For me, this annual period of reflection is less about marking tasks to accomplish in the new year and is more about noticing the hidden narrative of my days, the magic lying within the ordinariness and even the hardship. I generally reflect on our year as a family relationally and spiritually. I reflect on our community relationships. I reflect on our homeschool year. Since I am goal-oriented by nature, I prefer to jot down goals for the year ahead. Sometimes I flounder; sometimes I rise. Either way, I am learning how to hold these plans a bit more loosely, to allow them room to take organic course. They are more or less a flickering light for the path ahead. They often keep my feet moving when I feel a bit lost, even if only toward the next step.

For those who are interested, here are a few of the thoughts below I use to process each new year. May they be a flickering light for your path, too.



What was the biggest success of the last year (expected and unexpected)? 

What was the biggest disappointment or obstacle? Were these temporary circumstances or something ongoing/long-term? 

Were your expectations/goals at the beginning of the year reasonable?  Were you trying to do too much at once? Did others involved respond how you anticipated? Finances? Time?

How did you use your free time (unplanned time)? Did you even have free time? Did you rest well?  List some factors or circumstances that prohibit rest/restoration.

How did you take care of yourself? Write one thing you did for yourself that you’d like to continue.

How well did you connect with or take care of others? Name a meaningful point of connection last year. Is there a way to re-create it in the new year?

How do you feel entering the new year? (excited, anxious, fearful, expectant, overwhelmed, etc.) Are any specific life circumstances contributing to this feeling? How does this emotion fuel you? Your family’s relationships/learning? Your work? How does it deplete them?


Take a moment to let go of accomplishment and disappointment. Acknowledge your emotions and release them. Imagine yourself being emptied and cleared. Pray and ask for wisdom.


What is one specific way you want to take care of yourself this year? Is this daily, weekly, monthly? Write it down. If possible, share it with someone you trust, someone who will help you prioritize it.

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with those in your home in a more meaningful way this year? Just one. Is this a daily, weekly, or monthly practice?

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with someone(s) outside of your home in a more meaningful way? Begin with one. Is this a daily, weekly, monthly practice? Write it on the calendar.

What is one area of your family daily routine you’d like to shift? (I ask myself this specifically for the homeschool, too.) What do you need to eliminate? Simplify? Add? Have more consistency in? Write it down.

What part of the follow-through do you need the most help? Physically? Logistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

What encourages you the most in your daily living? Write down one habit change to cultivate encouragement.


Thank you, thank you for all of your patience while this space has been down the last couple of weeks. The re-organization here certainly took longer than I intended and often mirrored the tidying process in our physical home–clearing one pantry shelf only to find myself emptying and scrubbing all of the cabinets with all the contents on the floor. Needless to say, there were many cobwebs in the underbelly of this space, and I’m grateful to my brother-in-law, Tim, for helping me clear them.

For clarity, you’ll now find the categories in the top menu and even subcategories within a few of the larger topics, ideally making it easier to seek and find. I’m still tweaking several details, including organizing or correcting image files that didn’t quite transfer properly, but nothing too distracting. It takes time to comb and fix hundreds of posts, so if something looks off, chances are I just haven’t gotten to that one quite yet. Wink.

Typically, in my first post of the new year, I might talk about my personal or household goals as I did here and here, but this year feels somehow different. Although in one hand it holds a typical sense of expectation, in the other I feel less need to define what I ought to do with it. This is new for me, as I more often use blank life pages to form TO DO lists and goals. With growing children and work, life has become quite full over here, a different sort of busy from our early family years, and even with all of our intentional choices to live in an unhurried/slow manner, some busyness is unavoidable. Entering 2016, I’m breathing a little deeper and simply hoping to embrace this full season as it comes.

Happy New Year, friends––a little belated, of course. Also, winter has been mild enough for trees an plants to bloom here. These, I thought, looked like fireworks, a celebratory welcome to January.


Around this point in every semester, my children and I tend to hit a lull in our learning together. The enthusiasm of fresh beginnings is waning and other areas of life begin to crowd in, diverting attention and easily sliding us out of routine. Am I alone in this? We are caught in the nebulous middle of our term, far from both the start and our finish around the holidays. Perhaps it is here where I’m most likely to forget goals each year, to lose sight of what we wanted in the beginning when I felt so hopeful and full of clear vision–or at least more energy. Wink.

By this point in our unofficial school year, I’ve realized maybe some goals I had in August are meant to be pruned and left by the wayside for another year or season. Our handwork, for instance, has been slow, as we’ve encountered trouble I didn’t anticipate. I’m not intending to let it go, but I didn’t understand how long it would take to work on skills unfamiliar to all of us. Slow is okay, I have to remind myself. We have no tests or checkmarks to prove, take your time and enjoy it. This seems to be a fitting reminder in all of our work. Some of our science or history projects have seemed to fall away simply because of time, which is okay too. But it begs the honest question of myself: how do I fight the lull, the longing to shove aside what is hard and instead sink into comfortable, yet aimless days? I know, as with tidying or anything else, I’m looking for that tender balance between effort and letting go. Here’s a few things I’m trying right now.

relax the routine a bit | Last week, emotions seemed to be running fairly high around here, and I knew we needed to change our routine up a bit. I let the kids sleep in and we limited our academic work to practicing maths and a bit of reading each day. We took a few mornings out for hiking and other things. It was sort of a fall break, a way for us to experience a change while keeping with a few, small goals.

make time for yourself to be inspired | I realized part of why I feel fresh with vision at the beginning of the year directly connects to the amount of time I’m giving to learning myself. I read everything from books to blogs, sifting through ideas and finding ones that might fit our family. Once we begin our school year, this sort of time naturally falls away, too. We are busy doing! This week, I’m planning a little more time for myself. I’ve begun sifting through books and magazines I’ve read before, notes I’ve made, perusing blogs or Pinterest for help revising my original ideas and searching for fresh inspiration. In short, I’m taking time to nurture my own love of learning. It’s a good start.

ask my children | This can seem simple and obvious, and yet I sometimes forget to simply ask my children their thoughts about our routine. Since my children are getting older this is getting easier to naturally discuss while we’re making dinner or reading together. I ask them them questions such as, “How is our work going for you?” “What’s difficult or dull for you during our day?” “What’s your favorite thing you’re learning right now?” “Is there anything you’re sad we don’t have enough time for?” These straightforward questions help bond us in such an insightful way.

Do you experience this sort of lull in your routine? How do you fight your own or your children’s lack of enthusiasm?  I would love to hear.



These last several weeks have been quiet here, I know. The grey days have kept us tucked inside more than usual, where we’ve enjoyed one another in very simple ways again, often near a wood-burning fire, underneath soft throw blankets. Honestly, I’ve relished the slowness after the fast-paced, almost dizzying 2014, and have felt unhurried to resume typical routines. Instead, I’ve been patiently reflecting on the last year, its beauty and difficulty, triumphs and defeats. 2014 was a sweet year in so many ways. Personally, I stretched into new writing ventures; met and worked with several incredible people; joined my talented sister and brother-in-law in their photography studio; connected with the beautiful Wild+Free homeschool community and even shared a bit of our journey at the conference in the Fall. I have nothing but gratitude for all of it.

While lovely in so many ways, this year was also a hard, defining lesson in personal capacity–a year of treading physical, creative, and relational limits. It taught me to dig deep both spiritually and soulfully and to be brave with my heart, but I’ve realized too much of myself was expended in producing. By the end of the year, I felt threadbare and soul-thin, hungry for more of the nothings that mean everything–la joie de vivre–the time spent with my husband and our children, time with our families and community, and time with Jesus.

When I first began this small space, it was a journal. A place where, as I wrote in my first post, I sucked out the marrow of life. Or tried anyway. I wanted to see the poetry of motherhood–the light and the dark, because there’s always a mixture–and to continue practicing the art of words. I hoped other parents might be encouraged to see their own lives in a new way, not to be like ours necessarily, but to discover the unique and beautiful nature within their own. I hope this year to return to that place, a collection of vignettes and dialogues, poetic ramblings and simple photographs as I continue journeying through motherhood, marriage, and home-education. I realize these changes may not be the best career move and that I may not ever become someone important by the world’s standards, but I will never regret choosing them, choosing my children and husband, choosing now.

On that note, a few goals I scribbled down for the new year:

// pay attention. 

// guard my time

// nurture our home life + relationships

// infuse the arts more into our home life and homeschool

// regular time with Jesus

// live “less is more”

I’m so grateful for all of the people who have supported this space through sponsorship this last year, but for purposes of time and simplicity, I’ve decided to let go of that aspect of Cloistered Away for this year. I will continue working with small businesses and creatives who I love and feel that in some way you might, too, and as always will make a note in the post when that occurs. I’m so grateful for the sweetness of this readership. Thank you for loving me and my family here. With all of me, thank you. Cheers to each of you, to the journey, and of course, a new year.

bethany xo

Happy New Year and welcome to Cloistered Away‘s new space–the best way to begin 2014! First, thank you to Corina and Theodore for their impeccable design and site work and for their promptness and great attitude working through the holiday season. Also, thank you, Kristen, for the beautiful profile images (and for making me look like a superstar) in the midst of your busiest work season. I’m so grateful. For those of you who subscribe to Cloistered Away, your subscriptions will take a few days to fully transfer. If by next week you notice you aren’t receiving anything in your reader, check back and subscribe via email again. I apologize in advance.



I’m naturally a goal-setting/planning type of person, so I generally enjoy this time of year, a time of reflection and anticipating the future. Typically, I would dream up a few huge projects or lifestyle choices to evaluate and change, but frankly, I’m too tired for a longer TO DO list this year. Instead, in 2014, I am evaluating the little, everyday things, such as how I eat my food (too often standing at the counter) or how I communicate with friends (mostly electronically) to how I can help keep our almost 13 year marriage fresh (break the routines a few times). My hope? Small changes, large impact. How about you? What are some of your goals in the new year? What are a few little, everyday things you already do or want to do to improve your life? I’d love to know.