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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver, When I Am Among the Trees

Summer is always hot and sticky in the South, and this one is proving the same. My bedroom windows face the rising sun, and on my favorite mornings I am in bed long enough to wake to it. Even then it is hot outside, but I try to make my way out of the door anyway while the light is still sleepy. We do not live among the mountains or near a cold river or the sea. But we have the morning and the evening and of course also the green trees. And that is enough to fill me with hints of gladness, and to teach me how to walk slowly and bow often, as Oliver writes. And so I take a brief walk twice a day, once to begin and the other to close it.

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Yesterday morning, while the boys finished their breakfasts and morning readings, the girls and I visited our local garden shop. We are planting new ivy for our backyard wall and also a late-season garden. Although it feels odd to be planting in the peak heat, sometimes sewing new life into the hardest circumstances sews life into the soul as well. So we walked about the shop’s property yesterday, noticing the sun-loving blooms and vines. We took refuge in the potting shed, grateful for the mid-morning shade. When we grew tired, we paused near the pond and enjoyed the sound of water running over the fountains. Beauty truly can be found in the smallest places.

As I consider the remaining summer days (and months!), I’m learning how to find joy in these types of simple moments and outings. As it turns, my children are learning the same. Of course, our favorite summer activities this time of year revolve around water, but without a backyard pool or pond or ocean, water activities need to be planned in advance for travel or with friends. The garden shop can be a place to play outdoors, to experience a variety of plant life at once, and to inspire a personal garden space. For me, it was a place to visit and be filled.


This post is in partnership with MUNY, a Brooklyn clothier creating handwoven, hand-printed clothing for women and children. Cloistered Away readers can save 25% off of anything in the 2016 line before July 15 using the code summer25. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

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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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I took these images a few weeks ago on a typical Sunday morning at home: the kids piled in my bed playing; my planner and hot coffee in hand; the smell of fresh fruit pancakes wafting through the air. Although this room belongs primarily to my husband and I, from the time our children were toddlers, they have always loved meandering into our bed for snuggles, reading, little talks, or even playtime. The busyness has changed over the years, but I know I’ll miss all of this energy one day.

When you live in a small home, every thing and space within it occupies more than one purpose. While during the late evenings and night our bed is a place for my husband and I, in the day it might morph from workspace to reading space to trampoline. I don’t mind the last part as long as their feet are clean. On the days I need a little more privacy or “alone time,” as we refer to it around here, I set boundaries that provide it (since my children are a bit older to respect them), and I often encourage my children to the same when emotions run high, wanting to model for them at young ages how to recognize and take care of themselves when they feel overwhelmed or in need of some quiet. This sort of conversation and shared language is helpful with so many shared spaces, especially as we all spend so much time together.

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I tend to linger in PJs most of the morning on these days, taking my coffee and planner back to my bed where I think about the upcoming week. Taking a rest from work on Saturday often helps me approach the new week with a fresh perspecitive. I write out a few simple goals for my personal work, our school work (projects or activities), and our home, and use these lists to help guide my time and work during the week ahead. The last few weeks I’ve lost this quiet planning time due to travel or some other circumstances, and I can tell you it deeply effects the quality of my week, especially when busy weekends happen in a row. I’m grateful to be reaching the upcoming holiday week, where I can collect my scattered thoughts and routine again.

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In many ways, the holidays have quickly crept in this year, and I’m just now beginning to think about Thanksgiving next week (insert: shock and awe) and Christmas close behind. It’s good for me to have a short list of what our family really needs or wants, and to also have an idea of how those gifts impact others. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to feature a couple of brands and products that we love that are working to make a difference in the world in some way. I hope this inspires you, or at the very least helps you cross off some things on your list, too.

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This post is sponsored by Sudara, a small business dedicated to rescuing women from the sexual slavery in India, making clothing “with hope.” All images and thoughts are my own, and as always thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space going. 

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Every year, around this time, I grow a bit heart-sick. While I scroll through images on my phone of apple orchards, cozy sweaters, and brightly colored leaves, our air remains warmly humid and summer foliage endures. I love our small town because of the people we are connected with here, but it is not in itself a beautiful place. It is our home and that is what makes it beautiful. Everyday friends stroll by with their children in wagons or walking their dog and simply pop in to say hello. Although not all of our friends live on our street, many live within two miles, and I realize there’s something special about our small town living that has little to do with foliage or weather. Still I do love the outdoors. My children and husband love the outdoors, and we live in a somewhat forgotten neighborhood, with no immediate wild parts to roam. This is the season where I learn to look a little deeper to find beauty right where I am.

It’s easy to look view online lives on my little hand-held screen with a sense of longing, whether it is over a dreamy home, a style of living, or the natural beauty of mountains, woods, and ocean. Any amount of my own discontentment can cause my heart to ache a bit. Without realizing it, I can find myself with thoughts, “if only. . .” and left unregulated those thoughts can quickly send me spinning. While online connections can be in so many ways a large sense of encouragement and inspiration, they can also distract me, keep me from taking a deeper look at our life, at my heart.  I’m sharing this so you know no one is invincible to distraction, to heart-ache, to longing for something other than what we have. Even here, I am learning to let go, to put down my phone more often, to live and enjoy right where I am.

I’m often up before the sunrise, and right now, as it’s the coolest part of our day, I am enjoying these first moments of dark passing to light right on my front porch with my morning coffee. It doesn’t matter where you live, the warm, hazy glow of morning light will always reveal beauty, even the most obscure. For thousands of years, people have written about the miraculous newness of morning, even simply that it happens every day. In my opinion, a morning walk is the best cure for a longing heart. It gently revives the soul. It reminds me to pay attention. It cultivates gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago at first light, I went for a walk with my camera. The girls, still in their PJs, joined me on their bikes, and the boys not long after. Here are a few snippets of morning from our humble street, a gentle reminder for all of us: beauty is found everywhere.

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Although beginnings happen in small ways everyday, from our morning routines to new relationships and jobs and homes, this is the season we celebrate them, give tribute to them. We imagine and create on otherwise blank slates, envisioning what new will come from this particular beginning. So whether you’re enjoying your morning coffee or scratching out dreams, here’s a few sounds filled with energy and hope to keep you company. Happy Monday, everyone.

1. Pieces Black Bear | 2Another StoryThe Head and the Heart | 3. The Lion the Beast the Beat  Grace Potter & the Nocturnal | 4. Before the Beginning Young Oceans | 5. I am Mountain Gungor | 6. Clean Slate M. Ward | 7. Disparate Youth Santigold  |  8. Leaves in the RiverSea Wolf | 9. Sleeping LessonsThe Shins | 10. Explode My Soul  Jonathan David and Melissa Helser  |  11.Low RoarLow Roar

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morning

Honestly, I haven’t always loved the morning. My body and mind seem to move in half-time, fumbling for order with garbled words and hair and breath. And I don’t like fumbling. But these years of motherhood have taught me to appreciate the sacredness of morning, its power to give me new, to offer what is yet to be and somehow rekindle hope and promise in my chest. Enough for the day, if I’ll pay attention. Morning neatly draws the lines between past and present and future, like a metronome counting out the rhythm of time, parting me with yesterday’s success and failure and reminding me to look ahead, to receive something new, something unique for today. I am neither the first nor the last to draw attention to the sacredness of mornings. Mary Oliver describes morning as a new creation, a time of rebirth. Harriet Beecher Stowe exclaims the new day beckons us into change. The Old Testament recounts every morning contains new mercies. Over the years I have found so much hidden in those first waking hours, strength and wisdom tucked into quiet moments easily overlooked. At times, I am awake before the sun, sitting alone with a cup of coffee and pen and paper or a book or in prayer. Sometimes I make it to the gym or for a walk or run through the neighborhood. On other mornings, I share these first hours with my children, snuggling them and hearing their dream-stories, making breakfast and beginning our daily routine. On the best of mornings, I awake with the sun and my husband. Regardless of the way my morning adapts to our family, I have learned these hours are intended to nourish me for the day’s demands, for whatever might be required.

This year, I’m wanting to pay closer attention to what has become my favorite part of the day, to take notice of the wisdom and rest and promise that comes through these early hours. And to share them periodically here with you.

{this moment}: A Friday ritual. A single photo (or group of photos) capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor, and remember. (inspired by soulemama)