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I recently shared these thoughts on Instagram, and one person recommended I leave it in this space, too, so that it might be easier to find. I thought it was a pretty good idea.

There were so many years where our home lives and learning looked more concrete—seeing, listening, doing. I worried: Am I doing enough, will they have enough? Have we made the right choices in their education? In those years, our school table sprawled with colorful illustrations, imaginative stories, math or language manipulatives. Our sofa housed long hours of read-aloud with Legos or other handwork and hot cocoa or tea. They sound romantic now, but they were hard—my plans often wandering away to take their own form. I was learning patience in one way or another, again and again. But the funny thing is: I miss those days. I am savoring my youngest’s childhood all the more. 

Our days now feel more abstract, conversations piled one upon the other. Minus Olive’s daily practice, our work together is far less colorful and picturesque—who wants to see images of Logic proofs or Latin translations or Algebra equations—but it’s beautiful in its own way and I feel more present somehow, working out these pages with them, making cheesy jokes, seeing glimpses of the incredible humans they are becoming. 

Parenting in every stage requires our attention.  Not our hovering. Not our control. And sometimes, not even our plans. Our attention, more than the books we read or the curriculum we follow, informs them the most. It changes us. It allows us to see beyond the tantrums and scribbled walls and grumbling mornings, to see them—human, soul, developing person. Grace flows from those humble places. And by some miracle, we can look in the mirror and receive the grace for that person, too.

Some stages and phases will feel more like sweet spots for us than others. But don’t give up on the hard ones. The days or weeks or years that seem to take every part of our mind, will, and emotions—well, quite honestly, they are the ones when you and they grow the most. 

We mothers wear a lot of hats, and it’s no wonder that we quickly lean into multi-tasking. Sweeping a floor while taking a business call or scheduling a play date. Wiping down the bathroom counter and sink while potty training a toddler. Mentally listing and categorizing the needs around us (including our own––um, shower?) while we drive a carpool or stir a pot or push a swing. Add in homeschooling, and you may find yourself with books or art supplies or papers in any one of these scenes. There are so many things to keep up with as a mother, without considering the emotion, the tantrums, the stories and snuggles. So here is a little lesson I’ve learned in the ebb and flow of this life: efficiency and presence as a mother rarely co-exist. They can complement one another, co-exist by taking turns with the other, but rarely would I consider presence––attending to the emotional or abstract needs of the home––efficient.

This week has been a series of those days, the sort met with heavy sighs, shrugged shoulders, even groans from my children, particularly my younger ones. Why? or I don’t want to do that. or simply –– Ugggghh. The gift of walking this mothering/homeschooling journey for long enough is knowing these sort of days and attitudes do come, but unless I allow it, they do not define me or my home. Life with a three year old can be equally hilarious, delightful, and emotionally exhausting. The same is true of a thirteen year old. As one who loves the accomplishment of doing, I can assure you it is worth your time, patience, and even emotional endurance to be present with your children in the hard places of motherhood.

These hard days are a moment to pause the efficient, multi-tasking button and cast vision for your child again. You may need to step outside or shut yourself in the bathroom temporarily to breathe and encourage yourself first, but after doing so, step toward them. Step into their hard emotions to be with them and remind them who they are and where they are going. We are visionaries. We see our children uniquely. We know their quirks and idiosyncrasies. We know their soft spots emotionally and their tickle spots physically. We know their insecurities and gifts. We are uniquely positioned to speak to all of it. And while we can offer them the best music lessons or clothes or education or travel experience, learning to be present with them in the hard places is where they will grow the most. It is not efficient. It takes time, sometimes 302 times in a day! But it is worth it.

I realize this all sounds lovely written on a screen and entirely different when you’re dealing with an angry child/teen/preschooler. Or when you’re holding a hard and unwelcome no. Or when a child is firmly holding their no or weeping with hurt feelings. I promise you: I have been there. This week, when my daughter told me she didn’t like reading or want to practice reading any more, my heart felt a zing. My impulse wanted to respond, are you kidding me?! But instead I stood up and left the room to get a glass of water, took a deep breath, and returned to her and her point. We talked about some of the topics we’ve read in history together––how women didn’t always have the right to education or political/cultural voice, how it was illegal for women and men in slavery to learn to read at all, how it perpetuated systemic and social control. I asked her why? This led to a conversation about reading leading to independence and freedom to learn anything. It led to a conversation about taking initiative in your life and doing the work. It was brief, five to ten minutes, and then we finished her lesson. I commended her perseverance (and secretly my own) and we both gladly shifted to do something else. This was just one example, in one particular moment, with one particular child. This may happen with each child over a different topic, with a different emotion. With a toddler or young preschooler without much reasoning, the vision-casting may look more concrete: This is how we use our hands. This is how we use our words. This is a sign you need a nap. This is a sign you are hungry. Mothers, do you understand, why at the end of it all, the question we ask ourselves or must sometimes answer to others of what did I do today might be the wrong question altogether? If you must answer, simply tell yourself, today I refreshed our home’s vision.

Our work as mothers requires us to look a bit down the road, to gently lead. There is much meandering along the way, but our work is always to remind ourselves and our children (emotionally and physically) of where we are going, and when it is time, to let them go on their own. We are mothers, practically meeting needs and finding the ways to accomplish all the things for our homes. We are visionaries, making time for wisdom and nurturing of hearts. And just in case you’re needing the reminder, it is worth it.

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

READ MORE AT THE FRESH EXCHANGE

Possibly the hardest part about living, schooling, and working from home as a mother is establishing boundaries, even as they fold into one another. I am a perpetual student learning the balance. And yet balance isn’t exactly the right word––treating time as though it were a tray of poured wine glasses, a balance beam, or a ball tottering on a seal’s nose. Time is more abstract than any of those things. It is more like water, shifting in matter and motion based on its context, possibly a mountain river, a misty cloud, or an unmoved glacier. The ideal of cupping time into some sort balanced measure can feel defeating. In my experience, shifting between roles at home requires intuition, patience, and a bit of planning ahead.

We recently emptied our garage to transform it into a studio space for Mark and my brother-in-law’s creative work, and eventually a space for our family to enjoy. We found this desk in the process and set it near the window in our bedroom. I have been writing there often lately, enjoying the change of place and view. Mark spends the morning with our children, working through morning chores and math and logic lessons (thanks, Babe!) while I write blog posts/editorials, edit photos, or develop my Beautycounter business. I typically try to get out of the house to work, as I can grow easily distracted by the conversations and questions and activity of the house, and even at times, by the house’s care-taking itself. It’s never-ending, yes? But at heart, I am a homebody. I leave for the joy of returning. So it is a gift to have this little space right now, tucked in my bedroom with plenty of light and cozy privacy.  Although the shifting roles in marriage, motherhood, and self-paced work can be challenging at times, it is a gift to live with my family, to learn and work here alongside one another. And ultimately, I am relentless in tweaking routines in various seasons to make it work.

I know there are many women who work from home, and others who are interested to try. So I wrote out a brief list of lessons I’ve learned over the years of my own journey, often learned through making mistakes. Wink. Here’s a few big ones that might apply regardless of the type of work itself.

Set and Honor Work Hours / Blocking specific hours for personal work at home is imperative. Home can be a haven for work life, but it can also distract your focus when you’re trying to manage too many things at once. I know it can be humdrum to think of life in terms of hours, especially when children are involved and the days can feel different each day, but setting aside a specific time for the work you want to accomplish, whether it is starting your own business or making room for a hobby, is important. When I first began blogging, I set aside hours I knew my young children would be occupied: rest time, early morning, or after their early bedtime. Currently with Mark’s help, I am now able to work in the morning most weekdays. Yet I still have to be disciplined about honoring my allotted work hours. When time is up, I get up and walk away for the day, having to release all that is unfinished (because regularly something is unfinished).

Create a Designated Work Space / For a long time I worked at our desktop computer in the kitchen. As my children grew and our homeschool days shifted, it was helpful for me to be able to write, edit images, or email while also keeping an eye and ear on the home. In years where I have had a babysitter or now Mark’s help, I try to leave the house and set up at coffee shop corner. But I prefer the quiet, small spot in my bedroom right now.

Create Realistic, Contextual Goals / Set goals based on your personal context. Are you needing to make a certain amount of income? What time do you have available? How long will specific, regular work tasks take you? I learned many of these lessons the hard way. For instance, for months at a time, I would try to write out an editorial calendar for this space. I have always had plenty of ideas and images I want to share, but I always underestimated the amount of time it took to put it all together. I would find myself frustrated at not meeting my own agenda, but I was planning content for a pace I wasn’t able to contribute at that point. I had young children at home with me, needing my attention and eventually longer stretches of lessons and read aloud. What I needed was to keep a list of ideas and work through them at a more flexible pace. At some points, I am able to work through the list quickly, and other times I seem to move at snail pace. Part of this process is learning to receive all seasons of work and home life: the quiet, slow winter and the burgeoning spring alike.

Say No, or Protect What You Value / This is still the hardest for me. I am a yes person, a pleaser and accommodate-r, so saying no is extremely difficult. But learning to turn down opportunities (even good ones) or even limit the expectations I put on myself has been the most powerful and beneficial lesson for my work and home life. Motherhood is a gift, and having my children at home is truly only for such a short period of time. I have to protect time that I want with them, even at times when it costs me income-producing work. These are ongoing conversations in our home and will vary home to home based on what your family values. Again, trial and error have taught me so much. Sigh. But the better I am able to estimate the time it takes for various work, whether writing an editorial article, taking a call, or running an errand, the better I am about saying no and prioritizing. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend reading Essentialism––one of my favorite books of all time.

Be Patient / If you’re starting a new business from home, whether it is a blog, an online shop, direct sales or something else altogether, be patient with yourself, as you make space for it in the sphere of family and home. Some days will work smoothly and as planned, and other days will feel futile. It’s okay. Tomorrow is always fresh waiting for you again.

Ask for Help / Whether hiring a babysitter for blocks of time, getting help from a family member, or swapping childcare with a friend, ask for help as your business grows. There will be seasons where you can work during a nap-time, and other years without naps. For the latter, have a plan that fits your family budget and needs.

Let Go of the Working-Mother Shame / I recently was re-reading a section of Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Girls and noticed this passage I had previously underlined, “Mothering is a sacred profession that has, in our day and age, been relegated to a sub-profession; hence, mothers live today in an unavoidable tension, a juggling of selves, and at times, a kind of shame.” I love my husband and family deeply, and sometimes, my work costs them something, too. There can be a shame that all mothers carry in some form, but especially ones who work, that they are not enough. I know the mothering years of small children are short, and so I look to make sure when I am with my children, I am really with them.

Make Space for Rest and Play / In the toggle between roles, it seems there is always something to do. Make sure you set aside time each week to rest and play. Although for those of you motivated by efficiency and productivity, this will feel of lesser importance, it is the glue that holds all the roles together. This is the place where connection (to self and family, spiritual and natural) is fed and grown. If you are not taking time to rest or enjoy life, you will quickly burn out.

Our family has been studying the 19th century this year, and while we are only scratching the surface of events and topics, it has been incredible to read the various narratives of women before women had the right to property, work, or education. From Sacagawea to Queen Victoria to the numerous women in pioneering homesteads to slave narratives and abolitionists and women who bravely took up new roles in the Civil War, I have been moved to read so many stories of courage and compassion, of perseverance and fortitude with my children. As a parent, I hope these powerful words become descriptions of their lives one day, too.

Although books are an important way we build character in our home, it isn’t the only one. Many of the practical character lessons our children learn occur just outside our doors, where they play with friends and build forts and garden. When possible, these lessons extend when we travel and experience other parts of the world or plan outdoor excursions. Today, I am partnering with Keenshoes our family has loved for yearsto share their new Moxie line for girls, and also a few character lessons growing in our girls through outdoor play and exploration.  

There are accumulating piles of research on the benefits of outdoor living for our children’s health: Vitamin D, decreased stress and anxiety, calming for ADD/ADHD, physical exercise, and so on. Yet as a parent, I also notice the ways outdoor living and play teaches my girls something about courage and compassion, about perseverance and beauty. When they climb trees or hike long trails, when they experience new people or ideas from history, when they rove through rivers or gather wildflowers, they are developing a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around them.

Naturally, I do not know who exactly my girls will grow up to be, but I have glimpses now when I see them try something new or speak the truth clearly, when I watch them work hard at a task or serve someone when they think nobody’s watching. As Marmee noted to her girls in Little Women, “I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know they will make it a better place.” Here are a few ways giving my girls plenty of time outside is equipping them to do just that.  

Perseverance / We love to hike, especially in the spring when our Southern air is still cool. There are times, our girls grow tired before we are done, especially our youngest. These experiences are opportunities of perseverance, of continuing despite the hardship, despite knowing how much longer until we are through. To lighten the experience, we might make a game, racing to certain points or playing “I spy.” I might hand them my phone to take pictures along the way. When they finish, we always high-five and celebrate!

Courage / There are plenty of opportunities for courage in the outdoors, whether in casual tree climbing, swimming, or in learning about wildlife. One summer we camped in the mountains in Colorado, and I remember the park ranger giving us instructions about bears. One of the girls looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Did she say bears?” When we venture into new areas together and learn about the land and wildlife, sometimes it is scary. Sometimes unknowns are scary and unpredictable, a sign for us change course. Other times, they are an opportunity for courage.

Compassion / Spending time outdoors, even simply in our backyard or growing food in our garden, cultivates a love and appreciation for the natural world, and subsequently, a longing to preserve and protect it. When we are walking and find trash in the grass or bushes, we collect it. When we garden organically, we are learning about how to take care of the earth and our bodies. When we interact with homeless on the city street, we say hello and offer them something if we can. All of these seemingly small habits are growing a deeper awareness of the world and people around us, and how we participate in caring for them.

Gratitude / Even in the youngest years, children notice bugs and leaves adults might pass by. They listen to songbirds and the rustling leaves. They enjoy animals and wildlife and playgrounds and picnics. Playing outdoors has a way of cultivating gratitude, simply by its enjoyment. When we pray together, we often thank God for pieces of nature we’ve experienced that day.

Determination / There are moments my girls spot a specific tree or boulder and are determined to conquer it. Sometimes they slip and have to start over, but I love watching them beeline for something specific to work toward. I love it even more when they find a way to help one another, by coaching steps or lending a boost.


This post is sponsored by Keen, a business our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep our family and this space afloat. 

celebrating_mother's_day

Mother’s Day is this weekend in the US, and although it seems there is now a day to celebrate all sorts of things, of course this one and Father’s Day feel most precious. As both a daughter and a mother, I love that we have a day set apart to say thank you, to remind these precious women in our lives that they matter. I’m not quite sure what this weekend will look like for us yet, but if you’re looking for a few ideas in how to celebrate (or pass along to someone else–wink), here’s a few favorite ideas below. Happy Mother’s Day!


 

for the foodie

If mom is generally the one feeding others, it will certainly gift her to have someone else prepare something tasty for her instead this Sunday morning. For most any mother, breakfast in bed with a favorite book or magazine will feel luxurious, more like a bed and breakfast than a typical morning at home. Consider sesame toast with a poached egg and greens or  lavender french toast or a grain-free cherry crumble or of course my favorite blueberry scones. For a simpler option, run to get her favorite coffee or make a mimosa. Family brunch is another popular idea, and a fun way to include all the kids in preparation. For this option, consider something simpler to eat, like banana-blueberry pancakes or yogurt-granola parfait. Of course, even a morning out at her favorite eatery can be special. Check ahead to make a reservation as it’s a popular option.

last-minute gift ideas | this book | this subscription (use CLOISTEREDAWAY for $10 off) | this handmade kettle | these wood nesting bowls

for the gardener 

For the woman who appreciates nature and plant life, plan to spend the day outdoors. Pack a picnic and head to a local flower garden or park. Consider these secrets for the perfect picnic or take this simple idea and create a beautiful spread in the backyard. Last year, I spent the day planting flowers in our beds on Mother’s Day, so possibly a trip to a local greenhouse or giving her time to work in the garden at home (alone or together, depending) might be a gift, too.

last-minute gift ideas | these scissors | this book | plants for the garden | gardening hat

for the adventurer 

Some women feel most at rest playing outdoors. Consider places you don’t typically go together. Would she love a day trip rock climbing or hiking or kayaking? Consider taking a family bike ride or offering her a day to herself to hike or ride on her own.

last-minute gift ideas | If there isn’t anything specific she needs, give the gift of experience here. Wink.

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list-making / unmade beds / holiday baking / endless amounts of pretend play / poetry and hot cocoa / new braids / gift wrapping / math work / bedtime reading / an ornament made by Blythe

Between finishing our homeschool year and my part-time job at the college and Mark’s weekend with Strep Throat and Kristen and Tim’s out-of-town work and our preparing for the Christmas holiday and my working on (an exciting) re-design for this blog, the last few weeks have been blurry. If I’ve seemed out-of-touch, you’ll know why. We all are looking forward to this holiday break, a chance to break our typical routine and breathe. The gifts are wrapped and today we’re folding a shocking amount of laundry to pack before we leave town tomorrow.  Here’s a few photos of our life lately.

 

 

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Rest and be thankful. ― William Wordsworth

Sometimes I think about the early days of our family, when we’d harness babies to our bodies and walk without aim, just to be together. To be. Sometimes we used words and held hands. Sometimes we walked in silence, our footsteps in sync. Although our walks have since become louder, I love them just the same. Walking aimlessly, together.

fall berries / Saturday morning crafts / studying leaves / shadow play / afternoon light / reading / a football and a walking stick / Sunday morning bike ride / something new / weekend walking / outdoor dinner with friends / a hot chocolate picnic