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I began this blog a decade ago next month, just after Blythe’s first birthday––before Olive, before homeschooling, before any personal financial collapse, before Instagram or sponsorships, before a dramatic family move, before cohabitation with my sister’s family, before the slow and pending DIY renovation of our current home, before cloistered away meant anything else than simply being tucked away in the quiet recesses of motherhood and home life. This blog began as a pragmatic solution, one where I could share the images and updates our families wanted, while also channeling my creative spirit and desire to journal about motherhood. Like Flannery O’Conner, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Over the years, this space has helped me process the emotion and experience of motherhood (or at least the parts I wanted to remember––wink), our journey into homeschooling, and even at times the changes and hardship our family has endured. In many ways, it has helped me become.

Although it wasn’t initially intended, this space has now evolved into a personal business––a joy and gift for our home in financially fragile years and circumstances. It has also become a humble resource guide for thousands of readers, and I’m so immensely grateful. Yet as my readership has grown and evolved, so has the content of this space. I’ve felt more protective of my family, especially my growing children, and their own voices and stories. It can be tricky finding the balance of authenticity and privacy, but I’m always seeking it.

Still, it feels time to do some housekeeping of this space, some clearing out and directing of content again. And I would love your input!What do you love about this space? What would you love to receive here?  Would you do me a HUGE favor and take 2-3 minutes and fill out THIS ANONYMOUS SURVEY? The info is ONLY for my personal use and help in better gauging the needs and readership of this community, and it will be so helpful, whether you are a first-time or long-time reader. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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

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

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

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MY CURRENT PRACTICES

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

IDEAS TO ESTABLISH EVENING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NURTURING THE WHOLE SELF

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

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

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

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MORNING RITUALS

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

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

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

MY CURRENT PRACTICES

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

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IDEAS TO ESTABLISH NURTURING MORNING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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On the first day of this year, I woke up long before the sunrise, seized with anxiety. The same thoughts were spinning circles through me again, doubting my abilities as a mother and educator, doubting my work here, doubting whether I’m good enough at any of it. Overwhelmed, I laid there staring at the lines of street lamp light crossing our bedroom walls, my husband sleeping deeply beside me. Why do I have such a hard time doing the same? Why do I run myself through an analysis, looking for fault and unfinished work instead of simply celebrating all that has been accomplished? Why is it so hard for me to do my best and let go?

I quietly slipped out from my sheets and began to write. I wrote to release the tightness in my chest. I wrote to find the woman buried in my thoughts and soul, the one who I am always comparing myself to and yet never measuring up with somehow. I needed to meet her. I began with these two lines.

I am deeply perfectionistic. I say this not with pride but with a tinged face of embarrassment, a confession that I’m hoping to release a bit more even if simply by writing it out.

Perfectionism. Damn. This was about perfectionism. I’ve always known I’m a perfectionist. Always. I have handfuls of childhood stories in how I learned to walk or ride a bike, form my letters or even save/spend money.  Honestly, I’ve always thought of this part of myself without much weight, much like handedness or style preference. If the topic ever came up in a conversation, I might have even felt a sense of pride. Yet when I wrote those first two lines, I noticed something deeper for the first time: embarrassment and an inferred shame about this part of myself. Somewhere deep within me I know perfection is illusory and unrealistic. Embarrassment arises by my striving for it anyway.  Shame reminds me I’m never measuring up.

I wrote for an hour that morning, describing the woman  in my head among other things. I wrote her out as honestly as possible, every standard that I hold myself to in parenting, marriage, writing, self-image, wellness, and so on. At times, I laughed at myself, recognizing the absurdity of my expectations. At times, I cried, recognizing the burden of my ideals. With every line, every word something in me began to release. Sometimes writing out my thoughts can be the most tangible way to recognize the lies, the expectations, the disappointments, the standards.

Motherhood touches every part of us, even the parts we didn’t know yet existed.  I’ve often heard people say having children is like having your soul/heart forever walking outside of your body. While often used as a sentimental line used to demonstrate the amount of love we carry for our children, I will also note it is true about our insecurities, too. Motherhood releases a deep capacity for love. It also reveals our deepest fears and failures. Motherhood and marriage have been the most vulnerable journeys for me. They require me to bare my heart again and again in the best possible way, even when its ugly. And sometimes, it is ugly.

Since the first day of this year, my heart has continued to unfold. I have never felt so undone, so seen. I won’t discuss all of it here, because I’m not sure this is the place for that, although I imagine bits will trickle through my writing in various ways anyhow. But I can say this: I’m am seeing–I mean really seeing–parts of my heart for the first time, and it’s so good. It’s hard. But it’s good. The kids and I are talking about our own interactions in a new way. We’re having more conversations about shame, about hurt feelings, about conflict. I want them to have tools as they grow into adult years. I know I’ve mentioned it umpteen times here and on Instagram, to friends and family alike. Go and get yourself a copy of Rising Strong.  I began reading it not far into the new year, and it is wrecking me in the best possible way. It should have been on my parenting list, although I would retitle it as a parenting book, “how to deal with you sh$t, so your kids know how to deal with theirs.”

At the end of last year I read Big Magic, a nicely dove-tailed book to Rising Strong, concerning fear and the creative process. But Elizabeth Gilbert notes this, words I have returned to again and again the last few months:

I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men. Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.

The truth is perfectionism–whether in my mothering or home or marriage or work–distances me from others. It secretly whispers that I am never measuring up. It keeps me tucked away from other people’s stories and experience, from realizing I’m not alone. Through sharing experience with one another, through writing out or discussing (or in the hardest times, crying) about these fears or burdensome areas where we don’t measure up, we leave a place for truth. We leave room for light and connection and encouragement with one another. Ultimately, vulnerability with people we trust, even the most uncomfortable bits, leaves space for healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe. ―Susan Cain, Quiet

It feels redundant to mention the messy and loud work of motherhood, let alone with the homeschool. Whether by the practical work of our hands or the soulful work of the heart, it is simultaneously the most beautiful and depleting work, requiring  every bit of our reserves, regardless of educational choices or occupations outside of the home. Parenthood will turn our hearts inside-out in the best of ways, and while it is inherently about our children, parenthood is also a journey of self. I encourage you, dearest readers, do pay attention to this less obvious part too.

On a recent weekend, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen on my own, listening to music and working with my hands. At the end of the evening as the kids were bathing and sliding into bedtime routine, I recognized an internal energy that typically isn’t there at this point in the day. I’m more likely in these hours to fall asleep during read-a-loud or slip into my own sheets just after the kids. Our children had played or worked outside all day, taking full advantage of our unseasonable warm weather. The overflow of energy, I realized, came from quiet, from spending a few hours working with my hands, listening to music, and simply allowing my thoughts to drift without the need to talk or explain a process. I had simply worked.

Knowing how much solitude or quiet activity fuels me as an introvert, the choice to live and learn with my four children all the time may seem funny to others. For years I have wrestled with guilt about this personal need. Taking time for the self can often feel secondary and selfish in the wake of all that can be (or should be) done for our children, and we mothers can be hard on ourselves in the process. After reading Quiet several years ago, I realized this need of mine is as much a gift to my children as any other. I can only say it this way:

The point of solitude is not merely to be filled but to be filled often enough to overflow into something or someone else.

Motherhood is not a life of solitude (even though a mother with a newborn or young toddlers might feel differently). It is a conscious practice of living out-loud, of talking through actions and patterns of thought in order to teach our children. This is a tree. This is a book. This is a bed. This is food. We teach them how to handle anger and happiness, how to talk through hurt feelings and where to look up answers to practical questions. This is anger. This joy. This is laughter. This is hurt. Here is how we speak, how we use our bodies to share our emotion. Here is how we ask for help. We show them the paradoxes and contexts for living. This is a stranger. This is a new friend. Here is how and when you greet them.  We teach practical skills in self-care. Here is a toilet. Here is a bath. Here is a toothbrush. We also teach them about boundaries, about the connection between self and others. This is yours. This is mine. This is sharing. This is fun. This is tired. This is a tantrum. This is the need for rest.  Homeschooling simply adds the layer of academics. The same lessons spiral over and over in a new context. Here is frustration. Here is joy. Here is perseverance. Here is respect for others. Here is a need for rest.

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By honestly sharing my own boundaries and limitations, I am likewise teaching my children to recognize their own. I am also teaching them it is okay to say remove myself from people or activities I love in a healthy way. Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to find quiet during my homeschool days and in motherhood in general over the years:

rest time | Take an hour in the afternoon for rest time. This is a time of quiet, where littles can nap and non-napping children can listen to audiobooks or play independently. Quiet is the emphasis for our home during this hour, and the rule is you must choose an activity that won’t disrupt someone else. This last bit gets easier as they grow older, although sharply protecting this time is more difficult. During this time, I typically take care of online work. On the best days, I just grab a book and a cozy spot on my bed.

go outside | Anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise in my head or environment, I step outside. When my children were young, I would load them in a stroller or wrap them to my body somehow for a journey to the park. Now as my children are a little older, we may take our work outdoors or I may just go and sit in a sunny spot in the backyard for a few minutes. Sometimes emotion and thought need to be free of the physical home.

take a time-out for yourself | Time-out has such a negative connotation, as it feels equated with toddler tantrums or other misbehavior. I realized during those early mother years, that sometimes I was the one who needed a time-out. Some moments I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or like I might lose patience, I learned it was better to take a ten minute break for myself before addressing them. I might put the baby in the crib or the toddler in a high-chair with a snack or on their bed with a book. I might send pre-schoolers outside for a bit to swing or play. I still do this, no longer because of tantrums, but because some days the work at hand does feel overwhelming. It’s always good for me to find a quiet spot in the home or yard, take a few slow, deep breaths. These moments feel almost trite, but they work wonders for finding perspective.

offer screen time | Let me pause here and say there’s no shame in using a screen for help. Most modern parents are aware it’s best for children to learn with our hands and by human interaction. And yes, make that type of experience the bulk of your day together, but remember to show compassion to yourself, too. Are you dressed or needing a shower? Are you feeling emotionally anxious or stressed? Have you spent more time playing the sibling referee or working through toddler tantrums than normal? Take 30 minutes. When my children were little, they had a daily 30-60 minutes of screen time. They watched (and loved ) the BBC’s Planet Earth, which we still own and watch, and several documentaries on Netflix. They also watched PBS shows or Leap Frog Letter Factory or Math to the Moon.

send the kids outside | As my children have grown older, I often send them outside. I may give them a specific task or the simple imperative to play and enjoy fresh air. As our studies grow more complex and difficult, they need the balance, too.

Also: Rest Time in Our Home

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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.

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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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So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

We’re nearing the final days of May, a little shocking for me since this month has been so atypically cool and rainy. Still, I’m ready. We’re all eager to wrap up our school year, including the mister who will be finished with his own at the end of next week! I love my children. I love homeschooling. But I’m always a little weary by this point. Summer is the season where our family recovers and restores, and after a full summer expended on home projects last year, this one is long overdue.

I’ve often written about seasons here, both the literal and figurative sort. After an enormous financial loss a few years ago and two moves later, I’ve found regular comfort at the thought of seasons, the perspective that extremes of any kind–whether the heat from the sun or the hardship of our circumstances–do end or change at some point.

I know my weariness may come by surprise to some of you, as life via this space is edited and only seen in part. I select and write about bits and pieces, hinting at the whole. They are honest snippets of a larger story, but rarely reveal the grit of the day: the unwilling children, the unmet goals, the doubt, and even at times the tears. And we have a good mix of all of it. I hope that offers someone encouragement.

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As I have thought about it recently, so many of our current family goals are long-term oriented: parenthood, homeschooling, home renovation. Although we deeply care about each part, the truth is: parenting is hard. Homeschooling is hard. Living in a partially-finished home is hard. My husband works a full-time and a part-time job to keep our family afloat, so that I can stay home with our children and homeschool them. I write and photograph part-time (often at odd hours or on weekends) here and elsewhere, to help fill in financial gaps for things like soccer or ballet lessons or orthodontic braces. We are a team, a duo working in tandem with one another in every capacity, and by this time in the year, our endurance is waining.

I cried over coffee with him this morning. I don’t cry very often, but this one I could feel coming, my fingers grazing the borders of our capacity for too long. I had begun to lose heart, lose focus. In this place doubt feels the loudest. He listened and then gently offered encouraging perspective. We’ve had so many drastic changes over a short period of time and have adjusted as many circumstances as possible to uphold the people and ideas we love most. I love him for always leaving me with laughter and words that point me to Jesus.

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Whoever we are, whether parenting or homeschooling or planning a career, whether working through financial pitfalls or sickness in ourself or in someone we love, life requires endurance. It requires intermittent pause and breath and water–literally and figuratively–ways to gather perspective and restore our souls a bit along the way. I realized this year, I had stopped prioritizing these little pauses for myself. Focused on needs and work at hand, I had stopped exercising or making regular time for reading and praying or taking care of my overall health. I naturally gained a bit of weight and felt more sluggish in thought. I missed feeling strong, clear of mind and heart. So earlier this month, I began finding quiet for myself again. I began running/walking and practicing some yoga on my front porch a few times a week again. These simple moments and movements allow me time to stretch and pray and listen, to quiet the swirling lists of TO DOs and demands. Although these moments won’t solve life’s conflict, they give me courage and ultimately remind my heart to endure. Be strong and courageous, friends.

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This post is sponsored by Hooked Productions, a small family-run business in upstate New York which designs and creates eco-friendly clothing, using bamboo and organic cotton. I love their motto: “live the life you love. love the life you live.” Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. As always, all thoughts are my own. 

Images by Kristen Douglass of Fidelis Studio