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Everything in my life has brought me here. ––Rainer Maria Rilke

Each new year, like many of you, I toss the figurative pieces of my life in the air to reimagine myself, our home, our work, our life. Culture-wide, it is the great re-evaluation of what we are meant to do, how we are meant to live, what or whom we truly value.  To keep my thoughts free of expectation, I pen them quietly in my journal as I go about cleaning forgotten corners and shelves, emptying the house of unnecessaries. Clearing the contents of a closet or an unsorted drawer seems to inspire my brain to do the same. And like the contents that end up piled by the door to pass on to another home or donate, I often discover it is not that I need more, but to be more disciplined with less. The same can be true of my goals. As I flipped through four journal pages of scrawled lists and fragmented thoughts cluttering my headspace––everything from our family’s core values to the spilled soil in the car that needs vacuuming to unfinished creative projects to a book I want to read aloud with the kids this year to something on this blog that needs fixing and so on––I was surprised to learn that my reaction was not to organize or optimize these thoughts, and it certainly wasn’t to add to it. Instead, I wanted to pen inked lines through them, to discern which mattered the most and fold the rest away with the unnecessaries by the door.

The underlying truth? Everything is a trade-off. I know this. You know this. Whether it is the space in our home or calendar or the more figurative space in our head, choosing one thing always requires us to give up something else. And yet, still, I find myself living and making choices, ignoring this core principle. I learned this the hard way recently. I am home for the bulk of my day, and from the time I wake up through the dinner hour, our energy seems high and buzzing, frenetic even. The hours fold into one another with personal work and chores and schoolwork and play and social media and meals and emails and walks and character conversations. The evening hours have always been life-giving for me in a different way than the day. They restore and quiet me. They allow space for my introverted person, for reflection or reading or time with Mark. Yet not wanting to compromise my daytime rhythms and work, I was scheduling more and more meetings and meet-ups during the evenings.

During much of this last fall, I felt this ongoing frustration at the lack of order in our days. The evening chores were often sloppy and only mostly done, meaning our mornings often started there. I felt this growing exhaustion and grumpiness in me coupled with a lack of creativity. I stopped picking up my camera. My writing felt flat, lacking in soul and often remained in drafts or in journals. Much of my time typically allotted to writing here or on social media was spent in restorative prayer and reading to curb a growing current of anxiety in my chest. There were regular piles in my bedroom: schoolwork needing reading/checking, books and articles I wanted to read, clothes folded and waiting to be put away somewhere in my messy drawer. I planned out my lists weekly and daily, crossing off, crossing off, crossing off; I had an assistant a few hours a week to help manage it all, and yet still, I sensed this looming sense of disorder and disconnection. As I cleared spaces and thoughts last week, wondering and making notes, I realized I had been giving too much to other people in the evenings. I had said yes to meetings and meet-ups with others because the hours seemed available. Technically, I didn’t have things scheduled, right? Without realizing it, I was trading off an essential part of myself, a crucial part of my own creativity, restoration, and connection within the home. One fresh start for the new year? Protect evening margins during the week.

Naturally, your own trade-offs will be different. Your home, core values, and energy will differ, too, sometimes year to year. The aim is not sameness. Rather, it is understanding your/family’s highest value and how to best protect and honor the energy required to work toward it. Sometimes it will mean folding up and shelving something for later; sometimes it will mean better-organization of time or resource; sometimes it will mean letting go of something altogether.

Like many family homes, each room within our own serves more than one purpose. We work, play, create, sleep, eat, and read, together or individually all within the same few shared rooms of our home. Quite often, we overlap in the same space, so it is no wonder that my own bedroom, opening right off the eating area, would follow suit. By day it often functions as a quiet lounge for an assortment of school work, reading, or personal work, and by evening it becomes a place of much needed personal retreat. “Your room is the best,” my children often chime. And shouldn’t it be? With so many efforts expended in a day, the bedroom is the place of origin, a space where we begin and close each day, and I have always wanted my own to be a refuge, a deep sigh.

Aside from the gentle scents often diffusing in the air, our children love our bed the most, as do I. They snuggle under layered bedding, remarking how soft and cozy the bed is, teasingly asking to trade. We recently replaced our 12-year-old spring mattress with a Casper Wave Mattress, and I realized afterward, a mattress can be like a favorite pair of old running shoes, you don’t notice the lack of support until you replace them. Or so is the case for me. The Wave, with five different layers of breathable foam, has been a dream thus far––and by that I mean, I am deep in sleep, dreaming. As a busy mother, writer, and homeschooler, that matters.

Choosing a new mattress feels luxurious, but the options can also be overwhelming. Like a few other companies disrupting the mattress world, Casper’s Wave arrived in a box, furled and tightly sealed, directly from Casper. It is somewhat surreal to imagine our King sized mattress in a box only a little larger than a mini-fridge. “A mattress is in there?” The girls kept asking. Then we opened the box and playfully helped it unfurl.

Since we hadn’t ever owned a foam mattress before (and maybe the same is true for some of you), I was concerned about the safety and heat factor. Although I am cold natured, like most people, I don’t enjoy feeling hot or waking up sweating in the night. Yuck. I was happy to learn the Wave was thoughtfully engineered, not just to appease the American Chiropractic Board (which it did), but also to keep sleepers cooler with breathable foam layers and a humidity-resistant wool cover. I was also pleased to learn that along with the other Casper mattresses, the Wave is made in the US and is CertiPUR certified, meaning each mattress is made without ozone-depleting chemicals, flame retardants, mercury, formaldehyde, phthalates, lead or other heavy metals that might negatively impact our family’s health or indoor air quality. Since our entire family spends time in our bed, that is something I certainly rest easy over.

QUICK TIPS TO CREATE A DAILY BEDROOM RETREAT

Although I’m grateful my children love our comfortable new bed and spending time in our room. At the end of the day, I want to have a clear and clean place to retreat for the night without them. For those of you who also share your bedroom space, here are a few things I keep in mind to recover my own personal retreat experience.

Clear Guidelines | Although I allow the kids to lounge on my bed, I do not allow them in the sheet unless they have bathed and are ready for bed. It keeps dirty feet out of the sheets. The kids also have to take off their shoes, and although I sometimes allow them to tumble across it (more often when they were little), they have to ask permission. Mostly I want them to remain mindful that this is their parent’s space first.

Basket for Odds + Ends | I keep a small woven basket in my room to collect all the odds and ends that meander into our space during the day––random socks, books, papers and such. I simply toss the remnants into the basket and set it on our dining table for the kids to clear and put away the next day. This is life-saving.

Layered Bedding | In addition to a comfortable and supportive mattress, I only sleep with one pillow, but I prefer to have a few extras on the bed for reading or writing or watching movies in bed with Mark. I also love extra blankets for coziness and often keep a duvet at the foot of the bed year round.

Candles or Diffuser | A glowing candle can be exactly the special touch our rooms needs at the end of the day. It shifts the air and the light of a room. During the warmer months or during the daytime, I tend to use the diffuser more often to help clean and clear the air. 

Fresh Flowers | When possible, I prefer to keep a small vase of flowers or greens in our space, too. Mainly because they make me happy. Wink.


This post is sponsored by Casper. Images taken by Hannah Walls for Cloistered Away. All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

Flowers are one of my favorite ways to infuse life and beauty into our home. While I hope to grow a picking garden of my own some day, more practically in this part of life, I set aside a bit of our grocery budget each week and pick up a few simple blooms for our table or nightstands or kitchen sink. Flowers make my heart hum and help cultivate my sense of home and emotional well-being, but when it comes to arranging flowers, it always feels a bit more like trial and error. My arrangements often appear hopelessly amateur. In honor of Mother’s Day this weekend in the US, I asked my talented friend Jessica Jill of Ivy Florals to share some of her secrets for creating a beautiful bouquet with market blooms. You can also find her gorgeous work on Instagram.


This weekend, I put together a quick bouquet for Mother’s Day, something simple, yet lovely, like my mother herself. As a wedding/event florist, I often use wholesalers for flowers, but to create small or single arrangements, I often run to the nearby grocery store. Luxe brand grocers will often have a larger variety, but markets of every sort have started carrying more and more varieties of flowers to meet the growing demand, such as those little pale pink, nodding heads shown above, Scabiosa. Grocers are also beginning to put together little bouquets called “designer bunches” that have everything you need to make a dynamic arrangement on your own. But don’t be afraid to use a mixture of market flowers and foliage straight from your own yard! 

When purchasing flowers from the grocery store, there are five vital things to consider for your design to have structure & character. I learned these from The Flower Recipe Book by Studio Choo.

Base Foliage | Greenery, get something that fills space easily & something else that adds form. In my arrangement, I used Cherry Laurel (snipped from a tree by my house) and a Grapevine (also snipped by my house)!

Base Flowers | Hydrangeas, Roses, something that fills spaces with color!

Focal Flowers | Lilies, or something that draws the eye, has interesting form, and is just nice to look at. 

Secondary Flowers | Carnations, Scabiosa, usually a flower with longer stems that can encourage shape in the arrangement

Bits| Fern, smaller flowers or greenery that fill space with a softer texture

As far as picking the color of your flowers goes, get what makes you smile. You’ll be surprised how well your eye naturally picks colors that look good together.

Once you get home from the store, processing the flowers is very important! For processing, you will need some snips or floral scissors. Once you have your stems, snip snip snip those stems at a 45 degree angle, remove any foliage that might end up in the water when you begin to arrange & get them in some warm water ASAP. Also make sure to pull off any decaying leaves/petals to help the flowers last longer & look their best!

An outlier is roses, I usually dehydrate my roses for a couple hours before I start designing. This makes their petals more apt to open up to a big bloom with a little help from you. This helps turn the roses from tight, traditional-looking blooms, to fresh from the garden-looking blooms with gorgeous heads.

Having good floral product is only the start of how to DIY your own arrangements. In this post, I’m going to run you through some design tips on how to turn a bag full of flowers into something like you see above!

Find a beautiful vase | To start yourself off well, find a super cool vase. Be creative. My vase is really a dessert bowl I transformed by adding my little frog.

Place a floral pin frog | Honestly, with a little  help from floral pin frogs, you can turn any watertight object into a home for your blooms. You can get floral pin frogs online or from a craft store. They’re reusable and invaluable for arrangements. I usually just place my frog in the vase without any sort of adhesive but if you have heavier blooms, it might be a good idea to use some floral clay to stick it to the inside of the vase.

Add warm water | After you add your frog, add a little warm water to the mix & you’re got a solid base for your arrangement! When adding flowers to the arrangement, a pin frog is easy to use. You simply press the stem into the pins until the flower or greenery stands the way you want it to. Next, you get to start the fun part! DESIGNING!

Start with Your Greens | And don’t be afraid to add a lot. You want to use your greens to both establish a shape for your design but also cover your mechanics ie your pin frog. I usually evaluate the form of the greens & place more upright greens on one end of the design & more “droopy” greens on the other. This “S” shape helps draws the eye through your entire design. Keep this thought in mind during your entire time designing, even when you start adding your flowers. Upright on one side, droopier on the other. After you add your greens & get an established shape, you can start adding in flowers.

Add focal flowers | Focal flowers first because their placement is very important. You want them front & center. The lily in my arrangement is my focal flower. Note how it is the first thing your eye is drawn to when you look at the photo. When adding in focal flowers, I usually take three nice, open blooms and place them strategically in the arrangement. I usually keep some closed blooms off to the side to add in later. This adds a story to your design where you can include more than one life cycle of the flower in the arrangement. Also – in a couple days, those closed blooms will open & add some second day zest to your gift! I place one in the very front close to the rim of the vase, facing me, almost looking me in the face. I then place another focal flower, one that is a little droopier on one side of the arrangement. If you don’t have a droopy bloom, you can angle the flower to where it looks droopy by pinning it at an angle in the pin frog. Lastly, I place the third focal flower upright on the other side of the arrangement.

Add base flowers | Once you have your 3 focal flowers added, you can move on to adding your base flowers. I usually mimic the placement of base flowers, close to or behind the focal flowers to keep with the shape of the arrangement. I used the roses & hydrangeas as my base flowers in this design. Base flowers are also used to cover mechanics that you can still see even after foliage & focal flowers have been added. They’re very helpful in filling out the inside center of the arrangement so that when the design is looked at from above, It is not empty-looking.

Dehydrate Roses | This step is where rose processing I wrote about above, comes in. In my arrangement, I dehydrated my roses for 2 hours, then began to pull back the petals, softly bending them until I felt a soft pop from the center of the rose and the petal stayed splayed out.

Add in secondary flowers | After that, add in your secondary flowers. I used Scabiosa & Carnation as mine. Use these to enhance the shape that you’ve created. Again, droopier ones on one side, upright on the other!

Finish with bits | Lastly, add your bits. Use intuition & your eye to know where to place these. Areas that seem empty or boring to your eye are ideal places for these. I used fern as my bits. The soft texture of ferns is ideal for bits! Other things that could be bits or “fillers” as some grocery stores call them are chamomile, baby’s breath, daisy mums etc. Be mindful when caring for bits, that their stems need to be fully submerged in water. They’re delicate & usually need good water intake so that they don’t wilt.

Finishing touchesNow, you’re done! Take a look at your design. If you see any holes or places where your eye stops, use those leftover closed or less open blooms to fill in that space. You can also add leftover base flowers if you think you need it. Remember to trust your eyes. If you like the way something is looking, go with it! Something I love about being a florist is the freedom that comes with working with beautiful product. The flowers speak for themselves, so no matter what you create, it will hold beauty. Your design is there to enhance what already makes the heart soar.

Maintain freshness | To keep your arrangement fresh for longer, check the water daily to make sure all stems are submerged & the water is clean. If flowers start to decay, remove them. Some flowers will stay fresh longer than others so it is important to check on your design, making sure shorter vase-life flowers are not causing other flowers with longer vase-life to die quickly as well. If you leave decaying flowers in the vase with fresh ones, a hormone is release from the decaying flowers that causes decay to speed up in the rest of the flowers as well! Best of luck to you in your designing endeavors. 

Liam turned 14 last fall, and he is currently the only one of his peers without a cell phone. This isn’t a statement for or against it, just the reality. With Burke turning 13 in a few weeks and Blythe doing the same next year, you can imagine cell phones are regularly apart of the table conversation. According to this Pew Research in 2015, only 12% of teens (age 13-17) do not have a cell phone, and of the ones who do, 92% claimed to go online daily, and 24% claiming to be online “almost constantly.” Whether your children currently have cell phones or not, the growing role of technology in the family home can be anxiety-producing. But it doesn’t need to be.

Our home does regularly interacts with different screens within our home for work, school, and entertainment, including my cell phone. Our children watch math lessons online, learn to play instruments via apps, research and write papers about animals, people, and interesting places and events. They write stories, listen to music, take photos, and even sometimes record their own DIY videos. They text and Facetime with friends and family. But they do not yet have unlimited or unfiltered access to any of these places.

For the last two years, our home has had countless conversations about technology, the internet, and its role in our home. We’ve also used Circle––a small white device and user-friendly app that easily pairs with our Wi-Fi to help manage the content and time online––a helpful tool for navigating this new territory together. While every family must decide how to navigate these waters for their own home, here are some helpful ways we bridge the topic and manage it together.

Talk About Tech and the Internet as a Family / This may seem obvious as a parent, but sometimes talking with our children about the Internet can be the hardest, most complicated part. It’s so important to help create vision in your home for the gifts and vices of the abstract online world, to establish yourself as a trustworthy advocate for them and their interests. As with many areas of life for tweens and teens, their world and perspective is broadening and awakening. Whether they are able to communicate it or not, they need us in their corner. They also need to understand sometimes that means setting boundaries for their time or on the places they’re able to navigate online. If you’re using a helpful tool like Circle, introduce it to them. Set up their profile together, and show them the ways you will help them navigate the online world together.

Create a Clear Plan / Plans are empowering, especially for children who depend on predictability and consistency. Discussing the harder parts of this journey ahead of time, and how to handle them, also creates harmony and trust within the home. Consider how your family wants screen-time incorporated within your home and life. How will you handle social media? Will technology be allowed in every room? How will your choices vary from friends’ homes? How will your children or you bridge those differences together? Create a plan for your children to implement if they are exposed to something inappropriate or explicit online (within or outside of your home.) This is a wonderful reference we use. 

Set Helpful Boundaries / Clear boundaries are also empowering and life-giving within the family home. Naturally, each home’s boundaries will vary, sometimes even between older and younger siblings, but the idea is for you to settle into what your home needs for the time and be consistent. Last summer, we tucked away the television for several weeks just to reset as a family. Now we pull it out each weekend for use, tucking it back into the closet to help direct our focus toward work/school and family time during the week.  Circle has been the most helpful way for me to be more consistent with those trickier boundaries during our busy school days when my attention and presence is spread between the four. Here are my absolute favorite ways it helps our entire family (including me!) manage my time better.  

Off-time | This feature within the app allows us to set regular blocks of time during a day or week to not be available for the internet. As a parent, I use this during my school hours with the kids, so I’m not distracted by notifications or app-browsing. I also use this for my children during hours we typically allot for play, outdoor exploration, and study.

Bedtime | This feature is my absolute favorite, even for myself. Although I know screentime right before bed isn’t helpful for any of our sleep habits, I still find myself scrolling and working sometimes in the evening, and sometimes just after dinner is Liam’s only free time to connect with friends via text. I love being able to set a bedtime for specific days of the week, for my boys (who are enjoying staying up later) and for myself and Mark, who tend to want to work.  

Pause | In moments when we need a quick focus for the entire family, I can hit a pause button on the app and pause the internet for everyone at once. Although we don’t use this feature often, this can be particularly helpful when friends are over to play or join us for dinner, or when we’re simply enjoying some quality family time for a game night or conversation and I don’t want to be interrupted with notifications.

Filter Content / I like to think of an internet filter as floaties for the internet. It helps protect our children (and teens) from explicit material even when they think they don’t need it. And like toddlers wearing floaties in the pool, it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook to pay attention either. At this point, our children often have a specific purpose for being on the internet, but I appreciate having a filter in our home as a safety net. Circle has five different general filter levels: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, and Unfiltered. Within each profile, you have the option to filter specific apps and websites, too, allowing me to tweak it as my children grow in maturity and responsibility.  

Reward Efforts / We all love rewards! Celebrate the way your home honors your boundaries and collaboration. Celebrate with a night out together, or a family excursion. Give them a later night bedtime on the weekend or have a sleepover. Set rewards that do not require technology or screens. For those of you who keep track of chores and home responsibilities online, Circle also connects to Mothershp, Chore Monster, and Landra. We don’t currently use this feature, but it may be helpful for some homes.

Circle Go/ For those of you with children/teens with personal devices, Circle Go is an optional subscription  feature that allows you to filter your child’s device wherever they go, including data plans and other wifi networks. Wink.

Raising children in the digital age is intimidating and foreign to many of us. This doesn’t need to be a tense or fearful conversation, but it does require mindfulness and more intentional connection with one another. At the very least, as parents it’s a gift to know we are not alone in the journey.


This post is sponsored by Circle, a business committed to helping families manage the ways they connect and one we’ve loved for years. All of the images and thoughts are my own, and as always, thank you for helping support the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

I have been in a creative slump the last few months, which may not be a surprise considering the recent season of withering. Lack of vision, clarity, or inspiration in one area of life often begets the same in other parts, too. During these last few months, I mostly neglected my camera, felt a bit bored with social media, stared at blank screens toggling between letters and the delete button. I lacked the typical enthusiasm for this joyful work, and it showed. And it showed in our home, too.

Where this might be a natural point to talk about a new photo project or writing prompt, I sensed there was something larger that has needed tending first––a vital shift within our home atmosphere, a fresh connection with one another and the space we inhabit. The creative culture of our home needed nurturing. For those of you needing a little bit of the same, below are seven habits we’re paying closer attention to in the new year, to refresh and tend to the creative atmosphere of our home.

SEVEN WAYS TO NURTURE THE CREATIVE SPIRIT IN YOUR HOME 

Make Your Bed / What? I know. That’s what my children say. The ideas feel disconnected, but making our beds each morning does two things: it turns our attention to details and begins our day with a sense of accomplishment and clarity. Most creative endeavors are really a summation of small processes, one part building on another. Beginning with a small and clear task, helps us begin to notice the small, approachable tasks in other areas of life, too. At the very least, there will be a neat spot to take a photo, enjoy a nap, or read a book later in the day.

Add Fresh Flowers + Indoor Plants / I love a good excuse for indoor blooms, especially in the Winter when the world feels dull and grey. Whether a few clipped evergreens from a walk or a small bundle of Wild Chamomile found at the grocery store, the effort always pays noticeable dividends in our home. And there’s increasing amounts of research on their mental benefits, too. According to this study, indoor plants can even boost creativity up to 45%. So if you were ever looking for an excuse to have more plants around, you have it.

Make Time and Honor It / Many of us have days filled with ordinary things pertaining to home and work or school. It can be easy to view a block of time set apart just to work on a craft as a luxurious expendable. If you are wanting to shift your home/personal  culture, this part is indispensable. Find a part of your day that works best for you or your children. The early morning is still my favorite time to work personally, so getting up early before the rest of the house feels necessary to my creative process and worthwhile. For my children, I find the afternoon, after their more focused studies are finished, when their bodies feel particularly antsy is a great time for handwork. We have also added a more defined space in the morning alongside read-aloud. 

Keep Supplies Stocked and Prepared / Making sure our house is stocked with art materials is the second most important practical part, especially during our school day. Although there are bits that are used more often than others, I try to keep paper, paints, colored pencils, scissors, charcoal pencils, string, glue, sewing needles, carving knives, and clay accessible, stocked, and in the same place so they’re easy to find. At the onset of each week, I have the kids sharpen pencils and colored pencils so they’re fresh for the work ahead. We make sure all the right things are in their correct place to have on hand when whim appears.

Bring a Camera/ Photography teaches me both to slow down and to see the world around me differently, but I barely picked it up in the Autumn of last year. I feel my lack of creativity during that period is intrinsically connected. And so I am myself bringing a camera with me again. I’m also including my children in the process, letting them observe when I edit or letting them frame a shot. 

Practice Fluid Movement / We all know it’s better to move our body than not. After all, sitting is considered the new smoking. And for those of us who practice creative arts that require stillness, movement is necessary.  According to this study from Stanford University, certain types of fluid movement stimulate the same fluidity of creativity. Think: hula hooping, tai chi, or yoga. This article even adds belly dancing to the list. Wink. 

Sleep at Least 8 Hours / Every parent shouts for joy! Our bodies need sleep for so many important reasons, but one of them being creative thought and memory retention. Right now, I tend to naturally wake early, and I’ve found it’s often the best part of my day for entering creative flow in this stage of life. Maybe it’s the quiet and dark. Maybe it’s the freshly slept brain. I’m not sure, but after watching this brief video from a Neuroscientist at UC Berkeley about the affects of sleep deprivation on the brain, I knew I needed to get in bed earlier. I’m doing the same with my kids, too, especially the older ones who think “they’re not tired.” This article goes into more depth on the different things happening in our brain while we sleep, especially the way the REM cycle may impact the way we create.

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

We happily stepped back into our school routine last week, sharpening pencils and opening fresh notebooks, flipping through old books on our shelves and thumbing through new ones, too. I know not every home feels as enthusiastic about this shift toward structure and routine again, but I LOVE the start of a fresh school year––even the ones we arbitrarily create at home. Wink.

The key to fluid days around here is keeping snack and lunchtime simple, synchronous, and á la carte. I know. You expected some other deeper bit of wisdom, perhaps even something more specific to our studies? But this is truth: having or not having food in some amount of order for our days can make or break it. Meal times form the backbone of our day’s rhythm, and as it turns out, having a purposeful pantry and fridge at the beginning of the week is not only a miraculous gift, but also a contributor to peaceful days spent at home.

I realized several years ago, that although we don’t need to pack lunches for our homeschool, choosing a few quality pre-made snacks to have around the pantry is a life-saver to mix into the day, whether for lunch or a snack or a last minute outing. And I’m happy to partner with Annie’s Homegrown this week, as their organic snacks are longtime favorites to add to our school day table and beyond.

Since our children each have meal responsibilities during the week––helping to chop, prep, and create meals one day a week––they also choose how to pair and prep various fruits and veggies during snack and lunch. The á la carte style options allows each of the kids to choose how to create and re-create, even within limited options. Perhaps chopped apples and Annie’s White Cheddar Bunnies for snack one day will feel entirely different when swapping apples for berries or carrots and hummus. Even with young children, it offers variety while empowering them with options as the helper. Snacks often are planned at the beginning of the week together, which offers the benefit of choice but without the hassle of snack-time bickering during the day.

As for other ways we keep daytime meals simple, it’s important that everyone eats at the same time. Otherwise, our kitchen is a non-stop train of grazing, mess, and incomplete meals. Snack-time might be as simple as adding a box of Organic Snack Mix to our afternoon table, passing around––or more importantly, playing with––Organic Really Peely Fruit Tape, or setting a bowl of fruit at the center of our work table. The same can also neatly pack in a backpack on days we go for a nature walk or play with friends. It depends on our own needs for that part of the day, but it’s important we all snack at the same time so we’re ready for meals together, too.

Lunchtime is a more distinct pause in our day, a meal together without the distraction of any books or projects. I love creating lunch boards with my helpers to again create a selection for everyone to choose from and build on their own. They vary day-to-day sometimes with leftovers from dinner, or fixings for sandwiches or wraps, meats and cheeses or peanut butter and jelly. White Cheddar Bunnies are always welcome. We’ve also more recently discovered using cloth napkins with a lunch board can save time washing dishes and paper towels, too.

Whether you’re packing your littles off to school or trying to create fluid days within your home, having your children help can save you time and empower their independence, too. Let them pack their lunches the night before and plan with you a bit at the front of the week. Are they happy to eat the same thing every day or are there simple ways to swap one part for another? And for all of you mutual lovers of Annie’s Homegrown, use your Target Cartwheel app all month to save money and stock up on your family’s favorites.  


This post is sponsored by Annie’s Homegrown, snacks our family has enjoyed for years. All thoughts and images are my own. And as always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Target & Annie’s. The opinions and text are all mine.

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

cultivating_peace_at_home-2cultivating_peace_at_home Sometimes as a parent I find myself chasing shadows in our home life, trying to repair or address symptoms––consistent sibling squabbles, whininess, regularly unfinished chores, meltdowns, etc.––without taking time to notice something fundamental is broken or hurt in the atmosphere of our home. I’m not talking about a single meltdown or hard day; I’m referring to the days or weeks or months when the abstract connections in the home feel weathered or possibly broken altogether.

The last few weeks have felt a bit like that here. I’ve found myself as the referee between siblings too often or noticing things scattered about carelessly on the floors or counters or tables more often than not. The TV seemed to be on more than usual. The attitudes lower than usual. Meals have felt hustled. And I was exhausted, red flags everywhere shouting pay attention. I talked with Mark about it and we opted to try a small process we used when our children were younger and I felt overwhelmed: set aside a few days for focused, intentional training. Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.


Clear your schedule for a few days. Set aside 2-3 days for full relational attention and care. No playdates or trips to the grocery. No friends over for dinner or answering emails or checking social media. Create space for full attention and care. If you work full-time out of the home, consider taking a personal day attached to a weekend. If you work from home, plan to keep specific and clear hours for a few days. Sometimes simplifying time restraints can immediately calm the emotions in the home.

Begin with tidy spaces. Clutter promotes stress and works against peace in the home. It just does. This isn’t a mantra or a flag touting a perfect home either, but sometimes when our homes become littered with little things on the surfaces and floors, it effects our home emotionally more than we know. I’m still learning the balance of living with my children (when all the things come out) and keeping things in their place, but I always find it helpful when we begin to feel disconnected emotionally, to begin with tidying our spaces. If this feels like too much, simply walk around the house with a box or bag, collecting things and put it into a closet for now. The goal is a quick clean-up to focus relationally, not to necessarily clean out your house. Mark that for another date. (Makes note.)

Limit or eliminate screen time for these days. Screen time can be a wonderful way to connect as a family, and also a way to buy a mother of young children 30 minutes of quiet. But it can become a slippery slope in our home, so when emotions are high, it’s easiest to eliminate screens from the equation for a bit. So instead of snuggle movie night, we’ll enjoy game night or playing HORSE on the basketball goal together. Instead of video games, we’re enjoying tether ball matches and skateboarding outdoors. This also helps heal broken bonds.

Offer heaps of affection. This seemed particularly important when my children were young and would become consistently whiny or throw regular tantrums. Many times, they simply needed more positive quality time with me, reminders of their safe place with us and at home. But older children need large amounts of affection from their parents, too, something I forget a bit as they grow and exert more independence. Holding time strengthens connection and also reassures children (of all ages) that they’re loved and safe. So during these 2-3 days I snuggle my children even more, and try to make space for alone time with each of them, a time for each to feel heard.

Hold value boundaries more tightly. Things can seem simpler in our minds or plans than they are when carried out. I can know our children need sleep and become distracted during bedtime routines, often prolonging them. I can know our children need more whole foods and yet still cave and offer goldfish or easy processed snacks. When there’s an argument or some harsh word exchanged between siblings, I can delay in addressing it because I’m busy doing something else. This is life. But during these few days, Mark and I focus to reinforce the boundaries we value. Bedtime routine begins a little earlier, allowing for a slower pace. Strife, harsh words or physical outbursts of any sort are addressed immediately. Eating becomes a little cleaner, and so on. This part work because of the heaps of affection being poured out at other times. One part establishes structure for them; the other part establishes the loving context. Since young children are really concrete, it is particularly helpful for them to have immediate consequences and rewards, and heaps of affection and snuggling for context.

Infuse the air with uplifting scents and sounds. It seems small, but turning on uplifting music and diffusing the air with essential oils can quickly help calm emotions and shift the mood of the home. On harder days, rubbing some right on your neck (or theirs) can help, too. Some of my favorite oils to diffuse are:

  • orange, clove, and frankincense
  • lavender and eucalyptus
  • bergamot and lavender
  • ginger, orange, and cedarwood
  • YL Stress Away or Peace and Calming II blends