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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. 

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I’ve said it before, but I love how this season full of early darkness and cold winds brings a slower rhythm to our home. Like the leaves on our tree, our school routine is beginning to fall apart, leaf by leaf. A season of rest is looming. I don’t mean to imply that our days aren’t loud or full of things to do. We have four children under this roof, which means our home always has some amount of bustle and chatter. I know I’ll miss the giggles, the squeals, the squabbles one day, so for now I’m learning to settle in, to pour another cup of coffee and enjoy it.

Although the cold is still new here, we’ve already begun preparing our home for the winter season, stringing up twinkle lights and rolling beeswax candles. The winter linens have been washed and freshened too, as we unfurl down comforters and fold throws into baskets and across beds and chairs. We recently received two beautiful handmade kantha blankets from dignify, a welcome addition this season. Our old home becomes drafty in the winter, and we all enjoy having something warm and soft to wrap up in nearby. The beauty and cause behind them is a bonus.

To add bits of natural color, snips of greenery sit along our mantle and in glass jars or pottery. I’m particularly drawn to the seeded eucalyptus this season, the soft scent and the way the leaves delicately drape. The air now often smells of diffused clove, cinnamon, and orange oils or something delicious in the oven. Although cliche, I can’t tell you how comforting a warm kitchen with roasted veggies, stews, and baked goods is for me. I’m okay with cliche if it means something warm in my belly.

Most afternoons during the week, the kids make hot cocoa or tea, we light candles and read together. Lately, we’ve been reading Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, snippets of poetry, and Scripture for advent. When I have my own free moment, I’ve been reading All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the most beautifully written piece of historical fiction and also this year’s Pulitzer winner; Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, an encouragement for anyone who wrestles with fear and creativity (which might be everyone), and The Kinkfolk Home, an inspiring birthday gift from my parents. I highly recommend any of them for gifts or for your own cozy reading this season.

When I say a slower rhythm it is simply this: paying attention to details that nurture us in the harsher seasons. 

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This post is sponsored by dignify, a small business providing beautiful, ethically-made goods and  jobs for people who were previously living on the street or working in the sex industry. All thoughts are my own, and thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

 

 

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My children have actually made their own Halloween costumes every year. Although this sounds noble and intentional, it actually began more for economic reasons. I just couldn’t imagine spending their clothing budget on cheaply made costumes, and I haven’t ever known how to sew, the reason we’re all learning now. Ahem. In the past, they have used old dress-up, paper, toilet paper, tape, and other art supplies, some of which you might remember last year.

As I mentioned in this post in August, I have really tried to include handwork as a larger part of our learning this year. I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind for these skills, only that I know children generally love making things and as an adult having skills to make things can be quite useful. To begin, I’ve chosen a few general and somewhat foundational skills that might grow or apply to other interests down the road. Mostly, they are lessons I hope to learn right alongside them. (Wink.) We began with sewing, using the book Sewing School, based on a good friend’s recommendation, and the pace, images, and projects have been a perfect start for our novice group. As Halloween has neared this month, costume making seemed the perfect, fun way to put our new skills to use.

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Early on, Olive decided she wanted to be a baby bat, using a play mask we already own. Each month this year, the kids have received a play mask of an endangered animal in the mail from Opposite of Far, a part of their mask of the month club. (I wrote about some ways we’ve added them to our learning here last spring.) Blythe, a natural lover of design, wanted to take the masks and create costumes for each. Olive joined her, and one entire afternoon they sat on my bed discussing ideas and plans for everything from paws made out of socks and paper to tails made from boas and shirt bellies covered with cotton balls. Since Olive opted for the bat, wings were a must, something easily coupled with her black dance leotard.

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We shopped for a bit of brown felt at the local craft store, where I let each of the kids pick up a little something to add to their costume projects. I folded the felt and drew a simple pattern in chalk for the girls to cut, and then we pulled out the needle and thread and set to work attaching little bands to slide her arms through. She thought my idea for sleeves sounded far too hot.

I tied knots in the thread for Olive to begin. She still needs quite a bit of help, mostly because she gets distracted. When she lost interest and went outside to play, I finished the sewing, although I sort of regret doing that now. Instead of finishing, as she asked me to, I wish I would have simply shelved it until her interest returned. Live and learn, right? I sadly don’t have any images of her sewing this project. When Olive has a needle, all eyes and hands are on deck–I totally missed the photos. Still, you can piece together the idea.

Although our sewing skills are still quite amateur, I like that we’re all  (myself included) having to try something new, and when we fail or mess up–that happens often–we learn lessons about trying again or improvising. As I said, all of it is foundational, bits we’re learning through playfulness.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a small business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat.  

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Several weeks ago, long after my children were in bed, one snuck out to the kitchen to find me–I’ll leave names and pronouns loose to preserve the intimacy of our story. I noticed s/he had been crying, the sort of crying that leaves eyes red and swollen. During the previous hour, this one’s mind had wandered to our old home and the trees, and now s/he whispered to me, “I miss climbing our old trees. I was thinking about all of them, how we named them and would play in them for hours–especially the huge oak. Do you remember? We don’t have those kind of climbing trees here, and it made me really sad.” It has been almost two years since we moved from that home, and sometimes the ripples of our transition still catch me off guard. I didn’t see this particular thought coming at all. Large shade trees surround our current home, and it had never occurred to me that they weren’t climbable. Sometimes in our life transitions, we overlook the most ordinary parts.

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I’ve reflected on our conversation several times since that evening–more often pointing out climbing trees anywhere we walk or visit. I’m thankful for the ways that my children love and enjoy the earth, the way they appreciate Creation in simple, un-fancy ways. Although we don’t have anything extraordinary planned to celebrate Earth Day today, I thought I’d share a few simple ways our family enjoys and works to preserve the environment during the other part of the year. We’re not perfect, or even what I’d term environmentalists, but every small habit makes a difference.

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outdoor play | We spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the spring and fall. It’s fun to have the kids collect pieces of nature and create art pieces with it. Or other times we just kick a ball around or identify the birds.  Some days we bring our school work or our meal outdoors. In my opinion, if you want to begin nurturing the earth, you begin by enjoying it. ;)

plant trees | All of the trees my children enjoy were planted by someone else. We recently planted 18 new trees in our yard (making sure a few are climbable) for future generations to enjoy. Pay forward.

plant a garden | Our garden isn’t large enough for us to live on, but it’s enough for my children to learn about the process of food, and a little about where it comes from.

compost + harvest rain water | We’ve done this in the past, and haven’t set it up here. In progress. ;)

recycle | This seems obvious, but our small town doesn’t have curbside recycling. We have to sort and drop-off, so many people in our area still don’t recycle because of the inconvenience. Recycling helps me see the wasted packaging or bags.

purchase/sell gently-used clothing | I still purchase new clothing for myself and our children, but when possible, I always look at thrift/vintage shops first. I’ve found some really great shops via Instagram and Etsy, too.

support small businesses | When possible, I try to buy goods and food locally or from smaller businesses. Honestly, this is the hardest one for me because of finances (often the reason I purchase used), but I really love and admire small businesses, especially ones who source well and give back.

reuse | When possible we’ve refinished salvaged or hand-me-down furniture. Most of the shelves in our home are from other buildings. We try to keep our eyes open for quality materials we can use soon. We have no interest in becoming a storage yard, so you have to be thoughtful to know how you will use the materials right away. If you like a piece of furniture, know where you’ll put it before you purchase it–regardless of how good of deal it is.

hand-wash dishes | Honestly, this is because we don’t have a dishwasher. I would like a dishwasher though. And so would my children.

DIY cleaners | I’m using essential oils more and more around our home, and this is one of my favorite ways. I reuse bottles, saving disposable packaging, and help keep the air in our home clean.

Also, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate the day, here’s a list of 50 Earth Day activities to do with kids. Do you have any of your own ideas to share?  Happy Earth Day to you!

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This post is sponsored by Winter Water Factory, a small business in Brooklyn, NY, specialized in organic clothing and textiles for children, made in the USA. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space alive. As always, all thoughts are my own. 

 

 

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I think all mothers sense the fleeting nature of childhood at some point. We grow a longing to pause life just long enough to breathe it a little deeper, laugh a little longer, and enjoy right where we are with our children in that moment. Some mothers might feel that way in the first days and months following birth–the quiet moments nursing, the series of firsts as they unfurl from womb to infant. Other mothers enjoy the early childhood years more, when their babies can move freely and express and interact–or even later, as their children bridge into adult years, straddling two worlds at once. Regardless, a mother’s heart always rubs up against time.

We all respond a little differently to time’s slipperiness. I met an older woman last week who saved all of her daughter’s hair clippings. “I literally have bags of it,” she told me. I honestly couldn’t imagine bags of anyone’s hair around my home, but I am forever trying to store time with words and photos. This in itself can sometimes feel like catching the tide. For many of us, parenting can feel overwhelming mundane and rote. Childhood is a collection of routine nothings that we know we’ll one day miss (at least some of them). Today we went to the park. Today you played in bubbles. Today you swam underwater. Today you carried your bag to school. How do we find the moments that matter to us, the ones we’ll really want to savor in future years? I’m not always sure myself, but I keep trying through this space, Instagram, and my own portrait project. As my children grow older, and we’ve closed the door on early years, I want to see and enjoy them more in our daily living together and somehow bottle up a bit of time in the process.

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Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and professional photographer, helps parents discover the lovely bits of their days–and makes us crave summertime, too. In her online workshop, Everyday Beauty, via the Bloom Forum, she leads parents to find the beauty in our routines, in the nothings. She helps her online students understand how light and composition and detail come together to create your story, but she also covers practical topics like taking photos in public or even getting in the photo yourself. (Shock.) Her next three-week online workshop in May is currently sold out, but she is offering one lucky Cloistered Away reader a spot in the class. You can read more about her workshop here, and enter to win a spot below. Make sure to check back, since some of the options are available for daily entries.

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This post was sponsored by Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and business owner who loves helping other parents find the beauty in their messy days. All images are courtesy of Ginger Unzueta. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space alive. All thoughts are my own. 

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When I first began homeschooling, I always imagined learning fundamentals of math, language, science, and history in a playful and artful way. At that time, my oldest really struggled with writing-and-paper approaches to learning, and although we still included this aspect in our structured learning time, it worked best when I balanced these periods with stories, art projects, or outdoor/indoor play. These less structured lessons also helped me to include my three younger children, too. I should note here, so you don’t begin imagining a perfect world over here: my son (and my other children now) still balked at some of our more routine work, but mixing our days with play and art did create sweet incentives for the more challenging work.

At some point in the tumble of life and moving (twice in one year) last year, I lost the more artful aspect of our learning together. With so many other logistical things to finish around our home, I relied more on simple book lessons to work through our basics and then would release my children to their own whim. Our formal routine had reduced to reading and daily math, so I could make sure they were covered, and a ton of free play and self-directed learning. On a side note, if you’re new to homeschooling or even parenthood, be generous with yourself, your children, and your goals during this journey. As in nature, the rhythms within your home will have variegated seasons over the years, and each one will offer you something special to learn just the same, if you pay attention. Where ever you are, receive every bit and aim to be present.

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Over the last year, I’ve been re-evaluating the way we learn together at home and have adjusted a few details to include more artful expression and play, more dress-up and making, more discussion and room for independent pace of work. It’s certainly not a perfect science or formula. Some days, our routine seems to work well, in spite of the mess and distractions, and other days feel simply disastrous. But I’m learning as a parent to receive and enjoy those days, too, even if just to remember, tomorrow is new.

If you’re wanting to add more play and art to your learning experience, begin with an area that feels most natural in your own routine. For our family, studies in science and history have been the most natural place to begin again. This year, we’ve been creating body books about the systems in our bodies, and are also just beginning books about the natural world, too–one for animal life and one for plant life. Obviously, we don’t use each of them all the time, but the idea is to create a place to begin cataloguing the various lessons we’re learning along our way.

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At the beginning of this year, we received a yearly subscription to the Opposite of Far’s Endangered Animal Mask Club. This has been a small and simple way to intertwine our learning about the animal world, writing, and art together. Each month the kids receive one new mask and information card featuring a specific endangered animal. We check out books from the library or use our Animal Encyclopedia or new favorite picture book, Animalium, to see more images and read more about the animal. Because we have an entire month, we have plenty of time to create several types of lessons or play experiences from them. Here’s a few ideas we’ve tried or plan to try with our mask club:

READ / Read the included card and any library books together. Learn about the animal’s environment and the reasons for their endangerment. Is there any way we can help?

DIFFERENTIATE / Study picture books and the illustrated card together. Discuss colors, shapes, and sizes of the animal. Are they always the same? How are they similar or different from other members of their family?

PLAY / Use the masks for pretend play. Re-create animal environments with sheets, furniture, or cardboard boxes. Even your older children will enjoy this. Give them some of the harder details, such a painting or cutting paper for a backdrop. My kids often do this on their own, especially when a new mask arrives or when the days are rainy and keep us indoors like here.

DRAW or PAINT / Take time to draw and paint your animal within its habitat. Refer to color and shape again and how you might mix paints to create the colors you need. If your children are young or struggle with drawing, try to find drawing books at your library that might show step-by-step instructions. We really like the Draw Write Now series, which also includes a few sentences to use for copywork with early writers. Some of the more rare endangered animals will be harder to find a drawing book. Consider how you might break down the strokes for your child to copy from you.

WRITE /Discuss what you’ve read about your endangered animal together. Help your older children find the main ideas: Where do they live? What do they look like? Why are they endangered? How can we help? Older children and advanced writers can write their own sentences and paragraphs, whereas younger children and those who find writing a more difficult skill might benefit from copying a few sentences they dictate to you (from what they learned).

For our family, I love using these animal masks as a simple way to encourage more pretend play and to inspire our own animal books. In busier months, we may have only used one or two of these, using them more for simple play around the house. You might find a ways to use them differently–or even for a birthday party or a gift. Either way, what a fun way to learn together about some beautiful animals that are currently struggling for survival.

For any of you interested in trying any of the Opposite of Far products, Jessica Near, the OOF founder, is offering 15%OFF any purchase using the code ENDANGERED. If you purchase a (6 or 12 month) subscription, you’ll also receive the Polar Bear mask and card for free. Regardless, I hope these ideas inspire some new ways to incorporate the arts and play into your learning at home.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own, and thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

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In so many sweet ways, motherhood has been a journey in simple living for me, one I’ve always craved and not always known quite how to live. It may seem insignificant to some, but learning to pack a minimal, efficient weekend bag is one of the more concrete lessons I’ve learned in simplifying over the years. Haunted by those words just in case, I often carried too much, having a bag filled with the repertoire of Mary Poppins, and finding I didn’t need most of it–I’m sure there’s a good metaphor in there somewhere. But that’s another conversation.

This weekend, our family is leaving for a long Spring Break weekend, and as we prepare, I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the lists I make and questions I ask myself in order to pack well (and minimally) for a long weekend away.  For parents, I often use the same questions to guide my children in their packing, but on their lists, instead of a purse, they pack an activity bag, something similar to what I wrote about in this post here. For future reference, I store each of my lists labeled with the trip name in a “packing list” folder on my Google Drive, so that I can easily check off or refer back to previous travels. This might seem neurotic, but it is extremely helpful, particularly as a mother packing for/with young children.

I hope the tips and questions below will help to simplify your and your family’s travel plans in someway this spring. If you’re looking for a fantastic weekender bag, I’m loving the Kith&Kin weekender, and right now, you can pop over to their shop and receive 20% OFF any bag using the code CLOISTER20.

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/BEFORE PACKING/

Take a moment to think about your weekend.  Who will you be with? What sort of activities are you planning? Is there an event? Will you need to wear something specific or special at any point? Will you be staying in one locale the entire weekend or traveling around? Where will you be? What will the weather be like? Are there unknown plans/details you need to know for packing purposes?

/CREATING YOUR LIST/

Make a list with the following categories: clothing, shoes, underwear, accessories, toiletries, purse. 

/CLOTHING/

List each day you will be away, leaving space to write next to them. Write down what will you need or want to wear next to each listed day. If you don’t know specifically, use general terms until you fill in the specifics, such as casual dress, dressy top, or comfy shorts.

Choose one bulky item. If you need a winter coat, boots, or a bulky sweater, wear it in the car or on the plane to save space. Some people like to bring a favorite bathrobe or pillow.  Choose only one to pack, ideally one you could wear more than once, if necessary.

Choose interchangeable pieces. Pack jeans, sweaters, or skirts that you might be able to wear more than once and would style in a new way.

Choose a specific color palette. Everyone has traveled somewhere and wanted to improvise their clothing options in the moment. If you stick with a similar palette you leave yourself more flexibility to change your mind in the moment without taking up too much extra space in your bag.

Pack an unplanned piece. I like limiting the bulky clothing, so that I have room to add an unplanned top, skirt, or thin sweater. I may not use it, but it helps give more spontaneity for changing throughout the weekend.

/SHOES/

Choose 2 pairs of shoes, a third if it’s a thin sandal or flip-flop. If you’re needing a shoe that will only work with one outfit, reconsider it, and if necessary, the outfit.

/UNDERWEAR/

Make sure you have enough and the right sort for your weekend activity.  Self-explanatory, I think. Wink.

/ACCESSORIES/

Don’t forget the small extras. I always pack a small clutch and a thin scarf that might double as a wrap, and I generally travel in whatever jewelry I’ll wear during the weekend. If you need anything dressier, write it down here.

/TOILETRIES/

Consider your typical style routine. Will it be necessary for the weekend? If it’s involved, are there ways to improvise or shorten it?

List everything you will need to get ready over the weekend. 

Pick one hair styling tool, if you need it. Hotels and rentals generally have hair dryers to use, but call ahead to find out.  If you’re staying with good friends, check to see if they would share their tools with you.

Use small bottles. This is a must if you’re flying, but even when driving somewhere, I like having all of my personal toiletries neatly in one dopp kit. 

/PURSE/

Pack any devices or chargers you’ll need for your weekend.

List the tiny necessities. I always pack a small snack, bottle of water, cash, chapstick, hand lotion, peppermint essential oil, and headphones for our trip.

Bring something to read. Choose one book or magazine to travel with you.

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This post is in partnership with Kith&Kin, a small family business of handmade goods crafted by a family of makers. All thoughts, opinions, and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this place afloat. 

Final image taken by Tim Douglass of Fidelis Studio for Cloistered Away.

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I loved the early years of motherhood, the snuggly, baby-wearing years filled with firsts and discovery. At times, I miss the kids’ chubby baby legs or our quiet moments nursing and reading aloud together. I miss how organized and simple life’s routines felt at that time, a rhythm of eating, playing, and sleeping. Those were the sweet parts I now hold tightly in my heart, the salve for the years that also contained toddler tantrums, potty-training, sleep-less nights, and tired days. For the latter, I’m grateful to be moving on.

As the kids age and inevitably grow closer to the horizon of adulthood, our goals and days have become more complex, filled with everything from taking care of our home and selves to learning our spelling lists, math facts, and how to make a meal. Sometimes in the process, I forget the importance of nondescript play, their need to move and be without the goal of accomplishment. On the outside, this sort of play seems anti-productive, activity working against the structure and rigor of adulthood. However, as a mother, I’ve experienced differently. Through unstructured play, I can see the ways each child learns important inter-personal skills and problem solving. They learn about creating and initiative, about imagination. Although small and casual, these regular periods of unplugged “free play” teach my children unquantifiable, yet intrinsic skills for adulthood.

Since arriving back in town late Sunday night, I have felt quite unprepared for this week, and we’re moving slowly toward our typical routine. The kids spent most of Monday morning jumping on my bed and sharing about our weekends apart. Although they have finished a little school work, most of this week they have been playing dress-up, building with Legos, or celebrating our Autumn weather by reading and drawing outdoors. Although we’ll have a bit more structure again next week, for now, I’m grateful to remember the importance of play in our home.

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This post is sponsored by Nico Nico, a clothier committed to making kids clothing that is modern, comfortable, and environmentally conscious. Their products are made from organic, sustainable fabric (and are incredibly soft) and are made in the United States.  All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space alive.