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Evening routines have become tricky with teenagers in the home. As fatigue sets in and I crave my bedroom space, they seem to move in the opposite direction, refueled after dinner and ready to settle into their most social hours. Yes, hours. Mark and I have laughed at how many times our boys have plopped onto our bed with a big question just before 10 pm as our eyes flutter to keep awake. We find ourselves setting new, unexpected boundaries in this stage of parenting, including no critical conversations after 9 pm or all personal devices (including our own) tucked away in a basket at 9 pm. Of course, these boundaries are not always popular and can be challenging even for me, but protecting evening routines are crucial for healthy sleep habits and worth the effort.

Truthfully, as our family grows older, it seems more difficult to prioritize sleep in our home. As it turns out, we’re not alone. A quick internet search on sleep deprivation among adults, teens, or children will turn up pages of results with dismal statistics. How is it––when so much research shows the importance of sleep in connection with mental, emotional, and physical well-being––that we came to think of sleep as a dispensable luxury?  

To help our children and teens establish healthy evening routines and sleep habits and maintain them ourselves, we do practice a few simple habits. We limit screentime and late-night important conversations that might be better heard during the day. We enjoy time unplugged together, like weekly game nights or time around the firepit, and have always encouraged a reading hour before bed to wind down our bodies and minds. We dim the lights, a practice that can be most challenging in the winter months when the dark arrives earlier and the gloom feels endless.

We also recently swapped all of the bedroom lightbulbs and reading lamps with Soraa Healthy LED bulbs. After learning more about the negative impact blue light can have on sleep rhythms and personal health, we were so excited to discover the only energy-efficient bulb with zero blue light! It blocks the light waves that inhibit melatonin production (the hormone that signals our brain to ease into sleep), the type of light that deters our bodies from sleep. I wish these bulbs had been around in my early years of mothering! Maybe it would have curbed all those last minute asks for water or for one more bedtime story. Wink.  

With the increase in screens and artificial light in households, more research is cropping up on the ways blue light might be connected to sleep deprivation. In one particular study, research showed that “the blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).” As any sleepy parent or teen can attest, 90 minutes of more or less sleep can make such a difference! Yet these results are not just for teens. Another collection of studies found that 60% of women sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep a night, meaning most of the women in our lives (including ourselves) exist in a constant state of sleep deprivation. I realize there are pockets of time where sleep deprivation feels inevitable, but how many of us lose that needed sleep as a result of our screens and blue light in our homes?

Sleeping rhythms naturally change after puberty––I get it. I also know that before long each of my teens will be living in their own spaces, creating their own boundaries and lifestyles. For now, establishing healthy boundaries for our screens and filtering the light in our home with Soraa Healthy bulbs feels like a step in the right direction to protect our need for sleep.


This post is sponsored by Soraa Home, a business our family supports and loves. Images taken by myself or Hannah Walls for Cloistered Away. All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

The end of October is a strange month to discuss habits, I know. Yet what I hope to encourage is that shifting a lifestyle pattern can happen at any point in the year, with the simplest goal, the smallest choice. It doesn’t need to happen all at once either, beginning every change at the same time, bombarding your new year with new rhythms and routines. But when the impulse or longing for change hits, it’s best not to wait but to simply begin right then, regardless of your original agenda. Here are five wellness habits I established this year for my body, mind, and spirit, all beginning at different points, in different months, based simply by a need I noticed in my lifestyle. Some of them are merely tweaking something I had already been doing, some of it is based on consistency, some was beginning something new altogether.

Screen-free Days | Although our family began this practice before this year, my attitude changed at the onset of 2018. Instead of screen-free days feeling like a discipline and restraint, it became a day I looked forward to, a liberating, unapologetic practice of self-care for myself and our home. My phone can be the slipperiest part on my end, for sure, so I often turn it off and set it aside for the day. Yes, I miss texts. Yes, I miss important updates and news. Yes, I miss phone calls from friends or family members. But only for that day. The personal and social updates are always waiting for me when I return the following day, and I find myself more grounded in the midst of the noise and information. Plus, as a family, we enjoy one full day each week with quiet, with the simplicity of only the relationships and activities we’re enjoying right that minute. It’s somewhat like stepping out of a crowded bar or restaurant into the quiet night. In one environment you can hear; in the other, you can listen. The contrast is inviting. Helpful resources: Garden City (more about work and rest than screens, but so good!), Screen-Free Fun (for ideas with kids), The Big Disconnect, The Tech-Wise Family, Simplicity Parenting, and so many more. 

Reading, Meditation, + Reflection for Spiritual Growth | It can be difficult to discern the strength of my soul or spirit, but I knew at the beginning of the year, my own felt weak. I was distracted and pre-occupied with what was happening in culture, with popular opinion, and with my own image in the midst of it all. What is true of our bodies is also true of our spirits, if we want to grow in any endeavor, we must rearrange our life for growth. In February, I began rearranging my life for spiritual transformation. I began reading and studying the Scriptures again several days a week, most intentionally on my screen-free day. There was no set agenda other than creating space to hear what God wanted to speak. Sometimes it felt inspiring and revelatory; sometimes it didn’t. Other days, I began meditating on passages, perhaps a Psalm or a few verses from the Sermon on the Mount or verses I had read the day before. I generally take a small passage of Scripture (no more than 10-12 verses), and read the passage three times, slowly and intentionally. Ideally, I do this aloud, but that’s not always possible. The aim is to allow God’s sacred words to soak into me without expectation of what I need to do with them. I read aloud and repeat, listening. This practice led to forming a group of women to read the Scriptures aloud with each week, and also to recovering this practice with my children in the mornings. I began journaling more consistently again, thoughts, reflections, ideas I was learning in studies. It’s been such a life-giving practice this year, strengthening my foundations, rooting my heart in purpose. Tools and books that have been helpful this year: my journal Bible, journal, Garden of Truth, She Reads Truth books, Cultivate Journal, Sacred Rhythms, Freedom of Simplicity.

Clean Personal Care Products | I’ve mentioned my journey to clean out toxins from our home and bathrooms here before, so clearly, this isn’t entirely new either. Yet the more I learn about the effects product ingredients can have on our hormones, emotions, mental and physical health, the more I pay closer attention to what we use in our home. This past spring, I emptied my bathroom drawer of any remaining personal care products––makeup, deodorant, toothpaste–– that include harmful ingredients and swapped them for safer alternatives. I’ve still been using Beautycounter for skincare and makeup and really appreciate their attention to quality and performance as much as safety. Their products keep getting better, as do their standards. For daily makeup, I stick with a few basics that can be applied in just a few minutes, like this custom makeup collection (which saves about $50 when purchased as a collection). I often add this neutral eye palette and keep my favorite Twig lipstick in my bag for quick application, too.  This new limited-edition skincare collection includes my very favorite products and is such a steal for a starting point. I often share more favorites on my wellness page.  As for other products, I’ve been loving this deodorant, and although I’ve been experimenting with safe solutions for my sensitive teeth, I think this toothpaste or this one are my favorites. If you’re curious to learn about the safety of some of the products in your home, the Environmental Working Group is a wonderful free resource! Their Skin Deep database has info on thousands of products, and it’s best to aim for the lowest number rating (I try to stick with ones and twos).

Daily Exercise | At the beginning of April, something clicked. I noticed the soft, undefined nature of my entire body, the way my clothes had steadily increased in size, yet still felt uncomfortable. I was a busy work-from-home, homeschooling mother. I had accepted it, telling myself I was growing older and this was normal. I wanted to be gentle with myself, understanding the context for doing so many things. And I have been gentle and permissive. But this was not simply about body image or lofty expectations, this was about strength and long-term health. I was tired of feeling tired and out-of-shape. I wanted to feel strong again, to feel energy and stamina in my days again. Knowing I had to use all this thinking for positive momentum, I immediately pulled my dusty 4-year-old running shoes from the closet, pulled on my snug running shorts, downloaded the Sweat app, and texted my sister to ask if she wanted to join me. We began the BBG workouts the next morning, the first Monday in April, walking for cardio days and doing my best to finish the resistance days. It was hard. And good. Almost seven months later, I’m still at it and growing stronger and faster! I don’t have a sensational weight loss or health story, but I’ve established a simple 30-minute daily habit. My clothes feel better. I am definitely stronger. My energy feels more consistent. When considering workouts in the beginning, it was important to do something I could manage consistently at home or from home for 30 minutes or so a day, without gyms or expensive equipment. Over the months, I have used whatever I had nearby or in our shed for resistance: the steps on our front stoop, picnic benches, chairs, gallon paint cans, planters. I’m beginning to add pieces of real equipment now as a reward for all the hard work. But most importantly, exercise is a part of my daily habit again. Even on rest days, it is a mindful rest and time for stretching and decompressing and meditation. // Helpful Tools // Sweat App (They have different programs within it for different goals. I’ve been using the BBG plan.) Yoga mat (any will do, but this one is new on my wishlist), jump rope, hand weights, weighted ball. Begin small with weights and check Craigslist and FB Marketplace for gently used equipment.

Cleaner Eating + Drinking | Those terms can be so vague and slippery, can’t they? There are so many opinions on what is best diet-wise, and I am not about to toss another one at you. Although I began regular exercise in the Spring, by the early Autumn, I knew I needed to rest some of my eating habits for a time, too. I love a bold, dry red wine in the evening and a dark, pour-over coffee first thing in the morning. I love crusty bread, soft cheeses, and dark chocolate––especially when pulled from the hot oven or melted into a ganache. Beginning the day with a cup of coffee and ending with a wine pour during the dinner hour is a part of my daily rhythm of beginnings and endings, and yet, sometimes, I feel the need to test my life without some of these affections, to re-discover my mental, emotional, and physical health apart from them. The aim is not deprivation; the aim is wholeness and well-being. Health that provides stamina for true living. Next month I will turn forty, so this month seemed like a fitting time to clear and re-start my eating and drinking habits, before a new decade, before the holidays. A few friends and I joined together for meal planning and support to do a 26-day plant-based detox loaded with smoothies, juices, herbal tea, and high-nutrient meals, and without caffeine, alcohol, meat, salt, or spicy foods. As you can imagine, the first week was the hardest, with headaches and lethargy, yet by the second week, my energy felt intense and steady. I felt stronger in my workouts and runs, and clearer minded in my days. I felt better in my clothing and noticed more tone again. It has been so good. The hardest parts, as expected, were the cocktail parties or social gatherings and family meals, as I was eating something different from my family, which was weird. But it sparked so many conversations about freedom and choice, the ways in which we use our freedom to make hard decisions. Such a good lesson and so many applications. I have finished the detox now and am creating my own meal plans again, but this time with more intention toward vegetables and fruits. I am delaying introducing coffee and meat again, although I did enjoy a small glass of natural organic wine over the weekend. Right now, I don’t know where I am heading, but I am excited to protect some new boundaries, to search out economical ways to enjoy whole foods and play with new flavors and recipes. // Helpful Tools // A detox partner or group. 

Chicken Soup for Winter WellnessChicken Soup for Winter Wellness

Our home has felt under the weather this last week with fevers and coughs and stuffy noses. With so many friends and extended family members also at home with the flu right now, I’ve again turned to nurture our wellness here. Although there are hundreds of homeopathic remedies to sip or rub or diffuse, this hearty Chicken Soup with Kale and Carrots is my favorite to return to during theses dreary, cold months.

While two of my children were sprawled across the sofa or in their beds feeling awful, my youngest has been bouncing on furniture and hanging from doorways, telling me how much she misses having playmates. “I am 100% extrovert! I need to be with people,” she shouted this week. I just laughed. For my little who loves people, this week has been a great lesson in how healthy busy hands can help nurture and take care of those who don’t feel well. So she’s made tea for her siblings and given her sister a foot rub. She’s written little notes and helped a ton in the kitchen, one of her favorite places.

This weekend, we decided to make our favorite chicken soup together. It is the perfect recipe for little helpers as there’s much washing, peeling, and rough chopping needed. On a side note since many have asked, Olive began chopping in the kitchen with me at age four, more because of her own interest. Now, she always uses her child’s chef knife and peeler set we gifted her a couple of Christmases ago. (The same company also sells the chef knife and finger guard on its own.) I love that it encourages proper finger placement and protection with the finger guard, but the blade is still sturdy enough to chop carrots. At nearly eight, she does all of her own chopping, although always with my supervision. Wink.

Chicken Soup for Winter Wellness Chicken Soup for Winter Wellness

Below is the recipe for one large batch of soup (serving 6-8ish). I often chop extra veggies (marked with *) to make a second bone broth after I’ve stripped the meat from the chicken. It’s a way to stretch the chicken and stock the freezer for another meal. You’ll find both listed below in the instructions. Enjoy!

CHICKEN SOUP WITH KALE+ CARROTS adapted from It’s All Good

1 whole chicken, 4-5 lbs

1 large yellow onion, quartered*

1 celery stalk, washed and roughly chopped*

1 large leek, washed really well, trimmed and chopped*

2-3 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and roughly chopped for the broth*

2-3 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and roughly chopped, reserved for the soup

a few sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

2-3 teaspoons of sea salt

1 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper

1 large bunch of kale, washed and torn into bite-size pieces

2 large soup pots

(optional) extra carrot, celery, onion, and leek chopping to set aside for a second bone broth


TO MAKE THE CHICKEN SOUP

Toss the coarsely chopped veggies [onion, celery, leek, carrots] and chicken in a pot. Cover with sea salt, black pepper, thyme, and the bay leaf. Fill the pot with cold water, covering the veggies and chicken, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. When it boils, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Pour and strain the stock into a clean pot, removing and discarding the cooked vegetables. Pull the meat off the chicken––it should fall right off the bone––adding the shredded chicken to the broth. If the chicken is too hot for your fingers, use a knife and tongs. Leave the bones in the first pot for now. Add the torn kale and fresh batch of carrots to the soup. Let the soup simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy. This soup pairs really well with an easy, handmade crusty bread, too. Wink.

TO STOCK UP ADDITIONAL BONE BROTH

While the soup is simmering, add any veggie scraps or extra veggies you have chopped back into the first pot with the chicken bones. Add a bit of parsley or thyme and sea salt. Fill the pot again with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 6 to 12 hours. I often leave it simmering overnight. Let the broth cool. Strain it into a a pot or bowl. Measure and store in the freezer for a future soup, or to sip on when your home needs nurturing wellness.

winter_skin-1 winter_skin_beautycounter

In the winter, my skin tends to feel like the branches outside my door: pale, dry, and brittle. It is more sensitive in the drier, cold air, more prone to patches of flaky skin on my cheeks and pronounced fine lines around my eyes and mouth. I crave moisture, inside and out. After writing about the importance of taking care of our skin and my personal journey with Beautycounter in this post last fall, I thought it might be helpful to share how I am nurturing my skin this season with warm liquids and safer skin care.

HYDRATE FROM THE INSIDE

Two brief notes about me: I am cold-natured and I love coffee. This means when the temperature drops and our home becomes drafty, I really struggle to remain hydrated, often mindlessly swapping drinking water for coffee in effort to keep warm. For obvious reasons, juices and smoothies tend to loose their allure in the cold months, too. I know dehydration is an enemy to our wellness in general, especially our skin wellness, so entering this winter, I needed to find other ways to nourish and hydrate my self and my skin. With the encouragement of a dear friend, I began making a small pot of loose-leaf herbal tea each morning and sipping on it throughout the day. I still have a cup of coffee in the morning, but most mornings not until after I’ve had a full cup of warm herbal tea and a large glass of water, both typically during my morning alone time. Homemade broth, bone broth, and tasty soups are other ways I nourish my skin and keep warm in the winter.

winter_skin_beautycounter_2 Nurturing Winter Skin with BeautycounterHELPING REFORM THE COSMETICS INDUSTRY

As I mentioned last fall, after reading Beautycounter’s Never List, I realized how many “all-natural” and “organic” products were in our home loaded with toxins linked to things like hormonal imbalances and even cancer. Although I had already been using essential oils in our home, even with a few skin care recipes, I felt like my skin needed a little more attention. I tried Beautycounter and immediately loved how simple and light their products are and of course how my skin felt. While I am not typically an MLM fan, I have loved partnering with Beautycounter’s initiative to educate the public about what we’re putting on our skin and their political activism to see change in legislature holding the beauty industry more accountable. Whether you use Beautycounter or not, you can find out more on how to write your senator for cosmetic reform here .

Nurturing Winter Skin with BeautycountDAILY WINTER SKIN CARE ROUTINE

morning / Each morning, I rub a fingertip of the Cleansing Balm into my skin and let it soak in a bit while I brush my teeth. Using warm water, I gently massage a few handfuls of water over my face, removing some of the balm with my fingertips (instead of the cloth). I pat dry with a towel and pump one bit of Nourishing Day Cream onto my fingertip, adding a drop or two of #2 Plumping Face Oil, and gently massage it into my skin. And that’s it! If I’m planning to wear makeup that day, I wait a bit before applying it and give some space for the moisturizers to soak in a bit more. This is a good time to dress and make my bed. Wink.

evening / When it’s time to get ready for bed, I rub a generous fingertip-sized amount of Cleansing Balm over my skin and eyelids (especially if I’ve worm mascara). I often run the cleansing cloth (included with the Cleansing Balm) under hot water, squeeze it out and rest it over my face. This only lasts about 30 seconds, but it always feels therapeutic, a gift at the end of the day. I pat my skin dry and immediately spray my face with one broad pump of Rosewater Mist. The cool contrast to the hot cloth feels wonderful. I finish with one pump of Nourishing Night Cream on my fingertip, adding two drops of Hydrating Face Oil and a dab of Rejuvenating Eye Cream around my eyes (a little creamier in texture to the Nourishing Eye Cream).

THE ALL-PURPOSE CLEANSING BALM

You might notice the emptiness of the jar, but I have loved the Cleansing Balm this winter. Although it is one of the more expensive products, it is still my favorite, with an plethora of uses. I have used it for washing my face, and also as a mask 1-2 times/week for extra hydration. I often use it as a moisturizer on my children’s faces when they become chapped, too. I use it to remove makeup. I have clients who have used it to help with eczema and dry heals, and I recently encouraged one client, who is an avid runner, to try wearing her balm before a run as a mask to preserve the moisture in her skin.
Nurturing Winter Skin BeautycounterCAUSE FOR CONCERN

Did you know many makeup lines (even expensive ones) contain toxins and heavy metals in their products that can affect our endocrine, reproductive, and nervous systems? I encourage you to begin research of your own to make your own decisions, but here’s a helpful start as to which chemicals to be concerned about and why. Although I don’t wear much makeup, I’m grateful for Beautycounter’s initiative to provide makeup that is free of these harmful things. I realize there are many women who choose not to wear makeup, and I say high-fives and way to go. When I go places without a splash of color on my cheeks or a dab of concealer under my eyes, people tend to ask if I’m feeling okay or tell me how tired I look. All to say, I’m not yet to the place where I’m swearing off makeup. Beside the point, I feel better about myself with a little color. Wink.

WINTER MAKEUP ROUTINE

For daily wear in the winter, I prefer makeup that adds moisture and a little natural flush. First, I gently apply Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer (No. 2) with my fingertips. It has a bit of a sticky texture at first, but quickly adds a dewy look that feels really good in the winter. On a day I need extra moisture, I may skip the Dew Skin altogether and just add a bit of the Cleansing Balm to my skin, letting it soak in like a mask. Either way, I then dab on a little eye concealer (fair, pictured below) to brighten my inherited dark under-eye circles, followed by a few light strokes of mascara. Depending on the day, I use either the cream blusher (Hibiscus, in the picture below) or the blush duo (Tawny/Whisper), with a quick swipe of the lip sheer (Twig, pictured below) to moisturize my lips. I just purchased the Coralbell lip gloss to dab on top for a bit more color this spring. :)

Nurturing Winter Skin with Beautycounterwinter_skin-1-5

A GIFT FOR YOU

As a way to say thank you to my readers and to help encourage the use of safer products in your home, I am reimbursing shipping on all orders of $100 or more placed through my personal site until 11:59pm on January 31, 2017. No commitment or membership sign-up necessary. Wink.

JOIN THE BUSINESS

For those of you interested in joining the Beautycounter movement, there are two separate ways to do so:

become a member / The membership does not require you to sell anything; it allows you to receive free shipping on purchases over $100, receive special promotions, and earn 15% credit on each purchase toward future purchases. You also receive a free gift from Beautycounter if you purchase $50 or more when you sign up, currently the Rose Neroli Hand Soap. Right now, for any reader who signs up through my personal site to become a Band of Beauty member and also places a product order $100 or more, I will reimburse 10% of the order in addition to the automatic free shipping and the Rose Neroli hand lotion. Offer ends 11:59pm on January 31, 2017. 

become a consultant / As a consultant, you would officially join my Beautycounter team and have access to several other people on this same journey. Consultants receive a discount on all product immediately upon signing up and generally take a more active roll with the Beautycounter movement. Whether you are drawn to the activism, wellness, or educational aspect of the business, consultants earn income doing something they care about that benefits themselves and their homes. Through my team, you will have access to an assortment of training and business helps and are free to move toward goals however gently or assertively you desire. Plus you will have access to other training and equipping events and socials hosted by the company around the nation. If you are interested to learn more or have any specific questions about becoming a consultant, please email me: bethany <at> cloisteredaway.com I would love to talk!

evening_routines_and_sleep

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.

evening_routines_and_sleep-3

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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There’s been an unplanned, obvious lull in this space the last two months, and I’ll admit on certain days, I’ve been frustrated by it. In short, there are simply too many things that I want to do in a day, and not enough time or enough of me to do it all. I started April intending to write about the importance of self-care in motherhood, and well, it turns out, taking care of myself actually trumped writing about it. Go figure. As I shared on Instagram the other day, 2016 is teaching me deep lessons in self-care and gentleness toward myself in this mothering journey, and I do plan to begin unfolding some of those lessons beginning next week. May, a month set apart for celebrating mothers, seems perfect for this topic.

In the meantime, I wanted to end April with something nourishing for the weekend: two favorite juice recipes and a quote from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism, “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” Give yourself permission to say no to something this weekend, to rest fully for some bit of time in a way that fills your soul. Maybe it’s watching a film or reading a book. Maybe it’s going for a walk or having a night out. Whatever it is, make some time for it. Happy weekend to you. x


 

WEEKEND GREEN JUICE

1/2 lemon, chopped

1 English cucumber, chopped

2 tart apples, chopped + cored

a small nub of ginger (optional)

pinch of cayenne

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WEEKEND RED JUICE

1 beet, chopped

1 grapefruit, peeled+chopped

2 oranges, peeled+chopped

1 lemon, peeled

1 nob of ginger

 

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Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity. ― John Muir, Our National Parks

We live in Central Texas, far from foothills and mountains. Still I can agree with Muir’s words just the same: being outdoors is the best way to clear my mind, my nerves, my heart. On a typical day, when I’m feeling anxious or exhausted, stepping outside my door is an immediate cure. Nature has a way of quieting my soul and thoughts, of reminding me of the simplicity of life.

On the weekend, when we have a larger block of time together as a family, we love being outdoors together for the same reasons. It reminds us of the gift of time, the simplicity of family life together. Plus, in a really practical way, it’s good to be in spaces where the kids can run-a-muck with loud voices and laughter, where we can step away from the demands of the home. Deep breathing, fresh air, sunshine–every bit of it is good for the soul and body.

Most weekends, we may simply enjoy our yard or a local trail or park. On my favorite weekends, we make a day trip to the coast or a nearby state park. In the fall and spring, we try to camp for the entire weekend. These trips don’t require the fanciest gear or even a ton of preparation, but I love how they inspire curiosity, how they allow for idle conversation and thought, how they bring us together with a fresh experience (even when we are familiar with the place).

We took one of these day hikes on a recent weekend together. We packed the kids’ water backpacks, snacks, binoculars, a notebook, pencil or colors, camera, local field guides and drove to a state park. We mapped out our hike, taking consideration of how far our youngest can walk, 3-4 miles at most right now. The goal for us isn’t length or speed, and I find it’s more fun for all of us if we pause and climb trees or skip rocks or draw when everyone needs the pause. When possible (like this day), we stop by the ranger station to grab a junior ranger backpack. They’re free to check out for the day and include paper, crayons, binoculars, nature guides, and a little packet of things to look for and activities to do while on the trail. We’ve also been enjoying the Wild Explorers Club, an online adventure program, to help lead us through nature exploring and basic wilderness skills. The lessons are self-paced and easy to adapt to our own outings as we go. Likewise, they inspire us to get outdoors together!

Do you have plans to be outdoors this weekend? Even if it’s sitting on a porch, make some time for it. Happy weekend, friends! xx

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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