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I read the book Humble Roots twice last year––once in its entirety; once in slower, more intentional meditations. What rang true again and again was the title of the first chapter, “Withering on the Vine.” I could not think of a more fitting title for my own life last year. I left 2017 feeling like the crispy pine needles littering the floors. I was not unaware either, which may have made it worse. I had spent much of the Autumn doing what felt like twirling the puzzle pieces of our life to fit them better together, to be more efficient with time and energy. I took time to retreat, to pray, to write even. I shuffled the kids through amazing experiences, read books, hired an assistant, checked my children’s progress. I served in our community, connected with friends, made time for wine nights and date nights and morning coffees and travel. I listened to podcasts, to music, to books. I posted to social media, emailed with clients and brand partners, tried to write blog posts (handfuls in drafts) and slowly progressed through a project I’ve envisioned for this space the last two years. Our home life and homeschool was a mess, literally and figuratively. And in the process, I learned it is possible to have all the right puzzle pieces and totally miss their connection. It is possible in all the hustle, to lose purpose, to blur vision. I was withering under it all. I knew I needed to say no but I couldn’t even discern to what any longer. Hadn’t I taught classes and written blog posts and encouraged others on the importance of slower, more intentional living; of family mission; of disciplined, focused living, of less is more, of saying no? The answer is, of course, yes. And perhaps that shame was the most withering of all.

I am not writing these words to pass on a burden or to laden you with heaviness at the onset of a new year. I know, dear reader, you carry enough of your own. What I want to share is this: it’s okay. It’s okay if the world is running vigorous laps around you while you suck wind. It’s ok to be quiet, even when you’re expected to speak. It’s okay to pull back while others move forward, that is, in fact,  how our legs move so we can walk. It’s okay to fail, to smack into disappointment, to miss planned goals––but remember, that is not the end of the story. Courage is found in sweeping the pine needles from the floor, in using their crispy bits as kindling. Withering is not an ending, it is a beginning.

In a culture that rewards charisma, productivity, showmanship, and results––professional or personal withering can feel like failure. And why not? A garden is always more inviting in the Summer than the Winter; no one prefers a picnic beneath bare limbs and crispy leaves. But the work and purpose of the winter garden isn’t to blossom or to be an inviting space. The work of Winter is to kill off pests and disease, to cut back unhealthy limbs, to form a wet blanket for the earth. The work of Winter is to heal and nourish. Withering is not the end; it is the preparation for something new.

Although I do have a few things ready for this upcoming weekend, I seem to be lagging behind the entire holiday season this year. I find the term procrastinator doesn’t suit well, as it implies I’ve been intentionally avoiding the thoughtfulness of the season. It turns out, the logistical mess of our lives this Fall has meandered into this part of the year as well. Again, I’m learning to be gentle with myself and our home, to take a deep breath and prepare for an intentional reset beginning next week. In the meantime, I have gifts to purchase and wrap and bags to pack like many of you, so at the moment, I’m feeling grateful for free two day shipping.  For those of you in the same place today, I thought I’d share a few favorites for the adults on our lists. Peace to your efforts and cheers to thoughtful gifting, even in the last minutes. Wink.


Timex Southview Watch | Something handsome for the one with classic, understated style.

Wood Soup Bowl Set | Something functional and warm for the one with open shelves or glass cabinets in the kitchen.

Brass Chamberstick Candlestick Holder | Something romantic for the late-night artist, the early morning reader, or the gracious host.  Pair with a set of these candles.

Barebones Living Small Garden Scissors | Something small for the one always lost in the garden.

Honeycat Lariat Dropbar Necklace | Something pretty for the one always borrowing your favorite necklace.

Felt Laptop Case |  Something practical for the one who commutes.

Wabi Sabi Welcome | Something reassuring for the one who feels imperfect.

Barbones Living Beacon Light | Something bright for the one who loves the outdoors.

The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School | Something helpful for the one who wants to learn.

Bose Micro Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker | Something portable for the one who loves to move.

Everlane Cashmere Scarf | Something cheerful and cozy for the one who despises the grey winter.

betterfelt Classic Wool Slipper | Something meaningful and utilitarian for the one with cold feet.

Mkono Himmeli Hanging Planter with Ceramic Plant Holder | Something unexpected for the one who dreams of greenhouses. 

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G Lens | Something perfect for the aspiring photographer.

Matryoshka Ceramic Measuring Cups | Something unique for the one always in the kitchen.  

Afghanistan | Something stunning for the world traveler or photographer.

Phone Tripod and Remote | Something useful for the DIYer, blogger, or online socialite.

Everlane Leather Foldover Crossbody | Something special for the one who means most.

Gift giving is my love language. Whether it’s something handmade, something gently loved and no longer needed, something you can experience, or something new, I love gifting things that would mean something to the one receiving. I think we all do on some level. But I confess, I get easily overwhelmed this time of year inventorying what my children (or other people we gift to) need or what they might enjoy after a trend has passed. We do not purchase much for our children during the holidays, but what I gift them, I want to be special.

I began this gift guide two years ago as a way to share gifts that I discover in the search for meaningful and high-quality gifts for our own home. Many years, we have gifted experiences to our children, which you’ll find in the very first gift guide. These guides are not sponsored, although I do use some affiliate links to favorite businesses we support. But ultimately, these guides are a gift to you, dear readers––a gift of time on my part to ideally save some time on yours. I hope you find something or some idea that fits just right. I should also note, these gift guides build upon one another. Because I select things our home will enjoy for years (and multiple children), the gifts in my guide two years ago apply just the same today. You can find my first gift guide and my second gift guide here.  Happy holidays, friends. xx


GIFTS FOR YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES 

1. Kinderfeets Bamboo Balance Bike  2. eeboo Learn to Draw books  3. Oragami Chic  4. Owl Cross-stitch Kit  5. Everyday Watercolor  6. Windsor & Newton Water Colour Pocket Sketch Box  7. Grimm’s Wooden Rainbow Bell Tower  8. Derwent Graphite Drawing Pencils 9. Making Waldorf Dolls  10. Woodstock Chimalong 11. Bamboozler Wooden Puzzle 12. Lino Cutting Set  13. Basket Making Kit  14. Melissa & Doug Wood Work and Project Bench  15. Seedling Create Your Own Dolly  16. Uncle Goose American Sign Language Blocks  17. Little Diggers Garden Tool Sets

GIFTS FOR YOUNG NATURALISTS + ADVENTURERS 

18. Birds of Prey 48″ Kite  19. Original Audubon Bird Call  20. The Pocket Scavenger  21. Mini Fairy Garden  22. Women Who Dared  23. Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain 24. National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler  25. Estwing Rock Pick  26. Swurfer Tree Swing  27. Rosie Research Solar System Bracelet Kit  28. Opinel Pocket Knife and Brown Leather Sheath  29. Animal Camouflauge  30. Knot Tying Kits  31. Treasure Hunter’s Game  32. Carson BugLoupe Magnifier  33. Flower Families: A Go-Fish Game  34. Large Moon Lamp  35. Botanicum  36. Uncle Goose Constellation Blocks  37. Children Rustic Walking Stick 

GIFTS FOR YOUNG ENGINEERS + SCIENTISTS 

38. Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects  39. Crystal Radio Kit  40. Wooden Wonders Dr. Maple Medical Kit  41. LEGO Women of Nasa Set  42. STEAM Kids  43. Science Experiments You Can Eat  44. Leatherman Multi-Tool for Kids  45. Compounded Chemistry Board Game  46. Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers  47. Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power Experiment Kit  48. Hape Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run  49. Seedling Design Your Own Marble Maze   50. Young Architect City Planner Set  51. Grimm’s Wooden Fraction Circles  52. Prime Climb: The Beautiful, Colorful Mathematical Game  53. The Curious Kid’s Science Book  54. 11 Experiments That Failed

GIFTS FOR YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS

55. Piper Computer Kit  56. Wright Flyer Model  57. Tegu Magbot  58. Make: Paper Inventions  59. Tech Will Save Us Micro:Bot Pack  60. Kamigami DIY Lina Robot  61. Cozmo Programmable Robot  62. BOSEBuild Build-It Yourself Bluetooth Speaker for Kids  63. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code  64. Smithsonian Maker Lab  65. Make Your Own Mud Clock  66. Tot Tube Playset  67. Ukranian Bridge Wood Puzzle  68. Castle Logix Game  69. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids  70. Thing Explainer 

GIFT FOR YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS

71. Tombow Beginning Lettering Marker Set  72. Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly  73. A Year in the Woods  74. Organic Cotton Hanging Nest  75. Star Wars Death Star Ice Mold  76. Mini Alphabet Stamps  77. Children’s Kitchen Tool Set in an Herb Pot  78. Start Where You Are: A Journal of Self-Exploration  79. Large Moleskine Cahier Journal in Pastels 80. Tovla Training Chopsticks for Kids  81. How to Cook in 10 Easy Lessons   82. Toysmith Deluxe Root Viewer  83. Plays Children Love 84A Child of Books  85. Crayon Rocks  86. Harry Potter Kids Aprons  87. MasterChef Junior Cookbook  88. Curious Chef Nylon Knife Set

The days have been warm here, feeling more like spring than late winter. I don’t mind. I spent the day on a blanket last weekend, reading Luci Shaw’s Water My Soul, and soaking up the warm light. It’s possibly the most restorative way for me to spend alone time, tending the soil of my own soul and spirit, taking in the outdoors. In spite of a few hard freezes here, our garden kale and brussel sprouts have continued to grow, and the heirloom lettuces I let go to seed last year have blossomed again without effort! It feels miraculous. In our southern heat, these leafy greens only last as long as the weather remains cool in the evening, so I’m harvesting what I can each day, adding a bit of kale to at least one meal or juice a day. As I’ve looked for more creative ways to eat kale, here are a few recipes I’ve found. Kale Cake? Kale Pesto Slaw? Mmm. Enjoy!

  1. Simply Sauté | Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and minced garlic over the stove until a bright green color. Add to any dish.
  2. Green Juice  or this one: 5-6 de-stemmed kale leaves, 1/2 cucumber, 1/2 lemon without the rind, 1 apple, 2 sprigs of mint, 1″ piece of ginger
  3. Wilted Winter Greens Soup
  4. BBQ Kale Chips
  5. Kale and Black Bean Tacos with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa
  6. Butternut Squash + Kale Quesadillas
  7. Blueberry, Kale, and Fig Smoothie
  8. Kale and Apple Cake with Apple Icing
  9. Kale Pasta with Walnuts
  10. Pork Tenderloin with Kale and Kimchi
  11. Kale Veggie Wrap
  12. Kale with Garlic and Bacon
  13. Savory Oatmeal with Garlicky Kale
  14. Winter Farro and Kale Salad
  15. Cheesy Turmeric + Garlic Kale Chips
  16. Chocolate Cocoa Kale Chips
  17. Chive, Kale, + Parmesan Pancakes with Poached Eggs
  18. Kale + Feta Savory Torte
  19. Kale, Cherry, Sunflower Seed Salad with Savory Granola
  20. Roasted Beet, Kale, and Brie Baby Quiche
  21. Savory Corned Beef Brisket + Irish Cheddar French Toast with Kale Pesto Slaw
  22. Hide Your Kale Smoothie
  23. Warm Kale + Artichoke Dip
  24. Detox Salad with Cauliflower, Kale, and Pomegranate
  25. Kale + Popcorn

Any favorite kale recipes to share?

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!

Reflections for the New Year

Each new year is a baptism of sorts, a release of one thing, a grasp for another. Whether one toasts champagne or simply turns the paper page on the calendar, we cross over, like mystics. Each of us. All of us. A new year.

I realize for most of us, life carries on today as usual, cup of coffee in hand, laundry, email, work. The ordinariness of time can sometimes mask its importance. I have been cleaning out closets and re-ordering spaces around the house this last week, recalibrating our home after the holiday whirl. These sort of inventories offer the best sort of reflection, a practical accounting of days and time and space. Let it go or put it in place, practically and metaphorically. The process has been that simple.

Yet through it, I have noticed more gentleness toward myself, an ease in letting go without excuse, something atypical to me. I have packed a large box of books we have outgrown, supplies we do not use, work we have completed. I threw away old planners and tangential ideas scratched on paper, opting instead to begin with a clear mind and working space. It is difficult to toss ideas aways, but they can become cumbersome and distracting to new ones. I am trusting that the ideas that matter will circle back on their own again, in their own time.

2016 taught me more about this, about letting go of failure and disappointment and unfinished dead ends, about working with steadfastness and patience. 2016 taught me more about creating in the face of fear, dreaming in spite of failure, putting down the litmus of comparison. It taught me about the power of voice and the value of silence. It’s funny how such powerful lessons can be woven amid difficult circumstances.

Like many people, I typically journal on the cusp of each year. This year, I will be journaling daily in this archival journal my friends Ronnie and Trish just released, filled with daily prompts for cataloguing the days. For me, this annual period of reflection is less about marking tasks to accomplish in the new year and is more about noticing the hidden narrative of my days, the magic lying within the ordinariness and even the hardship. I generally reflect on our year as a family relationally and spiritually. I reflect on our community relationships. I reflect on our homeschool year. Since I am goal-oriented by nature, I prefer to jot down goals for the year ahead. Sometimes I flounder; sometimes I rise. Either way, I am learning how to hold these plans a bit more loosely, to allow them room to take organic course. They are more or less a flickering light for the path ahead. They often keep my feet moving when I feel a bit lost, even if only toward the next step.

For those who are interested, here are a few of the thoughts below I use to process each new year. May they be a flickering light for your path, too.

soult-journals

REFLECT

What was the biggest success of the last year (expected and unexpected)? 

What was the biggest disappointment or obstacle? Were these temporary circumstances or something ongoing/long-term? 

Were your expectations/goals at the beginning of the year reasonable?  Were you trying to do too much at once? Did others involved respond how you anticipated? Finances? Time?

How did you use your free time (unplanned time)? Did you even have free time? Did you rest well?  List some factors or circumstances that prohibit rest/restoration.

How did you take care of yourself? Write one thing you did for yourself that you’d like to continue.

How well did you connect with or take care of others? Name a meaningful point of connection last year. Is there a way to re-create it in the new year?

How do you feel entering the new year? (excited, anxious, fearful, expectant, overwhelmed, etc.) Are any specific life circumstances contributing to this feeling? How does this emotion fuel you? Your family’s relationships/learning? Your work? How does it deplete them?

LET GO

Take a moment to let go of accomplishment and disappointment. Acknowledge your emotions and release them. Imagine yourself being emptied and cleared. Pray and ask for wisdom.

PLAN AHEAD

What is one specific way you want to take care of yourself this year? Is this daily, weekly, monthly? Write it down. If possible, share it with someone you trust, someone who will help you prioritize it.

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with those in your home in a more meaningful way this year? Just one. Is this a daily, weekly, or monthly practice?

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with someone(s) outside of your home in a more meaningful way? Begin with one. Is this a daily, weekly, monthly practice? Write it on the calendar.

What is one area of your family daily routine you’d like to shift? (I ask myself this specifically for the homeschool, too.) What do you need to eliminate? Simplify? Add? Have more consistency in? Write it down.

What part of the follow-through do you need the most help? Physically? Logistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

What encourages you the most in your daily living? Write down one habit change to cultivate encouragement.

Cloistered Away | Ginger CookiesCloistered Away | Ginger Cookies

I look forward to this season every year, when the home twinkles and the hearth glows, when the kitchen smells of spices and baked goods or a simmering pot on the stove, when the children and I begin afternoon tea with Advent read-aloud and crafts, when we thoughtfully plan out our gifts to make or purchase for dear and near ones. And yet this particular holiday season has been different. I have been away from my home far more than I have been in it. I actually counted the days yesterday and discovered six precious days at home in December. My heart sunk a bit. I don’t regret my days away, as they were meaningful and necessary in their own manner, even when they were unexpected. But without recognizing it, I have found myself chasing home, chasing Christmas this year. I have found myself rushed to do, do, do, to somehow catch up with time, compressing 20 days at home into six. But that pace begins to suffocate me after a while, it squelches the soul, the connection. Instead I am letting go of my own plans this year, releasing it even as I type this out. I’m releasing the unfinished baking and making, the imperfect gifts and lagging Advent readings, the crafts that were never begun, and all of those quiet afternoon cups of tea and read aloud. I’m releasing it all to embrace what we chose instead this year: to serve others in need, to offer my children a small opportunity with theater, to light candles and sing Christmas hymns and carols by candlelight most evenings, to enjoy many afternoons building forts in the woods with friends, to spend time with cousins and grandparents, even a great-grandparent during Christmas, to make wreaths and garlands for other homes instead of my own. Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Sometimes the imperfect, the unexpected events and happenings are what make it good (and also sometimes uncomfortable for me).
Cloistered Away | Ginger CookiesCloistered Away | Ginger Cookies

Earlier this week, Olive and I spent the day at my sister’s house, baking gingerbread cookies, writing Christmas cards, and crafting with them. As it happens, we also enjoyed tea––a new loose leaf blend gifted by a dear friend, in a new Japanese tea kettle and hand thrown cup gifted by TOAST. I plan to use both often this winter, ideally with these cookies and heaps of gratitude. Kristen’s ginger cookies are my favorite cookies. Period. I prefer them extra gingery, rolled in raw sugar, soft and chewy, slightly cooled from the oven. The fresh ginger is absolutely wonderful. Rolled out and left in the oven a tad longer, this recipe also creates a perfect dough for cookie cutting, too, and as we have it, perfectly imperfect cookie decorating also. In the event you’re looking for a small afternoon craft or something delicious to share with loved ones, here’s Kristen’s simple recipe for you, a salute to letting go and receiving the day or season at hand, perfectly imperfect. They are tasty and heart-warming in every season or month of the year.

KRISTEN’S GINGER COOKIES

  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap unsulphered molasses
  • 1 egg
  • raw sugar for topping

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl (or mixing stand), mix together the fresh ginger, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg. Add in the dry ingredients. Taste and check the ginger flavor of the batter. Add more if necessary (sometimes I add up to 1/2 cup of fresh ginger). Chill for at least one hour.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

For softer, chewier cookies, roll a spoonful of dough between your hands into a ball. Roll the ball in the raw sugar and place on a baking tray 2″ apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

For cookie cutting, lightly flour a surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough evenly, about 1/4″ – 1/8.” Bake for approximately 15 minutes for a crispier cookie, checking not to burn. Cool entirely before icing.

ICING

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk

Wisk together. It will have a thick, glue-like consistency. Pour into a piping bag to decorate.

 

 

Holiday Gift Wrap, Three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap, Three Waysmpix-2Holiday Gift Wrap with Photos

It may sound silly, but gift wrapping is one of my favorite parts of gift giving. It is the icing on the cake, the thoughtful finishing detail to what I always hope is a thoughtful gift. That said, like many other areas in our life, I have paired down this process over the years, opting for more economical and ecological options to create less waste. As it turns out, simplicity and economy can be just as beautiful as all the glittery frills. Today, I’m partnering with Mpix to share a few ways I am using nature and photographs this season to beautifully and economically wrap our gifts.Holiday Gift Wrap, three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap

WRAPPING BASICS

sturdy craft paper and natural twine / For starters, I keep a large roll of sturdy craft paper (found at most hardware stores) and natural twine on hand at all times. Having a natural colored base allows for versatile, seasonal details based on the holiday or celebration at any point in the year. Plus, with craft paper, there’s the opportunity to transform it to kindling, coloring paper, or a craft project after the gift has been unveiled. Another option might be to use small swaths of cloth or cloth bags for wrapping.

washi tape / It’s easy to find washi tape anywhere these days, the dollar store to high end paper stores. I like to keep a couple around for my children’s artwork and crafts, but they come in handy for taping branches or photos to gift wrap, too. Wink.

twigs with colorful leaves or berries / This is an excellent way to include children in gift wrapping. They can help search for fallen leaves or twigs, or even learn how to prune a few on their own. In the past, I have also snipped stems from our Christmas tree for wrapping, but this year, we gathered a few bits from our nature walk earlier this week––colorful cedar branches and assorted tree berries.

Holiday gift Wrap, Nature and PhotosHoliday Gift Wrap with Nature + PhotosHoliday Gift Wrap with Nature + Photos

PHOTOS, THREE WAYS

photo prints / For friends and family who might who might appreciate an updated family picture for a frame or even a landscape from a favorite trip during the year, try taping an image to the wrapping or tucking it in the twine. I used double-sided tape on some and washi tape on others. Double-check the washi tape first to make sure it won’t ruin the photo paper. Pair smaller natural accents with larger images and vice versa for images that take up less space. Use natural pieces that complement the colors in your photo. I loved how the orange cedar complimented the sunrise in one of my images.

photo magnets / A medium sized photo magnet can be ideal for minimalist family members or those who love to keep images on their fridge. They’re strong enough to hold a piece of paper, too. So if you have littles, this might couple well with a handmade card or Christmas drawing. I used washi tape for the photo magnets, accompanied with purplish leaves that complemented the images.

mini-photo gift tags / You know those little scraps of paper leftover during the wrapping process? Tape a mini-photo to a piece of torn scrap paper and use it as a gift tag! I hole-punched the paper and used twine to tie with a small branch. Write a small message on the back and presto! It’s something special for the recipient to keep and more economical than purchasing pre-made gift tags.

Happy wrapping, friends!

 


This post is sponsored by Mpix, a photo lab based in Kansas, committed to quality printing services. All images and thoughts are my own.