The Life-Giving Home: January

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

January: Creating a Framework for Home

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

This month’s chapter is largely and about rhythms and routines. Routines shield us from chaos. They help us make our intended priorities our actual priorities. But routines take planning and careful execution. Once established, routines can become a welcome friend — little rituals that ingrain order, peace, and joy in our hearts.

This chapter helped me ask good questions as I looked down the corridor of 2017. I was able to steal away for a few hours to a coffee shop and do some hard work in this area. (A special word of thanks to my husband for making time for this amidst his busy work schedule!) I began with what Sally calls “decluttering your heart” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt.

Then, after a time of prayer, I moved on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion included answering questions like:

  • What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
  • Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
  • What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?

Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.

For me, this looked like the following (not a complete list):

  • I have some lofty running goals this year. I need to put my running schedule on my google calendar, because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
  • I would like to schedule a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also need to go on the calendar.
  • I made a list of the books I’d like to read this year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I tried to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles.
  • I ordered a Bible study book to use in my current morning quiet time, since I did Bible-in-a-Year last year and I try to alternate overview with in-depth study.

Then I moved on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I came up with for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:

  • My two youngest have begged for a return to teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
  • I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with Dad so that it’s more restful and less squeezed.
  • I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids love to do school in other places, and I do too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing! Plus I find that we get more done out of the house.
  • I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take this year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. (there were a lot of them this year!)

I also took some time considering and praying through where each of my kids is. Are there bad habits we need to address? Lessons they’d like to take this year? Milestones approaching? I made a little list for each child with a few action items on each.

Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I also made a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.

All of this sounds dreadfully boring and not very “homey” at all, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. Our kitchen chalkboard currently bears one of my favorite quotes for this time of year, from Annie Dillard:


That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).

I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. Sally even says at one point that there were many times that the schedule flew out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure gave their family a rhythm to return to.

Next month’s chapter, February is on “A Culture of Love: Growing Lifelong Relationships.”


The Candles at Turl Street Kitchen

Evening comes on quickly in Oxford in November. The dark creeps in around 4 in the afternoon.

When David and I closed out our afternoons there, we sought out a little respite in a place pointed out to us by our friend Sarah: Turl Street Kitchen. Turl Street is one of the cross streets that runs between Broad Street and the High Street. It is rather narrow and always full of bicycle riders.

The restaurant was tucked in on the right side of the road as we left Broad Street and Blackwells’ bookstore. It was the kind of place you’d imagine in Oxford: small-paned windows, rough wooden pub tables, and a staircase that marched up the middle of the building. In the back was the coffee bar: a lighter space with a few high-top tables scattered about.

As dusk came on, we sought out those most modern of necessities: electrical outlets and free wi-fi. My eagerness to guide us around the town with an online walking tour, along with my incessant picture-taking, had mercilessly killed my phone. While “going dark” in Oxford was a tempting proposition, responsibilities back home (by the names of our five children) demanded that we keep the communication lines open. So we ordered two lattes and a slice of cake, and slumped down with our bags at a corner table by an outlet.

We took out a map, as tourists are inclined to do, and discussed our next day’s plans. As we chatted, a server walked about with a lighter and lit the white thick pillar candles on each table. There were no candle holders; not even a plate underneath them. The candles sat down unapologetically on each wooden table, where the burn marks remembered them. There was no fuss about anything.

Despite the small effort, the room took an enchanted glow because of those candles. The little bit of effort taken turned the space into a cozy residence, perfect for thinking noble thoughts and having profound conversation.

When I returned home from the UK, one of the first errands I took included a stop for white pillar candles. I wanted to recapture that moment and make it exist in my own home. Forget the fact that I didn’t have ancient walls, magical libraries, boys’ choirs, or Evensong…I could have the white candles from Turl Street Kitchen.

What is it about us that thinks we can recapture an atmosphere? What makes an atmosphere “just so” in a fashion that can, realistically, never be recaptured? The air and the mood, in that place have taken up residence in my heart.

What is a place that you have ingrained in your heart? What made it that way?

I want my home to be a place that is ingrained in my children’s hearts. Realistically, this is unavoidable. It will be part of them. I pray that those positive pieces — the tray with our initial, the smell of bread, and yes, the white pillar candles on the Oxford tea towel on the table — will stick with them more than the weak, broken pieces.


When It’s Dark

candleThis week is predicted to be one of the coldest this year. The meteorologists are calling for caution, and social media is beginning to be flooded with screenshots of people’s weather apps. “Look!” we say. “It is nine degrees here. I can prove it to you with my screenshot.” Someone answers with the inevitable “five-day forecast” screenshot, displaying the projected high of minus ten.

This morning I came downstairs into the dark to find that we’d left a candle burning all night.

Yesterday I was fighting with this candle. It seemed useless to me. I had to dump out wax a few times to get it to stay lit, and I was about to throw it in the trash. But at last it had submitted to its purpose, begrudgingly holding onto a flame for a few hours last evening as we settled in for the night. But the flame was small enough that my husband didn’t notice it burning as he closed up the house late last night.

So it was the smallness and stubbornness of this flame that preserved it, and that preserved us. As people. As homeowners.

I left it burning as I began my day. It is small and steady enough; it poses no danger. For now.

Dear Pinterest, We Need to Have a Talk About Bookshelves

Hello Pinterest, you inspirer and ruiner of dreams.  

Last night I sat on my couch and stared at the bookshelves across the room. I thought, “Those could probably look better.” The shelves with the McCullough biographies were a little crowded, and the audiobooks looked cluttery. The kids’ shelves have been in heavy use, and it shows. There are volumes that we’ve loaned out and stuck back when they’re returned.

So, you see — general bookshelf-ish clutter. I needed to straighten and love them a bit. As with many of my projects, I decided to inspire myself by heading over to your site, Pinterest, and see some pretty pictures.

I typed in “styled bookshelves.”

But here’s what I saw.

18 books

(18 books)



(30 books)

(30 books)


(22 books)

(22 books)


WHERE ARE ALL THE BOOKS?!  (Look, I even counted them for you. Not many, right?)

Let’s review. These are *BOOK*shelves we’re talking about, right? Not museum shelves? Look at that one with JUST a vase on one whole shelf! This is not my reality. There are no empty shelves to be had here.

I came across one blogger who said she had “so many” books to fit into her styled bookshelf, so she really had to plan. I counted again. There were TWENTY-ONE BOOKS on her gigantic shelf. Twenty-one whole books!



Then there was the picture with the books TURNED AROUND BACKWARDS so the spines faced in and the pages faced out. WHAT?! Yes. So all the pretty white pages match.

I guess people are picking their books now because they’re pretty? And it doesn’t matter what is inside them? (Here I am inexplicably hearing Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” in my head. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures!”)



Here’s another trend I noticed that made me crazy. People organize their books BY COLOR?! What is this madness?! Who DOES that?! How can you find anything?!

Maybe you are spectacularly visually-minded and you can live that way. My chest gets tight just thinking about doing that. Plus I think we would have an overstock of blue books (like in the picture!) due to the amount of American history and theology in our library.

Deep breath. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of having a place for my eye to rest. A framed photograph here and there, a vase, a well-chosen tchotchke — these all make a bookshelf more pleasing to the eye.

That’s the help I went looking for. What I found made me want to stage an intervention whilst overdramatically declaring the end of civilization as we know it.

So. Pinterest. This topic is officially off-limits between you and me. We will not speak of it again.

Because to be honest, Pinterest, I can’t think of many things more beautiful than these…


 IMGP4233 IMGP4243 IMGP4247 IMGP4246

(When I’m not ranting at Pinterest, I am pinning happily here.)


Why We Pursue Knowledge –  “But what if education—what if learning and thinking and knowing—is less about what you do with your knowledge than it is about the person you become in the process? What if education is first and foremost about becoming image bearers?”

Alison’s Thrifted Makeover – I really enjoyed this series by the Nester on a little makeover she did for a friend. Summer is always the time that I start rolling over ideas for changing up the house.

Proper Introductions: Summer Suggestions – Lanier has some ideas of what you might want to read this summer. She always has a unique list. Plus her new puppy is named Bonnie Blue — how cute is that?!


On Cleaning the Bedroom

My friend Rebecca has done the impossible:  she has made me want to clean bedrooms.  Oh sure, I can easily see the poetry in a clean kitchen.  Bedrooms — especially my own — don’t get that attention.

May there be three good books at ready on each table,
and light enough to read.

A place for shoes to be tucked out of sight
so that roads are forgotten.

Read the whole lovely poem at Story Warren.

Welcome to Donwell: Juxtaposition

If I were to ask you where a homeschooling mother of five children spends most of her time during the day, what would you say?

Three rooms — kitchen, schoolroom, and laundry — are where I spend most of my waking hours.

So here’s the great thing about this place:  the laundry room here is RIGHT NEXT TO the schoolroom.  It actually comes off of the schoolroom.  So I can fold and keep an eye on people doing their math.  I can switch loads in between reading and science.  It’s really quite amazing.

Of course, now that it’s summer, I avoid both of these rooms like the plague.  It’s vacation, after all.