Book Reviews [2021 Q2]

Book Reviews [2021 Q2]

In the last three months, I read twenty books! That is way more than usual [hence why it’s taken me so long to put this review post together]. I think some other parts of my life have suffered as a result of all this time spent reading [sorry, Babe] — but then again, a lot of my “reading” is done via audiobook while I am cleaning, folding laundry, and chopping vegetables. So, on the bright side, maybe all this reading has made me a better homemaker [my least favorite of all the jobs I have ever held, if I’m being honest].

Regardless, these books have definitely taught me a lot. I’ve learned things about mental health, racism, healthy eating, politics, and Matthew McConaughey’s wet dreams [I may have learned a little too much].

Anyway, here we go!

April

The New Health Rules by Frank Lipman and Danielle Claro

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This super quick book is basically a list of tips to be your healthiest self – from what to eat, to how to exercise, to what chemicals to avoid. It’s a great place to start for someone who has no clue about how to be healthy. I didn’t learn anything new; however, and I disagreed with a couple of suggestions [for instance that everyone is somewhat gluten intolerant and should avoid gluten].

The trouble with claiming to share “health rules” is that there are very few things in the health industry that are agreed upon by everyone. And the information is constantly changing [hence the “new” part]. Still, this is an approachable guide…until the new new rules come along.

Four Pack Revolution by Chael Sonnen and Ryan Parsons

⭐️⭐️⭐️

First, I want to say that I am not a fan of MMA, UFC, boxing or any other “sport” whose goal is to bash another persons brains in. Also, I didn’t even know who Chael Sonnen was when I checked out this book from the library [he is a UFC fighter, for those who don’t know]. I chose it because I was curious what this “revolution” was that I had never heard of in my six years as a fitness professional.

This is basically a diet book; however, it is probably one of the best diets I have ever heard of because it sets attainable goals [the “four-pack”] and reminds you that the fitness professionals you see live unrealistic and largely unhealthy lives to achieve that chiseled look. I also really loved the idea of a weekly “reset meal,” as opposed to a cheat day. The line between “cheat day” and “binge day” is very blurry, so a “reset meal” allows you to eat a meal that you love, but only once a week and only one meal. After all, we need to be able to enjoy a special meal with friends and family sometimes.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book blew my mind. On the one hand, it affirmed what I instinctually knew – that I have not suffered from depression because my life has been privileged and easy – and totally shocked me by proving that depression actually may not be due to a chemical imbalance.

Now, I should explain that I’ve never had mental health issues, I’ve never seen a psychiatrist, or been to therapy of any kind – all of which are extremely common [and becoming more so] in our society. Sure, I’ve been sad at times and definitely experienced my share of postpartum “blues,” but I always understood that people who are truly depressed fall into a different category. Despite never having been depressed, I absolutely believed that people with “clinical depression” were those who had a chemical imbalance which made their depression so severe that they required drugs to “even them out.” I really believed this.

The United Nations—in it’s official statement for World Health Day in 2017—explained that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.” There is a “growing evidence base,” they state, that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them “to address issues which are closely related to social problems.” We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing on ‘power imbalances.’”

Johann Hari, Lost Connections

Say WHAT?!

I know that was a long quote, but oh my god, when we realize that the pharmaceutical industry has been selectively sharing research results in order to make medications appear more effective than they actually are, I mean, this changes everything – especially for the millions of people taking antidepressants and, as a result, suffering from all kinds of side affects like weight gain, low libido, and more depression!

According to the evidence in this book, the root of much of the depression in our society is a result of our lost connections—connections with purpose, respect, the natural world, meaningful work, a secure future, and each other. So, it turns out, there isn’t something broken inside of us, there is something broken in our society, in the way we live, in the things we value.

I was shocked that this book, which started out about depression, turned into a book about how to live a meaningful life—the same journey that I have been on for the past five years. While this book may be especially insightful if you have personal experience with depression, it is also just a great book for anyone who wants a joyful, meaningful life.

I highly, highly recommend it.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I really, really wanted to love this book, but it turned out to be awkwardly written. Or, at least, not what I expected. It was written as if it was trying to be a novel; however, it is non-fiction and lacking the historical details to make it flow naturally. It turned out to be a strange mixture of the two genres. Obviously in historical fiction, the author is able to take liberties to write a creative story. This author took no such liberties.

Still, I was fascinated by this story of young women in the 1920s who suffered absolutely horrendous illnesses and deaths due to painting radium dials. And I was shocked and horrified at the extremes that these dial companies went to in order to avoid being responsible for the suffering of these women.

This is a fascinating piece of little known history [at least, I had never heard of it before] which showcases how expendable female workers were at the time, and how important our workman’s compensation laws are today — in fact, these women are to thank not only for the discovery of how dangerous radium is, but for the improvement of the laws protecting workers rights.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“The beautiful thing about the piano is that you got white keys and you got black keys. And the only way to make the most beautiful, magnificent, and poetic noise is with both sets of keys working in tandem. You can’t just play all white keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. You can’t just play all black keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. But integrate the white and black keys together, and that is when the piano makes a joyful noise. That’s what this “we” is all about. If we can truly integrate white people and black people together, working in tandem, that’s when our world will make its joyful noise.”

Emmanuel Acho, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

This is a great book for white people to read because it is like sitting down with a black friend [which most white people don’t even have to begin with] and asking the tough questions you have about the black experience in America. Questions about cultural appropriation, “black” vs “African American,” protesting and white privilege —he hits all the hot topics with clarity and candor, and he really does come across sounding like your best friend.

In my opinion, the great divide on the issue of race in our society is a result of the two sides not understanding one another. From my own experience talking to my white friends and family, I get the impression that white people simply do not understand what racism is or how seriously it affects people of color or how deeply embedded in society [and in us] it is. And since white people are to blame for this whole system and have remained adamant about their own innocence ever since, it is our responsibility to hear out our fellow Americans of color [without crying “reverse racism!” every five seconds].

This should not be so frickin hard.

A good place to start is with this book. In fact, I’m giving a copy of it to my white, ultra conservative, republican father-in-law for his birthday [because we frequently discuss race issues] – it is that accessible. I’m hoping Emmanuel Acho will become his friend too.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s no secret that I love Fredrik Backman. A Man Called Ove was one of my favorites until I read My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and now I can’t decide which I like better. But I have also read a book of his that I didn’t enjoy as much, so I didn’t know what to expect.

My verdict: it’s not my favorite, but I liked it a lot. It kept me guessing and at one point did genuinely surprise me, which I always love in a book. But, the end seemed to drag on…like, for a loooong time. I got a little bored at the end, honestly. This is a bit of a “who dunnit,” so after the big reveal, I felt like the book was pretty much over. Only it wasn’t.

Still, Backman writes with a unique style that I really love. He manages to be profound and funny, in a way that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. He really cuts to the heart of the human condition with these novels, which I absolutely love.

May

Every Day is Earth Day by Harriet Dyer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this title because it’s so true—everyday IS earth day, or at least it should be. This short book contains tons of facts, diagrams, and images that explain carbon emissions and how to reduce them. I would consider this a great starter guide. It’s short, uncomplicated, and very informative.

“It is estimated that, by 2030, that five billion people will belong to the “consumer class,” a type of lifestyle revolving around accumulating non-essential goods. Considering this, it’s clear to see that we have a slight obsession with buying material things. If we are going to stop climate change in its tracks, we need to re-evaluate our habits and focus on purchasing fewer but better items that are sustainably and ethically made.”

Harriet Dyer, Every Day is Earth Day

This is the commitment that I made five years ago when I purged 80% of my belongings and stopped mindlessly buying the cheapest crap I could find.

This book has many other tips, ideas, and even recipes to help everyone easily switch to a more sustainable life.

Climate change has become such a political issue these days, but it really shouldn’t be. Stewardship of the planet’s resources is just common sense and morally responsible. To do anything less is to stick one’s head in the sand. So, if you’re interested in damaging the planet less, this book is a great place to get started!

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover into low wage jobs around the country to see if she can afford to live on what she earned as a waitress, cleaner, and Walmart associate. I’m sure no one would be surprised with the answer. From shady motel rooms, to unreasonable bosses, the low-wage work scene circa 2001 was no picnic.

“It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition—austere perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are ‘always with us.’ What it is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: the lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog buns, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle…They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that’s how we should see the poverty of so many millions of Americans—as a state of emergency.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, things have only improved nominally in the twenty years since this book was written. Yes, wages are higher now, but so is the cost of living — especially housing and education. And, since I read Maid, which is a recent version of the same low-wage struggle, I know that things have not changed as much as they should.

This book is great because it opens the eyes of middle-class Americans like me to the struggle of the people who clean our hotel rooms, serve our food, and stock the store shelves —and all the other low-wage workers who work hard to make society nice for all of us, and yet suffer for it.

“Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: If we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way….But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

⭐️⭐️

This is my second Brené Brown book. I found it to be full of wisdom once again; however, I listened to the audiobook while driving twelve hours to Virginia Beach, and I felt like I couldn’t absorb all the information. I needed to actually read it. So, when I got home, I immediately requested it from the library. One look at the book, though, and I couldn’t read it. I had some PTSD from all my years of going to church bible studies [I even worked in the design department of a bible study publisher for a few miserable years] and this book wasaaaay too much like a book that a bunch of women might sit around to discuss over a cheese ball and crackers. I never even tried to read it, I just returned it.

The major concepts of the book stuck with me, like how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection in your life, but the little details are all fuzzy. I think there were good things in the book, it just didn’t really stick with me.

Sorry, Brené.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Despite their fame, I have only read one other Agatha Christie novel: Murder on the Orient Express. Probably because back when I was reading a lot of fiction [from childhood to high school], I was limited to the Christian fiction I could find in my church library. But a reader recommended And Then There Were None on my last book review post, so I picked it up from my library and took it on my beach vacation.

This was a great beach read, the only problem was that I finished it in two days and had to read my partner’s book selection for the rest of the trip [as you’ll see below].

Overall, I enjoy mysteries and though I prefer the ones where I can try to guess the culprit, Agatha Christie isn’t called the Queen of Mystery for nothing.

The Shining by Stephen King

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve never seen the movie, other than the snippet that plays at the drive-in movie theater in the movie Twister, so I really had no idea what I was in for when I picked this book up. My partner had brought it on vacation and since I had finished my Agatha Christie in record time, it was my only other choice.

And it turned out to be a really good one. I didn’t finish it until we were home from vacation, but I was pretty riveted the entire time, even having occasional dreams [or maybe nightmares] about it. You can tell I’m really into a story when I start talking out loud while reading it. And I was practically yelling at some points in this book. “DON’T DO IT, DANNY!!” When Brett asked if we would watch the movie now, I said, “If the movie actually shows the stuff in this book, there’s no way I’m watching it.”

But I definitely loved this book. I’m thinking about reading a few other Stephen King books now, though I’ve never thought of myself as a fan. I think the sequel, Doctor Sleep, will be up next—but I’m still not watching any of the movies. No way.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve spoken to so many of my white friends and family about race issues over the past five years [since the problems first became apparent to me], and it never ceases to amaze me when I read a book like this that literally quotes every rationalization I have heard from white people on the subject of race. In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo breaks down these excuses from white America.

“For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

This is a struggle that I know well, and I find it so incredibly frustrating. I wish more white people would read this book [actually, I wish all white people would read this book], but even the title of the book is offensive to many white people who believe that they cannot be racist because they “are nice” or “have a black friend” or [worst of all] “don’t see color.”

C’mon, white America. We are better than this!

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It all began with Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, which I started reading in February and didn’t finish until June [which is not to say it wasn’t a great book, but I’ll tell you about that later]. I was learning so much about American politics and the processes that are required to make change happen—and I’m not talking about learning the branches of government and how a bill becomes a law of any of those things I learned in high school. I’m talking about the real stuff: the fight for every vote, the filibuster fiasco, the pressure from constituents, the refusal to work with the opposing party, the role of midterms in literally making or breaking any opportunity for change. The whole thing is SO MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than they made it sound in government class.

So, anyway, I’ve had all this in my mind since February and I’ve become keenly interested in politics—not about fighting with people over which parties and policies are right, and not even about following everything happening on capital hill, but the theory behind politics. I became curious about the individual people in politics and how they plan to change America through a system that seems so broken.

And that led me to this book.

The authors, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, are political scientists and professors at Harvard University who study democracies [especially their demise] around the globe, but this is the first time when American democracy has come under their scrutiny. And, despite what you may assume, they do not blame all of America’s political woes on Donald Trump or the conservative right.

This book was probably the most educational book I’ve ever read. I really didn’t know so much of America’s political history, having ignored it completely until just the past few years. And like anything, the past matters. The political shift in the Reagan era had a huge impact on what is happening today. The race issues in America that were highlighted during Obama’s presidency helped pave the way for the Trump presidency. And so on. Understanding our history is so important.

This book explains political roles like “watchdogs” and the electoral college and others who are meant to safeguard our democracy against threats from individuals or the population as a whole.

But this book also explains the signs and symptoms of failing democracies, using examples of countries where democracy has fallen to dictatorship. And, ya’ll, we should be concerned, we should be very concerned. A lot of what is happening today in America is a precursor to the dismantling of democracy—deeply divided political views, false accusations and slander of political opponents [aka McCarthyism], suppression of voting rights, and so on.

“The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division—one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America’s great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.”

Steven Levitsky, How Democracies Die

It’s not that they don’t talk about Trump, but they don’t blame Trump solely for the problem. They do, however, point out how many things Trump has in common with other authoritarians. Even the methods he used to win the presidency [casting doubt on our political system and politicians and democracy in general] has been happening around the world for ages, allowing powerful and popular men to overthrow governments. For instance, his tolerance and even encouragement of violence. At one point in the book they quote the violent things that Trump has said. Quite frankly, it is totally crazy to hear the man who was the leader of the free world say, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us.” This book was written before the capital riot, but I bet these guys were thinking, “we tried to warn you guys…”

This book also addresses the racial divide and the challenge we face to be a truly multi-racial democracy, which has apparently never been done before. Since our democracy was established and sustained by racial exclusion from the beginning, we have to find a way to bridge this chasm that has come between us as Americans and work together to repair our democracy for all Americans.

I could say a lot more, but…just go read this book.

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Please, please, please read this book.

I don’t know what else there is to say other than that this book made me fall in love with Kamala Harris. I truthfully didn’t know anything about her when she was named Biden’s running mate, but now I can confidently say that she is absolutely 100% deserving of the position of Vice President and I really hope that she becomes President someday—preferably right after Biden so we can get and maintain some good momentum in the federal government for a while.

“For too long, we’d been told there were only two options: to be either tough on crime or soft on crime—an oversimplification that ignored the realities of public safety. You can want the police to stop crime in your neighborhood and also want them to stop using excessive force. You can want them to hunt down a killer on your streets and also want them to stop using racial profiling. You can believe in the need for consequence and accountability, especially for serious criminals, and also oppose unjust incarceration. I believed it was essential to weave all these varied strands together.”

Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold

This is the kind of wisdom she brings through this book. I would quote the whole thing if I could.

“Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. . . . We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust.”

Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold

Amen, amen, amen!

Even if you don’t know her at all, even if you don’t like Biden at all, you’ve got to read this book so you can get to know our Vice President better. She has a heart of gold and has been fighting to protect and empower underprivileged groups in America from the beginning of her career. She is truly brilliant and amazing and I can’t say enough good things about her.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’re going to read this book, do yourself a favor and get the audio book. It’s like listening to the one-man Matthew McConaughey show.

He starts out by saying that it’s not a memoir because he’s not sentimental enough. He says it’s more like a book of lessons, a guidebook of sorts. Either Matthew McConaughey has never read a memoir or he changed his whole plan after the intro, but this book is 100% a memoir. It’s about as memoir-y as they come.

The first half especially is very entertaining. He shares about his family growing up, the twenty-story tree house he built, his adventures in Australia, and how he wound up in the movie business.

Half way through, it starts to get weird though, as he starts following his wet dreams around the world [and it turns out he’s not great at geography].

I do, however, like how he says “green light” after every good thing that happens to him [like finally finding the Amazon River].

“We all have scars, we gonna have more. Rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it. Cause we don’t live longer when we try not to die. We live longer when we are too busy living.”

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

He’s not half bad as a philosopher with southern charm. I can’t say that I found the book to be as profound as McConaughey clearly does, but it definitely was entertaining.

June

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After reading Michelle Obama’s memoir last year, I was so excited to read A Promised Land. When it first came out, I put a hold on it at my local library, but there were already OVER 500 HOLDS on it!!! At that rate, it would take me years to get my hands on a copy. So, Brett surprised me with my own copy. He definitely knows my love language.

This was a looooong book. It took me five months to finish it. It is 700 pages, so not exactly a short read, but it definitely wasn’t a quick read for me either, and also, I don’t have as much time to sit down with a physical book as I do to listen to audio books. So, I didn’t rush it, and taking my time allowed me to learn so many things that I never knew about running for an elected office and running a country. While I don’t think it needed to be quite so detailed, I also learned a lot about this incredible man. He continually shows grace and humor and kindness in a position that is stressful and exhausting, is constantly under scrutiny and bombarded by criticism. I took pictures of many, many pages [which is my way of saving quotes from physical books], and there are many, many excellent excerpts I could include here [though they are all very, very long, because Barack Obama is apparently not know for his brevity], but my favorite quote is actually from the very beginning of the book, in the preface, which he wrote in August of 2020.

“And so the world watches America––the only great power in history made up of people from every corner of the planet, comprising every race and faith and cultural practice––to see if our experiment in democracy can work. To see if we can do what no other nation has ever done. To see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed….If I remain hopeful, it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation, whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature, and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true but perhaps never fully believed themselves. More than anyone, this book is for those young people––an invitation to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination, and a big dos of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.”

Barack Obama, A Promised Land

Crippled America by Donald J. Trump

⭐️

You may be surprised to see me read a book by Donald Trump, but let me explain. As I said earlier, I was on this political memoir kick and was really enjoying learning about these political leaders. So, naturally, I was interested in reading about Donald Trump.

When I began looking for a book, I immediately realized that there is no shortage of books on Donald J. Trump, all of them overwhelmingly pro-Trump [such as The Case for Trump by Victor David Hanson, whose audacious title appears to be a play on the popular Christian book series, The Case for Christ, as if Trump and Christ are one and the same] OR overwhelmingly anti-Trump [such as Everything Trump Touches Dies written by Rick Wilson, a Republican political strategist, no less––though I doubt the Republican party will let him in now.] As entertaining as it is to look through all the options, they were all so obviously biased from the outset and that wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Then I had an “ah-ha” moment, when I realized how much I appreciated hearing from these political leaders through their own books. I loved learning their sides of the stories that we so often get second, third, or even fourth hand––through media, friends, co-workers, and [god forbid] Facebook. It was refreshing to hear these people, who are so often cast as terrible and doing terrible things for our country, speak for themselves. So, I thought, Man, I wish Trump had a memoir. And turns out, he does––several, in fact. I chose Crippled America first because it was published in 2015 during his political campaign. I thought this would maybe let me see that Trump isn’t the devil that the liberal world paints him to be.

But I was wrong.

Besides being incredibly arrogant throughout the entire book, reading it was the exact same as hearing him speak in public, a lot of mockery of anyone who doesn’t agree with him and a lot of claiming everyone else’s ideas are terrible and calling all of his opponents [and half of his friends] weak and [his favorite insult] losers, and yet, not offering a single specific alternative to correct anything.

[It’s worth noting that the book was updated with a new title and new photo, even after he defended the photo in the book because he wanted to show how mad he is about America. And this is the man who won the Presidency…]

I did make a discovery about Trump and what I think the root of his problem was in office. He lacks diplomacy. As much as people thought it would be great to have a so called “brilliant businessman” in office instead of those so called “crooked career politicians,” we forgot one important thing. America is not a business. It is a government. The President is not the “boss” who gets to order everyone around. The President is also not the ruler of the entire world, and he doesn’t get to order around other countries like they are little minions. I mean, I get love for your country, but let’s be real, Americans take that patriotism way too far if they agree with Trump that the President gets to tell other world leaders what to do and then pull out the “big stick” on anyone who doesn’t obey. Things are not as simple as “winners” and “losers” when it comes to the world. What Trump calls weakness––that desire to see everyone get along and work together for the greater good––that’s what I call the mark of a great leader. And that, to put it simply, is why I don’t believe that Trump is one.

How Not To Die by Michael Greger

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

How Not To Die is right up my alley because, well, I love books about nutrition [and I don’t want to die, obviously]! And this one lined up perfectly with all the things that I have already learned over the past ten years and taught me some new things. Since reading it, I have bought turmeric and ground mustard for my spice cabinet, and keep fresh berries around at all times.

I really believe that food can be medicine. But in order for us to heal ourselves, we have to know what and how to eat. Unfortunately, as Greger points out in the beginning of the book, you’re not going to get that information from your doctor who has only been trained to treat diseases, not prevent them from happening. So, this book is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to have their very best shot at a long and fruitful life.

“The top reason doctors give for not counseling patients with high cholesterol to eat healthier is that they think patients may ‘fear privations related to dietary advice.’ In other words, doctors perceive that patients would feel deprived of all the junk they’re eating. Can you imagine a doctor saying, ‘Yeah, I’d like to tell my patients to stop smoking, but I know how much they love it’?”

Michael Greger, How Not to Die

In the book, he breaks down the leading diseases causing death in America and explains what to eat to avoid these [seemingly inescapable] ailments. We often want to blame our bad health on genetics, but did you consider that, as Greger states, “the primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.” Food for thought…

Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read this book right after finishing How Not to Die, and wow, there could not possibly be two more different opinions on nutrition. According to Gundry, lectins are the cause of all your health woes and your weight gain and your bloated belly. Therefore, you should never eat any fruit or any vegetable that is an anatomical fruit [which means has seeds inside], no legumes, definitely no peanuts [because they are actually legumes], no processed foods [well, on that point he agrees with every other nutritionist] and no, or minimal, animal products [except four ounces of salmon a day]. I mean, seriously, what does this man eat??? But, he claims to have healed many, many people from debilitating diseases and autoimmune disorders––even claiming he helped Usher [yes, THE Usher] to get fit for a movie role, which I’m assuming happened because he couldn’t eat anything other than salmon, broccoli, avocado, and macadamia nuts. But who knows?

“Quite simply, plants don’t want to be eaten—and who can blame them? Like any living thing, their instinct is to propagate the next generation of their species.

Steven R. Gundry, Plant Paradox

So, what you’re saying is that the plants are sabotaging our health? Sounds like The Happening to me, which we all know is just a thriller and not real at all…right?

Well, I could do a lot more research on it, but I’m no scientist or doctor so I probably wouldn’t even know how to go about deciding if this book is telling me the truth and I should really never eat peanut butter again [I mean, really, I might prefer to be sick rather than give up peanut butter, just sayin’]. But I will say this, in How Not to Die, Michael Greger uses tons of evidence to support his nutrition recommendations. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time he said “double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial,” I’d be able to go buy myself a new set of skillets [which I desperately need]. On the other hand, though, Gundry never cites any studies or scientific data. His sources are his patients, which he treats like guinea pigs.

Now I’m not saying the book is all bad. I like hearing differing opinions, so I found this book to be fascinating and I did find many of his recommendations to be in line with all the other sources of nutritional advice I have heard over the years. But some of this stuff seems to come out of left field. Only dairy of the casein A-2 variety? Good luck finding that at the grocery story. But, hey, why not just do what I do and skip the dairy altogether? Who knows? Maybe he is right and that’s why I feel so great without dairy?

Educated by Tara Westover

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a fascinating first-hand account of a woman [who happens to be my age] who was raised “off the grid” and completely out of any form of education and, also, totally out of the doctors office, in the name of religion––that religion being Mormonism, but really the specific religion doesn’t matter that much. For me the major takeaway here is how few people actually believe what their religion teaches them. That’s a strange thing for me to get from this book, but the whole time I was thinking that people would call Westover’s family “extreme” even within their own religion. Her family refuses to see doctors or get vaccinations or go to hospitals despite truly terrible injuries and accidents because they believe their god will heal them. I mean, most people I know believe in the healing power of god [and pray for it all the time, though quite selectively], but they still all go to the doctor when they get sick, they take pain killers when they have a headache, and they get their vaccines. Most people I know don’t consider this a contradiction. But now that I’ve learned about the Westovers, I wonder whether the contradiction has just been lost on everyone because we don’t encounter people who really do believe what they say they believe.

I mean, in the end, Tara Westover makes the same discovery that I made when I was twenty-seven. But it must have been much harder for her after seeing how strong her family’s faith was. But, then again, doesn’t matter how strong your faith is in something, if that something is a lie.


Well, I am so relieved to finally be done with this post [my apologies for the length].

As always, drop me book recommendations! Two from this quarter were recommended by a reader and I really appreciate them!

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

Simple Living Goals for July

Simple Living Goals for July

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 I like to celebrate Juneteenth as America’s true Freedom Day, but we are grateful for our country and the privilege of living here. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday.

But anyway, on to my simple living goals for July…

It’s been a long time since I’ve made simple living goals for the family, but since this is our last full month of summer break and the kids will be going to school before long, I am setting daily goals to make sure we make the most of what’s left of our summer.

Every day, we are going to try to spend time doing the following things:

Play Outside

[Recent hiking trip to the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest]

My kids and I love being outside. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we still try to make it work. Yesterday, it stormed all day, but we still managed to get outside for a bike ride/run when the storm passed at 7pm.

The goal for July is to spend some time outside [preferably in the sunshine] every day to boost our vitamin D intake and our moods.

Get Active

[Family bike ride – Jojo is really happy about it, as you can see.]

Most days, we take our dogs for a walk – which is no easy feat for me since I have to push a double stroller with my two youngest kids and hold a leash in each hand. My older two kids bike. We also like to go on family bike rides – to the library, the park, grandma’s house, or just around town – and I pull my youngest two kids in our bike trailer.

We can [and usually do] combine being active with being outdoors, but when necessary, we like to exercise inside by doing kids yoga or family fun workouts.

We are usually pretty active, but this month I am prioritizing active family time together every day.

Be Creative

[Alligator craft out of egg cartons and toilet paper tubes]

I’m grateful that my kids love arts and crafts. They especially love creating with clay and paint – two mediums that get pretty messy so I usually try to avoid getting them out. But not this month! We’re going for it!

My goal is to engage in a creative activity every day, whether it’s just coloring pictures, acting out stories, making clay pottery, or even baking something new in the kitchen.

Grow Our Own Food

[Half of our garden a few weeks ago – now the corn is as tall as my son!]

My favorite part of summer is getting fresh veggies from the garden! The garden that we started at our new home is doing great. We have already started bringing in zucchini and summer squash, the tomatoes are almost ripe, the peppers look beautiful, the cucumbers are growing like weeds and the sugar snap peas are so delicious we don’t even bother bringing them in – we just eat them straight off the plant.

My kids love this exciting [and delicious] summer tradition as well. We are looking forward to picking [and finding new ways to eat] our favorite veggies from our backyard each day.

What are your goals for the rest of summer? I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!

☀️ ☀️ ☀️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.

So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.

Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.

“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“

This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.

Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.

This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.

The “In and Out” Rule

Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.

If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.

Let the Kids Take Charge

I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.

Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.

Declutter Frequently

It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.

The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.

Purge Occasionally

Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.

However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.

So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.

[A collection of toys and books that I had hidden away to be donated.]

BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.

I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.

A note about sustainable toys…

I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.

As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.

Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.

Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!

As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!

Happy purging!

🧸 🧸 🧸

Karis

Vegan in Real Life [a week of new plant-based meals]

Vegan in Real Life [a week of new plant-based meals]

Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.

Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.

But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.

I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]

So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.

[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]

Here’s the result:

June 4: Coffee Cake

First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.

Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.

June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash

[I added eggs for the rest of the family]

I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].

[Colorful carrots from my Misfits Market box]

Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍

[I like mine topped with hot sauce]

June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast

[On beautiful biodegradable bamboo plates – a gift from my mother-in-law]

This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.

Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.

Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!

June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.

Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.

I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!

[The color turned slightly orange because I used red and yellow peppers instead of all red.]

June 7: Nora’s Birthday

This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.

But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.

[Sweets on top – and inside – may not be vegan]

June 8: Tofu Rancheros

This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.

June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup

[With homemade sourdough bread. YUM]

This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].

I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]

June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse

Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.

[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]

[It deflated a little from overbearing – gosh darn you, convenient stand mixer! – but was still light and delicious]

This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.

My kids love this stuff, and I do too.

[Topped with coconut whipped cream]

Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!

June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta

Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.

Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.

[Cheeze pizza and a “salad pizza”]

Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!

Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.

Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!

June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu

This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]

Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.

As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.

Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.

Happy cooking!

🥘 🥘 🥘

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Last year, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which is an excellent resource for parents who want to rid their family of all the excess so they can focus on what is really important for childhood.

“Children need time to become themselves – through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff – with choices and pseudochoices – before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

It is a common misconception that kids need a lot of toys, social activities, educational programs, and scheduled time in order to become caring, productive, functioning adults. But in reality, kids need less structure and less “stuff” so that they have the space and freedom to become themselves. Instead of filling their rooms with toys and their lives with activities, we should be creating a space that gives kids freedom to discover, to imagine, to create and to rest.

Freedom to Discover

Instead of handing our kids tablets, videos, and phone apps that are supposed to encourage kids to learn, all we have to do is plop them outside. They will do plenty of discovering on their own.

[It’s ironic to me that there is a children’s television program called Nature Cat by PBS, which teaches kids about nature…while they are sitting inside on the couch.]

One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to be outside. It’s great for grumpy babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, “bored” kids, and even me. My kids have no trouble at all finding something to do outside. Of course, we do provide them with tools like bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, tire swing, etc. But truthfully, most of their time is spent chasing butterflies, examining bugs, smelling flowers, climbing trees, and playing imaginary games that they created.

My kids in their favorite tree.

My childhood was filled with lots of time outside. I was apparently from one of the last generations whose parents kicked us out of the house when we were annoying rather than sitting us in front of a screen. [Of course, my parents didn’t have the screen option available…or they might have.]

Rain or shine, we go outside. Another great book about time outdoors is There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

I highly recommend this book for parents because in America we are often afraid to let kids play outside. Afraid of the weather. “It’s raining,” “Its too cold,” “Don’t get dirty!” – These have become our excuses that keep kids from jumping puddles, building snowmen, and making mud pies [which are some hallmarks of childhood]. Afraid of strangers. Afraid they will get hurt. Afraid of what trouble they might get into. While it’s important to keep kids safe, they don’t need stifling and they don’t need overly fearful parents keeping them from exploring their world. The benefits outweigh the risks [which are minimal].

“As a parent, a great way to support them is simply to spend a lot of time outside, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your child’s innate curiosity and willingness to investigate.”

Linda Åkeson McGurk

Being outside also ignites my children’s imaginations. They spend hours pretending to be superheroes or animals or monsters. The great outdoors gives them space to let their imaginations run wild.

Which brings us to the next important part of childhood…

Freedom to Imagine

In Simplicity Parenting, they recommend giving kids toys that encourage imagination and avoiding toys that already have the stories written. For instance, why give your child a doll that is already a Disney Princess when you can give him or her a doll that they can imagine to be anything? Open-ended toys are great for encouraging kids to use their imaginations.

Imaginative Play

My children love imaginative play. When they were younger, I actively participated with them, but now as they are older, they play together for hours. Though we haven’t exactly taken the advice of Simplicity Parenting [though, I wish we had, but o read the book after our home was already filled with Little People, Paw Patrol pups, and action figures], our children still love creating worlds and characters and stories around the toys they have.

[Simplifying kids’ toys will be my next post in the series, since – though I’m not an expert at much – I am an expert at paring down the toys in our home.]

Even my youngest, who just turned two and is just starting to talk, can sit for hours engaged in imaginative play.

Books

But my favorite way to cultivate my kids’ imagination is through reading books. I’ve been reading out loud to my kids since my oldest was 3-months-old. Even my youngest gets a story or two before bed – though she can barely sit still through Goodnight Moon.

For children, books are all about imagination. They allow them to imagine talking animals, magical fairies, unicorns and dragons. Books provide source material for children’s imaginations. It gives them the tools to see possibilities beyond their own limited experiences.

The Library

As minimalists, we don’t keep a lot of books, just the most cherished ones. For our reading, we go to the library once a week [sometimes more] and swap out books. I swear the library is the most underutilized resource in any community. We LOVE the library. Every week we have a whole new collection of books to read together. It’s like getting one of those subscription book boxes except free and we get at least thirty new books at each visit.

Please, use your library!

Reading Aloud

Brett and three of our kids, circa 2019

Since they were babies, I have been reading aloud to my kids before bed. As time has passed I have read increasingly more complex books to them – even some of my own childhood favorites like Mr. Poppers Penguins, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My older kids are only 3, 5, and 6, but they are enthralled by these stories.

Don’t be afraid to read chapter books to your kids, even when they are very young. They will love it, and hopefully, a love of stories will translate into a love of reading – which it has for my 6-year-old daughter who reads 10+ chapter books a week.

My oldest, then 5, reading to her two younger siblings.

We love reading so much, we’ve dedicated an entire room in our house to it – our “reading room.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

J.K. Rowling

Freedom to Create

My three-year-old daughter’s drawing of me. She nailed it.

As I read recently in Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, creativity is so important – for us as adults, and for our children.

“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.

Brené Brown

What we create is how we share ourselves with the world, and how we leave a mark on the world.

In our home, I cultivate creativity by giving the kids space to create without judgment. I provide different mediums [clay, paint, crayons, paper, tape, kids scissors – and also legos, magnet blocks, Knex, and other building tools] and no direction in order to create [We also likes structured crafts and building legos from the instructions – or “map” as my kids call it.] I also encourage them to write, act, sing and dance. It is truly remarkable what they come up with. My son made me a stand for my phone out of legos. My daughter made me a flower crown out of paper to wear.

Using things we found in nature to make art.

I’ve noticed with my kids that the more screen time they have, the less they are interested in engaging in these types of creative and imaginative activities. They are bored more easily and they are much more fussy.

Which brings me to another part of childhood that I try to protect in my home: rest.

Freedom to Rest

As a fitness professional, I know the importance of rest for the human body – but I’m not only talking about sleep at night. We all need regular down time. Time to relax and take it easy. Time to be alone. Time to have nothing to do and no where to be.

For my kids this translates into not over-scheduling them with activities, extracurriculars, and play dates. I start to stress out when we have something going on every day of the week, and that’s when I know that something needs to go. We simply can’t do it all. Even if other families do, we can’t. I cherish our time to sit down together at dinner and go for walks around our neighborhood and relax together with nothing to do. So I protect those times.

This is getting harder and harder to do as my kids grow up and have school sports and music lessons and other extracurriculars all pulling at their time and attention. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I do know that I want my kids to have the downtime that they need to recuperate and to discover themselves, without the pressure to always be a part of something else.

What I’ve found to be true for my kids is that the more stuff, the more screens, the more busy time, the less room there is for these important parts of childhood – curiosity, imagination, creativity, and rest. In our family, we intentionally keep our toys to a manageable quantity and our activities to a bare minimum – so that our kids have more time to “become themselves.”

❤️

Karis

Zero Waste: Cloth Diapers

Zero Waste: Cloth Diapers

Originally, I planned to write about my experience with cloth diapers as a part of my “Simplifying Parenting” series; however, I realized that cloth diapers are not exactly simple. That’s not to say you shouldn’t choose them. Even after seven years of using cloth diapers non-stop for my four kids, I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are zero waste, wallet friendly, helpful for potty-training, more efficient, gentler on baby’s bum, and absolutely adorable.

But I’m definitely no expert, as you will see. I’m just a mom who wanted to save [at the outset] thousands of dollars and [by the end] the planet – one reusable diaper at a time. So rather than try to give you all the answers, explain the cloth diaper lingo, discuss the laundering process in detail, give my opinions on the preferred inserts, diaper rash cream, and cover brands – I’m just going to tell you my story: how I came to cloth diapers, how I made it work for my family, and what I learned along the way.

But first, let’s get the biggest obstacle out of the way.

First, the truth about parenting and poop

I know a lot of people who considered using cloth diapers but, in the end, decided against it because “it’s gross.” So, I just want to say this now: If you think that disposable diapers will save you from having to deal with poop, I have some bad news. Parenting involves poop. And lots of it. For at least five years of your kid’s life, you’ll be dealing with poop. From the day you bring a baby home, you will be tracking poop, examining the color of poop, maybe even weighing poop. As the baby gets older, you’ll be cleaning poop out of car seats, high chairs, strollers, cribs, and – yes – even off of your hands and clothes. Your baby will have explosive poops that shoot up their backs or down their legs and get everywhere. Then when your baby starts eating real food, you’ll have to wipe poopy butts daily until potty training – and these poops smell awful. Like, so awful you can’t believe your sweet angel produced them. And even if you potty train early like I did [all my kids potty trained at or before 2-years-old], you’ll still have to wipe butts until your kid is old enough to wipe it himself. And there will be accidents. There will be poop in underwear, in beds, and in car seats that has to be cleaned.

Fun fact: I never once had a blowout in a cloth diaper – but the moment I put a disposable diaper on one of my kids, shit would shoot up their back. Cloth diapers = fewer blowouts.

Of course, if you’re a working parent, you may encounter less poop, but there will still be a lot of poop. So, just brace yourself.

If all this talk of poop is making you reconsider having kids, then good. Because there are worse things than poop – like vomit. Last month, my daughter threw up three times on the drive home from vacation. THREE TIMES.

Give me a poopy diaper over vomit any day.

Ok, so now that we’re all on the same page about poop, let’s move on to a few other obstacles…

Other obstacles to cloth diapers

Big expense at the outset. I spent about $250 initially for my cloth diapers, which is less than what most sources told me I would have to spend, but even that was more than necessary. If you don’t have funds available to buy everything you need, just buy what you can and add as you are able.

Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.

No way to wash them. I have read that some laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers, which is why people without washing machines often choose not to cloth diaper. Of course, it’s hardly fair that those who would benefit most from the cost savings of cloth diapers are limited in this way. As the world continues to encourage more sustainable living, we will need to pressure businesses to make a way for these services. However, there are laundering services for diapers. This depends on where you live, but it is worth looking into for anyone who can’t [or doesn’t want to] wash the diapers themselves.

Childcare won’t use them. This is becoming less and less of a problem as cloth diapers become more common, but the only way things change is by encouraging them to change. If your childcare facility is refusing to use cloth diapers, it’s probably because no one has tried to change this policy. In the end, if a childcare facility won’t support your choice of diaper, you should find a childcare option that does. No reason to pay soaring childcare prices and for thousands of disposable diapers. You could also consider diapering in cloth when you are with your child and using disposable for childcare [and other unwilling sitters/situations].

Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.

Now, let’s talk about why to choose cloth diapers…besides that they are so cute.

Why Cloth Diapers [and why your motivation matters]

Cloth diapers are popular because they save money. Lots of money. For example, I have spent no more than $350 [not including the laundry detergent and diaper creams] on my cloth diapers [inserts and covers] and diapering supplies [like diaper sprayer, diaper pail, diaper pail liners and wet bags] to diapers all four of my babies. So, if the average family spends $587 per year per child on diapers [totaling $4,696 for four kids potty-trained at 2-years-old], I saved $4,346 by using cloth diapers.

BUT, I did occasionally buy disposable diapers for certain occasions [which I’ll explain later]. Still, my savings is definitely in the thousands. And looking back on it, it has not been a huge inconvenience – even when I was working up to 32 hours a week.

I have loved using cloth diapers – but not because of the money.

When my second born was one year old, and I was pregnant with my third, I began to take the environmental crisis seriously for the first time in my life. That’s when I really fell in love with cloth diapers.

I’ve known many people to chose cloth diapers because of the money, only to quit later when the going gets rough [and it does get rough at times]. Because, in the end, most people with the means won’t find the savings a strong enough motivation.

However, when my motivation revolves around the “greater good” of lower waste and protecting the planet then it’s much more likely that I will make it work – and not even complain about it.

So what I’m saying, basically, is that why you chose to use cloth diapers is really important for your success. And at the very least, think about the big picture benefits before throwing in the towel.

My Cloth Diapering Experience

So, this is basically how I did it…

Things I bought:

  • Cloth diapers – I bought them on Amazon in sets with covers and inserts and a variety of brands
  • Diaper pail – I just bought a basic tall trash can with a lid
  • Reusable diaper pail liners – I bought two reusable liners from Amazon, which I still use after 7 years [though the elastic is entire shot on both of them at this point]
  • Wet bags – These are basically waterproof bags to carry dirty diapers in when out and about – I bought three, but two would have been enough
  • Reusable wipes – If I had been smarter, I would have just cut up some old cotton t-shirts for this job, but I wasn’t thinking that way back then.
  • Natural diaper rash cream – two brands that I used for my kids: Earth Mama [previously called Earth Mama Angel Baby] and Grandma El’s.
  • Diaper sprayer – I read somewhere that I wouldn’t need a sprayer because healthy poop is solid and falls out of the diaper. Folks, let me tell you, that is a total lie. Hard poop is not healthy poop. You will definitely want a diaper sprayer.

The only thing on this list I had to rebuy was the diaper rash cream. Everything else, I’m still using for my last baby [who is already potty training – yay!].

Using Diapers:

– My babies were 100% breastfed, so all diapers just went straight into the bin and then it was washed [liner and all] every three or four days.

– After six months, poopy diapers had to be sprayed before going in the bin [don’t procrastinate about this task – trust me], but frequency of changes went down so I could wash every five or six days.

– When going out, I brought a change of diaper, a wet bag, and a few cloth wipes.

– I use inserts, but I never actually put them into the pocket of the cover. I just lay one [for infants] or two [for older kids] inserts on top of the cover and wrap up the baby’s bum.

– On long trips [such as week-long vacations], we would buy disposable diapers because of the convenience while traveling. Also, when visiting certain family members who were less than enthusiastic about cloth diapers we would switch to disposable for the trip.

– On a few occasions we switched to reusable diapers for a rash that needed some more powerful diaper cream while I sorted out the wash issue that was causing the rash.

Washing diapers:

Ok, this is by far the hardest part of cloth diapering and the biggest reason people give up. There is so much [often contradictory] information out there about how to wash cloth diapers. And, in the course of seven years, I’ve done it many different ways.

My advice: keep it simple.

First of all, detergent. I originally bought a special detergent for diapers until I read [and can confirm] that a special detergent is unnecessary. Now I just use the regular family detergent [always free of perfumes and dyes] with no problems.

My wash routine is simple. I do a preliminary wash with little [or no] detergent and cold water, then a heavy duty wash with hot water and a little extra detergent. That’s it.

Note, though, that your washing machine and the hardness of your water make a difference. At my last house, which was on a well with very hard water [and an all-house water softener], I had to add a water softener into the washer with my detergent in order to get the diapers clean. How did I figure that out? With lots and lots of trial and error and reading a gazillion articles online. But if the diapers aren’t washed properly, they will cause diaper rashes. If they don’t smell clean, they aren’t clean and you need to re-examine your wash routine.

In seven years, I only stripped my diapers once [because of the aforementioned hard water incident] and bleached them once [basically because I thought they needed it].

My other piece of advice: Don’t give up.

Drying diapers:

Hang to dry whenever possible. I always always hang dry my covers to preserve the elastic. I usually dry my inserts in the dryer, but that is only because I have always lived in a wooded environment where hanging outside means lots of bugs and bird poop [kind of defeating the purpose].

I have hung my diapers to dry in many places around my house: the basement bar [my partner loved that], the heating vent on the ceiling of the laundry room, and nowadays, the dining room chairs…

I hang them up before going to bed and they are dry in the morning.

The wash and dry cycles for cloth diapers really aren’t anything to be intimidated by. When it comes to cloth diapers, you’ll want to remember the old saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You may want to hang that up in the laundry room somewhere as a reminder.

😜

[If you really want to get into all the nitty-gritty of washing and drying diapers, then I recommend reading Erin Tova’s post How to Wash Cloth Diapers or Fluff Love University’s guides for washing diapers.]

What You Should Know about Cloth Diapers

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was SO overwhelmed – by everything, but especially about cloth diapers. What kind do I buy? What is a good price? New or used? What brand? How do I use them? How do I wash them? Etc. There is so much information out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

So, let me just say this: cloth diapering is a “learn-as-you-go” sort of endeavor. Everyone has a different experience, prefers different brands, washes in different ways. That’s ok! Don’t sweat it. Take the plunge. Course correct as needed. And that’s it!

Oh, and always remember that the whole point of cloth diapers is to cover your baby’s bum and catch all the excrement so that it doesn’t get everywhere and make a huge mess. So you could wrap your baby’s butt in a towel, or a t-shirt, or a bandana, or anything that gets the job done. So don’t overthink things.

I’ve had really great experiences with cloth diapers, and I hope that every parent who chooses this route does too. So, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message. I’d love to empower more people to choose this zero waste option for their kids.

Happy diapering!

👶🏼 👶🏼 👶🏼

Karis

My Vegan [and Zero Waste] Birthday Celebration

My Vegan [and Zero Waste] Birthday Celebration

This year marks the first birthday that I celebrated as a vegan. After 33 years of enjoying butter cream, milk chocolate, and ice cream on my birthday, this year looked different – but, truthfully, only a little.

Vegan Meal

From all appearances, the meal and dessert were stereotypical American birthday fare. But what you can’t see is the ingredient list, which contained no meat, dairy, or animal products. I wanted to indulge a little bit. [C’mon, it’s my birthday!] But I also didn’t want to overdo it, or compromise my standards for eating healthy, sustainable, and ethical foods. So we had burgers [vegan burgers, of course] and hot dogs for the kids [vegan hot dogs] with home baked buns and a side of salad and French fries.

My birthday dessert was still cake [vegan chocolate chip banana cake] with frosting [vegan cream cheese frosting], which I baked myself because really who would want to bake a birthday cake for me knowing all of my complicated ingredients requirements like organic, fair trade, ethical and sustainable, not to mention vegan [which in itself would be enough to scare away the average person]? Anyway, I love baking, so I wanted to make my own. And this was the first vegan cake I’ve ever made.

I thought it was really yummy.

Zero Waste Gifts

Now that I have been [nearly] zero waste for several years, everyone knows to give me sustainable gifts, which is awesome.

This year, my partner gave me a safety razor which I have been wanting for so long, but was waiting until we used up our stash of disposable razors [don’t even ask why I have such a large stash of disposable razors…]. Now I can donate the rest of my plastic razors to our local compassion center in town and switch over to a more sustainable razor. Even my children and in-laws gave me thoughtful, meaningful, and sustainable gifts like bar shampoo, crochet hooks and yarn to make my own washcloth, a reclaimed puzzle, and wireless earbuds.

My sweet Auntie sent me these beautiful flowers.

And probably my favorite gift this year was from my six-year-old daughter, Evangeline, who asked me to teach her to braid so she could make me this very special bracelet which I love so so much.

And my last bit of personal news: for the first time in exactly one year, two weeks, and four days, I was able to put my hair in a ponytail!

The pony is so small you can’t even see it! 🤣

Anyway, today is also the 3rd birthday of this blog! 🥳 It’s been a great adventure so far, and I’m grateful to all of you for joining me!!

To many more!

🥂

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Ah, the blessing and curse of the baby shower, which would be a fun party, reminiscent of a wedding shower, if it weren’t for the fact that you can’t drink and your feet are swollen and you don’t get any sexy lingerie. [Also, it is not fun pretending to be excited about baby bibs and bottle scrubbers – especially when you haven’t had a good night sleep in three months…and you can’t have a drink.]

Well, I guess if you are the father you get to enjoy it. [Men don’t know how good they have it.]

Worst part of all, the gifts sit in an empty bedroom until after the delivery and most don’t even get used for the first month – at which point it is too late to realize that you don’t actually need three different types of pacifiers [“ya know, just in case”], five hundred adorable outfits [that are so impractical your baby will never wear them], or a mechanical baby swing that promises to rock your baby into sound slumber [it’s lying to you].

Ok, ok. I’m mostly kidding. I had four babies and three baby showers [which is more than most people get] and I am incredibly grateful for each of them. I remember really enjoying myself during all three – yes, even without the booze.

[My co-workers threw me a surprise baby shower for my first baby and it was truly special. They gave me my glider, which I still have and now use to rock my fourth baby.]

Still, I ended up with shit load of stuff I didn’t need. Of course, I wouldn’t fully realize that until my fourth baby. Also, at the time of my baby showers, I wasn’t a minimalist. I was a maximalist. So maximize I did. I was an expert maximizer. I waltzed through three different baby stores with that handy little scanner and put everything that I might even possibly need or want on my registry – plus anything that looked cute, interesting or convenient. And being the privileged person that I am, I got the majority of it at my baby showers.

Unfortunately, looking back, it was all very wasteful. Many things I never used. A lot of it was just extra stuff that cluttered our house and the baby room for years. A big portion of it was stuff that I wanted so I could appear like all the other moms – cute diaper bag, fancy baby wrap, adorable decor for baby nursery, matching lined baskets to hold diapers, the all-important “stroller hook” to hang my many shopping bags on my many shopping trips with the baby, that I guess I thought I would be taking.

🤷‍♀️

[Theo’s “Have Truck Will Travel” Nursery Decor – cute, but ridiculously over the top for a child who only cares about sleeping and eating for the first year of life.]

I realize now that a lot of what I wanted “for the baby” was really just a disguise for what I wanted to make myself look like the perfect parent OR to make my job as easy as possible.

But I’ll tell you this secret right now: there isn’t a single product that you can buy in a store that will make parenting easy. It just ain’t going to happen. And, quite frankly, no parent is perfect, no matter how good they appear. So feel free to acquire only the baby items that will serve you.

The Minimalist Baby Registry

The registry is a great idea that helps people know what to buy the new mom; the trouble is that the new mom has no idea what she needs. And, if you walk through one of those baby stores, it’s whole purpose is to make you believe that you need EVERYTHING.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need everything. Not even close. In fact, you need very little.

As a minimalist and low waste momma, I recommend sticking with the basics and necessities and adding additional things as you find you need them. Because, honestly, you will discover that you don’t need most things.

A baby’s early life involves only four things: eating, clothing, diapering and sleeping. So, at the very least, you’ll need:

A set of boobs [and a whole lot of patience] and definitely a burp cloth or two [or twenty].

Onesies and maybe a few other staple clothing pieces. Think baby capsule wardrobe – and think comfortable. Don’t get more than need. Two outfits per day between washes is plenty. I do laundry once a week, so I would only need 14 comfy onesies and maybe a sweater and a few warm leggings for cold weather. Baby clothing [and children’s clothing in general] is so wasteful. In the first year, babies will grow out of clothes every few months [excluding maybe some rare cases], so don’t stock up on it! Also, buy it used! If a baby has previously worn clothes, it was probably only a handful of times because everyone always overbuys baby clothes. Look, I know it’s so frickin cute, but don’t get caught in this expensive and wasteful trap.

Diapers [cloth or disposable are the current choices and I’ll talk about these options at length in my next post, but for now, if you can, go cloth], and wipes [preferably reusable]. Unnecessary items in this category include: changing table, changing pad, changing pad covers, wipe warmer, wipe holder, baby powder, diaper bag. I’m not saying these things aren’t useful, they just aren’t necessary. You can change a baby literally anywhere [trust me, I’ve done it] and you can carry diapers and wipes in any bag.

A safe sleep setup of your choosing. This will look different for everyone. Some will go the traditional crib, crib mattress, crib sheet route. Others, maybe a pack-n-play. Maybe others will do the bedside crib or a bassinet. Still others will co-sleep [safely]. Choose what works best for you.

• Another items you’ll most likely need are: car seat, stroller and thermometer [preferably the forehead scan variety].

[If you give birth in a hospital a car seat is 100% required to bring your baby home. This is Brett and I at the hospital with our firstborn.]

Beyond those necessities, here are some things that I used often and that were helpful for me, but again, not necessary:

• Noise machine [still use it for all four kids]

• Nose Frida [still use it when one of the kids gets sick]

• Baby Nail clippers [still use them on all my kids]

Of course, there are lots of optional extras. If you are going to be a baby-wearing momma, then you’ll want a wrap [probably the mobi wrap]. If you are going to a running momma, you’ll want a jogging stroller. If you are going to be a working momma, you’ll want a breast pump [and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can get one free through your health insurance] and bottles. If you’re going to be a rock-the-baby-to-sleep-and-sneak-out-of-the-room momma, you’re going to want a super comfy and super quiet rocking chair. It’s all about finding what works for you. No one else can tell you what you’ll need.

[I am a running momma. This is me after a run 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby. So a jogging stroller was on my list of “must haves” and to this day it is one of my most prized possessions.]

Basically what I’m saying is make an intentional registry.

An Intentional Registry

There is so much extra stuff that you don’t need. You don’t need a bumbo or a bouncer. You don’t need a play mat or Sofie the Giraffe. You don’t need teething toys. You don’t need pacifier clips. Does that mean you shouldn’t get these things? No. It just means you shouldn’t get them just because everyone else does. There are plenty of simple, practical alternatives to these products that don’t involve going to Buy Buy Baby [I mean, seriously…listen to the name of that store!].

I beg of you, don’t make the same mistakes I did and just scan everything just because…because other parents use it, because you mother says it’s an “absolute lifesaver,” because your best friend recommends it, because of clever marketing, because it’s cute, because it’s there…

Simplifying parenting is about intentional parenting and that begins with what we bring into our home. So, don’t get caught up in all the gadgets and gizmos that the world says are “must haves.” Instead, judge for yourself what would serve you best. What kind of mother do you want to be. What products will get used and what are just for show.

In the end, you need a lot less than you think to take care of a baby: lots of cuddling, lots of patience, lots of time, lots of caffeine, and of course lots of love.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 1: Childbirth]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 1: Childbirth]

Hi there! 👋 It’s been a while!

I just got back from a relaxing [and also safe and socially distanced] vacation with my family at the beach.

[Nora’s first time at the beach.]
[The sunrise on one of my daily 6am runs.]

Before our trip, Brett and I got our Covid vaccines [on the day they became available for our age group].

But now we’re back home and it’s back to the reality of homeschooling [only a few weeks left!] and being at home with my four kiddos.

For that reason, I’m going to be writing a few posts about simple-living, low-wasting and minimalist parenting. This is an area that is extremely underrepresented in the zero waste and minimalist communities, probably because having children complicates both of these goals tremendously – but that doesn’t mean we throw the whole thing out.

I became a [nearly] zero-wasting minimalist after I already had three children, but I noticed immediately that the people at the forefront of these movements didn’t have children. [I’ve never seen a mother who is able to fit a years worth of trash into a jar.]

When it comes to kids, the aim should be simple and intentional living and – as is true in all areas of life – that goal will in turn reduce waste and clutter and excess. It will also give kids a childhood full of curiosity, discovery, imagination, creativity, and exploration. As a parent, it’s my job to protect my kids from all the “extras” that threaten to monopolize their attention, rather than the common view of parenthood which says we need to constantly provide toys, gadgets, activities and structured time for our children.

But, anyway, I’ll get to that later on. Right now, I want to start at the very beginning.

Simplifying Childbirth

“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”

Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

If there is one thing I wish I could tell every woman, it’s this: You don’t have to fear childbirth.

From the time we were old enough to absorb society’s subliminal messaging, we’ve been condition to believe that childbirth is a) terrifying, b) excruciating, c) dangerous, and d) a process that we cannot handle without medical intervention.

None of this is true. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be, if women could regain faith in their own ability to give birth.

[And I’m not only talking to women here, because fathers need to be active participants in childbirth as well and can encourage and strengthen women’s belief in themselves, if only they would also believe that childbirth is natural and that women are capable. Childbirth is NOT something that women need to be saved from.]

Contrary to popular media portrayals, childbirth is like a marathon – really hard work [yes], very painful at times [for sure], but totally achievable with proper training, determination, and a belief in our body’s natural processes – not to mention a totally powerful and praiseworthy achievement that women should get the credit for – not a medical team.

And, let me tell you, the reward at the end is totally worth all of it.

Giving birth to my four babies were the most empowering moments of my life. [I’ve run two marathons, which are also empowering, but they don’t even come close to giving birth.] It breaks my heart that so many women view their birth experiences as scarring or traumatizing or, at the very least, experiences they would rather forget. [When I was pregnant many, MANY women shared their horror stories with me – which FYI, is not a nice thing to do to pregnant women.]

Listen, childbirth does NOT have to be a bad experience!

We need to simplify childbirth by getting back to the basics, by believing in ourselves and trusting our instincts, and by birthing our way.

In our society we discredit pretty much every aspect of womanhood, including a woman’s ability to know what is best for her and her baby at childbirth. The fact that we have handed over control of childbirth to men [who were initially the only doctors when birth moved from the home to the hospital] is just another consequence of our patriarchal society which tells us that men know best…even about a process which is uniquely woman’s. [Forgive my feminist soapbox here, but we really can’t talk about childbirth without talking about feminism.]

It’s time to take back control of childbirth.

I chose to give birth my way, but, I assure you, it was not easy. I had to fight [and fight really frickin hard] to be able to give birth in the way that I wanted, rather than in the way that is most convenient for the medical staff, hospital, and obstetrician. It took me an entire nine months of scouring the suburbs of Chicago during my first pregnancy to find a practice that would allow me to have an unhindered, natural birth in a hospital – and I had to travel an hour and pay out of pocket for it. And truthfully, I still had to advocate for myself pretty much the whole time. [“No, thank you. I won’t wear the frumpy hospital gown that someone might have died in yesterday.” Also, why the hell do they call it a gown??? More like a sheet with arm holes.]

So, my next three births were at home, where I could give birth in peace and quiet, surrounded only by loved ones whom I trust. It’s the only way to have a baby without the uncomfortable addition of strangers staring at your vagina, sterile beds with stirrups, fluorescent lights, beeping machines, and a long list of nonsensical rules about what I can’t eat, whether I can take pictures, and who can be present.

And because I chose home birth, I have a wealth of wonderful, positive memories about my birth experiences. And what is more, I also have a sense of my own ability to do hard things – even things that the rest of society tells me is too hard for me to achieve.

Imagine what the women of the world could accomplish if we all had that sense of empowerment.

Books about Childbirth

During my pregnancies, I read countless books about birth as part of my preparation for labor. Ladies, childbirth is a HUGE deal that will forever alter our bodies, our social standing, our relationships, and our careers – so the least we can do is study up on it! That’s what I did, anyway. I wanted to know everything about it. I read everything I could get my hands on. I asked every woman I knew what her birth experiences were like. [And, Fellas, you don’t have to be a bystander. You can learn about childbirth and play an active role in the birth of your children.]

Through books, I learned so much and I gained the confidence I needed to do what was best for me and my babies. These books are my favorites:

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I read this book during each of my pregnancies as a reminder that my body is capable of birthing my baby.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon: Before reading this book, I literally didn’t know a thing about the details of childbirth. This book taught me everything I needed to know and made me believe that I could have a natural birth.

Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan: This books is not as strange as it sounds and is the method of preparing and laboring that was most helpful to me.

Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel: This book was a lifesaver as I tried to find a compromise between natural birth and hospital birth.

Also, I highly recommend the documentary, The Business of Being Born, which is available on YouTube.

Even if you’re not wanting a natural birth, you deserve to see real birth, not the overly dramatized version that television offers. And you deserve to know what to expect [in a hospital or in a birth center or in your home] when the time comes.

One Last Thing…

I am NOT trying to say that everyone should have natural births [though statistically, fewer women would die if everyone gave birth naturally] or that all women should give birth at home [because home birth is not a safe or realistic option for all women] but what I am saying is that every woman should be free to choose where and how she gives birth to her babies. This should not be a decision that laws or doctors or insurance companies or family members or society chooses for a woman.

And, if you are a women, you should not let the fear of childbirth [which is inaccurately and unfairly portrayed in media and society] prevent you from approaching birth with confidence and power like the badass that you are. [Other than having a trained professional present in case of a complication] You need very little else to give birth to your baby.

Good luck! [But you don’t need it – you got this!]

🤰🤰🤰

Karis

Simple Vegan Sweets

Simple Vegan Sweets

As a vegan, I don’t miss the meat nearly as much as I miss the sweet stuff: ice cream, brownies, cake, buttercream!

😩

But, don’t worry. I wouldn’t let veganism stand in the way of my sweet tooth. So, today I’m sharing with you my three favorite homemade vegan sweets. These treats are so easy to whip up and only use a handful of natural ingredients.

Vegan dessert options are still pretty rare and/or pricey. So, if I want a vegan dessert, I have to make it myself, unless I want to pay $5 for a pint of dairy-free, calorie-bomb ice cream [which, I’ve definitely done] or some other specialty vegan product. But the truth is, making sweets myself is more rewarding and also free of all the additional junk in processed foods.

These three desserts require very few ingredients and varying degrees of effort. Let’s start with the easy one.

Easy: Vegan No-Bake Brownies

Forgive my terrible photos. I’m clearly not a photographer.

Brownies are pretty much the best things ever baked [in my opinion, anyway], which makes these vegan no-bake brownies the best things ever…not baked. They aren’t an exact replica of a traditional brownie, but they are really frickin’ good! They are nutty, gooey, chocolatey, and that ganache is the perfect sweet topping.

The ingredients for the brownie bit are: walnuts, almonds, dates, cacao powder [or cocoa], and salt. You basically throw everything into a blender under it gets all gooey and then press it into a dish and refrigerate. [I’m oversimplifying a teensy bit, but that’s the gist.] Doesn’t get much simpler [or natural] than that!

[Actually it does get simpler, if you read on to the next recipes, but never mind that for now.]

The ganache has almond milk, dark chocolate chips [I always buy the allergy friendly or certified vegan chocolate chips], salt, coconut oil, and powdered sugar.

The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker, and you can find it here. I don’t change anything, except I once swapped the walnuts for pecans and they were still delicious.

Side note: these are a pricey dessert to make due to the nuts and dates – but totally worth it! They are also high in calories [because nuts have a lot of good fat]. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if I put in the work to make something from scratch, then I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labor guilt-free. [Though I still limit the quantity.] Whereas, buying an overpriced, mystery-ingredient-filled vegan dessert from the grocery store just isn’t as satisfying.

Easier: Vegan Coconut Macaroons

Forgive my terrible nail polish. I’m clearly not a hand model.

Not to be confused with macarons [which can also be made vegan, but would never, ever by any human being be described as easy], these vegan macaroons are little bits of coconut and chocolate heaven. Of course, I love coconut. If you don’t like coconut, just skip down to the next sweet treat [but know that you’re missing out on all the goodness that coconut products offer to us vegans].

Most vegan macaroon recipes call for aquafaba, which I always have, but never feel like using because it requires all that beating. It’s quite time consuming. I wanted something simpler than that…and I found it.

Over at mindfulavocado.com, Amanda provided a super simple macaroon recipe, which I now use to satisfy all my coconut cravings. You can find the full recipe here, but I did modify this one to make it even more simple. Basically, all I do is mix together sweetened coconut flakes [you could pulse in a blender to make them finer, if you prefer], almond flour, maple syrup, a pinch of salt and enough almond milk to make it come together into a thick “batter” of sorts. Then I spoon it onto my silicone baking mat in little ball shapes and bake them at 275° for about 30 minutes [sometimes longer, check frequently.] Then once they are cooled, I dip and drizzle with melted dark chocolate chips.

That’s it.

And they are so good. Slightly chewy, slightly crispy, with the touch of dark chocolate.

😋

Easiest: Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

I made these for Easter, which is why they are shaped like eggs. Or at least, they were supposed to be shaped like eggs…

No matter what shape you prefer, these are sooooo good. And quite frankly, I don’t know why everyone else puts butter and vegetable shortening in them!!! Why complicate matters when you can make these with three ingredients and like two minutes [excluding freezer time]?!?

So, there is no recipe for these treats – which, by the way, are my absolute favorite. It’s too simple for a recipe.

All you need is peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips.

Some side notes about these ingredients:

1. The peanut butter needs to be natural peanut butter. And, by that, I mean that the only ingredient in it is peanuts [and maybe salt] – that’s it! No one should be eating that weird oily smooth peanut butter that Jiff is selling anyway. What the heck is that stuff? It’s definitely not peanut butter. But, anyway, I digress. I make my own peanut butter using peanuts and a blender [Ninja], but you can find a jar of natural peanut butter at the grocery store you just have to read the label. Many jars say “natural” and they still have sugars, oils, and god knows what else in them.

[Ok, sorry about that. I’m passionate about peanut butter.]

2. Chocolate chips should be vegan if you are vegan, but if you are not vegan you can use any chocolate chips you want and you will still LOVE THESE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS! I mean, I have yet to meet a human who doesn’t like chocolate peanut butter cups. [Obviously, a peanut allergy will prevent some people from having these…and I am just so so sorry.]

Now, all you have to do is put some peanut butter in a bowl and mix enough powdered sugar to get a thick-ish consistency [there is no right or wrong here]. Then shape however you want and put in the freezer to harden. Then dip or roll or drizzle or coat in melted chocolate chips. Once set, enjoy!

If even that sounds like too much work, look, just put some peanut butter in a bowl, mix in some powdered sugar, and sprinkle in chocolate chips…then go sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Okay?

Sometimes that’s all I’ve the energy for myself.

🤷‍♀️

No shame in my game.

Footnote about eating sweets:

Now, one last thing. I am an obsessively healthy eater, so you may be surprised to see me promoting sweets. But, the truth is, being healthy does not mean that you can never have dessert again [and being vegan definitely doesn’t mean you have to deny your sweet tooth]. We just have to level up our treats. We need to be eating occasional desserts in reasonable [aka small] quantities that contain natural, and healthful ingredients.

That’s it!

I don’t eat these things every day. Truthfully, I eat a sweet treat about once a week at the most. That’s enough for me to feel like I’m not depriving myself.

Food is fuel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it too.

And I hope you do enjoy these recipes! If you try one out, let me know! And you can also tag me in a photo on Instagram @no.makeup.mama – though, fair warning, I’m not on social much.

🍮 🍨 🧁

Karis