Our Gratitude Tree

Our Gratitude Tree

I love November. I love the fall. I love the cool weather. I love the leaves. I love Thanksgiving.

Of course, I think we should be grateful all year, and I think it’s about a lot more than just saying something your thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. Gratitude is really a lifestyle that results in contentment and generosity and fulfillment. At least, that’s what it’s done for me.

My chalkboard now says “Let our lives be full of thanks and giving,” which has become the theme for our entire year as we focused on what we have rather than what we don’t have and tried to give more rather than get more.

It’s been transformative.

I’m always trying to teach my kids the importance of gratitude, and this month we began what I hope will be an annual November tradition: the gratitude tree.

The kids and I talk about things we are grateful for each morning over breakfast and I write them all down and cut them out of construction paper and we attach them to the tree. Our table sits right next to this sliding door – which happened to be the only free space we had for the tree – and the kids have loved watching the tree accumulate leaves.

Each day I pick a theme to help them think of things. We started with people we are grateful for, then foods, then things we own, then things outside, etc. It’s been a really fun exercise and they are very thoughtful about their choices.

Today we talked about places we are thankful that we get to visit. My son said “visiting daddy at work” and “the beach” and my daughter said “Ikea” 😂 and “going to the movies with Auntie Paula.”

I think I am going to make these gratitude talks a permanent addition to our mornings – just without the leaves. We are running out of room on our tree already!

🍁 🍁 🍁

Karis

Simple Pleasures: Playing in the Snow

Simple Pleasures: Playing in the Snow

My two older kids were up at 6:30am screaming excitedly about the snow on the ground and convinced it was Christmas morning no matter how many times I told them that it wasn’t. After they hunted for their Christmas gifts and found none, they were pulling on their snow pants and snow boots and begging me to HURRY, as if the snow might melt in the next two minutes. I helped them with some zippers and scarves and also lent them each one of my gloves because they couldn’t find any and then let them loose in the backyard.

It wasn’t even 7am yet.

[Good ol’ Daylight Savings.]

And of course, it wasn’t long before they were calling for me to help them build a snowman. So I pulled boots on [over my sweatpants] and put on a coat and used a pair of thick socks for gloves [gotta do what you gotta do, you know] and went outside to play in the snow.

Being a parent is so much fun because it gives you full permission to embrace your inner child and get excited about the things you used to love as a kid, like trick-or-treating, raking big piles of leaves to jump in, driving to see the Christmas lights, and playing in the snow.

Sometime between age 16 and having kids of my own I started hating the snow. It was cold. It was slippery. It cause traffic and delays and blah blah blah.

Man, what the heck was I thinking?!

Snow is awesome!

We built a snowman. The snow was perfect for packing and we did it the old-fashioned way: by rolling snowballs around the yard [occasionally rebuilding them when Daisy destroyed them] until they were the right size [or we got sick of restarting because of Daisy – which is why they are so small].

We threw snowballs at Daisy. We caught snowflakes on our tongues. The kids made snow angels, but I was wearing sweatpants so I wasn’t about to lie down in the snow [I haven’t embraced my inner child quite to that extent yet]. When we finally came inside, the kids had hot chocolate before we even had breakfast.

It was a special morning. The first snowfall of the season.

Reminded me of how much I used to love the snow and…honestly, I think it’s growing on me again.

❄️ ❄️ ❄️

Karis

Simple Living in October

Simple Living in October

October was a whirlwind – probably the busiest month of our entire year. But that, I realized, is why my simple living goals were so important. [I shared my list of goals for the month in this post.] I was able to prioritize the things that matter most to me and not get lost in the to-do lists, and schedules, and must-dos of the month.

It started with my mother visiting and Brett and I running the Chicago marathon and then taking five days to recover. Then I took the kids for a day trip south to visit my sister and then it was Brett’s birthday and then our lengthy travels [36 hours of driving and 12 hours of flying] which ultimately got us to London and back just in time for Halloween and our last CSA pick up of the season.

On top of those things, we had workers replacing the roof and siding of our home, tearing out and replacing drywall and ripping up the carpet in our basement – because of a tree that fell on our house in August.

BUT in the midst of the madness, I was able to make a lot of my simple living goals happen and enjoyed the time with my kids and the time outdoors very much.

My goals were:

1. Spend time with my kids outdoors for an hour every day. We explored several new parks and a nature play area in our park district.

We walked all over Saint Charles for Scarecrow Fest.

We didn’t let rain or cold keep us from the pumpkin fest at the zoo.

We hiked the forest preserve behind our home.

And we rode bikes in the driveway and climbed the trees in our yard and looked for bugs and worms and played with Daisy…

We spent a lot of time outside and it was great.

Next time, though, I won’t put a time requirement on it. Sometimes it is good enough to just get out for a few minutes. Sometimes I had to give myself an A for effort. Just the emphasis on getting outside every day is great – the number of hours really doesn’t matter.

2. Read 30 minutes every day. I read for a half hour a day up until our trip. I finished Slow (the inspiration for my simple living goals).

I also finished There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather.

About a week before the trip, I traded my book for a London guide so I could plan our trip…

…but I was still reading a lot, so that was great.

3. Play with my kids when they ask. I definitely played a lot. I didn’t get nearly as much housework done as I normally do, but I had a lot of fun with the kids and I know that is more important than a clean and tidy house.

4. Create something every day. I created a lot in the kitchen, but that’s about it. I colored with the kids a few times and painted once, but didn’t create as much as I would have liked.

5. Leave my phone behind. I used the Screen Time feature on my iPhone to limit my “social” time on my phone to twenty minutes. I don’t typically do a lot of social stuff anyway because I’m not on social media, but I do apparently spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest. 🤷‍♀️

I also set “downtime” from 2-7pm every day which only allowed me to send/receive text messages and phone calls during that time. I also made my phone screen black and white – which was really weird but did seem to make my phone less appealing.

Screen Time also allows you to see how much time you spend on your phone, how many times you pick up your phone and how many notifications you receive.

I was so excited to find this feature because I’ve been wanting a dumb phone – and now it seems I can [almost] make my phone a dumb phone.

But the biggest change I made was turning off ALL notifications. I still keep forgetting that I have to go back into my text app to see if I’ve received any texts. My response time is MUCH MUCH slower, but I kind of like the idea of checking messages when I have the time and not having notifications constantly alerting me of some new thing to check on my phone.

If you feel like your phone controls you – rather than the other way around – I recommend trying some of these ideas.

Overall, the month was good. I’m looking forward to a much slower November, as we have nothing on the agenda besides preschool, a little work for me, and spending the month contemplating all the ways we are incredibly blessed in this life.

Happy November!

Karis

October Clothing Donation

October Clothing Donation

October marks the halfway point in my clothing ban. In the past six months, I haven’t purchased a single item of clothing [though I did acquire two new shirts for the marathon which were included with my entry – one from the race and one from the charity I ran with] and I have donated 156 items from my wardrobe to local charities.

We’ve also been through round one of decluttering our home. I’ve been through the entire house now and gotten rid of the surface level clutter – the easy stuff. But I know there are many rounds ahead. I’ve already been through three rounds on my book collection and two rounds on the toys and six rounds on my tank top collection – and I know there is still a lot more to free myself from in the future.

This month, since it is now fall and definitely, without a doubt, past tank top weather, I am donating every tank top that I did not wear all summer long. I probably mentioned before that tank tops are apparently my favorite piece of clothing because I used to own 57 pieces [!!!] – the biggest line item in my clothing inventory last May. I’ve weaned it down now to twenty, but really, I don’t need more than seven [for crying out loud].

So, it may be a few more rounds for the tank tops.

I also began setting aside everything I thought about wearing, but chose not to for whatever reason. Throughout the month there were several times when I put something on and stood in front of the mirror and had to ask myself if I actually wanted to wear it – or worse, asked my husband whether it was ok to wear. Each time, I immediately put it in the donate pile. If I’m wasting time wondering if I like it or if it fits or if it’s flattering … then, no. Buh-bye.

I am also getting rid of some socks and tights and underwear that I know I will never wear.

This process of weaning down my wardrobe has been very effective. Each month I have to make slightly tougher choices…but only slightly. I’m still working through a lot of excess.

So, don’t worry if you feel like you could never cut down your wardrobe. Just start with one thing. Just put one thing in the donate pile. Do it in waves. First get rid of all the easy stuff. Then come back and re-examine. Then get rid of the emotional stuff. Then come back again … and again until you’ve got only stuff you love and feel good about and actually need.

I’ve read in several books that a clean sweep is the best way to declutter. Collect everything of like type in your entire home and then after examining each individual thing, narrow it down to your favorite, say, 10% and get rid of the rest. But, for me, I have found that doing it in waves is more practical and much easier.

It’s hard to slash your belongings by 90% overnight. I don’t doubt that it’s possible, but I don’t think I could do it that way. I prefer to gradually free myself from belongings and then examine myself and realize that the more I let go, the less I need the stuff that remains, and then I cycle through again. In this way, I’m changing myself and not just the amount of stuff I own.

I am continually learning how little I need in this life to be happy and fulfilled – especially when it comes to clothing.

Karis

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

About a month ago, Brett and I [but mostly Brett] finished remodeling our upstairs bathroom.

Before reno:

After demo:

All done [hallelujah!]:

Since then, I’ve been anxious to replace the final eyesore – our toothbrushes.

I’ve been slowly replacing other bathroom items with zero waste, sustainable alternatives. I swapped our plastic shower curtain liner for a cloth one that can be washed and reused. [Since plastic shower curtain liners can’t be recycled, we are “upcycling” it as a tarp over our firewood. Other great ideas for old plastic liners can be found here.]

I’ve also traded the typical containers for cotton balls and q-tips for glass jars that I already had around the house.

I still have some plastic stuff waiting to be used up or worn out before being replaced – brush, comb, lotion and detangler bottles…

But the toothbrushes really bothered me. I finally got to replace them with compostable bamboo brushes. The bristles are nylon and though the biodegradability of some types of nylon are being debated, these bristles can be pulled and recycled.

I chose this company because it is based in the US and [from everything I can tell] committed to ethical and sustainable practices. Also they come in 100% cardboard packaging [double boxed]. It is hard to find toothbrushes that don’t have ANY PLASTIC in the packaging.

And it doesn’t hurt that making the bathroom more eco-friendly also makes it look better.

There are lots of great sustainable toothbrush options available now. Just search for bamboo toothbrushes. Also Preserve is a company that partners with Whole Foods to gather and recycle plastics into new toothbrushes which is the best choice if you want stick with plastic. They make it super easy to recycle the brushes when your done by selling you the brush in a prepaid return pouch!

As for your old plastic toothbrushes, read more about recycling them in this article by Recycle Nation [spoiler alert: it ain’t easy].

And more about sustainable toothbrush options in this post by My Plastic Free Life.

AND order your own sustainable toothbrushes from The Green Root here.

Happy Brushing!

Karis

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

Turns out, I am a paper hoarder.

😱

I have been saving craft paper, scrapbooking paper, card stock, envelopes, even two HUGE rolls of brown paper, for the better part of my life. Seriously. I’ve had a lot of this stuff since grade school when I first picked up a scrapbooking hobby. Since then, I have collected SO MUCH PAPER.

I’ve been avoiding going through my craft stuff because I knew it was going to be tough. BUT I have learned an important thing about myself: scrapbooking is no longer a hobby of mine. Truthfully, it hasn’t been for years now, but I still kind of always felt that it was. I think it was Marie Kondo who said in her well-known book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, that decluttering often means letting go of who you once were so you can fully live as the person you have become. [I’m very loosely paraphrasing here because I don’t have the book in front of me.] When I heard that, [I listened to the audiobook while training for my marathon], it was like a lightbulb went off. It’s okay if I don’t scrapbook anymore. I don’t have to feel like all that time and money was wasted because I enjoyed it for the time that I did it and now I need to let it go and move on.

So I donated a lot of paper and my cricut machine and twelve or so cricut cartridges and pretty much all my other scrapping materials. I only kept paper and tools for making cards – a useful hobby that I still enjoy.

And now I’ve initiated a “use it up” challenge. No buying cards or notebooks or ANY PAPER [other than maybe coloring books for the kids] until I’ve used up the rest of my stash, which I reduced to fit into this one case.

[This is down from six filing drawers and three shelves in my craft cabinet.]

So, I’ve started making birthday cards for family and friends.

As you can tell, I’m not a perfectionist.

I made these three while painting with my kids. I even used the kids’ painting sets. Super simple and easy. I do have a set of birthday stamps which come in super handy for making cards. And since I send a card to everyone in our immediate families each year – I figure I have enough paper to last me…about the next 10 years. 👍🏻

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

If you’ve ever participated in a race, you probably already know that these events are [typically] very wasteful. Aid stations hand out water and Gatorade in paper or [egad!] plastic cups which get used for all of five seconds before being thrown onto the ground to be trampled by the rest of the runners. Then there are all the energy packets [gels, chews, beans, honey sticks, etc] all in individual wrappers which are also thrown on the ground mid-run. And don’t get me started on all the post-race foods like bananas, apples, protein bars, and water bottles that all create some sort of waste. All of this stuff ends up piled high in tons of trash cans throughout the race course and at the finish line.

I have been participating in running and multi-sport events of all different sizes – from small town 5Ks to the Chicago Marathon this past weekend – for the past seven years and, honestly, I never even considered the waste until this summer. So, I was very excited to find that the Chicago Marathon had so many awesome green initiatives.

“The 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been named an Evergreen Inspire event by the Council for Responsible Sport…”

-Participant Guide

Some of my favorite sustainability initiatives were:

1. The race shirt was made of 100% recycled polyester which has fewer environmental impacts.

2. Most aid stations collected organic waste [paper cups and banana peels] to be composted and the soil donated to the Chicago Park District.

3. Recycled Heatsheets will be made into benches which will be donated to the Chicago Park District.

4. Designated Green team volunteers helped to direct waste into separate containers for compost, recycle or landfill at several Zero Waste Stations.

5. The race participant guide encouraged runners to bring their own reusable water bottles and provided refilling stations.

And everyone already knows how much I love the #SheddtheStraw initiative by Shedd Aquarium. I love seeing Chicago work together to become a more sustainable city.

Of course, a lot of these initiatives are only effective if the runners and spectators actually utilize them and changing [or re-training] an entire race culture will not happen overnight.

BUT, I can make a difference. I made sure to sort my waste appropriately at the designated Zero Waste Stations. I recycled my Heatsheet. I stayed on the designated paths to preserve the foliage in Grant Park. I recycled my gear check bag appropriately when I got home [store drop-off].

I realized that I can do more, though – starting with requesting green initiatives at all my races and encouraging fellow runners to support a more sustainable racing environment.

One of the things I love most about running is how simple it is. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment or gym or dress code or anything other than a pair of legs and a stretch of earth. Running also connects us to nature by getting us outside to enjoy fresh air and appreciate the beauty around us. We don’t want to ruin that, right?

So if and when you happen to participate in a racing event – it never hurts to encourage race directors to provide sustainable options…and at the very least, look for the recycle bin. 👍🏻

Happy [Zero Waste] Running!

Karis