Simplifying Parenting [Part 6: Storing Childhood Mementos]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 6: Storing Childhood Mementos]

I recently decluttered the “craft closet,” which is used so frequently that it was becoming dangerous to open the closet door.

Before:

After:

WAAAAAY Better right?

I pride myself on being “minimal”…in all things EXCEPT craft supplies.

😁

What can I say? Art is super important to me and a full [albeit messy] craft closet is how I foster creativity with my kids.

But I’m not actually here to extols the virtues of decluttering. I wanted to talk about how I organize and store all of the mementos that my children accumulate.

You know what I’m talking about…the coloring page that they are SO proud of for actually coloring the whole thing, the first note where they wrote “I love mommy,” the spelling test with the hard earned 100%. Normally, I’m the first one to say NOT to hold on to sentimental junk – but some times I don’t listen to my own words. Sometimes I want to hang on to these mementos of my kid’s childhood.

Some of Evangeline’s mementos – most probably wouldn’t mean a lot to other people, but they are special to us and hold happy memories that I want to cherish.

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she makes it a goal to be a “storehouse of happy memories.” At one point she gets cute boxes to literally store the happy memories of her daughters. I’ve had my own version of her boxes for a few years now.

Back to the craft closet…

Besides all of the craft supplies, this closet also holds my kids’ memento drawers [the plastic drawers on the floor]. I use these drawers to organize the paperwork that my kids bring home from school and the many pieces of artwork that children create.

However, this collection goes through several rounds of “reductions” over time.

The Three Round Rule

Round 1 – I make the initial decision of what to keep immediately. Most coloring pages get recycled and a lot of the school papers, but occasionally there is a special drawing, creation, piece of art that I put away in their drawer. I also keep their graded papers and projects.

Round 2 – At the end of the school year, I go through everything in their drawer again and keep the most special. In a lot of cases [and in the face of the sheet quantity] a lot of the items have lost their value, so I feel fine recycling. Obviously things like school pictures, the class photo, and special creations move to the next round.

Round 3 – I really liked Gretchen Rubin’s ideas about boxes, so I’m working on acquiring four cute storage boxes [you know I HATE buying things] which I will use to store the special mementos for my kids. BUT I still plan to review the items that make it into the box every year and toss anything that doesn’t still hold special meaning. Over the years, time really does put some of these sentimental things into perspective and the items that really matter stand out.

When I married Brett, his mother gave us boxes and boxes of his *ahem* crap from his childhood. And we had to go through it and look at every kindergarten field day green ribbon, every plastic t-ball trophy, every grade school report card. Quite frankly, by the time you’re an adult, you don’t care about the majority of that stuff.

I had a few boxes of my own from childhood when I moved out of my parents house and I tossed most of it. But, of course, I’m glad I had the newspaper clippings about my speech competitions, my autographed photo with the President, and some of my favorite writing projects. But the rest was junk.

The three round rule is my attempt at doing the majority of the sorting for my kids so that they don’t someday inherit a basement full of crap to sort through. Maybe someday they will wonder, Where is that kindergarten cut out of the letter B that I loved so much?…but I highly doubt it.

What do you do with all of your kids’ mementos???

📝

Karis

Be a Yogi [my March health habit]

Be a Yogi [my March health habit]

As a personal trainer, I always love sharing the surprising fact that a person’s overall fitness is dependent on their flexibility. The vast majority of my clients over the years would have described themselves as “not very flexible,” so most did not appreciate this bit of news. But the most important thing about improving your fitness is working on your weaknesses. And, unfortunately, your weakness usually correlates with your least favorite part of the fitness triad.

What is the fitness triad, you ask?

Fitness is measured by three important elements: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, and flexibility [which I have personally entitled “the fitness triad”]. In my experience everyone has a preference for one of these three. Some people love cardio and can spend hours on a bike or a treadmill. Other people prefer lifting weights and building strength. And I’ve known many, many yogis who swear that the only thing they need is a mat. Even my fellow personal trainers over the years have had definite favorites [just like I do] BUT trainers know fitness is very much like a three-legged stool. You really need to have a balance of all three elements if you want to reach peak fitness.

[Common Fitness Myth: It is a common misconception that cardio is for weight loss and strength training is for body building and stretching is just to cool down at the end of a workout. Actually, cardio is for heart health – which is super important since more people die from heart disease (in the US) than any other cause. Weight training is important for strengthen muscles, increasing their size and endurance, but also to increase bone density. If you’re worried about osteoporosis, you could cut back on the milk and start lifting weights. And stretching is about keeping optimal range of motion in all of your joints so that you’ll always be able to bed over and tie your shoes. Exercise is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. It’s about having a body that is fully functional for as long as possible.]

So, to find your weakness, just ask yourself which of the three elements you like the least – and there you have it.

My Fitness Weakness

As for me, I’m a total cardio junkie. I have been since I first started working out eleven years ago. But, on my journey toward my own fitness, I learned that I had to also strengthen my body through weight training AND stretch my body to improve [or at least maintain] my flexibility. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all three; however, if I’m running short on time, or have an extra busy day, the one thing I will skip is stretching.

This is NO BUENO.

Check out my planner from a typical week…

On the right page, I put a list of “daily tasks” – things that I want to accomplish every day. As you can see, I’m pretty terrible at getting yoga in. Last year at this time I was doing 20-30 minutes of yoga every night before bed…and it was AMAZING! Besides the benefit to all my tight muscles, doing yoga in the evening prevented me from snacking on junk food or just sitting in front of the television. I miss it. But I am also [obviously] not working up the willpower to get it done in the evenings.

So, for March, I’m going to focus on re-cultivating my yoga habit. And I’m going to use some tips I got from Atomic Habits by James Clear [a great book and a quick read that I recommend if you need some practical help with making your goals happen].

One of my favorite tips that Clear shares in this book is that if I want to change my behavior, I must first change my beliefs – particularly, about myself. So, for instance, instead of thinking of myself as an inflexible, cardio-addict who wants to try to squeeze in yoga several times a week, I am going to think of myself as a yogi and do yoga because that’s what yogis do. [That’s why I titled this post “Be a Yogi” and not “Practice Yoga.” I really do want to BE a person who makes yoga a regular practice, so I that is my goal. It is not just the simple change of an action, it is the change of my identity.]

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Here are the four tips Clear provides for changing habits and how I am using them to get my yoga habit back on track:

  1. Make it obvious. Clear recommends “habit stacking,” which is to add the new habit to a habit that you already have. So, I have been stacking my yoga habit on top of my exercise habit. I never miss a workout, so if I add yoga to my workout, then I should [theoretically] not miss yoga either.
  2. Make it attractive. I haven’t found a way to reward myself for a consistent yoga practice. Truthfully, I know how great regular yoga makes me feel and how good it is for my body, and that is reward enough. And I guess, in a way, my reward for getting yoga done is that I get go relax – my workouts are done for the day! [I love working out, but it is still hard work, and I am always relieved when I’m done.]
  3. Make it easy. I have moved my yoga mat and yoga blocks into the television room, so that they are very close by and a constant reminder that I need to do yoga. I have also changed my commitment from 20-30 minutes of yoga to “any amount will do” – so sometimes I only do 5 minutes, which is the shortest yoga workout available on the Peloton app.
  4. Make it satisfying. Every day when I practice yoga, I check it off my daily habit list and that is quite satisfying for my obsessive list-making inner organizer.

I recommend Atomic Habits if you haven’t read it – especially if there are habits you wish were part of your life: getting up early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating more fruit and vegetables, reading more books, learning a new skill or improving a current skill, being more successful in your career, or in general, improving discipline.

There are always ways for me to improve myself. I, personally, want to be a flexible person, but I won’t get there without changing my habits.

So, there you have it. Yogi in a month.

🧘‍♀️ 🧘‍♂️ 🧘

Karis

Zero Waste: Laundry Detergent Sheets

Zero Waste: Laundry Detergent Sheets

Today is laundry day in my home. Years ago, laundry was ruling my life. There was always some laundry bin somewhere full of clothes that needed attention—either washing or sorting or folding or putting away. I got so sick of doing laundry every day that I decided I would only do laundry one day a week. Now, I take one day and focus only on laundry. I do all the washing, drying, sorting, folding and putting away once a week. It is heavenly. [I actually quite look forward to laundry day because it is the one household chore I can multitask while watching tv and I don’t have to do any other cleaning that day. Can I get an amen!?]

Recently, my laundry routine got an extra zero waste boost when I switched over to a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent.

Introducing: the laundry detergent sheet!

I absolutely LOVE these things. I just take half a sheet [or a full sheet for really dirty loads] and toss it in the drum and start the wash. They are better than traditional detergent in a lot of ways. First of all, they remove the need for plastic jugs, which I would guess are rarely cleaned and recycled. Secondly, they don’t contain unnecessary, unhealthy, or dangerous chemicals, which harm our health and the health of aquatic life and our shared water sources. And the rest of the reasons are for convenience: they don’t take up a whole shelf of the laundry room, they travel easily, they don’t spill or drip and get blue goo everywhere, they require no “guesstimation” regarding how much to use and prevent over usage.

[Buy them for yourself here, and read about the zero waste packaging, ingredient list, and FAQs.]

Seems like a no-brainer. Friendly for the planet, better for our health, and convenient to boot!

I buy them from Well Earth Goods [which is also where I buy my toothpaste tabs, stain sticks, dishwashing blocks, and a bunch of other zero waste goods]; however, you can find these detergent sheets lost of places now—even Amazon. BUT please don’t. I love Well Earth Goods because it is a small family run business located in Oregon and it’s the kind of business I like to support.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t just buy the cheapest option you can find [this advice goes for every single purchase]. There are many, many things to consider before buying. While it’s great to buy zero waste products, it is also now possible to support unethical and environmentally damaging companies who sell green products. The best choice is to support the companies that actually care about environmental issues – not those that are just jumping on the latest trend to make a buck.

That’s my two cents.

🤷‍♀️

Anyway, back to the detergent sheets.

You can buy scented detergent sheets, but I think that clean clothes should be void of any smell…not smell like they’ve been doused in Aunt Bonnie’s floral perfume. Plus I’ve been using unscented laundry detergent since I had babies because the chemicals that create that overpowering “spring rain” scent can lead to skin irritations and there is some concern about carcinogens.

To make things even more earth-friendly, I use a stain stick [which I once posted about at length here],

…and wool dryer balls, which were the first zero waste gift I ever received after starting this journey [Thanks, Michelle!]

I just keep these balls permanently in my dryer, so that every load comes out nice and fluffy.

[Side note: I’ve heard complaints about static with the dryer balls as opposed to dryer sheets, but static is more about the materials you are drying. Synthetic fibers cause more static in the dryer. My family and I don’t have that problem because we avoid synthetic fibers – which I also recommend everyone do for the sake of Mother Earth and personal health. But that’s a post for another day. 😁]

So, there you have it! A totally zero waste laundry routine.

🧺 🧺 🧺

Karis

Book Reviews [2021 Q4]

Book Reviews [2021 Q4]

In Q4 of 2021, I read 19 books. That might be a quarterly record for me!

In 2021, I read 66 books [68 if you count my two school textbooks]. Of those, 16 were about health [my reading goal for the year], 14 were memoirs [my favorite genre], 13 were about racism or social justice issues, and 11 were fiction.

Also, I should mention that I give star ratings for these books just for fun and based solely on my own enjoyment of the book. Also, a four star rating means that I really, really liked the book. These are books that I definitely recommend and think are absolutely worthwhile reads. The only reason they don’t get five stars is because I reserve five stars for my absolute favorites – either for their entertainment value or the value of their content.

After I list my Q4 reads, I’ll share a list of my five star reads and my absolute favorite book(s) of 2021.

Here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2021:

October

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Fabre and Julie King

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Eh. This book was just okay for me. It was very similar to the parenting advice book, Now Say This, which I LOVE and have read several times. But, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen was [in my opinion] not nearly as helpful or practical. Both books have similar content about affirming kids feelings and avoiding harsh reprimands and all of that, but many of the recommended responses did absolutely nothing to sway my stubborn toddlers.

🤷‍♀️

So I would recommend that you skip this and go read Now Say This.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Brett bought me this book to read when I took my kids on a trip to my aunt’s lake house. Maybe it was more about the setting – getting up early and reading with a fresh cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake – but I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely not my preferred type of fiction, but it’s on Oprah’s book list, so I knew it would be worth a read. [Brett did not know that it was borderline erotic when he gave it to me, but I don’t think he was upset about it].

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Probably one of my favorite reads of the entire year – and definitely my favorite book about health and nutrition and food and animals and life and family…

This is the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family buying a farm and growing/raising their food and committing to only eating local for a year.

It is just such a good book! Of course, it’s about topics that I am SUPER interested in: healthy food, sustainable farming, homesteading, eating local, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, cooking, baking, raising, growing, and making food from scratch.

Basically, this book is about rethinking all of the aspects of our food that we currently view as unnecessary inconveniences – such as raising animals, growing vegetable from seeds, and knead bread by hand – and realizing that all of these things reconnect us to the earth, to its finite resources, to its shared inhabitants, and ultimately, to our own humanity.

This book is also largely responsible for me becoming an omnivore once again, after a year of veganism – although I now have much, much higher standards for the meat and dairy I am willing to consume. Here’s an excerpt from her very insightful views on veganism/vegetarianism:

“A hundred different paths may lighten the world’s load of suffering. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.”

Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

But that’s not all. There is SO MUCH good information in this book, I could quote the whole thing! So you just have to read this book!!

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

⭐️⭐️

“Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes

So, I’ve been reading tons of books about health, and then it all took a rather morbid turn and I started reading books about death. This, however, turned out to be especially depressing because she’s basically saying that everything I’m doing to be healthy is a total waste of time.

I didn’t really like the book for obvious reasons. She may have very good points about how worthless preventative screenings are or how pointless it is to avoid wine and chocolate or to frequent the gym when your body is withering away regardless – but she seems to imply that the only reason for healthy habits is to lengthen one’s life. I disagree. I think that a healthy life is a more fulfilling, more useful, more productive, more enjoyable life, even if that does mean a little less chocolate and wine. And, heck!, I frickin love my time at the gym.

Stop trying to take that away from me, Barbara!!

But I will say this: as a result of this book, I am a lot less likely to undergo a colonoscopy in the future. So, I guess I can thank Barbara for that!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Now this book, on the other hand, was a really helpful, practical book about how to make the most of your time at the end of your life. In particular, I came away realizing how hospice is not just a death warrant that you take on when all else has failed and you’ve totally given up hope of having any meaningful time left, but rather it is a means by which you can experience a full end of life – one that keeps you out of the hospital, away from painful or debilitating treatments, and allows you to enjoy the things that matter most in life for as long as you have left.

It’s hard to imagine an end of life scenario where I don’t want to fight for more time, but truthfully, we need to come to terms with the fact that some fights in the end are simply not worth the trade off. A quiet passing, surrounded by loved ones, without pain or ambulances or defibrillators…that would be my preference in the end [if I am someone who knows in advance that the end is near]. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to know I’m going to die or to die unexpectedly, but if I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die of typical old age ailments, then this book will prove very helpful for me. It has already dramatically changed my view of the medical world and it’s role in the human experience of dying. But I will probably want to reread this book in thirty years or so – assuming I’m still kicking.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

“…Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

Though I’m only thirty-five years old, this book has really valuable advice and information about how to make the most of my life all the way to the very end. I mean, the end is coming for all of us. We should be prepared for it.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a great book. I read Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad, which was good, but The Nickel Boys is excellentgut-wrenching, poignant, suspenseful, and even has an unexpected surprise at the end. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.

As with all fiction I read, I don’t like to give very much away, but it’s worth mentioning that this story is based on a real boys school, which made it all the more powerful for me.

November

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this book! Bill Bryson is so entertaining as he recounts the adventures that he and his friend, Katz, have while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m pretty sure I was laughing out loud at times, mostly at Katz’s expense [and as I’ve said before, when I start responding to books audibly while reading, that is a very good sign]. You just can’t make this stuff up…well, actually Bryson totally could have since most of it happened on a completely isolated trail through the woods – but if he did, I don’t want to know. It is too perfect the way it is.

“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

I’ve always wanted to hike the AT – but not so much shit in the woods – and I actually can’t decide if this book made me want to do it more or less…but either way, it was a great book.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (⭐️) for audiobook

Talking to Strangers is a fascinating book and the audiobook is phenomenal. Gladwell introduces the audiobook by saying that he wants it to sound like a podcast – a podcast with a production budget. And it definitely does.

In the book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to understand the people we don’t know, or maybe more importantly, how to not misunderstand them. By using high profile people from world history and recent events – Adolf Hitler, Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Larry Nassau, to name just a few – and the stories of how these people were misunderstood, for good or bad, Gladwell paints a complex picture of how we interact with one another.

I learned A LOT. I was at least vaguely aware of most of these stories, but had never heard them in detail and I was riveted. I was also fascinated to learn of our natural default to truth, how sitcoms like Friends has impacted our understanding of each other, why cops are trained to use aggressive policing methods, how computers are better able to predict a criminals behavior than a judge, and much more.

“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers

Overall, this book teaches us to be more humble and compassionate in our interactions with the people we don’t know. And we all need more of that.

This book is worth a re-read – or, better yet, a re-listen.

Clean and Green by Nancy Birtwhistle

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m all about green cleaning, but my favorite part of this book was all of her British-isms like “worked a treat” and “boiled on the hob” and, my personal favorite, “bung up the hole.” [I’m just assuming these are British sayings because I’ve never heard them before.]

But in all seriousness, this book is full of brilliant ideas for cleaning without all the chemical-laden, aquatic life killing, toxic fume filled cleaners you find at the store. I decided to earmark each recipe/method that would be useful to me….omg check out the book now:

[Do you see all the earmarks?? It’s about half the book…]

I should have saved the poor pages and just put the whole book in the “to-do” pile. Anyway, I intend to go through the book systematically using every recommended swap.

I’m especially anxious to try setting my oven racks in the lawn overnight to see if they are magically cleaned in the morning. [This is a real tip that she provides and since it’s in print, it must be true.]

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What a sad story. It was actually kind of creepy for me in a way because I am not entirely unlike Christopher McCandless in my worldview. The major exception, of course, being that I haven’t rid myself of all my possessions and heading out into the Alaskan wilderness. I’m not that crazy, at least not yet. But, truthfully, the idea is kind of intriguing to me. [Thank God I have kids who keep me from doing anything too rash.]

This book was not entertaining like A Walk in the Woods, but I love how Krakauer slowly unravels the story, or should I say mystery, of McCandless’s final few months of life. Of course, the ending is written right on the cover of the book, but it’s the how and the why that are intriguing.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, but with a sort of sadness that weighed down the experience of reading it. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

⭐️⭐️⭐️

[I listened to the audiobook and do not recommend it. My low rating is largely because of the reader. Get the actual book.]

As someone who dreams of selling all my earthly possessions and living out of a van, I thought this book would be right up my alley. However, it painted a pretty bleak picture of #vanlife. Instead of praising the nomad lifestyle like was hoping, this is the rather depressing story of an apparently large number of homeless…I mean, “houseless” retired people being worked to death and taken advantage of by big companies who need seasonal labor.

[Seriously. Amazon has a whole department called “CamperForce.” Here’s the enticing info on Amazon’s CamperForce hiring page:

“Want to keep enjoying life on the road? Join an enthusiastic team of like-minded travelers and adventurers at Amazon CamperForce. It provides great seasonal jobs at a growing number of state-of-the-art Amazon warehouse locations across the US.”

hiring.Amazon.com

Uh…tempting, but no thanks.]

I was totally unaware that this subculture, which I always assumed to be full of young hippies in their twenties who smoke a lot of pot, is also populated by folks my parents age and older who have fallen on financial hardships and taken to the road.

But the idea of life on the road is still appealing to me and the book was very helpful in explaining how to live out of your van, make a pee bucket and not get caught by the police. But I guess I was envisioning a more…I dunno…lawful and sanitary version of the nomad life.

Anyway, it will mean pretty wild changes for our economy and our communities if more people leave their houses for the new frontier – Boon-docking [and her close cousin, Wally-docking].

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I only read this book because it was the library’s book club pick so I didn’t have to wait to borrow it. Definitely not my favorite fiction book. The genre was right, but the story was lacking [almost non-existent] and the whodunit was way too obvious – though they hadn’t actually done anything yet. I knew the antagonist a few chapters in and was incredibly disappointed when I was actually right, still clinging to some hope that there would be a surprise or twist or something.

But, alas. Just a book about a girl who takes a ride through a blizzard with five strangers – one of whom is a creep.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Loved this book. What a beautiful story!

Ultimately, I think this is a story about regrets. Everyone has things in their life they would like to go back and change. And the magic of this story is that it reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect life, only our own unique experience based on our choices – our personal opportunity to make the most of what we have.

“It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

My friend who recommended it to me described it as a “feel-good” read, and I couldn’t agree more. I listened to the audiobook while traveling to Chicago for my kidney surgery and it gave me all the feels. Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make the best decisions we can and enjoy the ride.

“The only way to learn is to live.”

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“We all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”

Hilary Rodham Clinton, What Happened

As you know, I love a political memoir. And I have serious respect for this incredible woman. Unfortunately, at the time she was running for President, I was not at all interested in politics and I didn’t vote at all [to my everlasting shame]. And she is correct in her perspective on public opinion because all I really remember about her and her campaign can be summarized in one word: emails. How sad and pathetic that such an innocent and commonplace thing could turn into the media firestorm that it did and cost someone a president election. It’s painful to think about, especially in light of the terrible repercussions of our collective stupidity in that election.

Anyway, in this book Clinton is as gracious as ever. I especially love that she recorded the audiobook so that we could hear her share her story. My favorite part is when she shares what a day on the campaign trail looked like for her. I love this sort of “backstage pass” to the lives of political leaders.

If I could go back to my 2016 self, I’d slap myself across the face and say “Wake up! A woman is a primary presidential candidate!Rally the troops and head to the polls!” But, I can’t do that. Not certain what kinds of “troops” I could have rallied anyway since my circles are almost exclusively sexist and republican…but I would have tried. For my daughters. For me. For all women.

Despite the fact that she didn’t win, she definitely paved the way for a female president in the future and I am SO STOKED that I will be able to see it happen in my lifetime.

So, thanks, Hilary. [Is it okay if I call you Hilary?]

December

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I listened to this audiobook as I recovered from surgery and I think the pain meds I was on made it hard to concentrate…or maybe put me to sleep while I was listening, because I don’t have many memories of reading it. I will have to re-read it in the future.

Though I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I only read this book now because I was trying to determine whether my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. [From what I remember of it, this book would be fine for them – ages 4, 5, & 7.]

One thing I do remember clearly about this book is being a little disappointed. There are a lot of Harry Potter fanatics out there, so I guess I was hoping to be really blown away by the book, and I wasn’t. But I was also drugged and had other more pressing concerns at the time of reading it.

Ok, I’m definitely going to re-read it. And I think I’ll read the actual book which always sticks better than the audiobook anyway.

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love Michael Pollan and this book was interesting, but it seemed to be so different from his usual writings on healthy eating [then again, maybe it’s not that different after all]. He begins with a history of LSD and psychedelics, which was fascinating, and then moves on to describing his own experimentation [in safe and controlled environments] with various psychedelic drugs.

I still don’t have any interest in trying psychedelics – not because I’m a prude, but more because I have a stronger fear of a “bad trip” than a desire for a “good trip.” Strangely enough, in Waking Up by Sam Harris, which I read a few months back, Harris wrote that if his kids never experienced psychedelics in their lifetime, he would think they’ve missed out on something important. There seems to be an element of spirituality found in the “loss of self” or “silence of the ego” when using psychedelics, and I am very much interested in experiencing that. However, I’ve since read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and it seems you can find a similar feeling/experience from meditation, which feels less risky…and also controversial.

But suffice it to say, Pollan succeeded in making me curious.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Unfortunately, it seemed way too unrealistic for me to accept the ending. There is no way that would have worked out the way it did. It’s a nice idea though.

I read the whole thing in two days, so it was an interesting book, suspenseful enough to keep me reading, but ultimately a disappointment in the end.

Don’t want to spoil it for you, so if you’re so inclined, read it yourself and see if you agree.

Think Again by Adam Grant

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book reminded me a lot of another book I read a few years ago called Talking Across the Divide. In that book [which was also excellent], Justin Lee taught me for the first time about “echo chambers” and how to be open to listening to opposing views in order to communicate effectively with the people I disagree with. Think Again is like the second part of the lesson. Now that I have learned how to talk to people with different views, next I need to learn how to be open to change my own own views.

“A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”

Adam Grant, Think Again

I think of myself as a life-long learner. And I believe myself to be pretty good at questioning my own beliefs. After all, I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being a sexist, homophobic, conservative, religious zealot. And look at me now, a liberal feminist agnostic-leaning quasi new-age hippie. It took A LOT of rethinking to change my beliefs on literally everything. And even now, all my beliefs are fluid and always changing. And since 99% of my connections are still religious conservatives, my beliefs are always being challenged.

BUT Adam Grant has shown me weaknesses in my own thinking and habits that reinforce rather than question my beliefs – quite literally with his story about the debate on the topic of free universal preschool – but also through important lessons about wisdom and humility.

“It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.”

Adam Grant, Think Again

This is a great book. Two thumbs up!

👍👍

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

⭐️⭐️⭐️

At the time of reading, I didn’t really like this story because of the ending, but now looking back on it, I think it is a good story. The book is about a family who, like all families, has history and secrets and complexities that are slowly unraveled throughout the story. The major events always seem happen on or around Easter [hence the egg on the cover].

For me personally, it didn’t have any redeeming qualities beyond the horrors of hoarding [when I finished the book, I immediately felt the need to purge my excess crap – of which there isn’t much since I’m already a minimalist] and the damage that secrets can do. But I enjoyed the way the story was told.

Similarly to other fiction books I read this quarter, the end of the story was slightly disappointing.


Five-Star Reads from 2021:

Fiction:

  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nonfiction:

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Lost Connections by Johann Hari
  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
  • How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Persist by Elizabeth Warren
  • A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen
  • Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Think Again by Adam Grant

Favorite Read(s) of 2021

Despite my best efforts to choose only one favorite book of the year, it is a tie between these two:

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

&

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

You’ve GOT to read these two! And if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Happy reading!

📚📚📚

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Pencil Arrows

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Pencil Arrows

Well, here we are again at Valentine’s Day, trying to give thoughtful, waste-free Valentines to my kids’ classmates.

When Evangeline was in preschool, we gave cuties wrapped in twine with a little “leaf” tag that said “You’re a cutie!”

[You can read my post about how to make these valentines here.]

Then, when Evangeline was in Kindergarten, we made coloring bookmarks with a crayon to pass out on Valentine’s Day.

[You can read my post about how to make these here.]

Last year, I homeschooled the kids and didn’t have to worry about passing out class Valentines – and I’m not sure whether anyone else did either since a lot of schools were doing distance learning because of COVID.

But now the kids are back in school – Evangeline in second grade and Theo in Kindergarten – so we’re making the obligatory school Valentines again.

My daughter adamantly refused to give cuties again [what can I say? It was worth a try] and she fought very hard for heart-shaped suckers, but I really hate giving out candy and dread all the plastic wrappers that will end up in the trash. [This is the unfortunate result of having an environmentalist/personal trainer for a mother.]

So, we agreed on pencils.

Cute, right?

I got the free printables from Perfectly Splendid [link here]. You have to check out all the awesome printables for Valentine’s Day that she has on her site, PositivelySplendid.com. [I also used her Bernie Sanders printable for a Valentine’s Card for my husband! Find them here. Too perfect!]

My mother-in-law was kind enough to print the hearts on card stock for me and then we got busy this morning cutting out the hearts, punching holes, and signing names.

Fair warning, my standard hole punch did not make a big enough hole for the pencils so I had to do some fancy punching to make them fit. But it still worked out fine.

Warning: There was some waste created in the making of these Valentines. Five plastic sleeves that the pencils came in ended up in the trash, but all the paper scraps were recycled and these pencils will hopefully get lots of use in the future.

Practical, [nearly] zero waste Valentines for the win!

Hope everyone enjoys the love fest tomorrow!

❤️🧡💛💚💙

Karis

A Salad a Day Keeps Vitamin Deficiency Away [and three healthy homemade dressing recipes]

A Salad a Day Keeps Vitamin Deficiency Away [and three healthy homemade dressing recipes]

My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.

It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.

Healthy Salad Dressings

I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.

Homemade Vinaigrette

To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.

This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.

Healthier Homemade Ranch

Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.

Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???

Vegan Green Goddess Dressing

This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.

I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.

Yum 😋

So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.

[chickpeas, arugula, evoo, lemon juice, smoked paprika, and sliced kalamata olives]

Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

For the month of January, I’ve been avoiding added sugar, which is a LOT harder than it may sound. Though I thought I already knew most of the culprits hiding sugar, I have discovered a few more places that I was unaware of.

Sneaky Sugars

For instance, sriracha has sugar. That might be common knowledge for people who eat sriracha regularly. I just thought it was like any other hot sauce, until I tasted it. It was so sweet that I had to check the label.

Sure enough – sugar is the second ingredient.

Though, the real conundrum is how they manage to put “0g added sugar” on the nutrition label…????

🤷‍♀️

I don’t know what that’s about, but I decided not to take any chances and switched back to my regular hot sauce [Tapatio, at the moment] which has no sugar.

I also happened to be in the market for a new multivitamin and I thought I would give gummies a try [they are so dang popular after all], but I decided against it when I realized that they have added sugar.

These are the gummy vitamins that my kids take every day. They prefer gummies for obvious reasons [and truthfully, the sugar content is nominal], but they also like Flintstone chewable vitamins, and these don’t contain any sugar.

Sugar in Bread

By far the sneakiest place to find added sugar is in bread. It is very challenging to find bread in the grocery store bread aisle that doesn’t contain any sugar. It’s not impossible, of course, so if you really want to buy your bread, I recommend looking in the bakery for freshly baked loafs that only have the four necessary ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water.

Obviously, if you want a sweet bread [such as zucchini bread] or even an enriched bread [such as brioche], then you can expect to find sugar in the ingredient list – but for every day, run-of-the mill sandwich bread and buns, sugar is unnecessary.

So, I’ve been making my own for years.

It all began when I experimented with giving up processed foods for a month. I was pretty new to baking at the time, but I had to find a bread recipe that I could actually make that would work for sandwiches – that was also 100% whole wheat. It took me quite a while to find one that worked for me, but now I’ve been using the same recipe for the past five years to make everyday bread for my family.

The base recipe is from An Oregon Cottage [you can find the recipe here]. Over the years, I’ve altered the recipe to suit my needs — namely removing the honey and swapping two cups of whole wheat flour for bread flour, which makes a slightly fluffier bread.

So, here is the recipe that I use [and it’s in my preferred format which is with ingredients listed in bold in the instructions].

Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

This recipe makes two loaves and takes me 2 hours to make [1hr and 20 minutes of that is rise time], but I’ve been making it every week for years, so maybe plan on 2.5 hours.

1. Put 2 1/2 cups warm water [about 110°, but don’t stress it – just not so hot it can burn you] in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast over the water. Add 2 cups bread flour. Mix until incorporated. Wait 10-20 minutes [the mixture should rise and get foamy on top].

Before 20 minutes
After 20 minutes.

2. Add 1/3 cup olive oil [or any neutral oil], 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir until it becomes too thick, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until smooth, adding additional flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky.

My kids love to get it on the kneading.

3. Divide dough in half. Take one half and flatten, then roll up and pinch together. Curl up ends and pinch together. Place seam side down in oiled bread pan. Repeat with other half of dough.

4. Cover with a towel and let rise for one hour [preferably in a warm place].

Before the rise
After rise

5. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

And voila! Enjoy that freshly baked bread smell! Mmm…

🍞 🍞 🍞

Karis

Teaching my kids about Martin Luther King Jr.

Teaching my kids about Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the kids and I celebrate by reading some good books on the topics of civil rights, social justice, and racism. I always select library books that contain a lot of diversity and represent a wide range of peoples and cultures. However, on MLK Day, we really take time to talk about prejudice in the past and present and learn more about Martin Luther King Jr.

This year, we went to our local library [in our small town in southern Illinois] and checked out every single book they had on Dr. King and the civil rights movement – a whopping total of 5 books.

We read these books together [I summarized a few since my kids are only 7, 5, 4, and 2]. The picture book, My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris, is big and beautiful and a really nice way for kids to relate to Martin Luther King Jr.

We also watched an episode of Sesame Street about Martin Luther King Jr Day, in which all the Sesame Street characters contributed to a “peace tree” by choosing a way they promise to promote peace and equality all year long. I thought this was a great idea and [if I remember], I’m going to make a peace tree with my kids next year.

When I saw how few books our library has for kids about the civil rights movement and it’s leaders, I decided to purchase some new books to donate.

Public libraries are a source of free education for a community and if I want them to carry more books with diversity and social justice themes, I might as well start by supplying some myself. It’s a small thing to do, but hopefully these books will impact little readers in years to come.

❤️

Karis

No Added Sugar [and my family vacation recap]

No Added Sugar [and my family vacation recap]

This year, I’m considering setting a health-related goal for each month. I haven’t totally committed myself to this yet because…well, it would be tough. But I’ve been trying to tackle my COVID-induced bad habits for the past year with very little success. So I think having one new habit to focus on each month will be helpful.

Starting in January [or right now], I’m doing a month of no added sugar. I’ve actually done this before, many years ago, after reading Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

Last time, I was astounded by two things:

1. Sugar is in everything. I found it hiding everywhere – even the most savory of foods like breads, sauces, frozen dinners, peanut butter, chips, snacks, and nearly every other processed food.

“There are many shortcuts in life, but perhaps none that come free of consequences. Sugar is one of those things we have manipulated into giving us lots of shortcuts: to better taste, to more convenience, to ever-higher food industry profits. But at what costs? As the old saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”

Eve O. Schaub, Year Of No Sugar

2. Going without added sugar for a period of time allowed me to really taste and enjoy the natural sugar found in produce like carrots and peppers.

So I’m doing it again. In particular, I’m hoping that this will help me break my late night candy-consumption habit.

🤞

I’ll let you know how it goes.

I didn’t start the first of January because my family took a vacation to Florida where we stayed in a private rented home with my parents and sister’s family. We enjoyed the sunshine, went to the park, walked through the zoo, and took our kids on the obligatory visit to Disney World.

Brett and I also had a really fun evening to ourselves in Orlando where we went to the Museum of Illusions, rode the Ferris wheel at ICON park, had dinner at the Sugar Factory, and then rode the world’s [almost] tallest swings.

Love him. ❤️

Anyway, my classes started for the spring semester the day after we got back home, so it’s right back to reality.

I hope you enjoy the long weekend and the MLK holiday [for those in the US]. I haven’t decided yet how we will celebrate it in my home, but it’s more than just a day off work/school. It’s a day to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the continuing struggle for justice and equality for people of color. I’ll probably get some good books from the library and spend time talking to my kids about our responsibilities to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all people.

Several years ago, we got these excellent books from the library to read about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I highly recommend them for anyone with kids.

Are you doing anything to celebrate?

❤️

Karis

New Years Resolution Time [my favorite!]

New Years Resolution Time [my favorite!]

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE setting resolutions for the new year. I know, I know. Everyone else is telling you that resolutions never work and you should set small goals throughout the year and yadda yadda.

Well, I don’t really know what to tell you other than that they work for me! I’m a super goal-oriented person, so when I “resolve” to do something, I typically get it done.

Want proof?

In 2018, I resolved to learn to bake. Brett and I had weekly “bake-offs” and now I bake all of our bread from scratch and I have developed a reputation among friends and family as a baker. [I’m hoping for title of “bread lady” some day.]

In 2019, I resolved to learn to knit. That year, I hand-knitted a few blankets for Brett’s grandmothers. Then the next year, I knitted a coffee cozy. This year I knitted four scarves, one coffee cozy, and a cat toy for Christmas presents. Next up, I’m planning to knit hats, socks, mittens, dishcloths, and scrubbies.

In 2020, I resolved to learn Spanish. I have now been studying Spanish on Duolingo every day for two years. No sé todo, pero yo sé más que hací hace dos años. [If you want to join me on Duolingo, my profile name is KarisCarlson. Vamos a ser amigas!]

Also, in 2020, I resolved to volunteer to donate my kidney. Took an extra year, but I got it done.

Last year, my resolutions were simpler. I just wanted to focus on my family and my health. I spent a lot of quality time with each of my kids one-on-one. I walked my dogs a lot. I read a ton of books about health, food, and nutrition. And we spent the entire year as vegans, which really taught me to prioritize plant-based foods for my family, rather than just on my own plate.

My goal to only drink water for a year lasted until mid October when I got super sick and started drinking vitamin C packets in orange juice because I felt like my life depended on it….and, well, I never really got back on the water-only wagon.

The water-only goal was also about raising awareness about the water crisis, and so we funded a well in Uganda to provide clean water to a community that didn’t have access before. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, 2021 was a pretty good year – despite the craziness going on in the world.

So now for my 2022 goals…

Goal #1: In the past, I’ve set a series of goals related to different parts of my life – physical goals, family goals, travel goals, reading goals, etc. But my favorite goals always end up being my new skills. So this year [though I had really debated choosing rock climbing or wood turning], I’ve decided my new skill to learn will be photography. I have a nice camera and I need to learn how to use it! It would be soooo helpful to take my own family photos like my friend, a self-taught photographer, does.

Goal #2: Instead of having aggressive physical goals like running a marathon, this year, my goal is to fully recover from my kidney donation and get back to running. Not running fast. Not running far. Just back to running. Hopefully I can accomplish this sooner rather than later, but they say it can take 6 months to a year to be fully back to normal after losing an organ, so this goal is really more about not going too fast. I’m going to have to exercise extreme strength of will to slow down, take time, and give my body some grace.

Goal #3: Somewhere along the way I had made a previous resolution to get back into school for nursing. And I have finally started. My goal for this year is to [🤞] finish up my prerequisites and get accepted into an accelerated Masters of Nursing program. I’m still quite terrified about this course my life is taking – scared of the financial cost of returning to school, scared of the time it will take away from my kids, scared I’ll fail… But you know what they say:

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

2021 might not have been the year we all hoped for, but that doesn’t mean that 2022 can’t be. I hope you have a safe, healthy, and intentional year!

❤️

Karis