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

Another Reason to Be Vegan [and possibly the most compelling yet]

Another Reason to Be Vegan [and possibly the most compelling yet]

If you’ve been imagining that the cow you are having for dinner lived something like the cows pictured above – you are wrong. While there are an extremely lucky 1% of animals who get to graze freely on beautiful fields, that is not even close to the story for 99% of animals that feed the human population, which are found on factory farms [according to USDA data released in 2019].

I’m sure many people choose veganism because they don’t want to eat animals, but until now, I was not one of them. I became a vegan last year because of the damage the meat industry is doing to the planet, and for health reasons, and because I feel like crap when I eat animal products. [You can read more about why I went vegan here.]

Don’t get me wrong – I struggle with all the usual ethical questions where animals are concerned: Should we keep elephants in zoo enclosures? Should we euthanize dogs with cancer? Should we flush the goldfish down the toilet? I am an animal lover. But since I didn’t believe that it was morally wrong to eat animals, I never bothered to ask what the moral implications are of eating meat, least of all when I was in the grocery store perusing shelf after shelf of it – all pink and processed and neatly wrapped and not at all resembling the actual animal it came from.

All that changed last month when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was enlightened about what animal agriculture in America looks like today. As it turns out, eating animals is an extremely moral issue, not because it is wrong to eat animals, but because of the way in which animals are treated in the process.

Spoiler alert: It. Is. Horrifying.

Anyone with half a heart would be appalled at the circumstances in which 99% of the meat and dairy in this country are conceived, raised [if you can even call it that], and slaughtered.

Seriously, I had no idea [or maybe I had an idea, but chose not to think about it]. And I’m assuming since I was in the dark [or willfully ignorant], that other people are too.

Since finishing the book, I have been doing even more research about the meat industry and, let me tell you, it is all bad. I learned about the lies surrounding the “free-range” and “organic” meat and egg labels, the standard process of killing baby pigs by bashing them against the concrete floor and sending unwanted chicks into a grinding machine [macerator] while fully conscious, how we’ve genetically modified animals to grow so big they can barely walk and some can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, about abuse in the form of violent beatings, death during transport, inhumane living conditions, and even how this type of high yield farming produces pandemics like the one we have been experiencing for the past year.

As a consumer, I share in the responsibility for how animals are treated in order to serve the world’s ever-increasing demand for cheap meat. It’s true that animals are not humans, but it is without a doubt morally wrong to treat animals the way factory farming does. Animals should not be brought into this world only to suffer miserably while they are alive and then experience grotesque, painful and premature deaths.

Is eating meat worth that?

I personally don’t want any part in that system of abuse. Of course, I had already decided to be vegan, but now I feel even more compelled to educate people about meat production in America – or at the very least, to beg people to ask the hard question: Where did my meat come from?

If you bought meat or eggs or dairy from anywhere other than a farmer that you personally know, with animals you can actually see and pet and smell for god’s sake, then you have most likely paid for an animal’s suffering.

But don’t take my word for it. A quick internet search will tell you a lot about how meat is produced in America. Or pick up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer, or watch the documentary by the same title that is based on his book. Or watch the twelve minute documentary Meet Your Meat on Youtube. If you make it through that video, I also recommend the 2018 documentary, Dominion, a full-length film clearly showing the ways humans abuse their power over the animal kingdom [warning: it is graphic]. If we eat meat and support the meat industry with our dollars [aka votes], we should know the reality of the system we are supporting.

[There are a lot of workers and companies represented in these films, and while they may bear some of the blame for our modern farming system, it is us as consumers who have demanded more and more meat at lower and lower prices while turning a blind eye to how that is accomplished – essentially forcing the hands of the industry that is trying to feed the world. So we all share that blame.]

Good rule of thumb for eating animals: visit the farm you are purchasing from and make sure that the animals look as well cared for as the ones in these photos. If you can’t do that, then you are more than likely eating morally compromising meat.

We used to go to a local farm to pick up eggs and produce and we could pet the goats and see the chickens wandering all around the farm and the hogs dosing happily in the sunshine. This is where I would buy my meat – of course, I’m vegan, so I’m not buying meat anyway. But ethical meat does exist. We just have to look harder for it, drive further for it, and pay more for it.

But it’s worth it.

Every time you eat you are casting a vote for the type of world you want, and we need more votes for the animals.

🐄 🐖 🐓

Karis

Don’t Quit Coffee Cold Turkey [and other tips from my first thirty days of drinking only water]

Don’t Quit Coffee Cold Turkey [and other tips from my first thirty days of drinking only water]

Well, I’m thirty days into my year of drinking only water and so far it’s been easier and harder than I expected [but mostly harder].

I’ll explain.

I started this whole thing in order to raise awareness about the 750+ million people without access to clean water and to improve my hydration and overall health. But, I have to be honest, I was totally unprepared for how this was going to affect my body.

I thought it would be easy because I only used to drink coffee in the mornings [every morning, but still] and an occasional cocktail or hard seltzer when we’re out [I’m a total health freak, don’t forget]. The rest of the time I drink water. No smoothies, no lattes, no soda. Ever. So, I figured this would be a piece of cake.

Not so, my friend.

I spent the first half of January in such bad pain that I couldn’t sleep without painkillers. [And folks, I never take pain meds. I birthed four babies without so much as a Tylenol.] It wasn’t until day seven that I could manage during the day without taking anything, and it was on day ten when I attempted to go to bed without ibuprofen…which turned out to be a big mistake. I was up all night thinking maybe I was dying [or had caught Covid] and I finally wisened up and looked into symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Lo and behold! There are a lot more negative side affects than just the little headaches I had anticipated.

So, my first tip is:

Tip #1: Don’t Quit Coffee Cold Turkey

To clarify, don’t quit caffeine cold turkey. If you drink the decaf stuff…more power to you.

Coffee was my only source of caffeine [other than occasional dark chocolate], so when I quit coffee all of a sudden, I experienced a range of miserable side affects.

The worse affect was painful full-body aches. The kind of aching you get when you have the flu, except I felt perfectly fine in every other way. It was such a low, dull pain deep in my bones [and everywhere else] that I could barely function. [Don’t worry – I’m a mom. I functioned anyway].

I also had headaches every day for a loooooong time. [In reality, it just felt like a long time because when you have a headache time really creeps by.] And they were the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced – but that’s not saying much because I rarely get headaches. [Like one a year, I’m not kidding.]

The other obvious and expected side affect of caffeine withdrawal was exhaustion. And I mean exhaustion. I felt like I was back in the first few weeks of pregnancy when I could barely get off the couch. Oh man, it was bad. Thankfully, that didn’t last as long, but it did last long enough for me to consider buying caffeine pills [I didn’t].

Other side affects that I did not experience are moodiness [okay, maybe a little, but can you blame me?!], nausea, trouble concentrating, and other flu-like symptoms like vomiting [thank goodness I was spared that experience].

So, take it from me, ease off the caffeine. This probably goes without saying, but withdrawal is no fun. I was only drinking maybe twenty ounces a day every day for the past eighteen months [since I gave birth to my last baby]. That was apparently plenty to become totally addicted to the stuff. Which leads me to my next tip…

Tip #2: Definitely Quit Caffeine

Caffeine in coffee may seem harmless, but if a substance has the ability to make me feel that miserable when I stop imbibing it, it’s probably not a good thing to consume on an every day basis. And I know people [from my 3AM UPS job] who practically lived on energy drinks.

This is no bueno.

I’m not saying that drinking coffee is bad for you [there are actually some benefits to drinking coffee], but drinking too much is definitely not a good idea.

How much is too much?

🤷‍♀️

[I think the recommended MAX in America is 400mg a day.]

For me, I will probably just switch to decaf after this year [if I drink it at all], because, honestly, I found something infinitely better than caffeine, which leads me to my third tip…

Tip #3: Generate Your Own Energy

Most people I know drink coffee or caffeinated drinks for the energy. That’s why I always dragged myself from my bed to the coffee maker first thing every morning, my eyes barely open, my kids whining for breakfast. “Mommy doesn’t function without coffee, kiddos.”

But, shocker, I actually do function without coffee! In fact, I have found a much more effective, longer-lasting and healthier alternative to the cup o’ joe and it’s called exercise!

Yeah, that’s right. A good ol’ heart-pumping, legs-moving, sweat-dripping workout session does way more for my energy levels than my coffee ever did. I wake up, workout, and feel great all day.

I don’t need to go into all the other benefits of daily exercise [trust me, they are plentiful], but working out in the morning is simply the best because it gives you a natural energy boost [and it gives you a really great psychological mood-boost when you’re workout is already done for the day, can I get an Amen?!?].

Speaking of starting your day off right, here’s another good tip…

Tip #4: Start Your Day with Water

First thing I do when I wake up is pee. [I think this is a universal thing.] So, the second thing I do is drink water. This has helped me to establish the habit of water in the morning [something that is new to me] and makes me feel a lot better.

Is there science to support drinking water first thing in the morning? I dunno. I’m just telling you that I feel much better now that I start my day with water – less groggy, less tired, more alert and ready for my day.

Also, I have a really big water intake goal, so I have to get started early if I have any hope of drinking enough water throughout my day.

And that brings me to my fifth tip…

Tip #5: Figure Out How Much Water You Need

There doesn’t seem to be an exact science for determining how much water an individual body needs; however, there are lots of opinions and good advice out there.

The old rule is eight 8-ounce glasses a day.

Then I learned that the correct amount is half an ounce per pound of body weight [during personal trainer certification studies], but it’s been expanded to a range of half to one ounce per pound of body weight. For me, that would mean 68-135 ounces of water a day. That seems like a really big range and it also doesn’t account for exercise, which would require more water.

In reality, I never paid much attention to the number of ounces. I always had a goal to drink two full 32oz bottles of water [I use my refillable gofiltr bottle]. But for this month, I went looking for a more specific number of ounces I could aim for each day. I put some info into a calculator that also asked me how much time I spend exercising each day and I got an answer of 102 ounces.

So I need to be drinking almost three and a half 32oz bottles of water.

The good news is, without drinking coffee and drinking water right away in the morning, I generally don’t have any trouble hitting that goal. The bad news is…well, see my final tip below:

Tip #6: Prepare to Pee A LOT

🚽

Yeah, I think that’s all that needs to be said on that subject.

In the beginning, I said that drinking only water was also easier than I expected. After only one month, I don’t crave coffee or cocktails or smoothies or anything else. I haven’t accidentally picked up a beverage other than water and taken a swig [as I was fearful I might in the beginning]. I think I’m actually quite happy with water. Who know? This may become a lifelong commitment.

Happy Hydrating!

💦💦💦

Karis

Only Drink Water for a Year [and other 2021 resolutions]

Only Drink Water for a Year [and other 2021 resolutions]

As we all know, 2020 was a crazy year due to Covid-19, so two of my top goals couldn’t happen [travel out of the country and run a marathon], but I’m choosing to focus on all the things I DID accomplish as a result of my resolutions last year…

I have been studying Spanish every day for 353 days on Duolingo, I switched to buying milk in glass bottles, I swapped my plastic dish brushes for sustainable [and beautiful] bamboo, I got a mealtime routine down for the family, I signed up [and was approved] for kidney donation, I volunteered 24+ hours at my local food bank, and I donated $20k to organizations that are helping vulnerable children all over the world, and I began sponsoring a third child through Plan International.

So resolution-wise, it was a pretty good year.

Since it doesn’t appear that Covid is going away anytime soon, I have decided to really scale back my resolution list this year. In 2021, I want to focus on my family, my health and my efforts to end the water crisis.

That’s it. Just three things.

Of course, I have sub points within each of those things…and maybe some bullet points under each sub point. [What can I say? I’m goal-oriented!]

My Family

First, Brett and I have decided to start spending intentional one-on-one time with each of our kids. Since we have four kids and they are all close in age, it’s easy to always group them altogether, or allow some siblings to receive more attention. All of that is totally normal, but I want each of my kids [especially want my middle kids who are quieter and more emotive] to have my undivided attention at times.

The plan is to take turns enjoying special one-on-one time with one kid a week. That’s as far as I’ve planned at the moment.

Second, I am going to dedicate more time to walking my dog. Our new yard is not fenced in so she doesn’t have the space or freedom she used to enjoy, so she really needs regular exercise – and I need to get out of the house every day, for my sanity’s sake.

Third, I want to improve the health of my family by switching to mostly vegan but 100% vegetarian meals in our home. I don’t eat animal products in part because I am thoroughly convinced that they are not good for us [at least not in the quantities we eat them] and because I believe that the morality of our current meat industry is sketchy at the very best. And I’ve come to realize that if I won’t eat meat because of health and ethical issues, then I certainly can’t feel good about feeding them to my kids.

Now don’t go off on me just yet. I will write about this internal [and external] struggle I’ve been dealing with in a post later on to fully explain myself.

[As a side note, I – with the help of Darin Olien’s book SuperLife – have convinced Brett to eat vegetarian/vegan. This is a HUGE win and required quite a bit of coaxing and maybe some bribing but really allows me to change the eating habits of our entire family now that he is on board.]

My Health

As a health and fitness fanatic, healthy goals are always on the list – usually things like improve flexibility and run a marathon. This year, I want to tackle healthy eating. I am generally a very healthy eater, and now I’m also a relatively new vegan; however, I still tend to be an emotional eater and a late night snacker [even tho I’m snacking on healthy foods, it’s still a bad habit]. These two things have to stop. So my first order of business is to get a handle on these bad eating habits.

Second, I’m going to do more research on healthy eating. I want to read several books on nutrition that have been on my list for a while and research controversial health topics like organic produce and current trending diets [keto anyone?]. I’m also going to be studying the ethics of what we eat. I spent the last few years realizing that what I spend my money on is a moral issue, and what clothing I wear is a moral issue, and what I put in the trash is a moral issue, and now I realize that what I eat also has moral and ethical implications.

Third, I’m not going to drink anything but water for one year. Truthfully, I don’t usually drink a whole lot of other beverages – just a few cups of coffee every morning and mimosas on holiday mornings and a glass of wine on the weekends and sparkling waters when visiting friends and an occasional cocktail on dates with Brett – so this should be a breeze.

😬

But I’m excited to see what it does to my health. After only a few days I can already tell that I am much more hydrated.

My reason for this water only year is not just for my health…which brings me to my last resolution for the year.

Ending the Water Crisis

One of the most impactful quotes I read last year was from Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, which says:

“If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need.”

I wonder how many times in my life I said I couldn’t afford to give money to a cause, while freely spending money on beverages that I don’t need [and are bad for my health to boot!].

So, this year, I’m only drinking water. Not only that, I’m only drinking free water. This water bottle is basically my new best friend. And all the money I save will go to help fund water projects around the world for the 700+ million people who don’t have access to clean water [through Charity:Water].

I’m also going to be researching water waste and trying to waste less water in my home by changing some of my habits [cutting back the shower time, running the washers less, catching rainwater for watering plants, etc].

Assuming we don’t have a repeat of 2020, this list seems totally doable [I’m going to go knock on wood].

I hope you all set goals for the year or at least are putting last year behind you and looking ahead with positivity! [Just don’t watch the news…]

I’m a week late, but Happy New Year!

🥳🥳🥳

Karis

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

As promised in my last post [Simplifying Veganism], I’m back to talk about how I eat at restaurants as a vegan. There are already plenty of good resources out there that provide vegan restaurant lists and menu modifications for popular restaurants [like this list of Vegan Restaurant Options by PETA] so I won’t rehash specifics. [BUT, did you know that Olive Garden breadsticks are VEGAN?!? That’s not real butter, folks!!!! See? Being vegan ain’t that bad!]

Instead of specific lists or menu options, I just want to share how I go about figuring out what to eat at restaurants – something that might be considered a stressful experience for many people.

In order to eat vegan at restaurants, I follow a three-step plan, which goes as follows:

1. Plan ahead. This is rule number one for eating healthy in general, so I’ve been practicing this for years. Before I go to a restaurant, I look up the menu and make a choice before getting seated and seeing all the pictures of spinach and artichoke dips and bacon avocado burgers. If there aren’t any vegan menu items, I begin to look for ways I can alter meals to make them vegan. For instance, pizza usually becomes vegan by opting for no cheese, which may not sound like pizza, but is a super satisfying way to partake in family pizza night – and get your fill of vegetables. [My kids like my vegan pizza as well!]

Thin crust pizza with no cheese and all the veggies from Papa Johns.

[Side note: we LOVE making homemade pizzas and a while back we started making a salad pizza, which is basically just salad on top of baked pizza crust and it is DELICIOUS! Though I suspect it should technically be classified as a flatbread, it is a great way to feel like you are eating pizza, even when you’re not.]

2. Try to find a vegan-friendly restaurant. These little up-and-coming gems need our support, so if it’s in your power to choose the restaurant, go for the cute vegan shop on the corner. If you, like me, have nothing but Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and McDonalds at your disposal, then just move on to step number three.

3. Get Creative. One night my husband and I had a rare opportunity to go out without the kids [!!!!] and we wound up at Applebee’s. Turns out the only things that are vegan at Applebee’s are the French fries and the wedge salad [without the dressing, of course, which pretty much just makes it a wedge of lettuce]. So, I ate French fries.

Let’s clarify a common misconception while we’re on the topic. Being vegan does not equal healthy. Yes, it does avoid a lot of unhealthy foods, but there are still plenty of unhealthy foods available for vegans. For instance, sugar is vegan, margarine is vegan, skittles and starburst are vegan, French fries are vegan, Haagen Daz dairy-free ice cream is vegan and absolutely AMAZING, but also most definitely not healthy in the least. And did I mention, Olive Garden breadsticks are vegan?!? So clearly, vegan and healthful are not synonymous.

Now, back to the Applebee’s French fries…

That night, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of steps one and two. However, I also learned that you can always find something vegan or ask for something to be made vegan.

Here are some of the ways I find vegan options at restaurants [organized by cuisine type]:

Soup and sandwich shops like Subway and Panera and Jimmy Johns are great for vegans. Pretty much every sandwich shop nowadays has a vegetarian option and usually all you have to do is ask for no cheese and you’ve got a vegan sandwich. Vegetable or bean soups are also usually vegan.

I’m currently in LOVE with Panera’s vegetable soup! [And the Greek salad without the feta cheese.]

Mexican restaurants are really good choices because Mexican foods are easily made vegan by swapping beans for the meat and holding the cheese. I LOVE Mexican food and I am SO GLAD that I can go to pretty much any Mexican restaurant and order a vegan taco loaded with beans and vegetables and spicy salsa and guacamole mmmmm yum! And the chips are usually vegan too. [Always check, of course.]

Sushi and poke bowl restaurants like Poke Bros and Wok ‘n Fire have vegan California rolls or create your own options that can be easily made vegan.

Pretty much any pizza place as I’ve already mentioned can easily make a vegan pizza by holding the cheese. Most pizza places have vegan crusts and marinara.

Breakfast and brunch restaurants usually have oatmeal as a menu option and bagels are also usually vegan [pass on the cream cheese obviously].

Breakfast from Panera

[Another side note: pancakes and muffins and quick breads can very easily be made vegan and while my kids and partner are not vegan, it doesn’t hurt them to eat that way so I have switched all my baking over to vegan recipes – and, you may be surprised to hear that Brett has given glowing reviews of my vegan banana muffins calling them the best I’ve ever made! I’ve also switched my kids to almond or oat milk for cereal in the mornings – which they only get on weekends – because they can’t even tell a difference!]

American restaurants often have a veggie burger available, but if not, salads sans cheese and meat and with a vegan dressing is a good option. Also, there are typically vegetable sides that are vegan – plate of steamed broccoli, anyone?

Pasta and Italian restaurants are easy to eat at because noodles and marinara are typically vegan. Pass on the cheese and the meatballs, but enjoy a filling plate of spaghetti. Of course, I wouldn’t constitute that as a very healthy meal, but it is vegan. I love that Noodles and Company has started offering zoodles [spiralized zucchini noodles] in place of traditional spaghetti for the more health-conscious people like myself. I would much prefer a bowl of zucchini over a bowl of refined carbohydrates.

Pesto zoodles from Noodles and Company. Warning: zoodles get juicy

So, that’s my simple plan for eating vegan out [or, thanks to covid, ordering in].

Stay tuned for a post about what I eat at this years Thanksgiving gathering with my carnivorous in-laws.

#savetheturkeys

Gonna need some vegan wine!!!

🍷 🍷 🍷

Karis

Simplifying Mealtime

Simplifying Mealtime

Mealtimes in our home have always been casual and chaotic, with Brett and I basically eating while standing over the kids – trying to keep them in their seats while dishing out seconds from the stove. We have always made dinner as a family a priority, but, I have to admit, we haven’t done it very successfully.

A few months ago, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which offered great advice for how to simplify the lives of over-scheduled and overstimulated kids. One of the big takeaways for me was the importance of establishing daily, family routines – such as mealtimes. So, I decided to improve this part of our family’s schedule by adding some structure.

  1. We Set the table. Believe it or not, we never used to actually “set the table” — unless of course, we had guests over. Brett and I would make the plates for the kids at the counter and serve them at their seats. Now, Theo’s daily chore is to set the table, complete with cloth napkins, drinks, and silverware.
  2. We wait for everyone to be seated. Most of the time, Brett and I wouldn’t even sit down to eat unless one of us was feeding the baby. Brett and I still make all the plates at the counter, but we bring them all over to the table and wait for everyone to be seated and ready to eat before we begin.
  3. We don’t have toys or electronics at the table. At this point, this “rule” is more for Brett and I than the kids, but I wanted to set the precedent early AND lead by example. Someday, I won’t want my kids on their phones during family dinner, so I shouldn’t have my phone at the table either.
  4. We talk. Every night, we go around the table and share our favorite part of the day. Sometimes we ask additional questions like “if you could be any fruit, what would you be?” and silly things like that. As the kids grow older, I hope we are able to keep having dinner discussions. We also say thank you. I usually ask the kids “Who can we thank for this meal?” and they thank whoever made it [lately it’s been Brett], and the farmers who grew it and the grocery store employee that sold it and the animal they are eating [if they are eating an animal, since Eva and I don’t eat meat]. This replaces the typical “saying grace” and I much prefer it because it allows us the opportunity to thank everyone involved in giving us food.
  5. We practice table manners. My kids are finally at the age where they need to be taught table manners, like holding their silverware properly and wiping their faces with their napkins and not their t-shirts.

The other part of simplifying mealtime [also found in Simplicity Parenting] is simplifying food for your kids. It’s been a few years since I began our family practice of eating [nearly] zero processed foods, and I feel like that simplification has made tremendous improvements to our health and our energy and our overall well-being [not to mention our finances].

To read more about how we simplify our food, here are some of my blog posts about our food choices:

One Month of [Nearly] Zero Processed Foods

Dinner Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Vegetable Soup

A Week of My [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet

Happy eating!

🍽

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Modeling Screen Time Limits

Lessons in Motherhood and Modeling Screen Time Limits

When I was a little kid, we had one HUGE desk top computer in our basement that we could power up to play a game if we had the patience and determination to actually get the machine on and the floppy disk running. But today, my kindergartner has spent the last three months doing her school work on an iPad – watching YouTube videos, playing math computer games, and reading digital kids books.

Times have definitely changed.

I know that opinions are very strong on both sides of the screen time debate, and so I have no intention of weighing in on how much screen time kids should or should not have. I’ll leave that to the experts. But I have realized that even more important than setting healthy boundaries for my kids is modeling healthy screen time usage for myself.

While reading Carla Naumburg’s book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, it dawned on me that I am breaking many of the screen time rules that I would want my kids to follow. So I decided to set some boundaries for my own screen time.

I don’t have Facebook, but I still often get sucked into spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Sometimes I pick up my phone to check the weather and realize an hour later [after checking emails, responding to texts messages, practicing Spanish, and catching up on news] that I still don’t know the forecast.

But even still, I don’t believe that using my phone is bad [or that you shouldn’t use yours as much as you want]. I have just realized that if I expect my kids to have healthy boundaries for screens, I need to have healthy boundaries as well. While adults may not have the developmental issues associated with screen time that kids do, we still risk negative side effects such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a general loss of time.

My Screen Time Limits

I am not trying to say that everyone should follow these specific rules. Your usage will depend on how your phone serves you. [And it’s important to remember that the phone, tablet, computer or device is there to serve you, not the other way around.] For me personally, these changes over the past few months have provided me with more quality time with my family, less time wasted wandering aimlessly on my phone, and a better example of how I want my kids to manage their own screens when they are old enough.

1. No screens during mealtime. I’ve been working on table manners and dinner time routines with my kids. One of the new standards is no screens at the table. Right now my kids don’t have their own devices, so it’s really just a rule for my partner and I. Sometimes our phones are so attached to us that they come to the table with us, but this just causes a distraction from the focus of time together as a family during meals.

2. Absolutely no phones while driving. This rule is a no-brainer especially since it is now a law, but it is still a struggle. I have a habit of checking my phone at stop lights and using it for directions or even occasionally making calls. Could these things wait? Most definitely. Do I want my kids thinking that it is ok to use their phones while driving? Absolutely not.

3. No television when the kids are awake. Oh, man. This is tough. Television is such an easy and convenient distraction. A few years back, I would start reaching the end of my rope around dinner time while I was waiting for Brett to get home and trying to make dinner and the baby was screaming and my emergency response was to turn on the television. And I wasn’t even putting on kids shows. I would turn on The Great British Baking Show or American Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t trying to distract my kids. I was trying to distract myself. Talk about setting a bad example for my children!

Once I realized my unhealthy tendency, I decided to move the television to the basement and not turn it on [outside of family movie nights or agreed upon screen times] until the kids are in bed for the night.

It has been a game changer. And not just for me, but also for my kids. We watch WAAAAY less television and my kids are much less dependent on it for their own entertainment. We have all learned how to handle boredom or stress without the television.

4. Phone away when playing with the kids. I knew something had to change when I found myself playing with my kids while responding to text messages. How terrible is that? I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’m sure my kids could tell that I was not 100% present. Sometimes the kids and I are in the middle of an epic story about Brown Puppy [my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal] rescuing Super Chase [my son’s favorite Paw Patrol character] from the hot lava on Daisy Island [that’s our dog]…and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my to do list and that I need to call the doctor to reschedule the baby’s appointment and I need to text Brett to remind him to pick up extra peanuts because I need to make peanut butter for tomorrow’s lunches…

The next thing I know, I’m on my phone and telling my kids to just hang on for one second.

For me, this is a major parenting fail. I want to spend time with my kids. I want to play. I will only have the opportunity to make these memories and share these times with my kids for so long. But I am so easily distracted by everything that I have to do that my brain can’t stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, I don’t keep my phone within reach when I play with my kids. I set it far away – usually out of the room, sometimes even up stairs charging by my bed.

Not everyone has the ability to do this, since many people have to be available at all times, but I have found that even the conscious effort to set the phone down and focus on my kids has improved my ability to set my “adult stuff” aside and slow down my brain for a bit.

5. No screens in bed. The last rule I have set for myself is to not sit and stare at my phone [or any other device – though I don’t have any other devices] before I go to sleep at night. Screens have been proven to cause interrupted, restless sleep when used right before bed. Plus, it’s not a calming way to send myself off into sleep. I often read books on my phone, but for just before bed, I use a physical book. Or I just climb into bed and go to sleep, which is great because sometimes phones create this crazy time vortex where you lose three hours without even realizing it.

Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been personally working on in my own life as a mother – trying to do the best I can for my kids. It’s my job to protect them from things that will harm them, but it’s also my job to set the example.

Parenting is TOUGH! Am I right???

📱 📱 📱

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Trusting the Doctors

Lessons in Motherhood and Trusting the Doctors

As I’m writing this, my son is in surgery. It’s a common surgery for kids [tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy] but still requires a general anesthetic, an OR that I’m not allowed to enter, a two week recovery time, and a fair amount of fear.

I could go into all the reasons we decided to have this done – but the truth is, we are trusting our doctors. Theo was hospitalized twice before he turned one and has always struggled with breathing issues and chronic ear infections and mouth breathing. So there are reasons. But we didn’t have to have the surgery. We could have continued to treat his issues as we have been. We could have waited to see if he grows out of it. We could have told the doctors that we don’t think he should have this done because he’s so young and there are risks.

But I can’t pretend that I know more than the doctors who have recommended this procedure. And I know that they are recommending it because they are trying to do what is best for my son.

In the end, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about tonsils or adenoids. I take my kids to see a pediatrician I trust regularly because I am not knowledgeable enough about healthcare. I need a professional’s help.

Like the first time I took Theo for a routine well visit and told the doctor that he was fine. Two breathing treatments later we were headed for the ER where he was hospitalized for a week. Or the time I took him into the pediatrician because I was worried about his hearing and it turned out that he had a double ear infection that required two rounds of antibiotics.

I clearly need doctors for my kids.

In the western world today, it is common to question the doctor, to look for advice on the internet and from friends, and to think that we know better than the professionals. And while I think it is important to advocate for yourself and make the best choices you can for yourself and especially your kids [I gave birth to my babies at home, you may recall], there comes a time when you have to trust your doctors.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – even before this surgery came up – because I saw a rant on Instagram about doctors hiding lots of vital, black label information from patients. As if the entire medical world is out to get us. Trying to trick us into doing all these things [vaccinations, flu shots, epidurals, etc] that are really going to hurt us instead of help us.

I don’t believe that the medical world is out to get us and I think it’s a sad perspective to have of a profession that is trying to make [and keep] people healthy.

I, of course, realize that the issue is more complex than I’m making it out to be in this short post, but the main point is that we all need doctors eventually and all we can do is find the best doctors available and then trust them.

Theo is fine, by the way. And hopefully on his way to fewer encounters with doctors in the future.

🩺 🩺 🩺

Karis

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.

All-in-all, it was a great year.

This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.

This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.

New skill: learn Spanish

Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility

Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly

Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts

Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett

Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases

Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.

Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation

As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.

Happy New Year!

🥳 🥳 🥳

Karis