Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 I like to celebrate Juneteenth as America’s true Freedom Day, but we are grateful for our country and the privilege of living here. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday.
But anyway, on to my simple living goals for July…
It’s been a long time since I’ve made simple living goals for the family, but since this is our last full month of summer break and the kids will be going to school before long, I am setting daily goals to make sure we make the most of what’s left of our summer.
Every day, we are going to try to spend time doing the following things:
My kids and I love being outside. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we still try to make it work. Yesterday, it stormed all day, but we still managed to get outside for a bike ride/run when the storm passed at 7pm.
The goal for July is to spend some time outside [preferably in the sunshine] every day to boost our vitamin D intake and our moods.
Most days, we take our dogs for a walk – which is no easy feat for me since I have to push a double stroller with my two youngest kids and hold a leash in each hand. My older two kids bike. We also like to go on family bike rides – to the library, the park, grandma’s house, or just around town – and I pull my youngest two kids in our bike trailer.
We can [and usually do] combine being active with being outdoors, but when necessary, we like to exercise inside by doing kids yoga or family fun workouts.
We are usually pretty active, but this month I am prioritizing active family time together every day.
I’m grateful that my kids love arts and crafts. They especially love creating with clay and paint – two mediums that get pretty messy so I usually try to avoid getting them out. But not this month! We’re going for it!
My goal is to engage in a creative activity every day, whether it’s just coloring pictures, acting out stories, making clay pottery, or even baking something new in the kitchen.
Grow Our Own Food
My favorite part of summer is getting fresh veggies from the garden! The garden that we started at our new home is doing great. We have already started bringing in zucchini and summer squash, the tomatoes are almost ripe, the peppers look beautiful, the cucumbers are growing like weeds and the sugar snap peas are so delicious we don’t even bother bringing them in – we just eat them straight off the plant.
My kids love this exciting [and delicious] summer tradition as well. We are looking forward to picking [and finding new ways to eat] our favorite veggies from our backyard each day.
What are your goals for the rest of summer? I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!
In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.
So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.
Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.
“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“
This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.
Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.
This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.
The “In and Out” Rule
Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.
If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.
Let the Kids Take Charge
I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.
Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.
It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.
The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.
Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.
However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.
So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.
BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.
I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.
A note about sustainable toys…
I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.
As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.
Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.
Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!
As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!
Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.
Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.
But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.
I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]
So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.
[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]
Here’s the result:
June 4: Coffee Cake
First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.
Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.
June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash
I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].
Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍
June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast
This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.
Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.
Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!
June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.
Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.
I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!
June 7: Nora’s Birthday
This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.
But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.
June 8: Tofu Rancheros
This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.
June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].
I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]
June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse
Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.
[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]
This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.
My kids love this stuff, and I do too.
Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!
June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta
Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.
Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!
Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.
Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!
June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu
This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]
Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.
As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.
Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.
Last year, I read SimplicityParenting 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
Freedom to Create
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.
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.
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.”
Originally, I planned to write about my experience with cloth diapers as a part of my “Simplifying Parenting” series; however, I realized that cloth diapers are not exactly simple. That’s not to say you shouldn’t choose them. Even after seven years of using cloth diapers non-stop for my four kids, I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are zero waste, wallet friendly, helpful for potty-training, more efficient, gentler on baby’s bum, and absolutely adorable.
But I’m definitely no expert, as you will see. I’m just a mom who wanted to save [at the outset] thousands of dollars and [by the end] the planet – one reusable diaper at a time. So rather than try to give you all the answers, explain the cloth diaper lingo, discuss the laundering process in detail, give my opinions on the preferred inserts, diaper rash cream, and cover brands – I’m just going to tell you my story: how I came to cloth diapers, how I made it work for my family, and what I learned along the way.
But first, let’s get the biggest obstacle out of the way.
First, the truth about parenting and poop
I know a lot of people who considered using cloth diapers but, in the end, decided against it because “it’s gross.” So, I just want to say this now: If you think that disposable diapers will save you from having to deal with poop, I have some bad news. Parenting involves poop. And lots of it. For at least five years of your kid’s life, you’ll be dealing with poop. From the day you bring a baby home, you will be tracking poop, examining the color of poop, maybe even weighing poop. As the baby gets older, you’ll be cleaning poop out of car seats, high chairs, strollers, cribs, and – yes – even off of your hands and clothes. Your baby will have explosive poops that shoot up their backs or down their legs and get everywhere. Then when your baby starts eating real food, you’ll have to wipe poopy butts daily until potty training – and these poops smell awful. Like, so awful you can’t believe your sweet angel produced them. And even if you potty train early like I did [all my kids potty trained at or before 2-years-old], you’ll still have to wipe butts until your kid is old enough to wipe it himself. And there will be accidents. There will be poop in underwear, in beds, and in car seats that has to be cleaned.
Fun fact:I never once had a blowout in a cloth diaper – but the moment I put a disposable diaper on one of my kids, shit would shoot up their back.Cloth diapers = fewer blowouts.
Of course, if you’re a working parent, you may encounter less poop, but there will still be a lot of poop. So, just brace yourself.
If all this talk of poop is making you reconsider having kids, then good. Because there are worse things than poop – like vomit. Last month, my daughter threw up three times on the drive home from vacation. THREE TIMES.
Give me a poopy diaper over vomit any day.
Ok, so now that we’re all on the same page about poop, let’s move on to a few other obstacles…
Other obstacles to cloth diapers
Big expense at the outset. I spent about $250 initially for my cloth diapers, which is less than what most sources told me I would have to spend, but even that was more than necessary. If you don’t have funds available to buy everything you need, just buy what you can and add as you are able.
Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.
No way to wash them. I have read that some laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers, which is why people without washing machines often choose not to cloth diaper. Of course, it’s hardly fair that those who would benefit most from the cost savings of cloth diapers are limited in this way. As the world continues to encourage more sustainable living, we will need to pressure businesses to make a way for these services. However, there are laundering services for diapers. This depends on where you live, but it is worth looking into for anyone who can’t [or doesn’t want to] wash the diapers themselves.
Childcare won’t use them. This is becoming less and less of a problem as cloth diapers become more common, but the only way things change is by encouraging them to change. If your childcare facility is refusing to use cloth diapers, it’s probably because no one has tried to change this policy. In the end, if a childcare facility won’t support your choice of diaper, you should find a childcare option that does. No reason to pay soaring childcare prices and for thousands of disposable diapers. You could also consider diapering in cloth when you are with your child and using disposable for childcare [and other unwilling sitters/situations].
Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.
Now, let’s talk about why to choose cloth diapers…besides that they are so cute.
Why Cloth Diapers [and why your motivation matters]
Cloth diapers are popular because they save money. Lots of money. For example, I have spent no more than $350 [not including the laundry detergent and diaper creams] on my cloth diapers [inserts and covers] and diapering supplies [like diaper sprayer, diaper pail, diaper pail liners and wet bags] to diapers all four of my babies. So, if the average family spends $587 per year per child on diapers [totaling $4,696 for four kids potty-trained at 2-years-old], I saved $4,346 by using cloth diapers.
BUT, I did occasionally buy disposable diapers for certain occasions [which I’ll explain later]. Still, my savings is definitely in the thousands. And looking back on it, it has not been a huge inconvenience – even when I was working up to 32 hours a week.
I have loved using cloth diapers – but not because of the money.
When my second born was one year old, and I was pregnant with my third, I began to take the environmental crisis seriously for the first time in my life. That’s when I really fell in love with cloth diapers.
I’ve known many people to chose cloth diapers because of the money, only to quit later when the going gets rough [and it does get rough at times]. Because, in the end, most people with the means won’t find the savings a strong enough motivation.
However, when my motivation revolves around the “greater good” of lower waste and protecting the planet then it’s much more likely that I will make it work – and not even complain about it.
So what I’m saying, basically, is that why you chose to use cloth diapers is really important for your success. And at the very least, think about the big picture benefits before throwing in the towel.
My Cloth Diapering Experience
So, this is basically how I did it…
Things I bought:
Cloth diapers – I bought them on Amazon in sets with covers and inserts and a variety of brands
Diaper pail – I just bought a basic tall trash can with a lid
Reusable diaper pail liners – I bought two reusable liners from Amazon, which I still use after 7 years [though the elastic is entire shot on both of them at this point]
Wet bags – These are basically waterproof bags to carry dirty diapers in when out and about – I bought three, but two would have been enough
Reusable wipes – If I had been smarter, I would have just cut up some old cotton t-shirts for this job, but I wasn’t thinking that way back then.
Natural diaper rash cream – two brands that I used for my kids: Earth Mama [previously called Earth Mama Angel Baby] and Grandma El’s.
Diaper sprayer – I read somewhere that I wouldn’t need a sprayer because healthy poop is solid and falls out of the diaper. Folks, let me tell you, that is a total lie. Hard poop is not healthy poop. You will definitelywant a diaper sprayer.
The only thing on this list I had to rebuy was the diaper rash cream. Everything else, I’m still using for my last baby [who is already potty training – yay!].
– My babies were 100% breastfed, so all diapers just went straight into the bin and then it was washed [liner and all] every three or four days.
– After six months, poopy diapers had to be sprayed before going in the bin [don’t procrastinate about this task – trust me], but frequency of changes went down so I could wash every five or six days.
– When going out, I brought a change of diaper, a wet bag, and a few cloth wipes.
– I use inserts, but I never actually put them into the pocket of the cover. I just lay one [for infants] or two [for older kids] inserts on top of the cover and wrap up the baby’s bum.
– On long trips [such as week-long vacations], we would buy disposable diapers because of the convenience while traveling. Also, when visiting certain family members who were less than enthusiastic about cloth diapers we would switch to disposable for the trip.
– On a few occasions we switched to reusable diapers for a rash that needed some more powerful diaper cream while I sorted out the wash issue that was causing the rash.
Ok, this is by far the hardest part of cloth diapering and the biggest reason people give up. There is so much [often contradictory] information out there about how to wash cloth diapers. And, in the course of seven years, I’ve done it many different ways.
My advice: keep it simple.
First of all, detergent. I originally bought a special detergent for diapers until I read [and can confirm] that a special detergent is unnecessary. Now I just use the regular family detergent [always free of perfumes and dyes] with no problems.
My wash routine is simple. I do a preliminary wash with little [or no] detergent and cold water, then a heavy duty wash with hot water and a little extra detergent. That’s it.
Note, though, that your washing machine and the hardness of your water make a difference. At my last house, which was on a well with very hard water [and an all-house water softener], I had to add a water softener into the washer with my detergent in order to get the diapers clean. How did I figure that out? With lots and lots of trial and error and reading a gazillion articles online. But if the diapers aren’t washed properly, they will cause diaper rashes. If they don’t smell clean, they aren’t clean and you need to re-examine your wash routine.
In seven years, I only stripped my diapers once [because of the aforementioned hard water incident] and bleached them once [basically because I thought they needed it].
My other piece of advice: Don’t give up.
Hang to dry whenever possible. I always always hang dry my covers to preserve the elastic. I usually dry my inserts in the dryer, but that is only because I have always lived in a wooded environment where hanging outside means lots of bugs and bird poop [kind of defeating the purpose].
I have hung my diapers to dry in many places around my house: the basement bar [my partner loved that], the heating vent on the ceiling of the laundry room, and nowadays, the dining room chairs…
I hang them up before going to bed and they are dry in the morning.
The wash and dry cycles for cloth diapers really aren’t anything to be intimidated by. When it comes to cloth diapers, you’ll want to remember the old saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You may want to hang that up in the laundry room somewhere as a reminder.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was SO overwhelmed – by everything, but especially about cloth diapers. What kind do I buy? What is a good price? New or used? What brand? How do I use them? How do I wash them? Etc. There is so much information out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
So, let me just say this: cloth diapering is a “learn-as-you-go” sort of endeavor. Everyone has a different experience, prefers different brands, washes in different ways. That’s ok! Don’t sweat it. Take the plunge. Course correct as needed. And that’s it!
Oh, and always remember that the whole point of cloth diapers is to cover your baby’s bum and catch all the excrement so that it doesn’t get everywhere and make a huge mess. So you could wrap your baby’s butt in a towel, or a t-shirt, or a bandana, or anything that gets the job done. So don’t overthink things.
I’ve had really great experiences with cloth diapers, and I hope that every parent who chooses this route does too. So, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message. I’d love to empower more people to choose this zero waste option for their kids.
This year marks the first birthday that I celebrated as a vegan. After 33 years of enjoying butter cream, milk chocolate, and ice cream on my birthday, this year looked different – but, truthfully, only a little.
From all appearances, the meal and dessert were stereotypical American birthday fare. But what you can’t see is the ingredient list, which contained no meat, dairy, or animal products. I wanted to indulge a little bit. [C’mon, it’s my birthday!] But I also didn’t want to overdo it, or compromise my standards for eating healthy, sustainable, and ethical foods. So we had burgers [vegan burgers, of course] and hot dogs for the kids [vegan hot dogs] with home baked buns and a side of salad and French fries.
My birthday dessert was still cake [vegan chocolate chip banana cake] with frosting [vegan cream cheese frosting], which I baked myself because really who would want to bake a birthday cake for me knowing all of my complicated ingredients requirements like organic, fair trade, ethical and sustainable, not to mention vegan [which in itself would be enough to scare away the average person]? Anyway, I love baking, so I wanted to make my own. And this was the first vegan cake I’ve ever made.
I thought it was really yummy.
Zero Waste Gifts
Now that I have been [nearly] zero waste for several years, everyone knows to give me sustainable gifts, which is awesome.
This year, my partner gave me a safety razor which I have been wanting for so long, but was waiting until we used up our stash of disposable razors [don’t even ask why I have such a large stash of disposable razors…]. Now I can donate the rest of my plastic razors to our local compassion center in town and switch over to a more sustainable razor. Even my children and in-laws gave me thoughtful, meaningful, and sustainable gifts like bar shampoo, crochet hooks and yarn to make my own washcloth, a reclaimed puzzle, and wireless earbuds.
My sweet Auntie sent me these beautiful flowers.
And probably my favorite gift this year was from my six-year-old daughter, Evangeline, who asked me to teach her to braid so she could make me this very special bracelet which I love so so much.
And my last bit of personal news: for the first time in exactly one year, two weeks, and four days, I was able to put my hair in a ponytail!
Anyway, today is also the 3rd birthday of this blog! 🥳 It’s been a great adventure so far, and I’m grateful to all of you for joining me!!
Ah, the blessing and curse of the baby shower, which would be a fun party, reminiscent of a wedding shower, if it weren’t for the fact that you can’t drink and your feet are swollen and you don’t get any sexy lingerie. [Also, it is not fun pretending to be excited about baby bibs and bottle scrubbers – especially when you haven’t had a good night sleep in three months…and you can’t have a drink.]
Well, I guess if you are the father you get to enjoy it. [Men don’t know how good they have it.]
Worst part of all, the gifts sit in an empty bedroom until after the delivery and most don’t even get used for the first month – at which point it is too late to realize that you don’t actually need three different types of pacifiers [“ya know, just in case”], five hundred adorable outfits [that are so impractical your baby will never wear them], or a mechanical baby swing that promises to rock your baby into sound slumber [it’s lying to you].
Ok, ok. I’m mostly kidding. I had four babies and three baby showers [which is more than most people get] and I am incredibly grateful for each of them. I remember really enjoying myself during all three – yes, even without the booze.
Still, I ended up with shit load of stuff I didn’t need. Of course, I wouldn’t fully realize that until my fourth baby. Also, at the time of my baby showers, I wasn’t a minimalist. I was a maximalist. So maximize I did. I was an expert maximizer. I waltzed through three different baby stores with that handy little scanner and put everything that I might even possibly need or want on my registry – plus anything that looked cute, interesting or convenient. And being the privileged person that I am, I got the majority of it at my baby showers.
Unfortunately, looking back, it was all very wasteful. Many things I never used. A lot of it was just extra stuff that cluttered our house and the baby room for years. A big portion of it was stuff that I wanted so I could appear like all the other moms – cute diaper bag, fancy baby wrap, adorable decor for baby nursery, matching lined baskets to hold diapers, the all-important “stroller hook” to hang my many shopping bags on my many shopping trips with the baby, that I guess I thought I would be taking.
I realize now that a lot of what I wanted “for the baby” was really just a disguise for what I wanted to make myself look like the perfect parent OR to make my job as easy as possible.
But I’ll tell you this secret right now: there isn’t a single product that you can buy in a store that will make parenting easy. It just ain’t going to happen. And, quite frankly, no parent is perfect, no matter how good they appear. So feel free to acquire only the baby items that will serve you.
The Minimalist Baby Registry
The registry is a great idea that helps people know what to buy the new mom; the trouble is that the new mom has no idea what she needs. And, if you walk through one of those baby stores, it’s whole purpose is to make you believe that you need EVERYTHING.
Well, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need everything. Not even close. In fact, you need very little.
As a minimalist and low waste momma, I recommend sticking with the basics and necessities and adding additional things as you find you need them. Because, honestly, you will discover that you don’t need most things.
A baby’s early life involves only four things: eating, clothing, diapering and sleeping. So, at the very least, you’ll need:
• A set of boobs [and a whole lot of patience] and definitely a burp cloth or two [or twenty].
• Onesies and maybe a few other staple clothing pieces. Think baby capsule wardrobe – and think comfortable. Don’t get more than need. Two outfits per day between washes is plenty. I do laundry once a week, so I would only need 14 comfy onesies and maybe a sweater and a few warm leggings for cold weather. Baby clothing [and children’s clothing in general] is so wasteful. In the first year, babies will grow out of clothes every few months [excluding maybe some rare cases], so don’t stock up on it! Also, buy it used! If a baby has previously worn clothes, it was probably only a handful of times because everyone always overbuys baby clothes. Look, I know it’s so frickin cute, but don’t get caught in this expensive and wasteful trap.
• Diapers [cloth or disposable are the current choices and I’ll talk about these options at length in my next post, but for now, if you can, go cloth], and wipes [preferably reusable]. Unnecessary items in this category include: changing table, changing pad, changing pad covers, wipe warmer, wipe holder, baby powder, diaper bag. I’m not saying these things aren’t useful, they just aren’t necessary. You can change a baby literally anywhere [trust me, I’ve done it] and you can carry diapers and wipes in any bag.
• A safe sleep setup of your choosing. This will look different for everyone. Some will go the traditional crib, crib mattress, crib sheet route. Others, maybe a pack-n-play. Maybe others will do the bedside crib or a bassinet. Still others will co-sleep [safely]. Choose what works best for you.
• Another items you’ll most likely need are: car seat, stroller and thermometer [preferably the forehead scan variety].
Beyond those necessities, here are some things that I used often and that were helpful for me, but again, not necessary:
• Noise machine [still use it for all four kids]
• Nose Frida [still use it when one of the kids gets sick]
• Baby Nail clippers [still use them on all my kids]
Of course, there are lots of optional extras. If you are going to be a baby-wearing momma, then you’ll want a wrap [probably the mobi wrap]. If you are going to a running momma, you’ll want a jogging stroller. If you are going to be a working momma, you’ll want a breast pump [and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can get one free through your health insurance] and bottles. If you’re going to be a rock-the-baby-to-sleep-and-sneak-out-of-the-room momma, you’re going to want a super comfy and super quiet rocking chair. It’s all about finding what works for you. No one else can tell you what you’ll need.
Basically what I’m saying is make an intentional registry.
An Intentional Registry
There is so much extra stuff that you don’t need. You don’t need a bumbo or a bouncer. You don’t need a play mat or Sofie the Giraffe. You don’t need teething toys. You don’t need pacifier clips. Does that mean you shouldn’t get these things? No. It just means you shouldn’t get them just because everyone else does. There are plenty of simple, practical alternatives to these products that don’t involve going to Buy Buy Baby [I mean, seriously…listen to the name of that store!].
I beg of you, don’t make the same mistakes I did and just scan everything just because…because other parents use it, because you mother says it’s an “absolute lifesaver,” because your best friend recommends it, because of clever marketing, because it’s cute, because it’s there…
Simplifying parenting is about intentional parenting and that begins with what we bring into our home. So, don’t get caught up in all the gadgets and gizmos that the world says are “must haves.” Instead, judge for yourself what would serve you best. What kind of mother do you want to be. What products will get used and what are just for show.
In the end, you need a lot less than you think to take care of a baby: lots of cuddling, lots of patience, lots of time, lots of caffeine, and of course lots of love.
I just got back from a relaxing [and also safe and socially distanced] vacation with my family at the beach.
Before our trip, Brett and I got our Covid vaccines [on the day they became available for our age group].
But now we’re back home and it’s back to the reality of homeschooling [only a few weeks left!] and being at home with my four kiddos.
For that reason, I’m going to be writing a few posts about simple-living, low-wasting and minimalist parenting. This is an area that is extremely underrepresented in the zero waste and minimalist communities, probably because having children complicates both of these goals tremendously – but that doesn’t mean we throw the whole thing out.
I became a [nearly] zero-wasting minimalist after I already had three children, but I noticed immediately that the people at the forefront of these movements didn’t have children. [I’ve never seen a mother who is able to fit a years worth of trash into a jar.]
When it comes to kids, the aim should be simple and intentional living and – as is true in all areas of life – that goal will in turn reduce waste and clutter and excess. It will also give kids a childhood full of curiosity, discovery, imagination, creativity, and exploration. As a parent, it’s my job to protect my kids from all the “extras” that threaten to monopolize their attention, rather than the common view of parenthood which says we need to constantly provide toys, gadgets, activities and structured time for our children.
But, anyway, I’ll get to that later on. Right now, I want to start at the very beginning.
“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
If there is one thing I wish I could tell every woman, it’s this: You don’t have to fear childbirth.
From the time we were old enough to absorb society’s subliminal messaging, we’ve been condition to believe that childbirth is a) terrifying, b) excruciating, c) dangerous, and d) a process that we cannot handle without medical intervention.
None of this is true. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be, if women could regain faith in their own ability to give birth.
[And I’m not only talking to women here, because fathers need to be active participants in childbirth as well and can encourage and strengthen women’s belief in themselves, if only they would also believe that childbirth is natural and that women are capable. Childbirth is NOT something that women need to be saved from.]
Contrary to popular media portrayals, childbirth is like a marathon – really hard work [yes], very painful at times [for sure], but totally achievable with proper training, determination, and a belief in our body’s natural processes – not to mention a totally powerful and praiseworthy achievement that women should get the credit for – not a medical team.
And, let me tell you, the reward at the end is totally worth all of it.
Giving birth to my four babies were the most empowering moments of my life. [I’ve run two marathons, which are also empowering, but they don’t even come close to giving birth.] It breaks my heart that so many women view their birth experiences as scarring or traumatizing or, at the very least, experiences they would rather forget. [When I was pregnant many, MANY women shared their horror stories with me – which FYI, is not a nice thing to do to pregnant women.]
Listen, childbirth does NOT have to be a bad experience!
We need to simplify childbirth by getting back to the basics, by believing in ourselves and trusting our instincts, and by birthing our way.
In our society we discredit pretty much every aspect of womanhood, including a woman’s ability to know what is best for her and her baby at childbirth. The fact that we have handed over control of childbirth to men [who were initially the only doctors when birth moved from the home to the hospital] is just another consequence of our patriarchal society which tells us that men know best…even about a process which is uniquely woman’s. [Forgive my feminist soapbox here, but we really can’t talk about childbirth without talking about feminism.]
It’s time to take back control of childbirth.
I chose to give birth my way, but, I assure you, it was not easy. I had to fight [and fight really frickin hard] to be able to give birth in the way that I wanted, rather than in the way that is most convenient for the medical staff, hospital, and obstetrician. It took me an entire nine months of scouring the suburbs of Chicago during my first pregnancy to find a practice that would allow me to have an unhindered, natural birth in a hospital – and I had to travel an hour and pay out of pocket for it. And truthfully, I still had to advocate for myself pretty much the whole time. [“No, thank you. I won’t wear the frumpy hospital gown that someone might have died in yesterday.” Also, why the hell do they call it a gown??? More like a sheet with arm holes.]
So, my next three births were at home, where I could give birth in peace and quiet, surrounded only by loved ones whom I trust. It’s the only way to have a baby without the uncomfortable addition of strangers staring at your vagina, sterile beds with stirrups, fluorescent lights, beeping machines, and a long list of nonsensical rules about what I can’t eat, whether I can take pictures, and who can be present.
And because I chose home birth, I have a wealth of wonderful, positive memories about my birth experiences. And what is more, I also have a sense of my own ability to do hard things – even things that the rest of society tells me is too hard for me to achieve.
Imagine what the women of the world could accomplish if we all had that sense of empowerment.
Books about Childbirth
During my pregnancies, I read countless books about birth as part of my preparation for labor. Ladies, childbirth is a HUGE deal that will forever alter our bodies, our social standing, our relationships, and our careers – so the least we can do is study up on it! That’s what I did, anyway. I wanted to know everything about it. I read everything I could get my hands on. I asked every woman I knew what her birth experiences were like. [And, Fellas, you don’t have to be a bystander. You can learn about childbirth and play an active role in the birth of your children.]
Through books, I learned so much and I gained the confidence I needed to do what was best for me and my babies. These books are my favorites:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I read this book during each of my pregnancies as a reminder that my body is capable of birthing my baby.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon: Before reading this book, I literally didn’t know a thing about the details of childbirth. This book taught me everything I needed to know and made me believe that I could have a natural birth.
Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan: This books is not as strange as it sounds and is the method of preparing and laboring that was most helpful to me.
Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel: This book was a lifesaver as I tried to find a compromise between natural birth and hospital birth.
Also, I highly recommend the documentary, The Business of Being Born, which is available on YouTube.
Even if you’re not wanting a natural birth, you deserve to see real birth, not the overly dramatized version that television offers. And you deserve to know what to expect [in a hospital or in a birth center or in your home] when the time comes.
One Last Thing…
I am NOT trying to say that everyone should have natural births [though statistically, fewer women would die if everyone gave birth naturally] or that all women should give birth at home [because home birth is not a safe or realistic option for all women] but what I am saying is that every woman should be free to choose where and how she gives birth to her babies. This should not be a decision that laws or doctors or insurance companies or family members or society chooses for a woman.
And, if you are a women, you should not let the fear of childbirth [which is inaccurately and unfairly portrayed in media and society] prevent you from approaching birth with confidence and power like the badass that you are. [Other than having a trained professional present in case of a complication] You need very little else to give birth to your baby.
Good luck! [But you don’t need it – you got this!]
A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.
I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]
[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]
My Rant about Breakfast Cereal
I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.
Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.
Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.
On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]
On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.
So, now, on to the recipe.
My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.
But here we go anyway….
This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].
3 or 4 ripe bananas
2/3 – 1 cup sugar
2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 3/4 cup of AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°
Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]
And that’s it!
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!
Yesterday, while on my daily jog, the Peloton trainer in my ear was talking about enjoying the flatlands.
“We judge so much of life by the highs and the lows,” she said. “But there is good in the flatlands too.”
In that moment, I realized I have been going through the flatlands in my own life, and instead of focusing on the good, I’ve been focusing on my own restlessness and boredom, which was making me unhappy.
Before we moved to a new town, I had a job that kept me busy, I had a social life that gave me things to look forward to, and I had a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
My life now can only be described as very boring. Without any friends here or a job to connect me to this town and with COVID making everything more complicated…I’ve been feeling pretty down.
But then Jess Sims [the peloton coach] comes to the rescue with words of wisdom. There is good in the flatlands, I just have to appreciate it.
So here’s some of the “good” I’ve been experiencing in this new phase of life.
One-on-one breakfast dates with my three oldest kids.
Plenty of time to spend outdoors.
Lots of quality family time thanks to Brett having three days off a week.
More time to bake and experiment in the kitchen.
Just looking through my photos and seeing how good I have it makes me feel really silly for ever complaining. I have so much to be thankful for and yet I sometimes am discontented anyway. I’m trying to work on appreciating these flatlands and remembering that I am among the most privileged people on this earth.