Simplifying Parenting [Part 7: Children’s Chores]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 7: Children’s Chores]

You probably already know this about me, but I’m one of those people who LOVES a list. I make lists for everything: shopping list, grocery list, meal plan list, to-do list, daily habit list, bucket list, household projects list, school assignment check list, daily/weekly/monthly cleaning list, family birthdays list, reading list…even writing this list of lists has proven quite enjoyable for me [don’t judge].

Well, here’s another list that is a life-saver for parents [or at least it is for me]: the children’s chore list.

FINALLY! The kids are old enough to help with some of the work around the house. Giving your kids chores empower them to take responsibility, makes them feel important…and they may be less likely to throw their clothes on the floor if they know they will have to pick them up. But most of all, you’ll get some much needed HELP!!

My kids don’t particularly love doing chores, but they do love the feeling of being an integral part of the family and contributing in a meaningful way [and the allowance is nice too].

How to get kids to do chores

In order to give our kids a little motivation and make chores more fun, we use a two reward system: 1) weekly allowance and 2) a chore chart.

The weekly allowance isn’t really a result of the chores. We give them their allowance whether they do their chores are not. But on the flip side, the chores are not optional either. Chores are how we all contribute to the family and home. [And goddam it, there is no reason why I should be the only one doing them around here!!! Can I get an Amen?!]

As for the chore chart, this is a trick that I myself know and love [but I also read about in Atomic Habits by James Clear]. Checking something off a list is REWARDING. It feels SO GOOD! This is ultimately why I am so obsessed with lists—it provides visible proof that I’m making progress.

So, I printed these adorable chore charts [thanks to Mique at 30days] for my kids and laminated them and hung them on the fridge so the kids can check off their chores each day.

You can download the printable for yourself from 30days here.

How old do kids have to be to start chores?

I don’t know if there is some child psychologist answer to this question, but I can tell you that my 2-[almost-3]-year-old can set the dinner table with napkins, silverware, and put everyone’s water bottles at their seat [in fact, she demands to do this chore and has literally stolen the job from her older sister].

So, I guess I’d say 2-years-old is a good time to start, though kids know how to pick up toys and put things away even younger than that.

There are plenty of lists out there on the interwebs that can provide age-appropriate chores. Just try some out and if needed, adjust the list! [That’s why I had these laminated, ya’ll]

If you want some ideas, here are my kids’ chore charts:

Evangeline, almost 8-years-old
Theo, 6-years-old
Jojo, 4-years-old

Important rules regarding lists

Lists must be flexible. I think this may be a contributing factor to why lists stress some people out and some other people totally hate them. Lists do not have to be written in stone. While this is true of all lists, it’s especially true for lists for your kids [even unspoken lists like the list of careers you want your kid to choose from]. Things will happen, days will get away from us, we’ll decide to walk to the ice cream shop instead of doing any chores, there will be melt-downs, freak-outs, and some days it won’t get done.

That’s no big deal. Kids are learning about responsibility. They can’t be expected to perform like an adult [even adults don’t perform perfectly…and yes I’m looking at everyone who has ever called into work “sick” because they just didn’t feel like working, myself included].

Lists need regular review and revision. In order to make sure that the chore lists are working for everyone, we review them in our weekly family meeting and make adjustments. [I’ll share more about our family meetings another time, but this is definitely something you should start, if you’re not doing it already.]

We make adjustments to the lists nearly every week [again, that’s why it’s laminated and written in wet-erase marker]. Sometimes we change chores just for some variety. And as the kids get older, we increase the difficulty of the chores.

Look, I’m no perfect parent. I’m not even a model parent. I wouldn’t even say I’m a great parent. But I am trying to be a good parent. I’m also trying to survive being a parent. So in these posts, I’m just sharing ideas that work for me and my family. I am certainly no expert.

Give them a try if you want, or share your own ideas.

👩‍👧‍👦👨‍👧‍👧

Karis

Zero Waste: Deodorant

Zero Waste: Deodorant

If you search online for zero waste deodorants, you’ll find PLENTY of options. But it’s a total crap shoot – a bit like finding the perfect menstrual cup [which I’ll discuss some other time]. No matter how many reviews you read, the only good way to know what works for you is to try some out.

So, when I began my initial search for a less wasteful deodorizer [over two years ago now], I just went with a brand that I trusted: Lush Cosmetics. Since then, I’ve tried four additional deodorants and [go figure] my favorite is the first one I picked two years ago.

Lemme tell you about it…

Lush Cosmetics Deodorant Bars

I LOVE Lush Cosmetics and have been using their bar shampoos and conditioners as well as the occasional body bar, scrubby, bath bomb and some of the other amazing zero waste products. Lush has brick-and-mortar stores, one of which was at the mall where Brett worked for a few years. This was particularly convenient because we didn’t have to have products shipped and Brett could wander into the shop and pick out new and exciting products [hence, the many bath bombs I’ve enjoyed]. Lush products are vegan, cruelty free and all natural. In addition, Lush is a also a very ethical brand, truly walking the talk.

So, it was just natural that I would try out their zero waste deodorants. In April of 2020, I purchased two of their bar deodorants: T’eo and Aromaco. I started using the T’eo bar first.

And I LOVED it.

Also, it lasted me all the way to July of 2021. In that time, I moved away from my beloved store and bought a second T’eo bar when we were visiting Nashville last summer. I’m still using the second bar.

Here is what it looks like now…

This bar smells FANTASTIC. It’s made of compressed powder which I gently rub on to apply, and has waxy base to hold it together. I do not recommend applying immediately after shaving, however, because OUCH!

It’s just a bar, with no container at all. Since I bought this in the shop, all I have to store it in is the brown bag I was given at checkout, which has worked fine for the past year [but is definitely falling apart at this point, as you can see in the photo above].

In the end, I tried the other bar but it was very hard to apply and did not smell as good, so I didn’t use it.

But, over the years, I have tried some other options…

Homemade Deodorant Spread

Another blogger had shared a recipe for homemade deodorant, which I decided to try. The recipe called for coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda and essential oils.

While I loved the idea of a homemade deodorant that I could keep in a mason jar, I didn’t love the smell or the cold [this recipe recommended storing it in the fridge] and I didn’t feel that it was actually doing any deodorizing.

Hammond Herbs Pit Stop Deodorant Tube

Recently, I decided to try the natural deodorant called Pit Stop, which I ordered from another of my favorite zero waste shops: Well Earth Goods. [This is the same online zero waste store where I purchase my dish soap block, dish brushes, toothpaste tablets and laundry detergent strips which I’ve posted about previously here].

This deodorant comes in a recyclable/compostable cardboard container. You push up from the bottom and spread on your underarms. It smells and spreads better than the Aromaco bar from Lush. The tea tree and lavender is strong, though, so you have to like the scent. I like it, but it smells very “clean” and not particularly feminine or masculine [or whatever those stereotypical scents are], like Brett and I could share it. [Ok, that’s just disgusting. We don’t share deodorant, I promise.]

Pit Stop is made in America, uses natural ingredients and, overall, I like it just fine.

But T’eo by Lush is still my fave.

Ethique Deodorant Tube

Another brand that I use for shampoo and conditioner bars is Ethique, so I decided to try their deodorant tube.

This deodorant smells AMAZING [very floral] and is applied just like the Pit Stop deodorant. Also, this tube is bigger than Pit Stop. Ethique is very convenient because they distribute through Amazon [as well as their own online store]. This cardboard tube is also recyclable/compostable, but now that I’ve tried it, I really want to try their deodorant bar, which is more like the Lush Aromaco bar.

However, I won’t be needing more deodorant for…at least another year or two.

And, even when the time does come for more deodorant…I’m still going to order the T’eo bar from Lush.

🤷‍♀️

What can I say? It’s my favorite!

If you try one of these or have other zero waste deodorant recommendations, let me know in the comments!

🙋‍♀️🙋🙋‍♂️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 6: Storing Childhood Mementos]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 6: Storing Childhood Mementos]

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

Before:

After:

WAAAAAY Better right?

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

😁

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the craft closet…

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

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

The Three Round Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📝

Karis

Zero Waste: Laundry Detergent Sheets

Zero Waste: Laundry Detergent Sheets

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

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

Introducing: the laundry detergent sheet!

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my two cents.

🤷‍♀️

Anyway, back to the detergent sheets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

🧺 🧺 🧺

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

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

Sneaky Sugars

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

Sure enough – sugar is the second ingredient.

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

🤷‍♀️

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

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

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

Sugar in Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

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

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

Before 20 minutes
After 20 minutes.

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

My kids love to get it on the kneading.

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

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

Before the rise
After rise

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

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

🍞 🍞 🍞

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 5: Kids Clothing]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 5: Kids Clothing]

When it comes to my own wardrobe, I’m a minimalist, fitting all of my clothing into three small drawers that fit into my closet [plus some hanging clothes that I rarely wear but keep for “just in case purposes” such as a black dress for funerals]. A few years back when I went through all of my clothes and purged everything I didn’t need or love, I found the whole process to be immensely gratifying. And, I’m pleased to report, that simplifying my kids’ clothes has every bit as satisfying.

Principle #1: Only clothes that are needed.

How do you know how much clothes your child will need? First determine how often you do laundry. I dedicate one day per week to laundry. Which means my kids need seven days worth of clothes [and maybe a few extras for accidents or emergencies]. Since a lot of our clothes are hand-me-downs, we do end up with extras of some things, but I make it a point to avoid getting extra clothes we don’t need.

For example, when I switched my son’s wardrobe over to warmer clothes, I found he needed more long-sleeved shirts and a few more pairs of pants for the winter. Brett found someone selling a used set of clothes — seven pairs of pants, two t-shirts, one sweat pant outfit — all for $15. But we didn’t need most of it, so we paid $8 for two pairs of pants and the sweat pant set. I found three long-sleeved shirts at a resale shop, and that was all that he needed. Theo is now all set for the winter.

Theo’s clothes [both summer and winter] all fit in two drawers in the dresser that he shares with Jojo.

Principle #2: Only clothes that are used…for the most part.

This is so important to me since I have learned about the clothing industry and how it continues to wreak havoc on our planet and hurt economies and take advantage of workers around the world. So, as a principle, we always get our clothes used, unless of course there are certain items that we can’t find used. Underwear is one of those things, so I buy my underwear from Boody and I get my kids underwear from Pact — both ethical, sustainable brands that I love to support.

I mean, really, it is criminal that kids clothing gets worn for a season and then tossed. We need to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible since each item of clothing represents costly natural resources and a lot of labor. I wouldn’t even care if used clothes cost more, but, of course, buying used is cheaper which makes it a win-win. And we find really nice stuff used!

Evangeline’s drawer of adorable hand-me-down and used clothes for winter.

We like to use Facebook marketplace [Brett handles that since I am not on Fb] or OfferUp or nearby consignment shops and even resale stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army to find used clothing. In our small town we have a resale shop where I have found new tennis shoes for Theo, an Express undershirt for Brett, and jeans for Evangeline. [I also found a beautiful North Face sweater that I really wanted, but didn’t need, so I passed on it. Hopefully someone who needs it finds that treasure.]

Principle #3: Only clothes to play in.

Two of my daughters are wearing dresses [with shorts for modesty purposes] as they dig for fossils in the dinosaur museum.

It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine how parents like to dress up their children. All of their life experiences until the first grade revolve around play, so they should be dressed for play. It makes absolutely no sense to me to put a little kid into dressy clothing and then try to keep that child from playing in it or getting it dirty. Let the kids be kids for goodness sake! Even at church, Christmas dinner, and weddings, kids should be dressed in play clothes.

The other problem with dressing up kids is that it requires you to keep an entirely separate set of clothes. Your kid will need a full wardrobe of play clothes and a full set of dress clothes. Why on earth?

We just keep one type of clothing for the kids: play clothing. They can wear it on vacation, on a hike, to church, to school and to play in the backyard. My daughters each have some dresses that they love and these are not special occasion dresses. Their dresses get as much use as the rest of their clothes. Which is fine. They like to wear frilly pretty clothes, and I expect these items to get throughly played in, dirty, messy, and worn out.

Principle #4: Only clothes they love.

In this Easter picture, my middle daughter is wearing her pajamas. Still cute!

I let my kids dress themselves. I have since each of them were three and old enough to open a drawer and pull out an outfit for the day. This relieves me of the stress of fighting with my kids about what to wear and allows them to choose clothes that they love and that express their unique personalities.

It seems to me that, as parents, we want our kids to look like mini fashion models because it improves our own image. I don’t think the kids care – nor should they! So what if they want to wear plaid with polka-dots? Who really cares?

I definitely don’t want to send the message to my kids that what they wear matters, that they need to dress a certain way to “fit in” or be accepted, that love is based on how someone looks. These messages are everywhere in our society, but I don’t want them in my home. I also don’t want to teach my kids to conform to fashion trends. Instead, I’d rather teach them to wear what is practical, comfortable and something they love – something that shows the world a piece of themselves rather than just a reflection of everyone else.

I’m having a hard time finding pictures of my kids in unusual outfits – they usually dress so cute! No one would guess they always choose their own clothes.

Over the years, with absolutely no help from me, my oldest daughter [now 7] has figured out her own way of dressing that is unique and absolutely adorable. I wouldn’t change anything about her style.

[I once wrote an essay for Parents Magazine about this very topic, which they published in 2018. You can read it here.]

Don’t be afraid to pare down the kids’ clothing! It feels GREAT!

👚 👖 👕

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Homemade Croutons

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Homemade Croutons

Every week I bake a lot of bread, which means that we inevitably have some dried out, day-old bits. I do my best to bake only what we need and eat everything I bake; however, life happens. BUT it doesn’t have to be wasted.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there is no shortage of great options for using up day-old bread, but in my house, croutons are the favorite because they are so quick and easy to make and my children LOVE them.

Before I tell you how I make the croutons, here are some other ways I use up old bread:

We’ve done all of these things at one time or another, but croutons are my favorite because they can be made in just a few minutes and thrown on soup or salad [my two favorite food groups].

I actually learned how to make croutons from my brief stint as a bakery associate at Panera bread about thirteen years ago. Did you know they make their croutons in store? [At least they used to.] And Panera has the BEST croutons.

Croutons can be made on the stove top or in the oven. [The Panera method is in the oven.]

Stove top croutons

Cubed two-day-old sourdough bread

To make croutons on the stove top, just heat up some oil in a skillet, cube and season your bread, then add to the skillet and toss occasionally until brown and crispy on the outside.

You have to watch them so they don’t burn, but it only takes a few minutes – maybe 3-5.

I season them with literally whatever I have on hand. Usually some version of garlic salt and then a green herb like oregano or thyme, but I’ve been known to get funky and throw smoked paprika on them [I put that sh*t on everything]. Just plain ol’ salt and pepper works great too.

Oven baked croutons

Cubed day-old whole wheat bread ready to go in the oven [and you can spy my homemade veggie soup simmering too]

The process is very similar with baked croutons. Cube the bread and toss with seasonings and olive oil, then spread on a baking try and bake at 350° for roughly 7-10 minutes. I usually toss them once to get them crispy all over.

No matter how you make them, they are delicious!

Perfect for fall soup season! Add croutons to the list of things you’ll never need to buy again.

😋

Karis

Happy Fall Ya’ll! [and here’s a fall dish you have to try!]

Happy Fall Ya’ll! [and here’s a fall dish you have to try!]

Happy First Day of Fall! 🍂

I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!

Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts

[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]

I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.

It also couldn’t be easier.

Peel and chop some butternut squash.

Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]

De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.

Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.

Then serve.

We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]

Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.

For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.

Ahh…now it feels like fall.

🍂 🍂 🍂

Karis

Simple Living Goals for July

Simple Living Goals for July

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

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

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

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

Play Outside

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

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

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

Get Active

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

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

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

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

Be Creative

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

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

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

Grow Our Own Food

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

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

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

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

☀️ ☀️ ☀️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 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