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

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

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.

[My co-workers threw me a surprise baby shower for my first baby and it was truly special. They gave me my glider, which I still have and now use to rock my fourth baby.]

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.

🤷‍♀️

[Theo’s “Have Truck Will Travel” Nursery Decor – cute, but ridiculously over the top for a child who only cares about sleeping and eating for the first year of life.]

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].

[If you give birth in a hospital a car seat is 100% required to bring your baby home. This is Brett and I at the hospital with our firstborn.]

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.

[I am a running momma. This is me after a run 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby. So a jogging stroller was on my list of “must haves” and to this day it is one of my most prized possessions.]

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.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Sending Love to Yemen

Sending Love to Yemen

Throughout modern history there have been moments when a country or region or people group have suffered tremendously – like after Hurricane Katrina or Haiti’s earthquake or the wildfires in Australia – and the entire world feels their pain and comes to their aid. This is the beauty of being human. It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, how different our lives or languages or religions may be. We feel for the other human beings who share this planet with us. We care enough to give without expecting anything in return.

Right now the people of Yemen – especially the children – are suffering greatly because of a “perfect storm” of catastrophes [including war, economic decline, and cholera] that has left 80% of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, Covid has both complicated matters for the country and limited the humanitarian aid available as every country in the world grapples with their own pandemic problems.

However, those of us who are able can still give to help the Yemenis. We can see their suffering and allow it to move us with compassion, to see past our own problems and to give whatever we are able.

I don’t typically do this on my blog, but this cause is so important, the need so urgent, that I feel compelled to ask my friends, family, connections, acquaintances, and even complete strangers to think of Yemen.

I have set up a fundraising page through the organization, Save the Children, which Brett and I already support monthly and have full confidence in. I hope you will consider giving to this or any other organization that is helping to provide food and healthcare and resources to Yemen. Any amount will help.

My Fundraiser for Yemen

At any given time, there are plenty of needs in our world, and it is our privilege and moral obligation to ease suffering and save lives, no matter how far removed. As I like to say, the truest measure of financial success is not how much we are able to buy for ourselves, but how much we are able to give to others.

When I realized how truly privileged I am – even in middle class America, even living on one income, even with four children – I decided to give more. And the more I have away, the easier it was to give. This, in essence, is the road that lead me to minimalism, which led me to zero waste, which led me to intentional living – the intention being to enjoy a simple life free from the trappings of money and possessions so that I can freely and generously give to others in need.

Last year, I wrote the post Why I Choose Minimalism which basically gives my purpose statement for minimal living. Today, my reason is the same as it was four years ago – to spend less money on myself so that I can give more away.

So, while it may be out of character for me to ask other people to give money, this appeal is really just a glimpse of the passion that is a driving force in my life – a part that I rarely show on my blog, but is at the heart of everything I do.

And, who knows? Some day I may need help and have to rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. But this time, it is my turn.

🌍 🌎 🌏

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.

So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.

Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.

Broccoli Stem Salad

Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.

☹️

Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.

Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!

All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].

And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.

Carrot Top Pesto

I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.

Vegan kale and carrot top pesto

When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.

[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]

Vegetable Broth

My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.

When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.

This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.

👍

Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??

🥕 🥕 🥕

Karis

Zero Waste: Composting [my limited experience and two cents]

Zero Waste: Composting [my limited experience and two cents]

If you are considering going zero waste [or even just reducing your waste a little] you’ll want to start with composting. It is the most basic, first step in reducing waste since we all eat food and [in America] so much of our food ends up in landfills where it releases methane gas which is even worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.

Instead, we could be putting all those food scraps back into the ground to feed soil and gardens and farms and…just plain old Mother Earth.

Compost methods

I’ve composted in two settings: wooded lot that I owned in an unincorporated suburb of Chicago, and a house that I’m renting with lots of close neighbors in a small rural town. I also researched composting in the city of Chicago because I was planning to live there.

Turns out the old saying is true – even for composting. If you’ve got the will, you can find a way.

In the ground

When I began composting, my house was on a half-acre lot surrounded by forest preserve. There were no regulations about composting, so we bought a used compost bin and put it on the edge of our property.

This is exactly what ours looked like.

This compost bin doesn’t have a bottom, so it mixes right in with the soil. [Another alternative for this type of composting would be to simply construct a frame for your compost pile out of scrap wood or pallets. You can find tutorials online.]

Everyday, our kitchen scraps [excluding meat, dairy, and bones] would go into a bowl in our freezer. When the bowl was full we would dump it in the compost bin.

Easy-peasy.

When the weather was warm, the compost would break down without even having to turn it, and every spring we would take plenty of rich compost from the bottom of the bin and use it in our garden beds.

In the course of the four years that we lived in that home, we filled two of these large 90+ gallon compost bins – but we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, so we have a lot of scraps.

[I’ll be posting later about my favorite way to get the most out of scraps before composting them.]

This, it would seem, is the easiest option.

In a container

Now that we’ve moved to a traditional neighborhood with lots of neighbors in close proximity [and not much privacy or woods], putting a massive, unsightly [not to mention smelly and fly-infested] compost bin in the backyard didn’t seem like the greatest idea. Instead, I decided to buy a fancy rotating composter.

Oooh. So pretty.

This composter is nice because the rotating makes mixing easy. BUT, it is smaller than our previous bin and we filled it in two months during the winter, which is when composting slows waaaaaay dowwwn. So anyway, we introduced compost bin #2, which is just a Rubbermaid container. [I’m hoping we won’t need another now that the weather is warming up.]

These composting methods require a little more attention, needing to be mixed every so often in order to keep the right ratio of water, air, green, and brown matter, but it’s not complicated.

There are other ways, as well, tho I’ve never tried them and I’m not well versed in them.

With curbside pickup service

When we were considering moving to downtown Chicago, I knew I most likely wouldn’t have any yard for composting, so I began looking for alternatives. There are in-home composting options available [which I’ll mention below], but we wouldn’t have a way to use our compost even if we could produce it, and that’s when I discovered compost pickup services. Of course, not all cities and few rural areas will have a service like this, but if you live in a high rise in a big city, you can probably find one. Then you collect your compost and leave it out for weekly pick up – just like the garbage.

For collecting compost, I recommend this counter-top compost bin that we recently upgraded [the bowl in the freezer was a hassle to thaw].

This collection bin has replaceable charcoal filter on the top to allow air flow and trap bad odors.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is also good for apartments or homes without yards because worms do the work of breaking down the scraps. I have not tried it…yet! I hope to someday have an in-home vermicomposter.

If you compost with worms, tell me all about it!!

Bokashi

I just heard about bokashi for the first time recently and I am intrigued! Apparently, it breaks down scraps using a certain bacteria which causes fermentation to break down the food [and other] matter. I’ll have to look more into this method.

If you have experience with bokashi, please let me know!!

What to compost

You can compost a lot more than just food scraps, which is fabulous for cutting down waste. Dryer lint, brown bags, human hair, nail clippings, q-tips [obviously not the plastic kind], and 100% cotton textiles can be composted. [There’s a lot more too! Look around online for more unusual things people compost.]

Anyway, composting isn’t as daunting as it may seem and like most things, it’s best to just jump in and go for it.

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

When Life Gives You Snow…[make vegan snow cream!]

When Life Gives You Snow…[make vegan snow cream!]

Many of us have experienced an uncharacteristic snowfall this week, so I thought I’d send out a friendly reminder to turn some of that cold, white powdery stuff into ice cream!

Since moving to southern Illinois last November, I have been bragging about the weather down here, [I mean, it was in the 30s and 40s for most of January!] but I was eating my words when we got hit with an ice storm and then one day later a blizzard and now we have somewhere around ten inches of snow on top of a thick layer of ice.

Fantastic.

On the up side, my kids are LOVING IT. In fact, I just gave up on school work for the past two days because my daughter wanted to be outside all day. [“Snow day” to a homeschooling family is when we skip school work to go play in the snow.]

So this morning [after finishing school work], we made snow ice cream.

I’ve made snow cream many times since my first experience in Mrs. Winters fourth grade class when she marched us all out into the snow and made ice cream for us right there on the playground. [Mrs. Winters was the BEST.] But, I’ve never made vegan snow ice cream before, and I wasn’t certain how it would turn out.

The kids gathered a big bowl of snow [they had very strict instructions not to get yellow or dirty snow], and we mixed in some homemade oat milk, pure maple syrup, cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt.

[This was also my first time attempting chocolate snow cream. I thought it might help the ice cream taste less like oatmeal.]

And it worked!

This is my favorite activities to do with my kids when it snows [mostly because it involves minimal time actually outside].

I think they enjoyed it too. [After all, there’s nothing like ice cream after breakfast.]

Stay warm out there!

❄️❄️❄️

Karis

Zero Waste: Wooden Dish Brushes

Zero Waste: Wooden Dish Brushes

Since I first went zero waste [four years ago now – wow!], I have wanted to trade every plastic thing I own for the beautiful wooden equivalent. In addition to being biodegradable and better for the planet, these products are just so darn pretty! I dreamed of having one of those zero waste Insta-worthy homes where everything is natural and simple and minimal…however, in reality, making a full switch is in itself wasteful. So, I have been making due with what I have until what I have breaks down or gets lost or ruined or whatever. Then I replace it with the beautiful alternative.

Well, the time finally came for the dish brushes to be replaced. For years I have been using the $.97 plastic variety from IKEA [I am hanging my head in shame], but now that I know better, I upgraded to a set of brushes that are beautiful and functional and won’t still be in existence at the end of time [which may be coming sooner than we think with the current state of things].

Anyway…I digress.

Here is the low-down on these brushes. I ordered them from Wild Minimalist, whose newsletters I have been receiving for…I dunno…four years and never ordered from because [as aforementioned] I wasn’t replacing anything until it became absolutely necessary. But I was excited to give the company a try because I like supporting small businesses who are trying to do the right thing. Other than it taking a looong time to receive them, I have no complaints about my transaction with Wild Minimalist and will likely order from them again in the future.

Let’s talk about the price

Here’s the breakdown of my order.

So, let me just point out the obvious here. These things ain’t cheap. Did you see where I said I was previously using plastic dish brushes from IKEA that cost me $.97? Well, this is the thing. It costs money to do things right. You can [almost always] count on this: if the price is too good to be true, that’s the only thing that’s good about it. A cheap price gets you a cheap product and a guilty conscience. In the case of my $.97 dish brushes, my conscience will suffer because they will rot in a landfill FOREVER.

So, this time around I’m paying more money for something that won’t last as long.

I know, I know. I sound like a crazy person. But this is the change that has to happen. We have to care more about what happens to our stuff and a whole heck of a lot less about how much it costs.

Trust me, I’m not a fan of spending money needlessly – or overpaying for products. But it’s not overpaying for a product when it was made ethically, fairly, and sustainably. That is not overpriced, that is just the price of doing things right.

Let’s talk about the product…

Ok, so now that we’ve got the price tag issue out of the way, let me tell you – I freaking LOVE these guys! They are so much more aesthetically pleasing to have on my kitchen counter. And they work great. Of course, it doesn’t take much for a brush to function as a brush…but, still, I’m happy with the work they are doing for me. As you can see, I went all-in and got three varieties of brushes: the pot scrubber, the bottle brush, and the dish brush. I love and use them all, but truthfully, I could have done with just the pot scrubber and bottle brush. The great thing about the dish brush, though, is that you can order replacement heads for when they wear out – which they will do because [like I said before] they are supposed to wear out! That’s literally why I bought them!!

The handles are made of beechwood and you can choose horsehair or tampico bristles. My bottles brush and dish brush have the horsehair bristles which are nice and soft. The pot scrubbers have tampico bristles which are much sturdier and better for scrubbing the crusty stuff.

Tampico fiber: a natural fiber made from the Mexican agave plant.

👍

For maintenance, keep them dry [which is why I store mine upright in a jar] and oil the handle occasionally. [I haven’t bought the oil yet, but I intend to because it extends the life of all wooden utensils, cutting boards, bowls, etc.]

For disposal, when they are completely worn out, compost the entire thing [remove the bristles and compost with the brush], except the metal part of the dish brush [which should be recycled].

I also got the dish soap block. I am all-in on the bar soap bandwagon. Talk about reducing waste! Since I switched to bar soaps and shampoos and conditioners and body bars and deodorant and dish soap I have saved…like A TON of plastic bottles from going into the rubbish bin [well, my rubbish bin at least]. So, get this awesome soap block and put it like I do, right next to your sink. Then rub the cute little brush on it, and wash away. It’s fabulous. No unsightly plastic Dawn bottles on my countertop, no siree bob.

So, there you have it. Another zero waste swap in the books!

I hope that when [and ONLY WHEN] it’s time for you to replace your dish brushes, you’ll join me in the wooden dish brush club. [That’s not a real thing. I just made that up, but that would be fun!]

Let’s quit this plastic crap for good!

Happy Dish Washing!

🧼🧼🧼

Karis

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it. Just three things.

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

My Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Health

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

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

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

😬

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

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

Ending the Water Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a week late, but Happy New Year!

🥳🥳🥳

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas [and my FINAL shopping audit]

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas [and my FINAL shopping audit]

I know this is the time to talk about resolutions and the year ahead, but I’m still basking in the glow of the holidays. Despite being an extremely strange month, December turned out to be pretty great. We managed to celebrate the holidays with our 25 days of Christmas activities AND have a low waste Christmas despite being in a new house, in a new town, and with only the clothes on our backs.

I haven’t written a single thing all month because I’ve been focused on my family and our transition to our new town [and quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like it]. But of course, we’ve been celebrating the Christmas season like every other year.

The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas

Our family Christmas tradition is to celebrate the whole month long with a holiday-themed activity every day from December 1st to December 25th – which I call the Carlson Countdown to Christmas. This is usually rather stressful for me, trying to plan and organize an activity for every day, which range from a simple paper craft with the kids to ice skating at a local rink. Because of Covid this year, I took a more laid back approach. We did something every day, but I didn’t stress it or plan in advance. I just let us go where the wind blew us each day. It was really great.

Some highlights from our Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2020 [or at least what I took pictures of]:

Christmas countdown paper chains
Christmas tree pancakes
Socially distanced Santa Claus
Homemade [vegan] hot cocoa with aquafaba marshmallow fluff
My favorite tradition – decorating gingerbread houses! [And I even baked the houses from scratch this year.]
Family time on Christmas morning.

Tips for a [Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas

I have by no means written the book on zero waste living, [Several other people have written excellent books on it though like Zero Waste by Shia Su and 101 Ways to go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg], but this is how we cut down on Waste at Christmastime.

  • Buy used gifts. I’ve written about this so much that everyone is probably sick of hearing it – but I’m trying really hard to normalize giving used gifts, so you’re going to hear about it again. The benefits of giving used gifts are numerous, but one of the best things about it [especially for kids] is that the toys don’t come wrapped in plastic with a million twist ties in a cardboard box that is taped so securely that it takes five whole minutes to open while your kid is whining to play with their new toy. My son was ecstatic when Brett drove his new remote control car into the living room on Christmas morning, and my daughter didn’t have to wait to put her American Girl doll right into the new bed we gave her. And there was no waste from these gifts.
  • Use reusable wrapping. At some point when I was growing up, my parents gave up on wrapping our individual gifts [there were five of us kids, after all], and instead gave us each a black trash bag with all of our gifts inside. Economical for sure, but here’s one better – reusable clothe Christmas bags. My friend MADE these beautiful bags for me and I love them so so so much! But if you don’t have a friend as awesome as mine [and you don’t have sewing skills yourself], then I’ve seen similar bags for sale around the holidays, and I’m sure Etsy would provide lots of options to buy them.
  • Use [and reuse] gift bags. Whenever possible, use gift bags for wrapping because, when treated carefully, they can be reused indefinitely. After the gifts were open, I gathered all the bags, neatly folded them, and even tucked the paper inside to use next year. I keep a small collection of gift bags for various occasions to use throughout the year, which keeps me from having to buy bags for awkward gifts that can’t be wrapped with my brown paper.
  • Recycle everything possible. Once all the gifts were opened, we went through all the packaging and paper and divided it into what could be recycled [cardboard, hard plastic, plain paper] and what was trash [ribbons, bows, paper with glitter or sparkles]. In our new small town, recycling consists of taking paper/cardboard, plastic, glass, and cans to “the dump” on Saturdays. [Can’t wait to expound on this process for you at a later date, but quite frankly, I’m just relieved that this town has a recycling system of any kind in place.]

More tips: Don’t use glittery or shiny wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, as these items cannot typically be recycled. I love to wrap gifts in simple brown paper and tie with twine. After all, “brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things.”

😜

For my family, it’s important to have a happy Christmas where we celebrate love and time together and giving gifts – but without all the consumerism, expense, guilt and waste that typically accompany the holiday season.

December Shopping Audit

I’m done with this audit bullsh*t. Hallelujah!

Happy [Belated] Holidays and Happy New Year, ya’ll! Stay safe tonight and wear your masks!! ✌️

🎄🎄🎄

Karis