Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to the Applebee’s French fries…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast from Panera

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

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

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

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

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

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

#savetheturkeys

Gonna need some vegan wine!!!

🍷 🍷 🍷

Karis

Zero Waste: Cloth Napkins

Zero Waste: Cloth Napkins

Of all the zero waste swaps we’ve made over the past few years, the switch to cloth napkins has been my absolute favorite. They are so much more beautiful than the quilted, flower-printed, paper kind. Just by setting the table with cloth napkins, our family dinners are instantly elevated to restaurant class – even if nothing else about the meal is fancy. And they are so practical because I have little kids and the number of flimsy paper napkins that we would need at each meal is enormous.

How to use them…

Originally, I was afraid to make the switch because I worried that guests would be afraid to use them and that my children would destroy them and that the added laundry would be a hassle. Turns out, however, that the napkins are the least hassle of all the swaps. I have even used them for big dinner parties [well, “big” being 15-20 people which is all my house can hold]. When we are done, they just go straight into the washer to be cleaned with the next load.

They definitely get messy, but they come clean in the wash and in our experience, each person only needs one no matter how messy the meal is.

Where to get them…

I bought mine from World Market years ago when we were first making the switch, but now I wish I had just made some myself. You can also buy them at home goods stores such as Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, and don’t forget Amazon! But, as you know, I’m not a big proponent of buying things, so don’t buy them if you can make them! Or check out Etsy. Or pay a friend who sews to make some for you.

I love having a variety of patterns and the ones that I bought are really beautiful. I have also been gifted a few packages of cloth napkins. [One of the great things about identifying as a low waster is that you will often receive AWESOME, practical and beautiful gifts! I have received so many wonderful zero waste tools as gifts and I am so grateful for my understanding and thoughtful family and friends!]

Why to have them…

The better question is why would I want to continually buy paper napkins bound for the trash when I can use beautiful, reusable cloth napkins instead? It has been four years since I have bought any paper napkins, and I have no intention to ever going back.

Of course, there is an environmental cost to both paper napkins and cloth napkins. Reusable cloth napkins require water and energy to produce and to wash; and though paper napkins require much less water and energy to produce, they are only used once before being thrown into the trash where they will continue to have a negative affect on the environment in a landfill.

Over the lifetime of a cloth napkin [which should be as long as a persons lifetime – if not longer], reusable napkins are much more environmentally friendly.

And they will save money.

And they will make your mealtime fancy.

Here are some of our beautiful cloth napkins.

Do you use cloth napkins? Why or why not???

🍽

Karis

Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]

Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]

For three years now, I’ve been a moderate vegan, or a “vegan before 6,” as I like to say, but I recently committed myself to the official, full-fledged vegan diet – for three reasons:

1. For the planet. The other day, I watched David Attenborough’s new documentary, A Life on Our Planet, and was reminded again of how urgent it is that we stop our short-sighted use of earth’s resources. The easiest way for individuals take action is to stop eating meat and dairy, which are HUGE contributors to our man-made environmental crisis.

Quick Facts:

  • One pound of meat requires 2,400 gallons of water, while one pound of tofu requires on 244 gallons. [source]
  • While meat only provides 18% of calories, it’s production uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. [source]
  • Human meat consumption is one of the leading causes of the current mass extinction of earth’s wildlife [source] and is the greatest driver of deforestation worldwide. [source]

A plant-based diet aldi makes zero waste living much easier because you never have to buy, handle, or store raw meat or dairy. There are ways to be omnivorous and reduce your waste, but it’s definitely a lot easier to just eat plant-based foods that can be readily found without packaging.

No matter how you look at it, eating plants is better for the planet. In fact, David Attenborough himself says at the end of the film that one of the easiest and simplest ways to reduce humanity’s negative effect on our ecosystems is to eat a plant-based diet. And luckily, being a vegan has another important benefit.

2. For my health. A plant-based diet is not only better for the planet, it is also better for the human body. Despite all the confusion around healthy eating and all the contradictory information, it is clear to me that too much meat is ruining our health.

[Full disclosure – there are plenty of sources representing opposing views regarding the risks of meat consumption, so do your own research and make your own informed decision.]

“Recent evidence from large prospective US and European cohort studies and from meta-analyses of epidemiological studies indicates that the long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women….It is concluded that recommendations for the consumption of unprocessed red meat and particularly of processed red meat should be more restrictive than existing recommendations.” [emphasis is mine]

Battaglia Richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1-2):70-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000224. PMID: 26780279.

If you don’t want to read all that, I’ll summarize. Red meat increases your chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death and we should be recommending that people eat less meat.

Currently, we’ve got two problems: people are already eating more than the recommended amount AND the amount of meat that individuals are consuming is going up, not down.

The USDA, who makes the dietary recommendations for the United States, recommends that the average adult eat between five and six ounces of meat per day. [source] But it turns out that the typical American is eating double that amount [source] and meat consumption continues to be on the rise. [source]

So, while there are those who disagree with my assertion that eating meat is bad for our health, I have one more bit of subjective evidence to share: a plant-based diet makes me feel better.

3. For my well-being. A plant-based diet is better for the planet and my health, but it also makes me feel better – and I’m not just referring to the internal feeling of happiness I get when I make the humane and ethical and environmentally-conscious decision to avoid meat. I mean, I literally feel better physically. Of course, I have no sources to site about this, no proof to offer, no cold, hard evidence, but I can assure you that I feel much, much better on a vegan diet than any other diet.

As someone who is obsessed with health – especially healthy eating – I have tried many, many “diets,” different dietary fads, and ways of eating. I’ve done juice cleanses, fasting, no carb, low carb, calorie restriction, no processed foods, no added sugar, high protein, vegetable only – to name a few. But when I went strictly vegan three years ago in a desperate attempt to ease my nursing baby’s reflux issues, I had never felt better.

How exactly did I feel better? I had more energy and no longer experienced that midday fatigue. I stopped getting sick as frequently, which I attribute to my increased intake of nutrient dense foods like fruit and vegetables and legumes. My skin cleared up, and that is no small thing because I’ve had oily skin and acne issues since puberty. But the moment I cut out meat – and especially dairy – my skin cleared up so well that I stopped wearing makeup altogether. My performance at the gym improved. I could exercise longer and recover faster.

And, in general, I felt better internally. No more gut issues. No more bloat. No more gas cramps. No more exhaustion – unless, of course, I wasn’t getting my six hours of sleep.

For me, this was enough of a reason to go vegan, which is why I’ve been a moderate vegan ever since that first experience three years ago.

Bonus reason: For my finances. In addition to the benefits I’ve listed above, being vegan is also much cheaper than eating a traditional American diet heavy in meat and dairy. Though it’s not a motivator for my choice, it may encourage other people to consider being vegan when they realize how much money can be saved. Meat and dairy are the most expensive food groups, besides oils and fats. Even on sale, I can’t find chicken for less than $2 per pound and beef is twice that expensive and fish is four times the cost. However, I buy fruits and vegetables for less than $1 per pound.

The info graphic below by Peta answers more questions about veganism.

As great as it is, being vegan is not without its challenges. Eating out, for instance, can be tough. My partner and I went out last night and there were a grand total of two menu items that were vegan – the French fries and the house salad.

So I ate the fries.

🤷‍♀️

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September was supposed to be the month that we revised the budget to reflect our new income; however, our income continues to fluctuate, as does our spending. Despite a lack of strict regulation, we still aren’t spending very much because we have effectively made ourselves into “savers” rather than spenders. In fact, over the course of September, the combined total of money we saved, invested, and gave away was significantly greater than what we spent – even including our bills.

On a reduced income, I’d say that’s pretty good!

Also in September, I participated in Charity: Water’s September Campaign [raising money to get clean water to 20k people in Mali] and raised over $1,000 in addition to the $200 that I donated toward the cause. I am planning a larger campaign of my own to raise money for Charity:Water starting in January.

That, my friends, is where the good news ends. We had car trouble [tire trouble, more specifically] which cost us $575.24!!! We bought two books for my father-in-law’s birthday for $37.48 and I bought several books for my kids about religions and mythology that I couldn’t find at the library for $77.97 [these books were obviously SUPER important to me because I haven’t bought a book – other than as a gift – in over three years]. I bought a pair of used black pants for work from Goodwill for $7.00, which have turned out to be my favorite pair of pants EVER [now, that’s $7 well spent!].

But the real trouble started when it was time to get a gift for my daughter’s third birthday. Per our gift policy, Brett and I found a beautiful Mickey Mouse racetrack used for $30, and I planned to take my older two kids to Goodwill to pick out their own gifts for their sister. The night before her birthday we waited for Josephine to go to bed and then snuck out of the house to go shopping. Unfortunately, Goodwill has shorter hours than I realized [thanks, COVID!], so it – and all the other resale shops – were closed for the night.

Out of desperation, I took the kids to Walgreens [because it was in the Goodwill parking lot] and they each picked out a gift for their sister.

🤷‍♀️

Sometimes I have to bend my own rules.

The incredibly cheap [and basically worthless] walkie-talkies that Theo picked out and the plastic tea set that Evangeline chose were the first brand-new toys that we have purchased in three years. I was very nearly depressed about it – especially seeing all that plastic upon plastic wrapped in plastic entering my home – but the next morning, Josephine was so excited to see her racetrack and open her gifts from her siblings.

It made the whole thing [almost] worth it.

Josephine painting with the new paint sticks she received from her Aunt Amber [and cousins] for her birthday.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

August Shopping Audit [and my new work boots, round 2]

August Shopping Audit [and my new work boots, round 2]

Well, the saga continues….

Last month I wrote about my new job that required work boots, which I found used on OfferUp [yay!]. But two weeks after starting, I was offered a position in management which comes with a dress code that includes [but is not limited to] a collared shirt and the covering of my tattoos [two of which are on my forearms].

Well, despite the positives of the new position [higher pay, immediate health benefits, and more tuition assistance], the dress code was a real bummer. Partially because I love my tattoos, gosh darn it! And I work in a warehouse that’s been 90° even at 4am which makes wearing long sleeves totally unbearable! But it’s a bummer mostly because, other than the purchase of three pairs of panties with a Christmas gift card last year, I haven’t bought a single item of clothing in over three years.

All that changed this month. I bought a total of three polos and five button-down dress shirts [all used from local people] and two pairs of sleeves to cover my tattoos [brand new because who really has these things lying around???]. Oh, and another pair of boots because my husband, the fashion guru, said it was not acceptable to wear my current beat-up orange-laced work boots with dress shirts.

So I bought this nice pair of black Timberlands from a very nice woman who lives near me and only wore them once! I had just been reading about Timberland’s commitment to sustainability in Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, The Conscious Closet [which I highly recommend], so I was excited to find a pair for only $35 on OfferUp!

On a positive note, I have resisted buying any new pants for the job. I currently own two pairs of jeans which I rotate and I borrowed some pants that didn’t fit my sister-in-law. I also am still refusing to buy any new socks, underwear or undershirts, despite all of mine [save my three new pairs of panties] being full of holes and basically threadbare. I kid you not. If they weren’t my intimates, I would share pictures. Instead of buying, and thanks to Ms. Cline’s influence in the aforementioned book, I’m taking up mending and darning.

I’ll let you know how that goes…

Besides the things I bought for my job, we also purchased some used LEGO sets for the kids, a used tool box for Brett and a new cast iron Dutch oven [and by “we” I mean Brett because I wouldn’t have bought any of it, but I’ve been too busy working and homeschooling to even pay attention]. I, however, did buy $50 worth of school supplies [500 sheets of construction paper, a set of acrylic paints, a wooden tangram puzzle set and a bag of math manipulatives] but I had a gift card so I only spent $3 after tax — so does it really count???

Next month, the plan is to rebuild the budget since this Covid situation [and our new financial status] appears to be sticking around for the long-haul. We’ve kind of been flying by the seat of our pants since it all began in March, but now that our income is stabilizing [fingers crossed], it’s time to revisit the budget and review our financial goals and priorities and recommit ourselves to intentional spending, giving, and saving.

So that’s hopefully what I’ll be sharing about next month. But, really, who even knows??? It feels totally pointless to even make a plan at this point – which is why my posting is so sporadic. Well, that and because I’m operating on very little sleep and basically zero alone time these days.

Ah, life. What an adventure!

😜

Karis

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

July was a crazy month. I started my two new jobs and felt like I was working ALL THE TIME. I’ve also been preparing homeschool curriculum and gathering resources, books and materials. And I volunteered 12 hours to the food bank in June, packing meals and working at a pop-up drive through food pantry one Saturday morning.

Now that we don’t have Brett’s full-time income [and my part-time income is measly in comparison], I have been thinking about money more than usual. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeschool curriculum is not cheap and that getting a new job means buying appropriate work boots. So, we spent some money.

However, a small mercy came in the form of a bag of clothes diapers that a girlfriend offered me literally a day after I told Brett that I need new ones because I cannot seem to solve the diaper rash problem we are now experiencing with our fourth baby. The same friend also gave us a bigger bike for our son who has completely outgrown the little twelve inch bike he currently uses, which my sister-in-law found for him at Savers for $2.

I already mentioned in my previous update post about making masks for the family which kept me from having to buy any.

Yes, I made them out of old boxer shorts. 🤫

I have also inherited a new sewing machine which is perfect timing because [though I’ve grown quite fond of my little $20 machine] there is more I would like to make and I needed a bigger machine.

This machine also serves as a reminder of our Nana who passed away last week.

This month was Evangeline’s sixth birthday [!!!] and she told us that she really wanted roller skates. We stumbled upon a pair of adjustable roller skates at Goodwill [while looking for work boots]. And we picked up a pair of used knee and elbow pads for her [that also came with a bike helmet that is perfect for my younger daughter] from a neighbor [I love OfferUp!].

I was really stressed about finding work boots because I had to have them in less than a week for my start date and I didn’t want to spend $200 on a new pair. But with just one day left, I was able to find a used pair of steel-toe work boots for $20 that fit perfectly. In my previous life I would have run out immediately to the closest shoe store and bought whichever pair was my favorite. But these days, our new values [which include: intentional living, minimalism, and waste reduction] keep me from making impulsive buys. And I am so glad. Now, even facing a job loss, we are not worrying about money.

So, it may seem that we’ve hit a rough patch financially, but, as always, the universe takes care of us.

What we bought

Roller skates for Eva’s birthday ($5): I’ve written several times already about how and why we give used gifts to our kids. Evangeline didn’t care at all that these were used and they are adjustable so she can wear them for years.

Shoes for Brett ($6): Brett didn’t need shoes urgently [especially since he’s out of work], but while he was in Goodwill looking for work boots for me, he also found himself a pair of brown dress shoes to replace his worn out pair. These shoes are in perfect condition and are apparently very expensive new. Maybe will start shopping at Goodwill more often!

Bell and streamers for Eva’s bike ($19.33): We couldn’t find these used so we bought them from a locally owned bike shop in town.

Knee and elbow pads for Eva ($10): I was so glad to be able to find someone selling these used pads for Evangeline to use with her roller skates [a tough skill to master, turns out].

Work boots ($20): Took a while to find them, but they’ve been working great since I started my job three weeks ago.

Shampoo and conditioner bars ($27): I usually buy Lush bar products, but this time we went back to Ethique, whose bars are cheaper per ounce. It may seem pricey, but our last shampoo bar lasted four months and the conditioner bar is just now almost gone and it’s been nine months. Ethique’s website states that one shampoo bar replaces eight bottles of shampoo.

School curriculum for Eva – minus math ($113.05): I went with a digital download curriculum to cut down on the cost. The program doesn’t include math, however, so I had to buy a separate math program.

Math curriculum ($92): I bought just the teachers edition and student workbooks [no manipulative or resources] and it was still almost $100! I know their are cheaper options out there, but I really need more direction than professional homeschool moms.

Our new budget is to spend as little money as possible – so I guess we went over budget this month. But, overall, we did pretty well. We still spent money, but we bought mostly used and did our homework to find the most ethical purchasing option available.

What We Gave Away

Nothing.

🤦‍♀️

We have set aside a collection of maybe twelve kids utensils that we no longer need, but we haven’t even had the chance to donate them.

Maybe next month…

Hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy!

Karis

Happy 2nd Birthday to my Blog 🥳

Happy 2nd Birthday to my Blog 🥳

Today I turn thirty-three years old and my blog turns two. It’s kind of fun sharing a birthday with my blog. She has become a close friend of mine – the sort of friend who listens without judging or offering advice and never hates me despite how weird I seem to the rest of the world.

My birthday is not a special affair – not because my partner doesn’t try to make it a huge deal [he tries throwing me a party every frickin year], but because I don’t like a lot of fuss about my birthday. I prefer quiet time at home with my family instead of a big celebration, and this year that’s exactly what I’m getting [thanks, Coronavirus!].

My plans include a movie with chocolate and champagne. Sounds absolutely perfect.

In honor of my blog’s birthday, I’m doing some reflection on the past two years.

As someone who gets bored very quickly and has started [and stopped] multiple “blogging” endeavors in the past, I am quite surprised that I’ve managed to keep this thing going for two years.

I’m grateful to everyone who has stuck with me through my motherhood adventures, my dabbling in veganism, my purging of our belongings, and my attempt a [nearly] zero waste living. It’s been an eventful two years.

Looking back over my posts, I realize that this blog is very scatter-brained [which I suppose is only natural since I’m very scatter-brained]. In the past two years, I’ve written about minimalism, simplicity, zero waste, DIY, healthy living and motherhood. I’ve posted about clothing purges, my farm share, time outdoors with my kids, craft projects, grocery shopping, books I’ve read, my home birth, and even my trash can has made several appearances. It’s been weird, I know.

But, believe it or not, in the midst of all this randomness, I have been pursuing one main goal – which is the goal of this blog.

To live a simple and intentional life

Doesn’t sound too tough, but turns out this is a very counter-cultural way of life – at least, counter to my American culture which is focused on convenience and consumerism and accumulating wealth and working yourself to death in pursuit of it. American culture also has a tendency to glorify busyness, as if the people who are going the fastest, filling their schedules the fullest, collapsing into bed at night the most exhausted are the ones winning at life.

When I talk about my kids playing outside all day instead of watching television, or taking my own mason jars to the grocery store, or using bar shampoo, or [god forbid] not buying paper towels, I mostly get eye-rolls.

Living simply and intentionally has not only been challenging – it has also been lonely.

This blog has served as my personal sounding board and safe space for reflection [made all the safer by the small number of people who read it] and also a means of finding connections with other like-minded bloggers.

This blog is not about giving people advice or tips or how-tos. This has been my own personal exploration of how I want to live my best life.

Simple Living

Yvon Chouinard is a rock climber, environmentalist, and the founder of my favorite ethical clothing brand, Patagonia.

Thus far, I’ve focused mostly on the simple side of things. I’ve been working on reducing clutter [physical and otherwise] and stopping the constant influx of new stuff. I’ve been avoiding further damage to the planet through reducing our waste and recycling what we can and repurposing what we can’t. I’ve been spending more time with my kids outdoors enjoying nature, creating works of art at the kitchen table, and engaging in their world of make believe. We’ve been doing more reading and baking and building.

Intentional Living

Joshua Becker is the author of several books on minimalism and simple living.

We’ve gone back to the basics. Back to a simpler way of life. But something has been missing [from the blog, at least] — the intention.

So this year I am going to spend more time focusing on the intention behind these outward manifestations. I will be sharing more about our charitable contributions, humanitarian efforts and the reasons that go deeper than simply living with less clutter and screen time. Though I haven’t written about it [other than once about a year ago in this post], all of my lifestyle changes have been motivated by a desire to live an intentional life.

This blog is not just about simplicity – it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.

Simple living and minimalism and zero waste save a lot of money, but for what purpose? Just to hoard my abundant resources until I die? To increase my already luxurious existence? To ensure that I can live out the end of my days without a care in the world? Is that what life is really all about?

These are the ideas that I have been exploring personally and that are going to show up more regularly in my writing.

Also, this blog is in dire need of a redesign which I will hopefully get done soon.

Stay tuned!

🥳🥳🥳

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.

Don’t judge me by the ramen noodle purchase–that was my husband’s choice… 😆

My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.

Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:

  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans/Lentils/Split Peas
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Candy/Chocolates

Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.

But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:

1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.

2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.

[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]

3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.

4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].

5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.

6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!

Our lovely collection of plastic grocery bags from one grocery trip.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?

[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]

I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.

So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]

🛒🛒🛒

Karis

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

While the coronavirus pandemic has made some aspects of zero waste living more challenging [such as refusing plastic bags, shopping from bulk bins, filling reusable cups, and the war on disposable plastics in general], there are some aspects of low waste living that are becoming more popular as a result of this unprecedented time [such as unpaper towels, cloth diapering, baking from scratch, sewing, and gardening].

Well, there is one more low waste principle I would like to recommend as being ideal in this situation: repairing our stuff rather than throwing it away and buying new. Since shopping malls are closed now and a lot of “retail therapy” has been exchanged for outdoor exercise [👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻], you might be forced to make do with what you have in your closet anyway.

Of course, there is always Amazon [and other online retailers] to order from, but why not give mending a chance? Especially at a time when everyone at least appears to be extremely concerned about their finances, now would be ideal to practice all those forgotten resolutions of not buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.

So, along those lines, here is my story of repairing rather than replacing.

[Don’t worry – it’s a short story.]

The Story

Before the stay-at-home order went into effect for Illinois [which was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown], I decided to have one of my boots repaired rather than throwing the pair away.

These boots are nothing special. They aren’t fancy. They didn’t cost very much money. But they are my only pair of black flat boots and I have worn them all fall and winter for the past five years. So when the sole ripped apart from the rest of the boot, I was bummed.

Brett immediately suggested throwing them in the trash – even offering to do the job for me since he knows it pains me to throw anything away [what a guy]. But I told him I would see about getting them repaired. Of course he laughed at this and told me that it would cost more to fix the boot than it would to buy a new pair.

Still, I liked these boots and I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I have developed a very strong aversion to new things as it is. Add to that my dislike of throwing things away and I knew I had to at least attempt to get them repaired.

I found a cobbler. [It took a while for me to even remember what the term is for someone who repairs shoes, my only knowledge of them coming from the old story about the elves and the cobbler…oh and the Adam Sandler movie.]

I have never been to a shoe repair shop. I had absolutely no frame of reference for what this might cost. They could have told me it would cost $75 and I wouldn’t have known if this was highway robbery or if shoe repair really is that challenging of a job. But when I told the man the problem, he said he could glue the sole back on for $10.

Ten dollars! What a steal!

I dropped the boot off that day and picked it up the following week, good as new. [Not really, it is still a worn-out boot, but at least there isn’t a huge hole at the heel anymore.] I am confident that I will get at least several more years out of these boots, and in the very likely event that another part wears out, I will return to the same repairman again.

So there you have it. These poor, innocent little boots would have been rotting in some landfill by now if the kind shoe repairman hadn’t fixed them for $10!

[Also, I don’t think I could buy a pair of new boots for $10 – so there Brett!]

The Moral of the Story

Our society has been trained to believe that everything is disposable – even our clothing and shoes. Oh, those pants don’t fit just right? That zipper is broken? The heel snapped off your shoe? There is a stain on your sweater? There is a hole in your jeans? Missing a button??? Well then, just toss it in the garbage bin and *POOF* it magically disappears and you can go buy another one [or two or three] at any time.

The problem is that clothing and shoes are NOT disposable. They are not meant to be treated like tissues, used once and then thrown away. Clothing has a very high price – in natural resources, in skilled labor, in transport and energy. And we keep churning it out and tossing it away like there is no end in sight.

Unfortunately, the end is coming. The clothing industry [as far as it stands in America] is not sustainable, and I’m not even talking about environmental sustainability. I just mean that it literally cannot go on like this. The model takes too much and abuses too many and creates an exorbitant amount of waste.

Even donated clothing has become a huge problem for non-profits and [even worse] impoverished communities to deal with now.

Do we really believe that we can keep creating and buying and discarding textiles to the tune of over 15 million tons of waste per year? Without something breaking eventually?

So, honestly, I hope that America makes a shift from buying cheap, crappy clothing on repeat and instead repairs and mends and tailors and darns and modifies and, heck, if all else fails, repurposes what they already have.

And I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t have substantial skin in the game. My partner has been selling clothing for the past ten years. Our family’s primary source of income is clothing retail. But especially as someone who has seen the background of these businesses, I can promise you that the whole machine has been slowly grinding to a halt even before this pandemic. Big name clothing brands are shutting down stores, filing bankruptcy, continually missing sales projections, clearancing surplus stock just to get rid of it so that they can make room for the new collections that are coming in every month [or more frequently]. By dropping their prices, stores are training customers to wait for low prices, which creates a cyclical effect that is basically a death spiral for the clothing retailer.

This has been coming long before the coronavirus existed.

Anyway, how great would it be if we could trade fast fashion retailers for, say, a booming seamstress and tailoring industry? Or make thrift shopping the primary source of clothing rather than the shopping malls [which have also been on the decline for years now], so that resale shops around the country have to hire tons more employees and move to bigger locations to meet the demand? And what if cobblers become so common that everyone knows where their local shoe repair shop is, rather than wondering where to even find such a thing? And maybe people will start getting creative and turning their old clothes into new, unique one-of-a-kind pieces that they truly love, rather than having to search through racks of the same pants that fifty other people will buy that same day?

Sounds good to me.

Don’t worry – the clothing industry will never go away completely. We obviously will always need clothes. But imagine a world where we only buy what we need, then we would have money to pay more and we would buy better quality and clothing manufacturers wouldn’t have to be constantly cutting their costs to appease the American demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing. This would be a win for everyone.

For more information on the clothing industry, I highly recommend the following:

  • Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
  • Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press
  • The True Cost [Documentary]

Happy mending!

👢👢👢

Karis

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

***COVID-19 Carlson Family Update: We are on day 12 of the 15-day Social Distancing request by the United States Government and day 6 of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order. We are all healthy [which is quite shocking even under normal circumstances because with a family of six someone is usually sick this time of year]. Brett is home working remotely and getting paid 80% of his salary, which makes us very lucky compared to many, many people in the retail industry. Today is the last day of e-learning for Evangeline before spring break next week. This is probably the only time I will ever say that I wish she wasn’t getting a week off since the school work gives us something to do each morning. Still no end in sight to this virus despite what optimist want to say. Infection rates are still increasing and we are still bracing for the worst while staying safely away from everyone. Also…we are still out of toilet paper.***

COVID-19 has changed the whole world, and my zero waste lifestyle is no exception. We are no longer allowed to bring our own reusable bags or jars to the grocery store. I have received emails stating that only prepackaged bulk goods will be available to purchase for the time being. In some of these minor ways, we have had to adjust just like everyone else. But many of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle have become even more important and more necessary.

Although zero waste is commonly thought of as using a bunch of specialty products and buying a bunch of specialty foods — at the real heart of the zero waste movement is the simple concept of [duh] not wasting anything.

I’ve posted this quote before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. The whole point of zero waste is NOT to have all the aesthetically pleasing bamboo products — it’s about simply not letting anything go to waste.

And at a time like this, when people are surviving on less money and our very government is ordering us to stop going out, and shopping malls and stores are shit down all over the WORLD, now is the perfect time to stop all the wastefulness.

So, anyway, all that to say I hope that we come out on the other side of this global tragedy as a less wasteful society because we have learned how to “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

Toothpaste Tablets

In spite of everything, the world continues to turn, so I am continuing to make my usual zero waste swaps. This month I’ve traded traditional toothpaste for toothpaste tablets.

I purchased these a few months ago from Well Earth Goods but was determined to use up my current toothpaste stash before I started with these. However, my partner keeps bringing new toothpaste home from the dentist [I politely refuse their little plastic gift baggy], so I decided to start using the tablets for myself.

Brett saw me try one for the first time, and now he refuses to try it himself. [He said that I made a face which made it look very unappealing.]

🤷‍♀️

What can I say? I was unprepared for how strange it would be to chew up a powdery tablet and then brush it on my teeth. But it didn’t take me long to get used to it.

I like these little tablets a lot now. They provide that minty zing I always want in a toothpaste and my mouth feels clean and refreshed after brushing. AND they are A MILLION TIMES BETTER than the homemade baking soda variety I tried last year. [Yuck!]

In reality, though, the primary reason I like these is that they don’t come in a plastic tube bound for the trash.

But…

Let’s talk about the packaging of these bad boys.

These tablets came in a compostable package and were shipped in a [very nice] cardboard box with paper filler that could be easily recycled.

Still, I’m not a fan of compostable packaging because I’m not entirely certain whether they can be composted in a backyard compost pile, like I have at my home.

[I was disappointed to learn that a lot of packaging that proudly claims to be “compostable” has to be composted by an industrial or commercial composting facility – not just thrown in the backyard bin – which defeats the whole purpose in my opinion.]

I really love the company Well Earth Goods and plan to purchase from them in the future – particularly their laundry strips which I plan to move to exclusively after I’m done with cloth diapers. But I think there may be a better way to purchase the toothpaste tablets, say, in a glass jar that can be recycled or, even better, a container that can be returned to the company for recycling. [I believe this is the case with Lush products, so I will be buying toothpaste tablets there next.]

But over all, I give the toothpaste tablets a huge thumbs up.

👍🏻

I intend to make this permanent switch and now with my bamboo toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bar, water flosser, and wee wipes [thank you, COVID-19], I have a [nearly] zero waste bathroom!

Next, I will be trying out bar deodorant and posting about that after a few week trial.

Stay tuned – and stay well!!

🦠 🦠 🦠

Karis