Last year was my first time dealing with a school Valentine’s Day exchange in probably twenty years. And let me tell you, A LOT has changed since I used to tear apart those cheap perforated cards with looney toons characters and obsess over which cute boys got the most romantic messages. Fast forward to today and the expectations for this holiday seems to have skyrocketed. [Well done, Hallmark]
As you might expect, cutting down on the wastefulness of the event is my main priority. Last year, Evangeline took these cuties to her class to give out.
This year, we went with a non-edible option: color your own bookmark.
I printed these bookmarks [free from Inspiration Made Simple – thank you!] and attached them to colored card stock then taped a crayon to the back.
This option was perfect for Evangeline because she LOVES reading and she actually uses bookmarks because she is already reading chapter books [WHAT?!?]. She also LOVES coloring. Of course, she wanted to color them in, so I let her color one for her teacher and attached it to a jar of chocolate we got from the bulk bins.
Besides avoiding waste, I also like to use what I have on hand. Since we already had an unused box of crayons and plenty of paper, this project didn’t require going out to buy anything.
Though a lot has changed, kids still apparently decorate boxes for their valentines. I may have had a little too much fun helping Evangeline with hers.
It turned out cute – and distinctly Evangeline.
[I found more great ideas for zero waste Valentine’s gifts for the obligatory classroom exchange on Zeroish.org – read the list here!]
I hope everyone has a lovely [nearly] zero waste Valentine’s Day!
Laundry used to consume WAY too much of my time, so last year I established a designated laundry day once a week. It works great [so long as my partner doesn’t sneak loads into the washer – which he does FREQUENTLY] except that a week between washes means that I have to be more proactive about stains.
And I’ve already admitted that I’m super lazy about laundry. Historically, if one of the kids have played with their pasta sauce or rolled around in the mud outside or poured hit chocolate down their front – well, I would set the clothing aside until I threw it in the laundry. And quite honestly, if it didn’t come out in the wash…well, who cares? These little kids clothes are like $5 for a pack of three.
Well, times have changed. Or rather, I have changed. It is no longer okay for me to trash stuff that I am just too lazy to clean properly. I am so embarrassed that this used to be my attitude toward clothing, as if it is disposable just because it is inexpensive.
[I could go off on a huge tangent here, but I will spare you in this post.]
Part of zero waste, minimalist, and simple living is about taking care of your stuff. Dare I say, it is a HUGE part. So, it’s time for me to put my big girl pants on and handle my home like I actually value everything in it.
Confession #2: I used to “Shout it out.”
You are all familiar with the Shout stain-remover, right? Miracle worker, really.
There have definitely been occasions when I spilled something on my favorite t-shirt or – god forbid – a shirt I borrowed from a friend and had to do an emergency Shout session. [Shout sessions consist of soaking and spraying and scrubbing and praying – on the knees if necessary – and then repeating until the stain is gone.] I mean, for real, that stuff works!
BUT, Shout comes in a plastic bottle that I would rather not buy again. So when I stumbled upon the stain stick, I was super excited to give it a try.
Remember that aforementioned hot chocolate incident? Well, here you can see the aftermath. The other shirt has a banana stain that has already been washed and dried [oops].
I followed the instructions on the stick: “Wet stick and stained area. Run into fabric and lather. Wash as usual.” Very simple.
Good as new!
The banana stain, however, didn’t fare as well, so I have learned a valuable lesson: pre-treat IMMEDIATELY.
I’ve been using the stain stick to pre-treat all our messy clothes with excellent results. And we have A LOT of messy clothes. I have four children under the age of six, folks. Things get really messy around here.
Confession #3: I’m not perfect and that’s okay.
Sometimes, despite my best intentions, things sit dirty and stain and it’s a bummer. But I am only human. I’m trying to do my best. And I think the stain stick over the plastic bottle is a step in the right direction.
One of my 2020 goals is to focus on minimalism. In the past two years we have made great progress toward living a [nearly] zero waste lifestyle, but now I want to circle back and focus on cutting out unnecessary spending and eliminate all the clutter from our home and our life.
My new motto:
So, as a part of that goal, I am tracking all of our spending for the entire year and will share it with you monthly. I am not promising to stop spend money altogether but I am tracking it so that we can see where we need to improve.
Just as it is helpful to do a “trash audit” at the start of a zero waste journey, a “shopping audit” is helpful if I am trying to stop bringing junk into my home.
January Shopping Audit
Some clarifications before I begin: My audit only includes physical items [not doctor co-pays, museum entry fees, and school activity costs] and does NOT include consumables, which include food, pet food, toilet paper, and salt blocks for our water softener.
[Toiletries and laundry supplies are consumables, but I am going to share those purchases because I am trying to reduce our waste – and spending – in these areas.]
What We Bought:
So here is everything we bought this month:
Bracelet for Brett for $35 – For Christmas, I gave my partner a leather bracelet with our kids’ names engraved on little beads butthe bracelet didn’t fit [oh the joys of shopping on Amazon]. So he used his Christmas money to buy a new bracelet for the beads.
Seven used puzzles for $7 – my partner and I have started doing puzzles together instead of spending all of our alone time watching Netflix.
Medications for the kids for $20 – We ran out of children’s Tylenol [and this is a necessity when you have four kids under six] and my daughter got an infection and needed an expensive OTC cream.
Used ballet slippers for $2 – My daughter outgrew her ballet slippers for ballet class to the point where she couldn’t even put them on without being in pain, so we needed to get her a bigger pair. [We donated the old pair to her dance class instructor].
Toiletries for $20 – Brett bought another shampoo bar from Lush for $9 and also needed more deodorant and hair cream.
Total spent: $84
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going to Do With It:
The most important reason to stop bringing stuff into the home is that eventually I will [most likely] have to get rid of it. I mean, nothing lasts forever. So, I don’t want to bring anything into my home that I won’t be able to responsibly dispose of when I am done with it.
I’d like to think that Brett will keep the bracelet forever, but that is unrealistic. When he no longer wants to wear it, we will have to throw away the beads and donate the bracelet. Looking back on it, this was not the wisest gift choice on my part. In the future I will give him experience gifts like a brewery tour or something like that.
The ballet slippers and puzzles we will donate or give away to anyone who would like them. We actually only do a puzzle once, so we will be getting rid of them as we finish them. Maybe we can find a friend to swap with so that we all get new puzzles.
The medicine and toiletries will be consumed and then the bottles will be recycled. I haven’t found a way to eliminate the plastic medicine bottles from our lives – sometimes we just need medicine and I am okay with this exception to our zero waste rule until there is a better way.
The Minimalism Game
This month, I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game [which you can read about here].
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen all the stuff that I got rid of – over 500 items!
Day 28-31 [combined into two photos]
Through this process I learned so much about being responsible for where something goes when I am done with it. I tried SO HARD to not have anything go into the trash. I listed stuff for free on OfferUp. I researched how to recycle unusual things. I even went back and forth with Contigo to try to figure out how to responsibly get rid of the kids’ chewed up water bottles [hint: there is no good way so I will never buy bottles like this again].
In a perfect world every manufacturer would be responsible for the product it is creating – either taking it back to be recycled into new products, or at the very least providing helpful information about how to best recycle a product. In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t be allowed to mass produce plastic crap that will still be on this earth when my great great great grandkids are here without at the very least having a plan for the end of its life. But, I can only do my best to avoid products like these. If I cannot responsibly rehome an item, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed or reused, then I simply should not be buying it.
Thankfully, nowadays, there are so many wonderful, easy [even FREE] alternatives for the typical plastic crap.
This month, only a handful of items [the lids to those plastic water bottles, a bag of plastic junk, and some expired vitamins] went into the trash. Everything else was donated or given to friends or recycled or repurposed.
For the rest of the year, I will be getting rid of 30 items from the house each month and continuing to report our shopping habits monthly.
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
Before I get started talking about my highly customizable, completely zero waste, delicious and hearty vegetable soup, I need to admit a few things…
First, I am not a chef. I would barely qualify as a cook if it weren’t for the fact that I now find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to cook…A LOT. I don’t know if the sheer quantity of meals I prepare is enough to call me a cook, but I still don’t feel like one. In fact, I’ve always hated cooking.
“Baking have I loved and cooking have I hated.” [Good ol’ scripture reference from the religion of my youth.]
Anyway, to be fair, I’ve become a decent cook. I can prepare a whole meal without needing to consult allrecipes.com and I very frequently “wing it” with good results. I’ve even found myself creating my own recipes!!! This is totally out of character for me – but, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. [At least, I think that’s a saying…]
Secondly, this is not a recipe.
Sorry about that.
This is more about encouraging everyone to look through the fridge or the pantry and find what’s just hanging around unused and forgotten and throwing it all in a big pot with some water and seeing what happens.
It’s an adventure really. And I love adventure!
So, let’s get on with it.
Why Vegetable Soup is AWESOME
Vegetable soup is a staple in my home for many reasons:
1. It is versatile. I have never met a vegetable that didn’t like to be in a vegetable soup. I also love to add quinoa, lentils or rice in for fun sometimes.
2. It is zero waste. I never have to add the ingredients for this soup to my shopping list because the whole point is to use up what I have lying around. And, believe me, I’ve thrown some random things in my vegetable soups [all edible, I assure you].
3. It is easy to make ahead and reheat. In fact, I usually make this while my kids have their quiet time so that I don’t have to worry about four staving children nagging me for dinner. I also always make this when my husband works late because I can make it earlier in the day so dinner time is a breeze. Soup is also great for freezing.
4. My kids love it. I love it too. [My husband is iffy on it, but that’s only because he doesn’t believe that anything without meat or cheese is real food, so don’t listen to him.] In fact, my vegetable soup is the only thing that I can count on my picky two-year-old consistently eating.
5. It is SO GOOD FOR YOU! I frequently encourage my personal training clients to up their vegetable intake by trying to have two different types of vegetables at every meal. This soup could haveDOZENS! Most people are not getting enough vegetables, so this soup can really help [and a salad at lunch goes a long way too].
How to Make the Vegetable Soup
Ok, so I already admitted that this is not a recipe, but I will walk you through the basics.
Step 1: Find and chop all the vegetables you want to use. Literally any and all vegetables will do.
Step 2: Cook them in a stock pot with a little oil starting with the hardest vegetables and then moving to the softest. [Or just throw them all in at once and move to step three. Feel free to be lazy with it. It’s all going to simmer in the end anyway.]
Step 3: Add water to cover and bring to a boil.
Step 4: Add anything else like beans, potatoes, quinoa, rice, sweet potatoes, other vegetables you might have forgotten, anything else you found lying around in the fridge like a leftover jar of pasta sauce, etc.
Step 5: Let boil as long as is needed for everything to soften then let it simmer for…as long as you want. Or take it off the heat and let the flavors meld. Or serve it up right away. Up to you.
Note: always taste and season as you go. May need some salt. Maybe some pepper. Maybe some chili powder. Maybe some garlic. Maybe some onion powder.
[Again, this is not a recipe.]
This is literally how I’ve made soup once a week for the past year and it has always been delicious.
…but it clearly doesn’t always look appetizing…
Pictured above is a corn, onion, celery, potato, quinoa soup – which turned into more of a stew cuz that quinoa really soaks up the liquid. Very hearty and delicious.
Here is a carrot, onion, corn, green bean, and chickpea soup.
Now this soup had A LOT in it: carrot, onion, tomato, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, kale, and a few other things I can’t remember…
Ok, in this one I added shredded chicken, BUT IT WAS GOING BAD, I swear! If you’re a meat eater then it’s totally fine to add some meat! And top it with cheese! [But really, I’d prefer you not because a plant-based diet is better for you and the planet.]
Just had to throw that in there.
Anyway, vegetables. Eat them. Throw them in a pot with some water and salt. Delicious.
On a road trip from Chicago to Detroit last month, we passed a billboard on the I-90 interstate that said something to the effect of: without truckers there would be no food.
The purpose of the billboard was to thank truckers during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week back in September and – don’t get me wrong – I’m appreciative, but I would not starve without truckers.
I am surrounded by local farms where I can buy my food so I don’t need to have it shipped from half way across the country [with the exception of some foods we can’t grow in the Midwest like bananas and avocados – but those are hardly necessities]. In fact, we should all be concerned by the fact that most of the food in grocery stores and supermarkets are transported by long-haul trucks from their place of origin. According to a Business Insiders article, without truckers, the grocery stores would run out of food in three days [read about it HERE.] To me, it is actually kind of sad that they are shipping in food from all over the map when food [often the same kind of food] is being grown by farmers right in my home town.
Having food shipped all over the world is not the best, healthiest, most economical, or most sustainable approach to feeding humanity, which is why we purchase a CSA share from a local farm each year.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
The way a CSA works is local community members pay a price up front for a certain share in the crops produced on the farm. This provides security for the farmer in the event of a bad season and provides delicious, local, and in-season food for the shareholders. We’ve only had our share for two seasons, but we’ve already seen first hand how unpredictable the farming business is. And still, the benefits to spending my grocery budget in this way are totally worth any “risk.”
Here are some of my favorite things about our CSA:
1. My farmers are awesome. I literally know my farmers. That alone, to me, is super cool. And, what is more, these men are a part of my community. They employ community members. They are helping our local economy. I am proud to support them.
2. My food is picked when it’s ripe. My food isn’t picked when it’s green and then sprayed later to make it appear ripe. My food is also picked within a week of me picking it up.
3. My food is grown ethically. I know that my farm takes care of its employees. I don’t have to fear that I am buying food that is grown by a system that takes advantage of people [as many food sources do].
4. My food is grown organically. My particular farm [Rustic Road Farm in Elburn, IL] is applying for its organic certification, and they are very open and honest about their methods of farming.
5. My food is the real-deal misfit produce. You’ve probably heard about all the businesses selling the “misfit” produce that is rejected by grocers. Well, my food is the legit stuff. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It teaches me and my kids that a head of lettuce doesn’t have to look like those fancy plastic wrapped ones in the grocery store. It is food. We all need to be less picky and less wasteful.
If you’re considering getting a CSA share, my only advice is DO IT. If you have any questions about CSAs, let me know! I’d love to share more of our experience.
Also, you can read about our experience last year:
A reader asked me this recently, which made me realize that I owe everyone an explanation. I hope that the title of my blog has not been misunderstood to mean that I have something against makeup or against wearing makeup, because I don’t.
A few years ago I started a blog about motherhood. At that time, I had already stopped wearing makeup, so the title was literal, but at the same time, I meant it figuratively because I was trying to say that I’m sharing the real me – not some edited-for-the-internet version of myself, or the “gram-able” get-my-good-side photos of myself. I chose the name for the same reason that I don’t wear makeup – because I don’t need to hide behind perfection. I like showing people the real me – the same me that my kids see when they drag me out of bed in the morning, the same me that just ran five miles on the treadmill at the gym, the same me that’s too busy to care whether I look good or not. Everyone sees the same face – my real face.
Why I don’t wear makeup
It’s not that I NEVER wear makeup. I do wear makeup occasionally – for professional family photos that we get taken once a year and my anniversary dinner date with my partner and, of course, Halloween [my absolute favorite reason to wear makeup is for a costume!], and a few other special occasions.
In high school, I started wearing makeup partly as way to hide my tragically oily and acne-ridden face from the mean kids in my class and partly as a way to just be normal, like every other girl. But the downside that no one told me about was that eventually I wouldn’t feel comfortable in public without makeup, that it would be a time consuming [not to mention expensive] process every morning for the rest of my life, and that it would make my skin problems even worse.
Then fast-forward ten years and I had become a fitness fanatic on a super clean eating diet and I had just given birth to my second baby, a handsome little boy, and my skin was glowing from all the pregnancy hormones and the clearest it had ever been, so I stopped wearing makeup.
And I never went back.
That’s pretty much it. I was tired of feeling like I looked bad without makeup. I was tired of the breakouts. I was tired of buying products to try to make myself look beautiful. And it took a while, but now I’m very happy with my plain face. I no longer feel the need to put on makeup. When I do wear makeup, it is just for fun. I don’t need it to feel confident or beautiful anymore.
Side note: I do work outside the home, though only part-time, and I have a customer-facing, sales position as a personal trainer but I still don’t feel the need to put on makeup. That being said, I work at a gym where people aren’t dressing up or trying to look their best [well, most people anyway], so I don’t feel pressured to put on a face the way I might if I were back in the corporate world. Still, I’d like to think that I love my natural self enough to not bother with the makeup.
My [nearly] zero waste beauty routine
Turns out, the best way to have zero waste in the beauty department is to embrace natural beauty and not waste time or money on beauty products at all.
[Jonathan Van Ness would KILL me if he heard me say that – sorry, Jonathan! I love you!!!]
However, that being said, I do try to be hygienic [I say “try” because I have four little kids, so sometimes just showering is a struggle – let alone shaving or exfoliating or any of that extra stuff]. So here is my “beauty” routine [can I even call it that?]:
I brush my teeth. I use this beautiful bamboo toothbrush that I love. I am still working through my toothpaste stash [and have been for the past two years…] but I already have some toothpaste tablets to try and will make the switch as soon as all the Colgate is gone.
I wash my hair. I use bar shampoo and bar conditioner. This current coconut shampoo bar is from Lush and smells amazing!
I wash my body. I use all natural, package free bars of soap from wherever I can find them. This current beauty is from an apothecary vendor at my local farmers market.
I shave occasionally [aka rarely]. I’m still working through my obscenely huge stash of disposable plastic razors. I want a safety razor SO BADLY. I think I may just donate my unopened packages of razors to a local shelter so I can make the switch right away.
I clean my ears. I know people say not to do this. When I first went zero waste, I stopped buying q-tips. “Shia Su said I don’t need them, so then I don’t need them!” ….but I do need them. I’ve had drainage problems in my ears since I was a kid and after about a month of not cleaning my ears I could barely hear. So I buy the paper kind and compost them.
I don’t wear deodorant. If my hands get dry, I use the aquaphor lotion we have for the kids. If my lips get chapped, I use the family lip balm we all share.
[Jonathan Van Ness would be SO ashamed of me right now…]
I do own some makeup. I’ve been using the same tube of bb cream for the past five years, I kid you not. I am also still using the same mascara and eye-liner. I have literally not bought any makeup since before I had kids five years ago.
My skincare treatments
I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this statement, but in my experience, clean eating and exercise are the absolute best skin care. I used to spend tons of money on special creams and exfoliants and acne products, but nothing ever cleared my skin until I cleaned up my diet.
Since puberty, I’ve had super oily skin. I used to wear a crapload of that powder foundation to try to tone down the shine on my nose. It was gross. But since I’ve been eating plant-based, whole foods, my skin is not oily at all. If anything, it is too dry. I sometimes actually put coconut oil on my face because my cheeks get dry. [I would have NEVER put oil on my face ten years ago!]
I do get the occasional pimple like every human being, but I don’t hide them with makeup. It’s not fooling anyone anyway. I choose to own my blemishes instead. I just let them be and they go away. In my experience, makeup only makes it worse.
My plan for wrinkles
Well, I have noticed that I am getting wrinkles. I took a picture with my daughter the other day and when I looked at it, I was surprised at all the wrinkles. [Darn you improved cellphone cameras!]
This is the picture:
I’m not implying that they are bad or that I’m not happy because I have wrinkles – it was just the first time I noticed them. I’m starting to look older, which for me is a positive thing since people usually think I am in college.
Things may change as I continue to age, but at this point, I don’t understand why the world tells us that wrinkles are bad and to be prevented at ANY COST. Wrinkles aren’t ugly. They are a sign of age, yes, but age isn’t a bad thing either. Age is a privilege. Age is wisdom. Age is something to be proud of. I intend to embrace my wrinkles rather than fight them.
In the end, how you present yourself to the world is a personal choice. Beauty is a complex thing and everyone wants to look and feel their best, so I’m not trying to discourage anyone from doing any beautifying that makes them feel good. But no matter what face you choose to show the world, I hope YOU know that your real face is beautiful and you don’t have to hide it.