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.
I used to think that I handle stress well, but now I realize that I’ve actually never been really stressed out before. Come to think of it, I remember that sick-to-my-stomach stressed feeling when I was in junior high and had procrastinated a big project until the night before the due date – but I only experienced it once because I vowed to never do that again. I HATED that feeling so much that I did all of my school work weeks in advance for the rest of my education. I am not kidding.
So it turns out that I handle stress fantastically – if by “handle,” I mean “avoid.”
But when it comes to adulting – and especially mothering – some stressors are unavoidable. And the past five months, with a pandemic raging and lay-offs and new jobs and going back to college and homeschooling my kids and a death in the family, I have been SUPER STRESSED. I didn’t even realize it until I went all day long without eating anything and I started shaking [probably more due to the lack of food than the stress] and having what might be described as a nervous breakdown.
At that point I knew I had to do something.
So, I handed the reigns to my wonderful partner, Brett, who took over the dishes and the laundry and the baking and the grocery shopping and the cooking and…pretty much all of it.
It made me realize that sometimes the stress of motherhood and homemaking is a little bit self-imposed. I will be the first one to say that I don’t believe in any of that sexist bullshit about women being better caretakers and homemakers, but it didn’t at first occur to me to have him take over [ask him for help, sure, but I still had to be responsible for everything].
Well, all I had to do was let go and – turns out – Brett is AMAZING at doing all of these household tasks. He even brews my coffee and prepares breakfast for me to take to work every day [I leave the house at 3:30am]. He also bakes bread and makes OAT MILK. And for dinner one night last week, he made a mushroom galette [!!!] from scratch! I don’t know very many men who know what a galette IS let alone how to make one. And Brett doesn’t even like mushrooms.
[This is why I call our marriage a partnership – because it is not governed by the typical gender roles, but rather by what best serves the wholefamily. Right now, my family needs me to work and so Brett is doing the unpaid work of taking care of our home.]
So, what I’m basically saying is, Ladies, if you need some help, don’t be afraid to ask. And I know there are women out there without [romantic] partners, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask someone for help! Don’t be so stressed that you stop eating [or eat everything in sight], when help is available.
We don’t have to do it all. This is the 21st century and we women have earned the right to get some help with the kids and the house and the job and whatever else – we just can’t be afraid to ask for it.
One of my favorite quotes is from Brooke McAlary’s book, Slow:
“I don’t need a photo or a video to remember it. And I don’t need an audience to validate it.”
Brooke McAlary, Slow
I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote since I [re]joined Instagram last year. In that time, I’ve been reminded of all the reasons that I left social media in the first place:
A waste of time: No matter how good my intentions may be, my time on social media always feels wasted.
A false connection: Even though I enjoy seeing updates from friends and family, this seems like an impersonal and lazy way to “keep in touch.”
A need for validation: Social media creates a need for approval and a dependence on validation to prove our worth.
An inability to be present: For myself personally, being active on social media trained me to view every moment as “gramable,” to be on the lookout for good photo ops, to be thinking of sharing the moment rather than being in the moment.
On the other hand, social media has some valuable uses, such as sharing information and impacting society’s belief systems. We’ve seen that through this past month of protests around George Floyd’s death. Social media has been a way to express and hear the voices of the people in a way that major media is not capable. Social platforms have been used to expose corruption, inform ignorance, and change the world. I have benefited from hearing the voices of people on social media that I would not have otherwise heard. I follow a wide variety of humanitarian and environmental organizations and activists who keep me informed about topics that matter to me.
So, maybe we can’t throw the whole thing out, but I think that I am ready to take another extended break. I’m not going to shut my account down, but I am going to limit my Instagram usage by:
Hiding the app. I’ve found that I am less likely to open the app if it is hidden away in a folder so that I have to choose intentionally to find it, rather than using it as a means of killing time.
Using Screentime limits. The iPhone [and probably other smart phones] have a feature in settings that allow me to limit my time on specific apps or apps of a certain type. I put a 15-minute limit for my collective social apps [which really includes Instagram, Pinterest, Marco Polo, Skype and FaceTime].
Not posting about myself. I am going to start using my account for activism rather than sharing pieces of my personal life. I don’t need the validation and the people who I have real relationships with [along with my blog readers] will learn about my life and my kids. Some things that I will post about:
photos of our CSA food hauls to encourage people to support local agriculture and healthy eating.
zero waste products and zero waste shopping trips
quotes and information about giving and supporting local NGOs working to end poverty locally and globally
support for Black Lives Matter and racial justice
other humanitarian and environmental issues as they arise
For me, these are the ways that Instagram [and social media in general] are useful to me – as a tool for education and activism and social change, RATHER than a tool for personal sharing and seeking approval.
As for my personal life, I would like to keep it personal. I would rather live in the moment and not care about what anyone else thinks.
I am a mother of four kids, who are my whole world. I have other identities – partner, minimalist, personal trainer, environmentalist, baker, health freak – but they all revolve around my primary role as a mother. Sometimes I am envious of other women who have glamorous corporate careers while I spend a large portion of my day chopping food into bite-sized pieces. But I am glad that I am able to spend these formative years with them, since this is a luxury that many mothers do not have.
Because being a mom is such a large part of my life, and because this blog is about motherhood [well, motherhood and other things, obviously], I wanted to share how I am trying to raise my kids to be racially-aware, inclusive, and anti-racist.
Are Kids Born Racist?
I don’t believe that racism is a part of the human nature, though its existence is evidence of the general selfishness of humanity. Rather, I believe that racism is a learned behavior, passed down through the generations, whether intentionally or subliminally.
Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
There is evidence to support both sides of the issue. Some studies have concluded that children are born with a preference for their own race, and other studies have shown that children learn racist beliefs from their parents, schools, and culture.
I agree with the research that indicates that we are most comfortable with people who share our race and culture because it is most familiar to us. That just makes sense. Our first encounter with a different race may be startling or uncomfortable, but that does not mean that we are racist – that we believe that our race is superior. It means that we fear the unknown. Which is why research has also found that the more time we engage with people of different races [and cultures and beliefs and lifestyles], the more comfortable we become with these differences.
Because institutional racism is so ingrained and so automatic and so accepted, without enough people wanting to enact true, long-lasting change, institutional racism ends up becoming our personal bias.
Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University
A great article about this can be found here [partially quoted above.]
I can also see from my own kids that we are not born racist. My children are happy to play with any other kid, it doesn’t matter in the least what color skin they have. My daughter, who is incredibly outgoing, won’t let race, age, gender or even a language barrier stop her from becoming best friends with other kids at the library or on the playground.
Breaking the Cycle of Racism
It is important to understand that racism is learned because that gives us hope that our children do not have to necessarily become racist adults.
[I know many adults don’t believe themselves to be racist, but as I wrote about it in My White Awakening, unless we have been actively working to overcome our own prejudices, we all have racial biases that inform our view of the world and we all benefit from a racist system based on white supremacy].
We have the ability to end the cycle of racism.
What this means to me is that I have to be especially careful not to taint their worldview with prejudices or biases or any negativity toward people who differ from us. Of course, I would never do that intentionally, but, as I realized while examining my own childhood [which I wrote about in my first racism post], racism often gets passed down from generation to generation very subtly. So in order to not unintentionally perpetuate racist beliefs, I have to intentionally teach my children inclusivity and equality.
It is up to us as parents to ensure that we put an end to the subliminal messages of racism.
1. Talking about our differences [including race]. The first thing that usually happens when kids encounter people who are different is that they ask about it – usually very loudly and in front of the person they are talking about. Rather than being embarrassed and trying to hush my kids, I usually give an apologetic smile to the individual and then give my kid an honest answer. Sometimes if the stranger is standing there, I let them answer for themselves. I view these moments as opportunities instead of embarrassments [even though they are usually still embarrassing], because they allow me to talk to my kids about how we are all different and that’s okay. And this is not limited to race. Some people ride in wheel chairs, some people have curly hair, some people wear hijabs, some people have nose rings, some people are missing teeth, some people speak a different language, some people have lighter skin, and some people have darker skin, because we are all different – but we are all people.
These are some unwritten rules that I have been teaching my kids:
We praise our differences. I allow my kids to ask questions, without feeling shamed for noticing differences. It is okay to notice that people are different from us. The key for me has been to speak positively about these differences. Differences do not divide us, they make us unique and special. They make the world a more enjoyable place to live.
We recognize that we are all different. I want my kids to understand that to us, someone’s skin may be dark, but to them, our skin is light. It works both ways. We may think they eat strange food, but they probably think that our food is strange, as well. I am trying to teach them that the world does not revolve around their perspective. This is the beginning of apathy and compassion for other people – being able to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what they world feels like for them.
We treat everyone with kindness and respect. Again, this is not just limited to race. In fact, I think these are all very important lessons for loving and accepting all people, regardless of their race, culture, religion, orientation, family structure, outward appearance, abilities or disabilities. Teaching my kids the inherent worth of all human beings is vital to ending racism.
Of course, accepting that people are all different is great, but our culture will still teach them racist ideas if we don’t intentionally intervene, which is why the job is not done here.
2. Exposing them to many races and cultures. I love other cultures, so it is a lot of fun to learn how other people live. I want my children to understand that the world is a very big place and it is filled with all kinds of people who believe different things and eat different things and wear different things and, yes, sometimes look differently. One of our traditions during the Christmas season is to celebrate other holidays from around the world. We also like to attend the “Diverse Voices Story Time” at the library, which includes songs in another language and some stories about people from diverse backgrounds. Hanging out at libraries and parks and public places gives us the opportunity to meet people of different cultures and races. And we enjoy going to local festivals and events which offer opportunities to expose my kids to other cultures. As more of my kids enter school, they will meet more kids of different races and I look forward to watching their relationships develop unhindered by the negative affects of racism. I hope that all of my kids experience a much more multi-cultural upbringing than I did.
As I mentioned previously, research has shown that the more exposure we have to different races [and differences, in general] the more positively we feel about them. This makes a lot of sense, because oftentimes, we don’t interact with people outside of our own race and so we really have no experience to teach us that racial stereotypes are wrong and hurtful. We have to engage with people who are different and when we do, we will discover that they are just people like us.
I don’t want to raise my kids in a white world – I want to raise them in the real world.
3. Teaching the history of racism. This year around MLK Day, we picked up several kids books about the Civil Rights Movement. These books were the perfect way to discuss some of the unpleasant truths about racism in America’s history. One of the books also talked about the holocaust and anti-Semitism. I realized that I need to be more intentional about teaching my kids these important stories. We need to talk about the injustice that minority groups around the world have suffered at the hands of white society. We need to know their stories of struggle. We need to feel the weight of our whiteness.
Additionally, I need to teach my kids stories of minority leaders and heroes and champions and victors. I cannot allow them to grow up with only white protagonists. The same books I mentioned earlier told the stories of MLK and Anne Frank and Audrey Faye Hendricks, real-life heroes who I want my kids to look up to. There are also excellent books about leaders, mathematicians, scientists who prove that race and gender do not determine intelligence or capabilities.
4. Providing diverse toys and books. As a white family, it is easy to end up with all white toys and books, but this is not sending the right message to my kids about other races. I want them to grow up surrounded by diversity, and that starts in the home. In order to do this, I have to basically enforce affirmative action for the toy bin. I want the toys and books and television programming that my kids experience at home to mimic the real world.
We don’t buy a lot of toys for our kids [and at these ages, they are usually animals anyway – Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Baby Shark] but I have started intentionally including diverse books and being more aware of what races are represented in our home. Black is not the only race that needs to be represented. My kids also need to be exposed other minority groups – some of which are harder to find represented in the toy aisle, evidence that we still have work to do.
We also no longer allow toys that depict racial stereotypes [such as “cowboys and Indians”]. We don’t allow programming that depicts certain races as inept or inferior or as always “the bad guy.” And, though a slightly different discussion, we don’t allow toy weapons of any kind because weapons are for the intention of harming someone or something, and that should never be a part of play.
5. Model anti-racist activism. In my previous post, I wrote about all the ways that I am supporting the racial justice movement. I can’t turn all my kids into little activists, but I can show them by my example that there are things that we can do about injustices that we see in the world.
As I have said before, there is a difference between “not being a racist,” and “being anti-racist.” An anti-racist actively denounces racism in all its forms and promotes equality for all races, ethnicities, and cultures. As a parent, I want my kids to not be racist, but I also want them to be anti-racist.
My hope is that by immersing my kids in the “melting pot” that is American society and modeling an anti-racist mindset, my kids will be able to break the cycle of systemic racism that is so often perpetuated in white families.
How are you promoting racial equality with your kids? Would love to hear other input – especially from parents of older kids.
Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I have started asking myself why I even bother to track my purchases. It is a hassle since I am really only tracking my partner’s purchases because I never buy anything. It has also lead to a few passionate [aka heated] discussions between the two of us on what constitutes a “necessary” expense.
But that is exactly why this is a helpful endeavor [despite the nuisance]. It forces us to consider each purchase, instead of just buying whatever we want whenever we feel like it, which is what we used to do.
But it’s not easy to stop impulse buying. The very definition of the word “impulse” implies that it will be hard to stop. The American consumer culture preys on our inability to control ourselves when it comes to spending. Advertisers use all kinds of tricks to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. But we have the power to choose more intentional spending habits. It takes discipline and practice, which is exactly what I am doing with this shopping audit.
Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases
Before we buy anything, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
Do we need this?
Can we use something we already have?
Can we make it ourselves?
Is it reusable?
How often will we use it?
How long will we need it?
Can we buy it used?
Honestly, the first two questions usually rule out the purchase. But if we do determine that we really do need it and it can’t be found used, we ask more questions – and these questions are just as important as the first set.
What business do we want to support when buying it?
What is the most environmentally friendly option for this product?
Where can we buy this to ensure it was manufactured ethically?
What is the plan for disposing of it at the end of its life?
I will once again share this graphic by Sara Lazarovic [youre going to see this a lot from me].
The point is not to keep us from making any purchases, but rather to help us make intentional purchases. And, also, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever buy anything you want ever again. We still buy things that we technically want more than need, but we are intentional about it – which makes all the difference.
The Story of Our Bike Pump
We needed a new bike pump. Our kids are biking every day and I have two jogging strollers [a single and a double] that I use very frequently that needed the tires refilled. Our bike pump broke last summer. So, once we determined that we needed a new one and couldn’t buy one used, we agreed to buy one. However, instead of running to Walmart or Target that day to pick up the cheapest one we could find, we waited until a local bike shop in our town was open so that we could support a local, ethical business with the purchase.
The bike pump was technically a want, not a need, if you define “need” as something needed for survival. I mean we don’t have to go for bike rides or walks. But, let’s be real, this is a source of enjoyment and health and stress relief and quality time and immersion in nature that our entire family adores. We live on a bike path and use it every single day. And in order to continue, we “needed” a bike pump.
So was it a need or a want?
We made the decision that it would be used a lot and could support a local business and would enhance our lives and so we bought one.
I’m sure your thinking [like my partner did], Geez, what’s the big deal about buying a bike pump? But this bike pump is one of many, many purchases that suddenly pops up. Each time, we try to make intentional purchases. In the case of the bike pump, we purchased a new one from a local business. But in many other cases, we choose to do without, or to wait, or find an alternative.
A few weeks back, I chopped my hair shorter than Brett’s and wanted headbands to make me look less like my little brother. I could have immediately ordered a set from Amazon, but instead I made some out of the old clothes that are too shabby to donate. When we needed to install a French drain in our yard, Brett could have gone to Home Depot straightaway to buy the necessary piping, but instead waited and – lo and behold! – found someone giving away enough tubing for the whole project. And when I wanted cute little bumblebee candies to put on my baby’s first birthday cake, I did some research and found a cute way to make them myself using almonds instead. There’s also the tea kettle that would be handy for heating water and the bathmat that I’m now making out of old towels and the new television because ours keeps shutting off on us randomly – but none of these purchases are necessary, so we haven’t bought them…yet.
Usually buying less just requires taking a pause before buying the first option that comes to mind. And in the end, if the choice is made to purchase new, then “where” and “what” become important questions to consider.
As Anna Lappé said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We have the choice to buy cheap and support big businesses who promote greed in our economy and ourselves. Or we can buy ethically and environmentally and support small businesses – the businesses of our neighbors and friends and our community – and find ourselves less concerned about the money and more concerned about things that truly matter.
So, without further adieu, here is our purchases for May.
What We Bought
Bike pump: $40 – I’ve already discussed this purchase at length above [you should have heard Brett and I discussing it for DAYS].
Mother’s Day Gifts: $184.10 – We sent gifts to both our moms, both of our living grandmothers, and my sweet Auntie Paula who is like a mother to me. Especially during this time of being separated from our loved ones, I thought it was important to send special gifts. However, even these were ethical and intentional. We sent two gifts through Etsy in order to support small businesses. We sent two gifts of Fair Trade coffee from Grounds for Change, which is a family-owned and operated business in Seattle that we frequently support because they are ethical and eco-friendly. And we sent a candle that supports one of our favorite charities, Charity:Water, the proceeds of which will help provide clean water to people around the world. So even in buying gifts, we try to make intentional and ethical purchases that support causes we care about from companies whose values align with our own, while at the same showing our family that we love them.
Diapers/Diaper Cream/Toiletries: $22.57 – I have to include this purchase, though it pains me. We did some traveling last month and so we bought disposable diapers and some disposable toiletry items. At home, we use exclusively cloth diapers and I use a menstrual cup and reusable menstrual pads, but when traveling to stay with family this becomes…uncomfortable. So we typically buy disposables for travels.
Brake parts for van: $96.88 – At least we didn’t have to pay the cost of labor to have the brakes changed because Brett has picked up this skill [among many other mechanic skills] and saved us lots of money over the years.
Bike: $10 – We bought a used bike for Evangeline because she outgrew the one she had been using. Now her old one is being used by Josephine.
Connectors for French drain: $5 – Oh, the joys of home ownership. But again, Brett is saving lots of money by digging the draining and doing all the work himself.
Tube for kids bike: $5 – One of the kids’ bike got a flat, so we had to replace the tube. I told you we ride A LOT!
Total spent: $363.55
Over budget: $134.10 [We weren’t over budget on the month as a whole, but we did technically overspend in the “gift” category – we just love the moms in our life so much!]
What We Are Going To Do With It
Everything we bought [with the exception of the disposable products] will receive lots of love – especially those new brakes for the van.
What We Got Rid Of
This month we went through the kids toys. I recently read Simplicity Parenting, which reminded me once again how important it is to keep the levels of toys from overwhelming me, and our house, and even the kids.
Thirty-five total books and toys have been temporarily removed to a safe place where they will wait to see if anyone misses anything [they won’t]. Then off to Salvation Army.
The kids’ room is once again under control.
[Speaking of Simplicity Parenting, over the next few weeks I am going to be posting about how we’ve been simplifying our mealtimes, schedules, possessions, and food choices to improve our time together and provide our kids with plenty of opportunities to just be kids.]
Even though we spent quite a bit, we also gave away a lot of money in May to important organizations such has No Kid Hungry, Save the Children, Charity: Water and our local food bank. We spent over $300 on ourselves, but we gave over $1500 away to help people impacted by this global crisis.
Brett and I are both still furloughed from our jobs, but this time has only made us more aware of how blessed we are and rather than stressing about money or worrying for ourselves, we have turned our attention to people less fortunate than ourselves and given what we are able.
This is a very stressful time for our country and our world, so I hope you all are doing okay, staying safe and healthy, and taking care of yourselves and your loved ones!
When I was a little kid, we had one HUGE desk top computer in our basement that we could power up to play a game if we had the patience and determination to actually get the machine on and the floppy disk running. But today, my kindergartner has spent the last three months doing her school work on an iPad – watching YouTube videos, playing math computer games, and reading digital kids books.
Times have definitely changed.
I know that opinions are very strong on both sides of the screen time debate, and so I have no intention of weighing in on how much screen time kids should or should not have. I’ll leave that to the experts. But I have realized that even more important than setting healthy boundaries for my kids is modeling healthy screen time usage for myself.
While reading Carla Naumburg’s book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, it dawned on me that I am breaking many of the screen time rules that I would want my kids to follow. So I decided to set some boundaries for my own screen time.
I don’t have Facebook, but I still often get sucked into spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Sometimes I pick up my phone to check the weather and realize an hour later [after checking emails, responding to texts messages, practicing Spanish, and catching up on news] that I still don’t know the forecast.
But even still, I don’t believe that using my phone is bad [or that you shouldn’t use yours as much as you want]. I have just realized that if I expect my kids to have healthy boundaries for screens, I need to have healthy boundaries as well. While adults may not have the developmental issues associated with screen time that kids do, we still risk negative side effects such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a general loss of time.
My Screen Time Limits
I am not trying to say that everyone should follow these specific rules. Your usage will depend on how your phone serves you. [And it’s important to remember that the phone, tablet, computer or device is there to serve you, not the other way around.] For me personally, these changes over the past few months have provided me with more quality time with my family, less time wasted wandering aimlessly on my phone, and a better example of how I want my kids to manage their own screens when they are old enough.
1. No screens during mealtime. I’ve been working on table manners and dinner time routines with my kids. One of the new standards is no screens at the table. Right now my kids don’t have their own devices, so it’s really just a rule for my partner and I. Sometimes our phones are so attached to us that they come to the table with us, but this just causes a distraction from the focus of time together as a family during meals.
2. Absolutely no phones while driving. This rule is a no-brainer especially since it is now a law, but it is still a struggle. I have a habit of checking my phone at stop lights and using it for directions or even occasionally making calls. Could these things wait? Most definitely. Do I want my kids thinking that it is ok to use their phones while driving? Absolutely not.
3. No television when the kids are awake. Oh, man. This is tough. Television is such an easy and convenient distraction. A few years back, I would start reaching the end of my rope around dinner time while I was waiting for Brett to get home and trying to make dinner and the baby was screaming and my emergency response was to turn on the television. And I wasn’t even putting on kids shows. I would turn on The Great British Baking Show or American Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t trying to distract my kids. I was trying to distract myself. Talk about setting a bad example for my children!
Once I realized my unhealthy tendency, I decided to move the television to the basement and not turn it on [outside of family movie nights or agreed upon screen times] until the kids are in bed for the night.
It has been a game changer. And not just for me, but also for my kids. We watch WAAAAY less television and my kids are much less dependent on it for their own entertainment. We have all learned how to handle boredom or stress without the television.
4. Phone away when playing with the kids. I knew something had to change when I found myself playing with my kids while responding to text messages. How terrible is that? I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’m sure my kids could tell that I was not 100% present. Sometimes the kids and I are in the middle of an epic story about Brown Puppy [my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal] rescuing Super Chase [my son’s favorite Paw Patrol character] from the hot lava on Daisy Island [that’s our dog]…and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my to do list and that I need to call the doctor to reschedule the baby’s appointment and I need to text Brett to remind him to pick up extra peanuts because I need to make peanut butter for tomorrow’s lunches…
The next thing I know, I’m on my phone and telling my kids to just hang on for one second.
For me, this is a major parenting fail. I want to spend time with my kids. I want to play. I will only have the opportunity to make these memories and share these times with my kids for so long. But I am so easily distracted by everything that I have to do that my brain can’t stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.
So, I don’t keep my phone within reach when I play with my kids. I set it far away – usually out of the room, sometimes even up stairs charging by my bed.
Not everyone has the ability to do this, since many people have to be available at all times, but I have found that even the conscious effort to set the phone down and focus on my kids has improved my ability to set my “adult stuff” aside and slow down my brain for a bit.
5. No screens in bed. The last rule I have set for myself is to not sit and stare at my phone [or any other device – though I don’t have any other devices] before I go to sleep at night. Screens have been proven to cause interrupted, restless sleep when used right before bed. Plus, it’s not a calming way to send myself off into sleep. I often read books on my phone, but for just before bed, I use a physical book. Or I just climb into bed and go to sleep, which is great because sometimes phones create this crazy time vortex where you lose three hours without even realizing it.
Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been personally working on in my own life as a mother – trying to do the best I can for my kids. It’s my job to protect them from things that will harm them, but it’s also my job to set the example.
The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.
Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.
[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]
And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.
This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.
Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.
I choose the latter.
So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.
Spending Time Together
My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:
We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.
We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.
Eating Real Food
This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.
Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!
Exercising At [or near] Home
Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].
When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.
Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.
For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.
You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.
[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]
I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.
Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.
That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.
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!
As I’m writing this, my son is in surgery. It’s a common surgery for kids [tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy] but still requires a general anesthetic, an OR that I’m not allowed to enter, a two week recovery time, and a fair amount of fear.
I could go into all the reasons we decided to have this done – but the truth is, we are trusting our doctors. Theo was hospitalized twice before he turned one and has always struggled with breathing issues and chronic ear infections and mouth breathing. So there are reasons. But we didn’t have to have the surgery. We could have continued to treat his issues as we have been. We could have waited to see if he grows out of it. We could have told the doctors that we don’t think he should have this done because he’s so young and there are risks.
But I can’t pretend that I know more than the doctors who have recommended this procedure. And I know that they are recommending it because they are trying to do what is best for my son.
In the end, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about tonsils or adenoids. I take my kids to see a pediatrician I trust regularly because I am not knowledgeable enough about healthcare. I need a professional’s help.
Like the first time I took Theo for a routine well visit and told the doctor that he was fine. Two breathing treatments later we were headed for the ER where he was hospitalized for a week. Or the time I took him into the pediatrician because I was worried about his hearing and it turned out that he had a double ear infection that required two rounds of antibiotics.
I clearly need doctors for my kids.
In the western world today, it is common to question the doctor, to look for advice on the internet and from friends, and to think that we know better than the professionals. And while I think it is important to advocate for yourself and make the best choices you can for yourself and especially your kids [I gave birth to my babies at home, you may recall], there comes a time when you have to trust your doctors.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – even before this surgery came up – because I saw a rant on Instagram about doctors hiding lots of vital, black label information from patients. As if the entire medical world is out to get us. Trying to trick us into doing all these things [vaccinations, flu shots, epidurals, etc] that are really going to hurt us instead of help us.
I don’t believe that the medical world is out to get us and I think it’s a sad perspective to have of a profession that is trying to make [and keep] people healthy.
I, of course, realize that the issue is more complex than I’m making it out to be in this short post, but the main point is that we all need doctors eventually and all we can do is find the best doctors available and then trust them.
Theo is fine, by the way. And hopefully on his way to fewer encounters with doctors in the future.
Every year we do our “Carlson Countdown to Christmas” with twenty-five holiday-inspired activities. This year, we did some new things and revisited some of our favorites from previous years.
For those thinking of starting a similar tradition, here are the activities we did this year and [at the end] some tips for making this happen!
The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas
December 1: Santa’s Holiday Workshop. This year we kicked off the holiday season with a park district event where we watched Santa arrived pulled by sled dogs and the kids participated in a variety of holiday themed activities.
Tip: Check your park district guide or local event calendar for ideas of things to do with your community.
December 2: Put up the Christmas Tree and Make the Paper Chain. Every year, the kids and I make a Christmas paper chain so that we can countdown to Christmas. This is a helpful visual for them to see how far til Christmas AND cuts down on them asking a million times if today is the big day.
December 3: Shopping for Toys for Tots. This is an annual tradition. We take the kids shopping for toys to give to Toys for Tots then drop them off in a local collection bin. This activity reminds us to appreciate our many blessings and give back to other kids in our community. And, as an added bonus, it helps us to see what toys our kids really love.
December 4: Homemade Marshmallows and Hot Chocolate. This was my first time making marshmallows, but I make hot chocolate every year. The kids and I LOVE hot chocolate and it is so easy to make at home. I can’t believe I used to buy it in packets!
December 5: Christmas I-Spy Game. I wanted to create an activity that would get the kids outside, and since my kids are really into I-Spy and “Look and Find” books, I hid a bunch of Christmas items in the backyard for them to find. They played outside for several hours searching and then re-hiding the items. I wore the baby in a carrier and we got involved in the game too.
Tip: The activity for the day does not have to be a big event or time consuming trip out of the home. I always gather a few simple holiday games and craft ideas to use on occasional days when we just want to stay in [or I’m exhausted].
December 6: Geneva Christmas Walk. This is a tradition for us, even though it always means long lines and walking around outside in the freezing cold. This year we got hot chocolate at Kilwins and took photos with the Grinch. This event is a Christmas classic for us.
December 7: Clay Ornaments. Every year the kids and I make ornaments of some kind. We’ve done salt dough. Last year we did paper. This year, we rolled and cut and painted and glittered cornstarch clay ornaments. This is a great way to make gifts and to add some new ornaments to the tree.
December 8: Christmas Light Shows. This is another annual tradition that the kids LOVE. We have several big, fancy light shows in our area [one was even featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight a few years back]. This year we all got in our Christmas pajamas and drove to the displays.
Tip: Even if you don’t have a fancy light show in your area, there are usually neighborhoods to drive through where the lights are beautiful. I have also seen Christmas light bingo cards on Pinterest which would be a fun game to play!
December 9: Bake Christmas Cookies. Every year, I take one day to bake Christmas cookies because I know that I will eat an obscene amount of cookie dough, and my health [and blood sugar] can only handle it one day. Let me tell you – it’s a special day! The kids love to get involved. Thus far, we’ve been making different types of cookies each year, but I’m hoping that over the years we will settle on our favorites. I think the melted snowmen cookies we made this year might be my favorite cookie EVER.
December 10: Deliver Christmas Gifts to our Neighbors. The gift has been different each year [this year we gave away tins of the freshly baked cookies], but we always enjoy walking to our neighbors to wish them a merry Christmas. This year everyone was home!
December 11: Puffy Paint Snowmen and Christmas Shopping. One of my regular holiday crafts is puffy paint snowmen because the kids love it so much and all it requires is shaving cream and glue. The 11th is also our wedding anniversary so we went out to dinner with the whole family and then took the kids shopping for gifts for each other. It was so sweet to see how thoughtful they were in picking out gifts that their siblings [including the dog], would love.
December 12: Daisy’s Birthday Party. We brought Daisy home three years ago on December 12th as a Christmas present for our kids and every year we celebrate that day as her birthday [we don’t know the actual date]. We bake her a little “pup cake” [humans get banana muffins with cream cheese frosting] and wear party hats and sing to her and give her gifts – the whole deal. It is seriously great fun!
December 13: Christmas Movie. I LOVE Christmas movies. And I love the excuse to watch the cute kids Christmas movies like The Polar Express, The Grinch, and [my personal fave] Arthur Christmas.
December 14: Christmas Tree Waffles. These waffles are an annual breakfast tradition – one day a year only. I didn’t get a picture this year but they are just waffles colored green and decorated with mini M&Ms and powdered sugar.
December 15: Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls. I saw this on Pinterest and thought they were cute. They are harder to make into a tree shape than you would think…only half of them came close to resembling trees. Still delicious though!
December 16: Birdseed Ornaments. This is another annual tradition. We love to take care of our feathered friends – especially since we live in a very wooded area.
17. Gift for Peter Rabbit. This year for the first time, we bought and delivered a gift for the bunny who lives in our local nature center, Peter Rabbit. Then we played at the nature center for the afternoon.
18. Gingerbread Houses with Auntie Paula. Of course this is our FAVORITE annual tradition – with our favorite Auntie!
19. Frozen 2 with Judi. My kids are old enough to go to the movies!!!!!!! [At least, my two oldest are…] So we went to see Frozen 2 with my good friend and fellow movie lover, Judi.
20. Read Christmas books by the fire. We have a big collection of kids Christmas books that we bring out in December – and something about a warm fire in the fireplace makes reading the stories extra special for the kids.
21. Oreo ornaments. More treats! No wonder I gain five pounds every December!
22. Puppy Chow and other gifts. We love to give edible homemade gifts that go in mason jars! We make puppy chow every year because it is easy, delicious, and the kids can help. Only bummer is that I have to buy boxed cereal for it, which I ordinarily never do. Next year I think I’ll try making chocolate popcorn instead to avoid the waste since I can buy popcorn kernels and chocolate in bulk bins.
23. Polar Express and 2 Toots. Every year we do our own “Polar Express” train ride to a little train themed diner called 2 Toots Train Whistle Grill. This year, my parents and my sister and her family came up from Indiana to join us.
24. Christmas Scavenger Hunt. This is a new activity that I hope to turn into an annual tradition. When we had our first kid, Brett and I began the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve – always one Christmas book and Christmas pajamas. Well, our sustainability values no longer include a) buying new books [because we use the library and already own too many books] or b) buying new pajamas when they aren’t needed. We needed to change the tradition, so this year I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find one Christmas gift for them all to share. Because it was hidden, it didn’t need to be wrapped. And it was also a toy set that I bought used.
They were SO EXCITED.
25. Monkey Bread, Orange Julius, [MIMOSAS for the tired mama] and Christmas gift exchange. Every family has their own Christmas traditions, obviously. Ours include a very extravagant breakfast [compared to our usual oatmeal] and a gift exchange. [I like to use the phrase “gift exchange” as opposed to “opening presents” because the former implies that we are GIVING as well as RECEIVING.]
Tips for a Successful Christmas Countdown
1. Make a LONG list. I brainstorm a huge list of ideas of crafts to make, things to bake, places to go, community events to attend, etc. We don’t do all of it, but it helpsto have options.
2. Include LOTS of simple, stay-at-home activities. The activities don’t all have to be extravagant or costly. We do plenty of simple activities like reading Christmas stories together, dancing to Christmas music, or coloring Christmas pictures.
3. Be FLEXIBLE. I used to tryto plan out the entire month in advance, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen over twenty-five days and sometimes you’ll have to adjust the plan. In those instances, having plenty of simple ideas will be helpful.
PLEASE let me know if you start this tradition in your family! The holiday season is about so much more than just gifts. We have so much fun celebrating it all month long, spending time together, and remembering to real reason for the season.