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.
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.
February was a wild month. Theo had surgery [he’s made a full and fast recovery, by the way]. Brett accepted a new job in the city of Chicago and began commuting an hour and a half each way. We prepped and staged and listed our house for sale. Three days later we accepted an offer.
In order to get the house ready to sell, we made some unexpected purchases, but overall, we bought very little because we were so busy.
What We Bought:
[My audit only includes physical items and does NOT include consumables, such as groceries, pet food, and toilet paper.]
House maintenance supplies ($68) – We had to pick up some random things like paint brushes, outlet covers, and quarter round in order to get the house ready to sell. I actually consider this to be a real victory because it was tempting to spend a ton of money sprucing up the house and even adding accents or decorations to make it look better – but I stood my ground and committed to buying as little as possible.
Mason jars for Valentine’s craft ($20 gift card) – I was in charge of a craft at my daughter’s kindergarten class Valentine’s Day party. The timing could not have been worse, but I decided to make slime with the kids because I already had everything I needed, but I did need to buy something for the kids to make and take the slime in. So I bought 4 ounce mason jars with a gift card.
Medicine for Theo ($10) – After Theo’s surgery, he was on a regular schedule of pain medications for several days so we had to buy more. Poor kid.
Gift card for Brett’s Employee ($50) – I’m totally ok with the occasional obligatory gift for coworkers.
Backpack for Brett ($40) – I’m not so totally ok with this, but it was Brett’s Christmas money and he used this backpack every day…until his first day at the new job when they gave him a new one. This is a great reason to try waiting for something you need – you never know when the universe might decide to just give it to you!
Soaps and toiletries ($15) – Brett picked up three boxes of sustainable toiletries which include bar soaps, bar shampoos, and hair product because they were on clearance at his store and come package free. Man after my own heart.
Silicone muffin liners ($8 gift card) – I can’t safely bake in my muffin tin without liners anymore so when I ran out of paper liners I waited a month or so, but eventually caved and bought reusable silicone liners. Muffins and cupcakes, though not necessities, are definitely things that we would miss. Anyway, I had a gift card.
Total spent: $211
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going To Do With it:
The house maintenance supplies were either used up [paint] or will be reused [paint brushes]. The mason jars went home with the kindergarteners. The medicine and toiletries will be used obviously. Brett’s old backpack will become my new diaper bag. And I’ve already used the muffin liners at least five times since I bought them.
Nothing bound for the trash.
What We Got Rid Of:
While we brought in more stuff than I would have preferred, we got rid of WAAAAY more. In preparation for the big move coming up, I have been going through every drawer and every closet and even every bin in storage and eliminating all the excess.
Quite frankly, I thought we were already living pretty lean – but man, oh man! Turns out we still had plenty to remove. I even went through my clothing again and did an overhaul that now allows me to fit all of my clothes in three drawers in my closet.
We sold, gave to friends, donated tons of stuff. I’m actually sad that I didn’t track it or even take photos of everything to show the quantity, but I promise you that it was way more than the 30 items I committed to getting rid of every month.
Now that we have a closing date on our house, we have less than two months to find an apartment in the city and downsize enough to fit all of our stuff in it.
February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!
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.
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.
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.
Every December, we celebrate the holiday season with our Carlson Countdown to Christmas – which is basically an advent calendar of holiday-themed activities for us to do as a family like baking Christmas cookies, driving to local Christmas light shows, visiting Santa Claus, making Christmas ornaments, etc. Each year I come up with twenty-four of these activities [some old, some new] and then go through the process of planning and organizing and actually making all of it happen.
It is a lot of work. It is also a lot of fun, but with four little kids, at this point, it is mostly a lot of work.
So, why do I bother?
Well, I am hoping that it will result in a lot of cherished memories for my kids and holiday traditions that we can all look forward to around the holidays. I dream of my kids getting excited on Black Friday, not to go shopping, but to start prepping for our annual countdown which always begins on December 1st with decorating the house for the holidays.
But in these early years, the kids don’t really appreciate or understand the lengths to which I go to ensure that we get to decorate gingerbread houses with Auntie Paula, and go ice skating at our local outdoor rink on a night when it is not absolutely freezing, or coordinate with Brett’s work schedule to make sure we can take our annual train ride and read The Polar Express.
Ah, the things we do as parents…
So, for now, I’ve been using these days to build a foundation of gratitude and generosity in my children by intentionally turning their attention to ways we can give rather than things we can get.
Here are some ways that we celebrate the season of giving:
Last year, we had a “Gratitude Tree” in the month of November to count all of our blessings. This year, we are doing a holiday version. At breakfast time, we talk about the things we are grateful for and add some ornaments to our tree.
[I rather like how “Dr. Seuss” our tree looks, pieced together from all the random pieces of green paper I could find in my scrapbook stash.]
We encourage [read: “force”] our kids to give gifts in many different ways throughout the month:
1. We take them shopping to buy toys to donate to Toys for Tots. This is hard for the kids, but each year it gets easier. We always explain in advance that we are picking out toys for other kids to open at Christmas. We obviously foot the bill.
[Side note: this is very helpful for giving us gift ideas for them as well.]
The kids drop them off in a local collection box, and let me tell you, I am so proud every time my kids put toys they love into that box.
2. We take them shopping to buy gifts for each other. In my family growing up, all five of us kids always gave individual gifts to every other member of the family. I don’t know when or how this came to be, but honestly, it is still happening even though we are all adults. I want my kids to enjoy giving gifts to their siblings so we are starting young [and also paying at this point, of course]. The kids also pick out gifts for Daisy the Dog, of course.
I ask them what their siblings would like for Christmas to get them thinking about it and then take them shopping. They did really well this year [after my son stopped insisting that his big sister really wanted a paw patrol truck].
Later I wrap the gifts with each child. My 3-year-old son wanted to put a message on the gift tags so he dictated these sweet notes for his sisters.
This just melts my heart.
3. We hand deliver gifts to the neighbors. We’ve done this every year since we moved into this house because I resolved to be intentional in building good relationships with my neighbors. The first year, we gave store-bought boxes of chocolates. [We had just moved in so I didn’t know if people would accept hand-made goodies.] Last year the kids and I made chocolate covered pretzel rods with holiday molds. This year, we delivered a tin of freshly baked Christmas cookies to each neighbor. [I think they know us well enough now to eat them.] We also give a gift to our postwoman.
4. We make ornaments to give to friends and family. We’ve done different kinds of ornaments – salt dough, paper, clay, etc. We tried mailing clay ornaments to the cousins one year. That was a bad idea. The next year we sent Danish paper heart ornaments. This year we made corn starch ornaments and will give them to local friends and family.
5. We give to every bell ringer. I will write more about this some other time, but we have a lot of fun giving to the bell ringers outside of the stores during the holiday season. I always carry cash to make sure we can do this. This sets an example of generosity for my kids. I want them to grow up seeing us giving freely and generously as often as possible.
The rest of our holiday traditions revolve around spending time together as a family. The “Season of Giving” doesn’t have to be about buying stuff and stressing over what to give who and how much money to spend and all of that. Giving is as simple as spending time with friends and family. The gift of time and attention is worth so much more than anything we can find in a store – especially nowadays when everyone is so rushed and busy and families are spread across the country [or around the world]. Time is the greatest gift.
It is also zero waste. 😉 Just sayin’…
I try to find as many ways as I can to incorporate giving into our holiday traditions because I hope that someday this will balance out the emphasis on receiving gifts that is an inevitable part of Christmas.
When the kids are older, I look forward to volunteering as a family – all year round, but especially during the holidays – to expose my kids to the hardships that face many people even in this privileged country and to show them that the true joy of Christmas comes from giving not getting.