[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

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!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Zero Waste: Stain Stick

Zero Waste: Stain Stick

Confession #1: I am super lazy about laundry.

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.

And voila!

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.

🧺 🧺 🧺

Karis

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

One of my 2020 goals is to focus on minimalism. In the past two years we have made great progress toward living a [nearly] zero waste lifestyle, but now I want to circle back and focus on cutting out unnecessary spending and eliminate all the clutter from our home and our life.

My new motto:

So, as a part of that goal, I am tracking all of our spending for the entire year and will share it with you monthly. I am not promising to stop spend money altogether but I am tracking it so that we can see where we need to improve.

Just as it is helpful to do a “trash audit” at the start of a zero waste journey, a “shopping audit” is helpful if I am trying to stop bringing junk into my home.

January Shopping Audit

Some clarifications before I begin: My audit only includes physical items [not doctor co-pays, museum entry fees, and school activity costs] and does NOT include consumables, which include food, pet food, toilet paper, and salt blocks for our water softener.

[Toiletries and laundry supplies are consumables, but I am going to share those purchases because I am trying to reduce our waste – and spending – in these areas.]

What We Bought:

So here is everything we bought this month:

Bracelet for Brett for $35 – For Christmas, I gave my partner a leather bracelet with our kids’ names engraved on little beads but the bracelet didn’t fit [oh the joys of shopping on Amazon]. So he used his Christmas money to buy a new bracelet for the beads.

Seven used puzzles for $7 – my partner and I have started doing puzzles together instead of spending all of our alone time watching Netflix.

Medications for the kids for $20 – We ran out of children’s Tylenol [and this is a necessity when you have four kids under six] and my daughter got an infection and needed an expensive OTC cream.

Used ballet slippers for $2 – My daughter outgrew her ballet slippers for ballet class to the point where she couldn’t even put them on without being in pain, so we needed to get her a bigger pair. [We donated the old pair to her dance class instructor].

Toiletries for $20 – Brett bought another shampoo bar from Lush for $9 and also needed more deodorant and hair cream.

Total spent: $84

Over budget: $0

What We Are Going to Do With It:

The most important reason to stop bringing stuff into the home is that eventually I will [most likely] have to get rid of it. I mean, nothing lasts forever. So, I don’t want to bring anything into my home that I won’t be able to responsibly dispose of when I am done with it.

I’d like to think that Brett will keep the bracelet forever, but that is unrealistic. When he no longer wants to wear it, we will have to throw away the beads and donate the bracelet. Looking back on it, this was not the wisest gift choice on my part. In the future I will give him experience gifts like a brewery tour or something like that.

The ballet slippers and puzzles we will donate or give away to anyone who would like them. We actually only do a puzzle once, so we will be getting rid of them as we finish them. Maybe we can find a friend to swap with so that we all get new puzzles.

The medicine and toiletries will be consumed and then the bottles will be recycled. I haven’t found a way to eliminate the plastic medicine bottles from our lives – sometimes we just need medicine and I am okay with this exception to our zero waste rule until there is a better way.

The Minimalism Game

This month, I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game [which you can read about here].

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen all the stuff that I got rid of – over 500 items!

Day 1-9

Day 10-18

Day 19-27

Day 28-31 [combined into two photos]

Through this process I learned so much about being responsible for where something goes when I am done with it. I tried SO HARD to not have anything go into the trash. I listed stuff for free on OfferUp. I researched how to recycle unusual things. I even went back and forth with Contigo to try to figure out how to responsibly get rid of the kids’ chewed up water bottles [hint: there is no good way so I will never buy bottles like this again].

In a perfect world every manufacturer would be responsible for the product it is creating – either taking it back to be recycled into new products, or at the very least providing helpful information about how to best recycle a product. In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t be allowed to mass produce plastic crap that will still be on this earth when my great great great grandkids are here without at the very least having a plan for the end of its life. But, I can only do my best to avoid products like these. If I cannot responsibly rehome an item, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed or reused, then I simply should not be buying it.

Thankfully, nowadays, there are so many wonderful, easy [even FREE] alternatives for the typical plastic crap.

This month, only a handful of items [the lids to those plastic water bottles, a bag of plastic junk, and some expired vitamins] went into the trash. Everything else was donated or given to friends or recycled or repurposed.

What’s Next

For the rest of the year, I will be getting rid of 30 items from the house each month and continuing to report our shopping habits monthly.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

My First Clothing Purchase in 19 Months [Clothing Ban Update]

My First Clothing Purchase in 19 Months [Clothing Ban Update]

After 19 months without buying any clothes, I have finally made my first purchase.

I’ll tell you what I bought and why I bought it, but first…

Some background.

In May of 2018, I started this blog with a promise to not buy ANY clothing for a full year and to donate 26 items from my current wardrobe each month.

I had just finished reading the book The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and knew instantly that I had to change the way I consumed everything – starting with my clothes.

As someone who has never really been that concerned with clothes or fashion, I was shocked to discover that I had WAY TOO MUCH clothing in my closet [and dresser and storage] – 486 pieces in total. I had so much clothes that even after the year was up, I still had more than enough, so I made a new commitment to purchase clothing only when it was needed.

Seven months went by and I still didn’t need any clothes. By this time, I was so used to not buying clothes that I insisted my current stuff [socks with holes so big they barely stay on, and underwear so stretched out from pregnancy that they barely stay on as well] was “perfectly sufficient.”

My partner rolled his eyes.

Then, on Christmas morning, he gave me a gift card for a brand that I have already given a rave review in my post My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands so that I could buy some much needed intimates.

My First Clothing Purchase

That very day, I placed an order for some new panties and a bra at Naja.co, ending my 19 month hiatus from buying clothes. But this purchase was different than any clothing purchase I have made in my entire life.

After a year and a half of reading and educating myself, reflecting on my values and ultimately setting my requirements for new clothes going forward – I made a purchase that I feel really good about.

The purchase was necessary. Undergarments are an obvious necessity – though I don’t need a big selection. Seven pairs of underwear, two comfy bras, and a selection of good sports bras are all I really need. I’m done buying clothing [or anything else for that matter] to make myself feel better [aka retail therapy]. I’m not going to buy clothing because I am out and see an advertisement that makes me want something that I don’t actually need. I’m not going to buy clothes just because they are cute or stylish or CHEAP. I am only buying clothes when I need them.

The purchase had to be new. I have a commitment to buying used whenever possible. For obvious reasons, intimates are not available used. So, I had no choice but to buy new.

As a reminder, here is the “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sara Lazarovic.

(c) Sarah Lazarovic

The company is ethical and eco-conscious. If I have no choice but to buy new, then I want to purchase clothing that is made ethically and sustainably – meaning a company that prioritizes taking care of EVERY PERSON in its supply chain and making a concerted effort to protect the environment. The clothing industry is taxing on the environment no matter how it is done [but, obviously, so is just plain living], but some companies are trying to do a better job. The heart of the company is what I care about most.

[You can read more about Naja in my blog post My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands or by visiting Naja.co.]

When I buy something, I am essentially casting my vote for that business. I cannot say that I want companies to treat their garment workers fairly if I am not willing to stop buying from the companies that don’t.

And this leads to the final and [for me] biggest difference in my shopping habits.

The cost didn’t matter. I spent $100 for three pairs of underwear and a comfy day bra. In my previous life, I would have NEVER spent $100 on four items of clothing so small they were shipped to me in a manila envelope. I would have called this “highway robbery.” I would have said, “Why would I pay that price when I can go to Target and get a pack of five panties for $9.99?!”

Wow, have I changed.

Now I am buying based on my values – not the cost. [And of course, now I can afford to spend more money because I don’t buy more than what I actually need.]

How can I expect a company to pay a fair price for the cotton and a fair price to the garment worker and a fair price to the store employees if I am unwilling to pay a fair price for the item? Seriously, I cannot even go buy the material to make a pair of cotton panties [let alone pay myself for actually making them – which of course is a skill I absolutely do not have] for as cheap as I can buy them. How can I expect my clothing to be cheaper than the cost of the material??

We, the consumers, are the heart of this problem – even more so than the companies taking advantage of desperate and impoverished workers around the world. We have to be the ones to say that we care enough to pay MORE. Being cheap is not a virtue if it’s hurting people, and just because we don’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We live in such a global economy now that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the suffering that is literally caused by OUR demand for cheaper and cheaper goods.

The companies also have a responsibility to do the right and decent thing – I’m not letting them off the hook entirely. But we have the power to make changes by changing how we shop.

This change simply MUST HAPPEN.

[I’ve mentioned it A MILLION TIMES, but if you want more info, watch the documentary, The True Cost – or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline or Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press.]

So, now what?

The results of my clothing ban have been amazing. I am so happy that I made this change [and I’m not just saying that]. Besides supporting ethical and sustainable brands, there are other practical benefits of a minimalist wardrobe.

1. I love everything in my closet. Never again will I put on a shirt and then remember how the seam always irritates my armpit or how the top is just a little too snug or how the material is kind of itchy or whatever the problem was that caused me to never wear it. I’ve gotten rid of all that stuff. Now I only have pieces I love. They fit great. They look great. Some are even so worn that they have holes, but I love them so much I wouldn’t think of parting with them. Imagine having a wardrobe full of clothes like that. I also love them because they fit my “style” [or do they fit my style because I love them?]

🤷‍♀️

Which brings me to the next thing I love about my minimal wardrobe.

2. All of my clothes are MY style. The world of fashion is all about style: what is trending, what’s hitting the runways, what’s everyone going to be wearing next season, etc. I have taken all of the work out of being stylish by simply wearing my own style. And, quite frankly, I don’t care if anyone else likes it. Most people don’t even know what their style is because they are trying to be “in style” whatever that style may happen to be at the moment, rather than dressing for themselves. Wear whatever YOU want. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. If you don’t know what your style is, get rid of every piece of clothing that you don’t absolutely love, and look at what is left. THAT is your unique style, and going forward you can bypass any other type of clothing that someone else or a clever ad tries to tell you you should be wearing. Wear your style. And wear it with pride.

My personal style is SUPER casual, mostly sporty, always comfy. I like to wear a fancy [read: sexy] cocktail dress on very rare and special occasions. I love long, flowing dresses in the summer. I love long, slouchy sweaters in the winter. I like neutral colors. My favorite shirt is actually a blue and white checked flannel button-down that I stole from my partner’s closet. So apparently my style also includes menswear. So what?

I wear what I like and I like what I wear.

3. Getting dressed is a breeze. With not as many choices, it is very easy to get dressed for any occasion. It’s also super easy to pack. Over the holidays, I went on two short trips to visit family. I literally packed in three minutes and I only needed half a duffle bag for three nights. I only own one nice sweater and two pairs of jeans, so I don’t have to choose between a bunch of options. And since I love it all [see #1] and it’s all my style [see #2], then it doesn’t really matter what I choose.

4. I take better care of my stuff. My clothes have a greater value to me than they ever did before – partially because I love them so much and also because I don’t buy new stuff so I need my current clothes to last. I have completely erased the “take and toss” mentality that our society has toward clothing and replaced it with a “wear, take care, mend and repair” attitude. [I just made that up!]

5. My clothes take up less space. When I started the clothing ban, my husband and I each had a dresser and a closet full of clothes AND additional bins of clothing in the shed. Today, all of my clothes fit in my closet. And folks, I don’t have a walk-in closet. A walk-in closet for me would totally be overkill. [Side note: have you seen those families on HGTV who use the whole spare bedroom as their closet?!?!] The benefit of a smaller wardrobe is the same benefit as having fewer of anything – fewer things to take care of, less space needed to store it, less money spent to pay for the space to store it, more money to spend on things that matter like family, experiences, giving, etc.

2020 Is My Year of Less

It’s probably not a surprise that I won’t be shopping for unnecessary clothing ever again, but this year I am extending my values to all other purchases.

I have already started the 30-Day Minimalism Game this month to kickstart my year of less. I am not promising to never buy anything – but I am committing to purchase only things that we need [excluding gifts and things for the kids, of course] AND to remove unnecessary items from my home [at least 30 per month]. I will post a monthly update of what I have gotten rid of and what new things we have purchased [excluding consumables, which right now are only food and toilet paper]. I’m going to keep my zero waste goals in mind as well, which makes this tough because I can’t just throw everything I don’t want into the rubbish bin.

But I am very excited. If this year of less goes as well as my clothing ban did – it’s going to be a great year.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.

All-in-all, it was a great year.

This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.

This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.

New skill: learn Spanish

Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility

Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly

Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts

Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett

Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases

Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.

Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation

As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.

Happy New Year!

🥳 🥳 🥳

Karis

The New Years Resolution that made me rich [spoiler alert: it’s not what you think]

The New Years Resolution that made me rich [spoiler alert: it’s not what you think]

Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution that changed my life. Of all the goals you may be thinking of setting for 2020, I hope you will give this one a try.

To be perfectly transparent, this resolution didn’t actually change my finances at all, but what it DID do was change my PERSPECTIVE of my money. And, let me tell you, perspective is EVERYTHING. Even though I didn’t necessarily have more money at the end of the year [in fact, I probably had less], for the first time in my life, I felt really frickin’ rich.

My resolution was this:

I resolve to give money EVERY TIME ANYONE ASKS.

For the entire year of 2018, I gave money to every person holding a sign on the side of the road, every kid selling candy outside of a store, every collection bucket at an intersection, every additional dollar at the grocery check-out, every mailer requesting donations, every email asking for money, every heartbreaking commercial that I always used to ignore. I never kept track of any of it, so I have no idea how much this actually amounted to over the year, but, honestly, I haven’t missed any of that money and no matter how much it was, it was worth trading it all for the change it made in me.

To be honest, it was a huge relief. I didn’t have to endure that awkward feeling of trying to not make eye contact with whoever might be asking for money. I didn’t have to think about whether this person was “worthy.” I didn’t have to ask myself whether this was a “good cause.” I didn’t bother researching organizations to find out what percentage of their funds goes to administration costs or look up what the CEO makes. I didn’t pass any judgements or make any assumptions. I didn’t even ask myself if I could afford it [trust me, asking if you can afford it is the first step to finding an excuse]. I just said “yes.” Every time.

One time Brett and I were watching a Netflix comedy special without realizing that there would be a legit appeal for donations at the end…so, guess what. We are now proud supporters of Seth Rogen’s Alzheimer’s foundation called Hilarity for Charity.

Another time, Brett and I were on vacation in Baltimore when a woman came to us asking for five dollars. She told us a long story about why she needed the money and though we didn’t find it very convincing, her reason didn’t matter to me. All that mattered to me was that she needed money and I have plenty to share. We only had $20 bills on us at the time so I gave her one and wished her luck.

Now, I know what some people would say [because people have literally said these things to me]. “She’s just going to buy drugs.” “She is probably a professional beggar making $70k a year.” “You are not helping her, you are just enabling her.” “She doesn’t need a hand-out, she needs a job.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Trust me. I’ve heard it all. I was raised with the idea that the only safe, respectable place to give your money is to the church [so they can pay their bills and salaries and then use what’s left for ministering to their church members – am I stepping on toes yet?]. But I wanted to cut out the middle man and give to the needy. Even though my upbringing taught me that you can’t just give money to anyone, it failed to teach me the most important lesson:

Giving is just as much for the giver as it is for the recipient.

Giving money away at every opportunity is something that I do because it is right and good AND because it changes ME.

Giving teaches me to stop holding so tightly to my stuff, to let go of my reliance on my financial security, to live a little more by faith. Giving reminds me that I am blessed, that I was born into privilege, that I am no better than any other human being, and that everyone will face struggles and hard times and I can show simple, tangible love for my fellow humans by reaching into my wallet and giving [literal cold, hard cash] from my heart.

I have no right to pass judgements or make assumptions about the needs or intentions of others – because I am not god.

So many people try to play god, saying “don’t give money to that person because they will probably spend it on drugs or alcohol,” or “don’t give money to that organization because you don’t know if they will use it responsibly.”

But wait.

Who are we to decide who is worthy of charity?

How are we to know who is “deserving” of our kindness and love? Why do we think WE are qualified to decide who should get money and who shouldn’t? Because we are the ones who have the money? Because we were born into a more privileged situation? Because we were taught the virtues of hard work and money management? Because we had parents who loved us and taught us these things? Does that make it okay for us to pass judgements on them? Or to even view it as an “us” and “them” situation?

We are ALL “US.” We are one big collective group of human beings – unique and diverse except for the unifying fact that we are ALL trying to find our way in the world. And it doesn’t hurt for those of us who are the most privileged to show a little more compassion, to give a little more and to judge a little less.

I like to leave the judging to god. After all, it is impossible for me to know a person’s entire life story from a sign on the side of the road, so I choose to let the universe handle all that stuff and I just do my part, which is give.

And if you believe the Bible, then I think you will agree that Jesus didn’t ask people to give only to those who have been fully vetted or who are completely worthy or who have never made mistakes or who will use the money the wisest. I’m pretty sure he just said to give to people who had needs. That’s the only qualifier. That they have needs.

My job is just to give.

This past year, I didn’t need to make the resolution again because I had already developed a habit. Now, the new resolution is to give more each year than I did the year before.

Truthfully, I have never felt richer.

❤️❤️❤️

Karis

The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas: 25 Holiday-Inspired Activities

The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas: 25 Holiday-Inspired Activities

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.

Last year’s Christmas tree waffles.

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 helps to 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 try to 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.

I hope you are having a very merry holiday!

🎄🎄🎄

Karis