Happy Fall Ya’ll! [and here’s a fall dish you have to try!]

Happy Fall Ya’ll! [and here’s a fall dish you have to try!]

Happy First Day of Fall! 🍂

I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!

Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts

[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]

I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.

It also couldn’t be easier.

Peel and chop some butternut squash.

Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]

De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.

Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.

Then serve.

We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]

Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.

For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.

Ahh…now it feels like fall.

🍂 🍂 🍂

Karis

Simple Living Goals for July

Simple Living Goals for July

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 I like to celebrate Juneteenth as America’s true Freedom Day, but we are grateful for our country and the privilege of living here. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday.

But anyway, on to my simple living goals for July…

It’s been a long time since I’ve made simple living goals for the family, but since this is our last full month of summer break and the kids will be going to school before long, I am setting daily goals to make sure we make the most of what’s left of our summer.

Every day, we are going to try to spend time doing the following things:

Play Outside

[Recent hiking trip to the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest]

My kids and I love being outside. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we still try to make it work. Yesterday, it stormed all day, but we still managed to get outside for a bike ride/run when the storm passed at 7pm.

The goal for July is to spend some time outside [preferably in the sunshine] every day to boost our vitamin D intake and our moods.

Get Active

[Family bike ride – Jojo is really happy about it, as you can see.]

Most days, we take our dogs for a walk – which is no easy feat for me since I have to push a double stroller with my two youngest kids and hold a leash in each hand. My older two kids bike. We also like to go on family bike rides – to the library, the park, grandma’s house, or just around town – and I pull my youngest two kids in our bike trailer.

We can [and usually do] combine being active with being outdoors, but when necessary, we like to exercise inside by doing kids yoga or family fun workouts.

We are usually pretty active, but this month I am prioritizing active family time together every day.

Be Creative

[Alligator craft out of egg cartons and toilet paper tubes]

I’m grateful that my kids love arts and crafts. They especially love creating with clay and paint – two mediums that get pretty messy so I usually try to avoid getting them out. But not this month! We’re going for it!

My goal is to engage in a creative activity every day, whether it’s just coloring pictures, acting out stories, making clay pottery, or even baking something new in the kitchen.

Grow Our Own Food

[Half of our garden a few weeks ago – now the corn is as tall as my son!]

My favorite part of summer is getting fresh veggies from the garden! The garden that we started at our new home is doing great. We have already started bringing in zucchini and summer squash, the tomatoes are almost ripe, the peppers look beautiful, the cucumbers are growing like weeds and the sugar snap peas are so delicious we don’t even bother bringing them in – we just eat them straight off the plant.

My kids love this exciting [and delicious] summer tradition as well. We are looking forward to picking [and finding new ways to eat] our favorite veggies from our backyard each day.

What are your goals for the rest of summer? I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!

☀️ ☀️ ☀️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.

So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.

Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.

“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“

This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.

Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.

This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.

The “In and Out” Rule

Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.

If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.

Let the Kids Take Charge

I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.

Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.

Declutter Frequently

It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.

The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.

Purge Occasionally

Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.

However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.

So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.

[A collection of toys and books that I had hidden away to be donated.]

BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.

I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.

A note about sustainable toys…

I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.

As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.

Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.

Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!

As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!

Happy purging!

🧸 🧸 🧸

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Last year, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which is an excellent resource for parents who want to rid their family of all the excess so they can focus on what is really important for childhood.

“Children need time to become themselves – through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff – with choices and pseudochoices – before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

It is a common misconception that kids need a lot of toys, social activities, educational programs, and scheduled time in order to become caring, productive, functioning adults. But in reality, kids need less structure and less “stuff” so that they have the space and freedom to become themselves. Instead of filling their rooms with toys and their lives with activities, we should be creating a space that gives kids freedom to discover, to imagine, to create and to rest.

Freedom to Discover

Instead of handing our kids tablets, videos, and phone apps that are supposed to encourage kids to learn, all we have to do is plop them outside. They will do plenty of discovering on their own.

[It’s ironic to me that there is a children’s television program called Nature Cat by PBS, which teaches kids about nature…while they are sitting inside on the couch.]

One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to be outside. It’s great for grumpy babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, “bored” kids, and even me. My kids have no trouble at all finding something to do outside. Of course, we do provide them with tools like bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, tire swing, etc. But truthfully, most of their time is spent chasing butterflies, examining bugs, smelling flowers, climbing trees, and playing imaginary games that they created.

My kids in their favorite tree.

My childhood was filled with lots of time outside. I was apparently from one of the last generations whose parents kicked us out of the house when we were annoying rather than sitting us in front of a screen. [Of course, my parents didn’t have the screen option available…or they might have.]

Rain or shine, we go outside. Another great book about time outdoors is There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

I highly recommend this book for parents because in America we are often afraid to let kids play outside. Afraid of the weather. “It’s raining,” “Its too cold,” “Don’t get dirty!” – These have become our excuses that keep kids from jumping puddles, building snowmen, and making mud pies [which are some hallmarks of childhood]. Afraid of strangers. Afraid they will get hurt. Afraid of what trouble they might get into. While it’s important to keep kids safe, they don’t need stifling and they don’t need overly fearful parents keeping them from exploring their world. The benefits outweigh the risks [which are minimal].

“As a parent, a great way to support them is simply to spend a lot of time outside, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your child’s innate curiosity and willingness to investigate.”

Linda Åkeson McGurk

Being outside also ignites my children’s imaginations. They spend hours pretending to be superheroes or animals or monsters. The great outdoors gives them space to let their imaginations run wild.

Which brings us to the next important part of childhood…

Freedom to Imagine

In Simplicity Parenting, they recommend giving kids toys that encourage imagination and avoiding toys that already have the stories written. For instance, why give your child a doll that is already a Disney Princess when you can give him or her a doll that they can imagine to be anything? Open-ended toys are great for encouraging kids to use their imaginations.

Imaginative Play

My children love imaginative play. When they were younger, I actively participated with them, but now as they are older, they play together for hours. Though we haven’t exactly taken the advice of Simplicity Parenting [though, I wish we had, but o read the book after our home was already filled with Little People, Paw Patrol pups, and action figures], our children still love creating worlds and characters and stories around the toys they have.

[Simplifying kids’ toys will be my next post in the series, since – though I’m not an expert at much – I am an expert at paring down the toys in our home.]

Even my youngest, who just turned two and is just starting to talk, can sit for hours engaged in imaginative play.

Books

But my favorite way to cultivate my kids’ imagination is through reading books. I’ve been reading out loud to my kids since my oldest was 3-months-old. Even my youngest gets a story or two before bed – though she can barely sit still through Goodnight Moon.

For children, books are all about imagination. They allow them to imagine talking animals, magical fairies, unicorns and dragons. Books provide source material for children’s imaginations. It gives them the tools to see possibilities beyond their own limited experiences.

The Library

As minimalists, we don’t keep a lot of books, just the most cherished ones. For our reading, we go to the library once a week [sometimes more] and swap out books. I swear the library is the most underutilized resource in any community. We LOVE the library. Every week we have a whole new collection of books to read together. It’s like getting one of those subscription book boxes except free and we get at least thirty new books at each visit.

Please, use your library!

Reading Aloud

Brett and three of our kids, circa 2019

Since they were babies, I have been reading aloud to my kids before bed. As time has passed I have read increasingly more complex books to them – even some of my own childhood favorites like Mr. Poppers Penguins, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My older kids are only 3, 5, and 6, but they are enthralled by these stories.

Don’t be afraid to read chapter books to your kids, even when they are very young. They will love it, and hopefully, a love of stories will translate into a love of reading – which it has for my 6-year-old daughter who reads 10+ chapter books a week.

My oldest, then 5, reading to her two younger siblings.

We love reading so much, we’ve dedicated an entire room in our house to it – our “reading room.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

J.K. Rowling

Freedom to Create

My three-year-old daughter’s drawing of me. She nailed it.

As I read recently in Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, creativity is so important – for us as adults, and for our children.

“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.

Brené Brown

What we create is how we share ourselves with the world, and how we leave a mark on the world.

In our home, I cultivate creativity by giving the kids space to create without judgment. I provide different mediums [clay, paint, crayons, paper, tape, kids scissors – and also legos, magnet blocks, Knex, and other building tools] and no direction in order to create [We also likes structured crafts and building legos from the instructions – or “map” as my kids call it.] I also encourage them to write, act, sing and dance. It is truly remarkable what they come up with. My son made me a stand for my phone out of legos. My daughter made me a flower crown out of paper to wear.

Using things we found in nature to make art.

I’ve noticed with my kids that the more screen time they have, the less they are interested in engaging in these types of creative and imaginative activities. They are bored more easily and they are much more fussy.

Which brings me to another part of childhood that I try to protect in my home: rest.

Freedom to Rest

As a fitness professional, I know the importance of rest for the human body – but I’m not only talking about sleep at night. We all need regular down time. Time to relax and take it easy. Time to be alone. Time to have nothing to do and no where to be.

For my kids this translates into not over-scheduling them with activities, extracurriculars, and play dates. I start to stress out when we have something going on every day of the week, and that’s when I know that something needs to go. We simply can’t do it all. Even if other families do, we can’t. I cherish our time to sit down together at dinner and go for walks around our neighborhood and relax together with nothing to do. So I protect those times.

This is getting harder and harder to do as my kids grow up and have school sports and music lessons and other extracurriculars all pulling at their time and attention. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I do know that I want my kids to have the downtime that they need to recuperate and to discover themselves, without the pressure to always be a part of something else.

What I’ve found to be true for my kids is that the more stuff, the more screens, the more busy time, the less room there is for these important parts of childhood – curiosity, imagination, creativity, and rest. In our family, we intentionally keep our toys to a manageable quantity and our activities to a bare minimum – so that our kids have more time to “become themselves.”

❤️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Ah, the blessing and curse of the baby shower, which would be a fun party, reminiscent of a wedding shower, if it weren’t for the fact that you can’t drink and your feet are swollen and you don’t get any sexy lingerie. [Also, it is not fun pretending to be excited about baby bibs and bottle scrubbers – especially when you haven’t had a good night sleep in three months…and you can’t have a drink.]

Well, I guess if you are the father you get to enjoy it. [Men don’t know how good they have it.]

Worst part of all, the gifts sit in an empty bedroom until after the delivery and most don’t even get used for the first month – at which point it is too late to realize that you don’t actually need three different types of pacifiers [“ya know, just in case”], five hundred adorable outfits [that are so impractical your baby will never wear them], or a mechanical baby swing that promises to rock your baby into sound slumber [it’s lying to you].

Ok, ok. I’m mostly kidding. I had four babies and three baby showers [which is more than most people get] and I am incredibly grateful for each of them. I remember really enjoying myself during all three – yes, even without the booze.

[My co-workers threw me a surprise baby shower for my first baby and it was truly special. They gave me my glider, which I still have and now use to rock my fourth baby.]

Still, I ended up with shit load of stuff I didn’t need. Of course, I wouldn’t fully realize that until my fourth baby. Also, at the time of my baby showers, I wasn’t a minimalist. I was a maximalist. So maximize I did. I was an expert maximizer. I waltzed through three different baby stores with that handy little scanner and put everything that I might even possibly need or want on my registry – plus anything that looked cute, interesting or convenient. And being the privileged person that I am, I got the majority of it at my baby showers.

Unfortunately, looking back, it was all very wasteful. Many things I never used. A lot of it was just extra stuff that cluttered our house and the baby room for years. A big portion of it was stuff that I wanted so I could appear like all the other moms – cute diaper bag, fancy baby wrap, adorable decor for baby nursery, matching lined baskets to hold diapers, the all-important “stroller hook” to hang my many shopping bags on my many shopping trips with the baby, that I guess I thought I would be taking.

🤷‍♀️

[Theo’s “Have Truck Will Travel” Nursery Decor – cute, but ridiculously over the top for a child who only cares about sleeping and eating for the first year of life.]

I realize now that a lot of what I wanted “for the baby” was really just a disguise for what I wanted to make myself look like the perfect parent OR to make my job as easy as possible.

But I’ll tell you this secret right now: there isn’t a single product that you can buy in a store that will make parenting easy. It just ain’t going to happen. And, quite frankly, no parent is perfect, no matter how good they appear. So feel free to acquire only the baby items that will serve you.

The Minimalist Baby Registry

The registry is a great idea that helps people know what to buy the new mom; the trouble is that the new mom has no idea what she needs. And, if you walk through one of those baby stores, it’s whole purpose is to make you believe that you need EVERYTHING.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need everything. Not even close. In fact, you need very little.

As a minimalist and low waste momma, I recommend sticking with the basics and necessities and adding additional things as you find you need them. Because, honestly, you will discover that you don’t need most things.

A baby’s early life involves only four things: eating, clothing, diapering and sleeping. So, at the very least, you’ll need:

A set of boobs [and a whole lot of patience] and definitely a burp cloth or two [or twenty].

Onesies and maybe a few other staple clothing pieces. Think baby capsule wardrobe – and think comfortable. Don’t get more than need. Two outfits per day between washes is plenty. I do laundry once a week, so I would only need 14 comfy onesies and maybe a sweater and a few warm leggings for cold weather. Baby clothing [and children’s clothing in general] is so wasteful. In the first year, babies will grow out of clothes every few months [excluding maybe some rare cases], so don’t stock up on it! Also, buy it used! If a baby has previously worn clothes, it was probably only a handful of times because everyone always overbuys baby clothes. Look, I know it’s so frickin cute, but don’t get caught in this expensive and wasteful trap.

Diapers [cloth or disposable are the current choices and I’ll talk about these options at length in my next post, but for now, if you can, go cloth], and wipes [preferably reusable]. Unnecessary items in this category include: changing table, changing pad, changing pad covers, wipe warmer, wipe holder, baby powder, diaper bag. I’m not saying these things aren’t useful, they just aren’t necessary. You can change a baby literally anywhere [trust me, I’ve done it] and you can carry diapers and wipes in any bag.

A safe sleep setup of your choosing. This will look different for everyone. Some will go the traditional crib, crib mattress, crib sheet route. Others, maybe a pack-n-play. Maybe others will do the bedside crib or a bassinet. Still others will co-sleep [safely]. Choose what works best for you.

• Another items you’ll most likely need are: car seat, stroller and thermometer [preferably the forehead scan variety].

[If you give birth in a hospital a car seat is 100% required to bring your baby home. This is Brett and I at the hospital with our firstborn.]

Beyond those necessities, here are some things that I used often and that were helpful for me, but again, not necessary:

• Noise machine [still use it for all four kids]

• Nose Frida [still use it when one of the kids gets sick]

• Baby Nail clippers [still use them on all my kids]

Of course, there are lots of optional extras. If you are going to be a baby-wearing momma, then you’ll want a wrap [probably the mobi wrap]. If you are going to a running momma, you’ll want a jogging stroller. If you are going to be a working momma, you’ll want a breast pump [and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can get one free through your health insurance] and bottles. If you’re going to be a rock-the-baby-to-sleep-and-sneak-out-of-the-room momma, you’re going to want a super comfy and super quiet rocking chair. It’s all about finding what works for you. No one else can tell you what you’ll need.

[I am a running momma. This is me after a run 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby. So a jogging stroller was on my list of “must haves” and to this day it is one of my most prized possessions.]

Basically what I’m saying is make an intentional registry.

An Intentional Registry

There is so much extra stuff that you don’t need. You don’t need a bumbo or a bouncer. You don’t need a play mat or Sofie the Giraffe. You don’t need teething toys. You don’t need pacifier clips. Does that mean you shouldn’t get these things? No. It just means you shouldn’t get them just because everyone else does. There are plenty of simple, practical alternatives to these products that don’t involve going to Buy Buy Baby [I mean, seriously…listen to the name of that store!].

I beg of you, don’t make the same mistakes I did and just scan everything just because…because other parents use it, because you mother says it’s an “absolute lifesaver,” because your best friend recommends it, because of clever marketing, because it’s cute, because it’s there…

Simplifying parenting is about intentional parenting and that begins with what we bring into our home. So, don’t get caught up in all the gadgets and gizmos that the world says are “must haves.” Instead, judge for yourself what would serve you best. What kind of mother do you want to be. What products will get used and what are just for show.

In the end, you need a lot less than you think to take care of a baby: lots of cuddling, lots of patience, lots of time, lots of caffeine, and of course lots of love.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 1: Childbirth]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 1: Childbirth]

Hi there! 👋 It’s been a while!

I just got back from a relaxing [and also safe and socially distanced] vacation with my family at the beach.

[Nora’s first time at the beach.]
[The sunrise on one of my daily 6am runs.]

Before our trip, Brett and I got our Covid vaccines [on the day they became available for our age group].

But now we’re back home and it’s back to the reality of homeschooling [only a few weeks left!] and being at home with my four kiddos.

For that reason, I’m going to be writing a few posts about simple-living, low-wasting and minimalist parenting. This is an area that is extremely underrepresented in the zero waste and minimalist communities, probably because having children complicates both of these goals tremendously – but that doesn’t mean we throw the whole thing out.

I became a [nearly] zero-wasting minimalist after I already had three children, but I noticed immediately that the people at the forefront of these movements didn’t have children. [I’ve never seen a mother who is able to fit a years worth of trash into a jar.]

When it comes to kids, the aim should be simple and intentional living and – as is true in all areas of life – that goal will in turn reduce waste and clutter and excess. It will also give kids a childhood full of curiosity, discovery, imagination, creativity, and exploration. As a parent, it’s my job to protect my kids from all the “extras” that threaten to monopolize their attention, rather than the common view of parenthood which says we need to constantly provide toys, gadgets, activities and structured time for our children.

But, anyway, I’ll get to that later on. Right now, I want to start at the very beginning.

Simplifying Childbirth

“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”

Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

If there is one thing I wish I could tell every woman, it’s this: You don’t have to fear childbirth.

From the time we were old enough to absorb society’s subliminal messaging, we’ve been condition to believe that childbirth is a) terrifying, b) excruciating, c) dangerous, and d) a process that we cannot handle without medical intervention.

None of this is true. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be, if women could regain faith in their own ability to give birth.

[And I’m not only talking to women here, because fathers need to be active participants in childbirth as well and can encourage and strengthen women’s belief in themselves, if only they would also believe that childbirth is natural and that women are capable. Childbirth is NOT something that women need to be saved from.]

Contrary to popular media portrayals, childbirth is like a marathon – really hard work [yes], very painful at times [for sure], but totally achievable with proper training, determination, and a belief in our body’s natural processes – not to mention a totally powerful and praiseworthy achievement that women should get the credit for – not a medical team.

And, let me tell you, the reward at the end is totally worth all of it.

Giving birth to my four babies were the most empowering moments of my life. [I’ve run two marathons, which are also empowering, but they don’t even come close to giving birth.] It breaks my heart that so many women view their birth experiences as scarring or traumatizing or, at the very least, experiences they would rather forget. [When I was pregnant many, MANY women shared their horror stories with me – which FYI, is not a nice thing to do to pregnant women.]

Listen, childbirth does NOT have to be a bad experience!

We need to simplify childbirth by getting back to the basics, by believing in ourselves and trusting our instincts, and by birthing our way.

In our society we discredit pretty much every aspect of womanhood, including a woman’s ability to know what is best for her and her baby at childbirth. The fact that we have handed over control of childbirth to men [who were initially the only doctors when birth moved from the home to the hospital] is just another consequence of our patriarchal society which tells us that men know best…even about a process which is uniquely woman’s. [Forgive my feminist soapbox here, but we really can’t talk about childbirth without talking about feminism.]

It’s time to take back control of childbirth.

I chose to give birth my way, but, I assure you, it was not easy. I had to fight [and fight really frickin hard] to be able to give birth in the way that I wanted, rather than in the way that is most convenient for the medical staff, hospital, and obstetrician. It took me an entire nine months of scouring the suburbs of Chicago during my first pregnancy to find a practice that would allow me to have an unhindered, natural birth in a hospital – and I had to travel an hour and pay out of pocket for it. And truthfully, I still had to advocate for myself pretty much the whole time. [“No, thank you. I won’t wear the frumpy hospital gown that someone might have died in yesterday.” Also, why the hell do they call it a gown??? More like a sheet with arm holes.]

So, my next three births were at home, where I could give birth in peace and quiet, surrounded only by loved ones whom I trust. It’s the only way to have a baby without the uncomfortable addition of strangers staring at your vagina, sterile beds with stirrups, fluorescent lights, beeping machines, and a long list of nonsensical rules about what I can’t eat, whether I can take pictures, and who can be present.

And because I chose home birth, I have a wealth of wonderful, positive memories about my birth experiences. And what is more, I also have a sense of my own ability to do hard things – even things that the rest of society tells me is too hard for me to achieve.

Imagine what the women of the world could accomplish if we all had that sense of empowerment.

Books about Childbirth

During my pregnancies, I read countless books about birth as part of my preparation for labor. Ladies, childbirth is a HUGE deal that will forever alter our bodies, our social standing, our relationships, and our careers – so the least we can do is study up on it! That’s what I did, anyway. I wanted to know everything about it. I read everything I could get my hands on. I asked every woman I knew what her birth experiences were like. [And, Fellas, you don’t have to be a bystander. You can learn about childbirth and play an active role in the birth of your children.]

Through books, I learned so much and I gained the confidence I needed to do what was best for me and my babies. These books are my favorites:

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I read this book during each of my pregnancies as a reminder that my body is capable of birthing my baby.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon: Before reading this book, I literally didn’t know a thing about the details of childbirth. This book taught me everything I needed to know and made me believe that I could have a natural birth.

Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan: This books is not as strange as it sounds and is the method of preparing and laboring that was most helpful to me.

Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel: This book was a lifesaver as I tried to find a compromise between natural birth and hospital birth.

Also, I highly recommend the documentary, The Business of Being Born, which is available on YouTube.

Even if you’re not wanting a natural birth, you deserve to see real birth, not the overly dramatized version that television offers. And you deserve to know what to expect [in a hospital or in a birth center or in your home] when the time comes.

One Last Thing…

I am NOT trying to say that everyone should have natural births [though statistically, fewer women would die if everyone gave birth naturally] or that all women should give birth at home [because home birth is not a safe or realistic option for all women] but what I am saying is that every woman should be free to choose where and how she gives birth to her babies. This should not be a decision that laws or doctors or insurance companies or family members or society chooses for a woman.

And, if you are a women, you should not let the fear of childbirth [which is inaccurately and unfairly portrayed in media and society] prevent you from approaching birth with confidence and power like the badass that you are. [Other than having a trained professional present in case of a complication] You need very little else to give birth to your baby.

Good luck! [But you don’t need it – you got this!]

🤰🤰🤰

Karis

The Water Crisis [and my humble attempts to reduce my water waste]

The Water Crisis [and my humble attempts to reduce my water waste]

Most people think of the zero waste movement in terms of refusing plastic bags and disposable straws and fitting your garbage in a mason jar – but zero waste extends beyond just these forms of waste. Yeah, plastic is bad for the planet and filling a fifty-five gallon trash can every week is really bad for the planet, but those aren’t the only forms of waste – they are just the most obvious because they are the kinds of waste we can see.

Another form of waste that we all need to be more mindful of [myself included, but I’ll get to that in a minute] is water waste.

But why is wasting water a big deal? If you live in an industrialized country like the US and water flows freely from every tap in every building, and free water fountains can be found in every business, and a gazillion cases of water bottles are for sale in every store, then it is easy to feel like water is an abundant and readily available resource.

But au contraire.

[Fun fact: I actually grew up in Flint, Michigan, which was all over the news in 2016 for having its own water crisis – proving that the water issues are not only for people in the developing world. Water is a necessity for every human being’s survival and it only takes one bad politician’s stupid decision to bring a water crisis very close to home…literally.]

The Water Crisis

Several years ago, I watched an episode of the Netflix docuseries Explained entitled “The World’s Water Crisis.” Call me ignorant, but I think that was the first time that it really struck me that water is an invaluable resource – and that we may someday run out of it.

[The episode is still on Netflix – I highly recommend watching it.]

Since that time, water has been on my mind. How do we protect this commodity? How do we ensure access for all of humanity? How do we respond to increased demand from industry and agriculture and manufacturing and increased populations? How do we manage the water?!?

Right now, there are over half a billion people on the planet who do not have access to safe water. And unclean water is one of the leading causes of death for children under five in developing countries. And, honestly, with pollution increasing and the population increasing and the global temperature increasing leading to severe weather like droughts – we’ve got to get a handle on this water problem…and FAST.

Here’s some quick stats about the water on our blue planet:

  • 70% of the planet is covered with water, but less than 3% is fresh and less than 1% is fit for consumption.
  • 785 million people on earth don’t have access to safe water. [Charitywater.org]
  • Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene- related diseases. [Water.org]
  • Every day, 6,000 children die of water-related diseases. Young children are the first to get sick and die from waterborne and sanitation-related illnesses—including diarrhoeal diseases and malaria. [UNICEF.org]
  • By 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages. [Worldvision.org]

[Water.org has a great fact sheet with more information on the water crisis here.]

So, what do we do?

Well, for starters, I started supporting Charity:Water as a part of their monthly donor program – called The Spring – that provides clean water to remote and underprivileged communities around the world.

Since we joined in 2019, we have donated/raised more than $9k for clean water projects – impacting 236 people.

That’s pretty awesome.

If you want to help support this organization then you can join me in The Spring by following the link below:

Join The Spring with Karis!

You can donate any amount. Over time, this monthly donation – no matter how small – will add up to lives changed, lives saved, because of clean water.

This is a very simple and tangible way to make a difference in the world.

Two [of the many] reasons [besides what I already shared above] that you should consider giving to Charity: Water:

  1. 100% of donations go to fund clean water projects.
  2. Charity:Water allows you to see exactly where your money is going.

Ok. So anyway, that’s one thing we can all [or mostly all] do to help with the water crisis. The second thing is to reduce our own water waste.

Reducing Water Waste

We all need to take a greater responsibility in the water crisis by conserving water as much as possible to prevent shortages. The people of Cape Town South Africa [in the Netflix documentary] found a way to conserve water in order to push back their Day 0. We should be forward thinking enough to stop wasting water now rather than waiting for doomsday.

For me, reducing water waste is also out of respect for the commodity that it is. Just as I don’t feel comfortable splurging a ton of money on frivolous shit when thousands of children are dying from starvation every day, I also can’t be taking thirty-minute steaming hot showers and running my faucet while doing dishes when I know that there is a kid [most likely a girl] somewhere on the planet who has to walk for hours just to fill a jerrycan of dirty water for her entire family.

And, of course, if you don’t have your own well, saving water will also save you money. So, yay.

So, what do we do?

First, you have to check out this great list compiled by sustainability blogger, Jo, at 43 square meters:

25 Ways to Reduce Your Water Consumption for the Environment and Your Wallet

I’ve already implemented many of these tips, but, as this article proves, there are always more ways to improve!

Some of the things that my family already does to reduce water waste:

  • We wash laundry once a week [except when one of our kids wets the bed] and always with full loads.
  • We bathe our youngest two kids once a week [together] and our older two kids take showers.
  • We turn off the water when we brush our teeth [and are teaching our children to do the same].
  • We don’t buy or eat animal products [except my kids and husband when we are eating out].
  • We have an extremely energy efficient dish washer [apparently only uses a couple gallons of water to run].
  • We buy [nearly] all our clothes second hand.

Still, as part of my New Years Resolution to focus on the water crisis, I’m going to redouble my efforts on reducing my water waste by working on the following things:

  1. Wash fruit and veggies in a bowl rather than running the tap.
  2. Rinsing dishes in a bowl of water instead of running the tap.
  3. Taking shorter showers [this one will be tough].
  4. Getting a rain barrel.
  5. Switch to low-flow shower heads.

So, that’s my game plan for reducing my water waste. At our last home, we lived on a well, so I really had no idea how much water we were using, but since we’ve moved to a house with city water, I am better able to track our water usage [or rather the water company tracks it for me]. Hopefully, I’ll see some improvements in water usage.

There are lots of other things that need to be done about the water issues facing our world. I don’t want to make it sound simple enough that washing my fruit in a bowl of water or donating $100 a month will solve the problem for our future or for the 785 million people currently without clean water, but small changes go a long way, especially if everyone makes them.

Other ideas about reducing water waste? Or suggestions of other organizations working in this sector? Share below!

🚿🚿🚿

Karis

Super Simple Vegan Banana Muffins [and a rant about breakfast cereal]

Super Simple Vegan Banana Muffins [and a rant about breakfast cereal]

A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.

Read all about it here.

I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.

Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]

[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]

My Rant about Breakfast Cereal

I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.

Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.

Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.

On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]

On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.

So, now, on to the recipe.

My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe

You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.

🤷‍♀️

But here we go anyway….

This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].

Ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas
  • 2/3 – 1 cup sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 1 3/4 cup of AP flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
  3. Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
  5. Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]

And that’s it!

I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!

Give it a try and let me know if you agree!

Happy Baking!

👩‍🍳 👩‍🍳 👩‍🍳

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.

So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.

Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.

Broccoli Stem Salad

Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.

☹️

Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.

Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!

All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].

And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.

Carrot Top Pesto

I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.

Vegan kale and carrot top pesto

When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.

[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]

Vegetable Broth

My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.

When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.

This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.

👍

Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??

🥕 🥕 🥕

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Appreciating the Flatlands

Lessons in Motherhood and Appreciating the Flatlands

Yesterday, while on my daily jog, the Peloton trainer in my ear was talking about enjoying the flatlands.

“We judge so much of life by the highs and the lows,” she said. “But there is good in the flatlands too.”

In that moment, I realized I have been going through the flatlands in my own life, and instead of focusing on the good, I’ve been focusing on my own restlessness and boredom, which was making me unhappy.

Before we moved to a new town, I had a job that kept me busy, I had a social life that gave me things to look forward to, and I had a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

My life now can only be described as very boring. Without any friends here or a job to connect me to this town and with COVID making everything more complicated…I’ve been feeling pretty down.

But then Jess Sims [the peloton coach] comes to the rescue with words of wisdom. There is good in the flatlands, I just have to appreciate it.

So here’s some of the “good” I’ve been experiencing in this new phase of life.

One-on-one breakfast dates with my three oldest kids.

Plenty of time to spend outdoors.

Lots of quality family time thanks to Brett having three days off a week.

More time to bake and experiment in the kitchen.

Sourdough bread
Veggie fried rice
Vegan cashew ice cream
Vegan kale and carrot top pesto
Vegetable broth
Sourdough discard crackers

Just looking through my photos and seeing how good I have it makes me feel really silly for ever complaining. I have so much to be thankful for and yet I sometimes am discontented anyway. I’m trying to work on appreciating these flatlands and remembering that I am among the most privileged people on this earth.

Perspective changes everything.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis