Our Gratitude Tree

Our Gratitude Tree

I love November. I love the fall. I love the cool weather. I love the leaves. I love Thanksgiving.

Of course, I think we should be grateful all year, and I think it’s about a lot more than just saying something your thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. Gratitude is really a lifestyle that results in contentment and generosity and fulfillment. At least, that’s what it’s done for me.

My chalkboard now says “Let our lives be full of thanks and giving,” which has become the theme for our entire year as we focused on what we have rather than what we don’t have and tried to give more rather than get more.

It’s been transformative.

I’m always trying to teach my kids the importance of gratitude, and this month we began what I hope will be an annual November tradition: the gratitude tree.

The kids and I talk about things we are grateful for each morning over breakfast and I write them all down and cut them out of construction paper and we attach them to the tree. Our table sits right next to this sliding door – which happened to be the only free space we had for the tree – and the kids have loved watching the tree accumulate leaves.

Each day I pick a theme to help them think of things. We started with people we are grateful for, then foods, then things we own, then things outside, etc. It’s been a really fun exercise and they are very thoughtful about their choices.

Today we talked about places we are thankful that we get to visit. My son said “visiting daddy at work” and “the beach” and my daughter said “Ikea” 😂 and “going to the movies with Auntie Paula.”

I think I am going to make these gratitude talks a permanent addition to our mornings – just without the leaves. We are running out of room on our tree already!

🍁 🍁 🍁

Karis

Simple Pleasures: Playing in the Snow

Simple Pleasures: Playing in the Snow

My two older kids were up at 6:30am screaming excitedly about the snow on the ground and convinced it was Christmas morning no matter how many times I told them that it wasn’t. After they hunted for their Christmas gifts and found none, they were pulling on their snow pants and snow boots and begging me to HURRY, as if the snow might melt in the next two minutes. I helped them with some zippers and scarves and also lent them each one of my gloves because they couldn’t find any and then let them loose in the backyard.

It wasn’t even 7am yet.

[Good ol’ Daylight Savings.]

And of course, it wasn’t long before they were calling for me to help them build a snowman. So I pulled boots on [over my sweatpants] and put on a coat and used a pair of thick socks for gloves [gotta do what you gotta do, you know] and went outside to play in the snow.

Being a parent is so much fun because it gives you full permission to embrace your inner child and get excited about the things you used to love as a kid, like trick-or-treating, raking big piles of leaves to jump in, driving to see the Christmas lights, and playing in the snow.

Sometime between age 16 and having kids of my own I started hating the snow. It was cold. It was slippery. It cause traffic and delays and blah blah blah.

Man, what the heck was I thinking?!

Snow is awesome!

We built a snowman. The snow was perfect for packing and we did it the old-fashioned way: by rolling snowballs around the yard [occasionally rebuilding them when Daisy destroyed them] until they were the right size [or we got sick of restarting because of Daisy – which is why they are so small].

We threw snowballs at Daisy. We caught snowflakes on our tongues. The kids made snow angels, but I was wearing sweatpants so I wasn’t about to lie down in the snow [I haven’t embraced my inner child quite to that extent yet]. When we finally came inside, the kids had hot chocolate before we even had breakfast.

It was a special morning. The first snowfall of the season.

Reminded me of how much I used to love the snow and…honestly, I think it’s growing on me again.

❄️ ❄️ ❄️

Karis

Simple Living in October

Simple Living in October

October was a whirlwind – probably the busiest month of our entire year. But that, I realized, is why my simple living goals were so important. [I shared my list of goals for the month in this post.] I was able to prioritize the things that matter most to me and not get lost in the to-do lists, and schedules, and must-dos of the month.

It started with my mother visiting and Brett and I running the Chicago marathon and then taking five days to recover. Then I took the kids for a day trip south to visit my sister and then it was Brett’s birthday and then our lengthy travels [36 hours of driving and 12 hours of flying] which ultimately got us to London and back just in time for Halloween and our last CSA pick up of the season.

On top of those things, we had workers replacing the roof and siding of our home, tearing out and replacing drywall and ripping up the carpet in our basement – because of a tree that fell on our house in August.

BUT in the midst of the madness, I was able to make a lot of my simple living goals happen and enjoyed the time with my kids and the time outdoors very much.

My goals were:

1. Spend time with my kids outdoors for an hour every day. We explored several new parks and a nature play area in our park district.

We walked all over Saint Charles for Scarecrow Fest.

We didn’t let rain or cold keep us from the pumpkin fest at the zoo.

We hiked the forest preserve behind our home.

And we rode bikes in the driveway and climbed the trees in our yard and looked for bugs and worms and played with Daisy…

We spent a lot of time outside and it was great.

Next time, though, I won’t put a time requirement on it. Sometimes it is good enough to just get out for a few minutes. Sometimes I had to give myself an A for effort. Just the emphasis on getting outside every day is great – the number of hours really doesn’t matter.

2. Read 30 minutes every day. I read for a half hour a day up until our trip. I finished Slow (the inspiration for my simple living goals).

I also finished There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather.

About a week before the trip, I traded my book for a London guide so I could plan our trip…

…but I was still reading a lot, so that was great.

3. Play with my kids when they ask. I definitely played a lot. I didn’t get nearly as much housework done as I normally do, but I had a lot of fun with the kids and I know that is more important than a clean and tidy house.

4. Create something every day. I created a lot in the kitchen, but that’s about it. I colored with the kids a few times and painted once, but didn’t create as much as I would have liked.

5. Leave my phone behind. I used the Screen Time feature on my iPhone to limit my “social” time on my phone to twenty minutes. I don’t typically do a lot of social stuff anyway because I’m not on social media, but I do apparently spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest. 🤷‍♀️

I also set “downtime” from 2-7pm every day which only allowed me to send/receive text messages and phone calls during that time. I also made my phone screen black and white – which was really weird but did seem to make my phone less appealing.

Screen Time also allows you to see how much time you spend on your phone, how many times you pick up your phone and how many notifications you receive.

I was so excited to find this feature because I’ve been wanting a dumb phone – and now it seems I can [almost] make my phone a dumb phone.

But the biggest change I made was turning off ALL notifications. I still keep forgetting that I have to go back into my text app to see if I’ve received any texts. My response time is MUCH MUCH slower, but I kind of like the idea of checking messages when I have the time and not having notifications constantly alerting me of some new thing to check on my phone.

If you feel like your phone controls you – rather than the other way around – I recommend trying some of these ideas.

Overall, the month was good. I’m looking forward to a much slower November, as we have nothing on the agenda besides preschool, a little work for me, and spending the month contemplating all the ways we are incredibly blessed in this life.

Happy November!

Karis

Simple Living Goals for October

Simple Living Goals for October

I’ve been reading a new book…

…which I LOVE.

Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary

Even though I’ve already come across, wrestled with, and thought through most of the information in the book already, I find the author’s journey to be similar to mine in the sense that we both knew what we were looking for but didn’t really know how to get there and so went on a long journey to figure it out. She is much further along on her journey than I am, which gives me hope and inspires me to continue.

I haven’t come across a single thing in the book that doesn’t make me want to stand up and yell “Preach it, Sister!”

Brooke [can I call her Brooke? Because I feel like we are friends even though she had no idea who I am…] has inspired me to start living the simple life right now. I’ve been so busy trying to get there – trying to simplify my life, to declutter my home, to reduce my waste, to be a conscious consumer, to bake my own bread for crying out loud – that I think I may have missed out on actually enjoying the simple life, which was the whole point in the first place.

For me, this journey has been about creating a life of making memories and savoring moments and spending time with loved ones and pouring myself into my kids and caring for the world around me and enjoying all of it. That’s the whole reason I started on all this zero waste, minimalist and hyggelit stuff anyway.

So, to refocus and help myself prioritize the type of life I’m wanting to live, I’m making a few goals for the month:

1. Spend time with my kids outdoors for an hour every day. After last week, I am looking forward to spending more time outside with my kids. We are going to do some fun fall activities, explore some new parks, ride our bikes, hang out on our back deck, and take lots of walks in the forest preserve behind our home.

2. Read 30 minutes every day. I’ve been wanting to prioritize reading, but so many other things seem to be more important. So I’ve starting reading for the first thirty minutes of my kids’ “quiet time” rather than saving it for the end when I would inevitably run out of time.

3. Play with my kids when they ask. “Not now” and “In a little bit” and “After I finish this project” and “I’ve got a lot to do right now” are all common responses I give when my kids ask me to play with them – which they do about a thousand times a day. So I’m going to start playing more. I have less housework to do because of the decluttering, less meal planning and shopping due to the zero waste…so I’ve got more time to play!

4. Create something every day. I love involving my kids in art, but I know that it is just as much for me as it is for them. I have always needed a creative outlet. As an adult, I find my creative outlet in different ways than I did when I was in school art classes, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t flex my creativity and make something from scratch.

5. Leave my phone behind. Since leaving social media almost two years ago, I’m on my phone a lot less, but I still find myself tied to it, checking it, carrying it on my person at all times. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but my son asked me to put my phone down the other day and I realized that I do have it in front of my face more than I should. While I may need to keep it handy to be reachable or for emergencies, it can stay on the counter or in the diaper bag or in the stroller. It doesn’t have to be on me all the time. I think that looking at my phone less will allow me to notice and experience a lot more.

Karis

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

My sweet baby girl turned one this month so yesterday we threw a small [nearly] zero waste dinner party to celebrate.

For my older two kids, I threw big themed parties for their first birthdays. For Evangeline’s ice cream themed party, I made a ton of paper decorations including huge ice cream cones that hung from the ceiling and a “Sweet Shoppe” banner. I also catered the food from a grocery store. For Theo’s Cubs baseball party, I hung a huge stadium backdrop and ordered a photo booth prop package. For both of those parties I served everything in disposable dishes with disposable cutlery and disposable napkins.

Still, I wanted Josephine to have a party that was just as special – but without all the waste. I tried to marry our new “simple living” philosophy with our goal to reduce our waste and what we ended up with was a beautiful party that was inexpensive and elegant.

Here’s how it went:

The Food

I made three roasted vegetable lasagnas, Brett baked two batches of rosemary focaccia [his specialty], and we also served a yellow watermelon we got from the farm share [or CSA, if you’re just now joining us].

Since I made the lasagnas myself, including the noodles, tomato sauce, and ricotta cheese, there was very little waste. The only waste was the plastic bags from the mozzarella and parmesan, which we will recycle. Brett made the focaccia from scratch using the yeast and flour I bought at Walmart a while back [more about that zero waste trip here] and the rosemary from our herb garden on our deck.

Waste: cheese bags [recycled]

The Cakes

I also made all the cakes and frosting from scratch – a total of four different kinds of cake with three different types of buttercream. [Before you go thinking I’m absolutely insane, I had to make a special vegan cake for the birthday girl and my cousin who is on a special diet for health reasons. Then I wanted to make two small special cakes for two other family members who also have birthdays in the same week. And then a big cake for everyone else.]

The butter wrappers cannot be recycled so they ended up in the trash before I found this amazing article about all the brilliant ways to use the butter wrappers [spoiler alert, they still end up in the trash] BUT I probably need to just make my own going forward. The most waste was actually from the piping bags, which were not necessary but made the cakes so pretty. Next time I am going to invest in a reusable option since I am out of disposable piping bags now anyway.

Waste: butter wrappers and piping bags [trash], butter carton and whipping cream carton [recycled]

The Tableware

We used all of our regular tableware. With a guest count of twelve adults and eight kids, we had enough dinner plates to feed everyone, but we didn’t have enough dessert plates for the cake so some people ate their cake out of bowls. But, really, cake is cake no matter what it’s served on, right?

We served the drinks [cucumber lemon water and sweet tea lemonade] from big glass beverage dispensers [one of which we borrowed] and everyone used cloth napkins [well, I don’t know how many people actually used them…why are people so afraid of cloth napkins???].

After dinner, my sweet auntie rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher and we gathered all the dirty napkins and put them in the laundry room.

We even fed the scraps to the dog who was in heaven – but there were very few scraps. Oh, and the watermelon seeds and rinds were composted.

Waste: None!

The Decorations

I decorated with a pallet from my backyard [don’t judge me from having pallets randomly lying around my back yard] and signs from Josephine’s nursery [the flowery “J” and the painted sign with her name that I made for her before she was born and the floral bunting that hangs in her room].

I printed the photos for the typical monthly timeline, but I needed these photos for her baby book anyway, so they will not be wasted. I up-cycled old wine bottles and used mason jars as vases for flowers. I even used some of the small buds that had fallen off the flowers and carnations as “confetti” on the table.

The biggest waste [which I had not even thought about] was the plastic wrapping from the flowers [along with the rubber bands and the flower food packets]. I’m not sure how to get flowers without the plastic besides cutting them from your own garden. At least the film can be recycled by dropping it off at the store, so not a total waste.

Everything else I used to decorate [like the paper and burlap runners] are compostable or recycleable or reusable AND everything was already in my home and therefore technically already wasted.

Waste: plastic sleeves for flowers and paper decorations [recycled]

The Gifts

I asked for no gifts, but I knew that the chances of not receiving any gifts was slim. And I was right. But it was SIGNIFICANTLY reduced compared to what it would ordinarily be. [Also, I have noticed that when I request no gifts, which I always do, people tend to give us practical, useful gifts]. Josephine got two baby board books, a helium birthday balloon, and an elephant bath towel and homemade soap.

Waste: gift bag and tissue paper [which I will reuse] and balloon [which will end up in the trash but will entertain my kids for the next week, so I’m not upset about it at all].

All in all, it was a good party – not because of the small amount of waste, but because we spent time with family celebrating our sweet baby girl being so grown up!

Of course, the lack of waste makes me happy. We didn’t even have to empty our little trash can under the sink. Come to think of it, I don’t think a single thing was thrown away the entire party. [It helps to hide the trash can – and the paper towels.]

That’s a success in my book!

Karis

TACO Week

TACO Week

Take A Child Outside week has arrived! [I know, it’s a super misleading acronym…]

Though I would love an entire week dedicated to tacos, I’m just as excited about spending time outside with my kids this week!

Not to imply that you need a special week to spend time outside [obviously], but our local park district has all sorts of fun and engaging activities this week to facilitate more quality time in the great outdoors. Plus, this week acts as a reminder to spend as much time outside as possible during the beautiful fall weather! Fall has to be my absolute favorite season because of all the apple picking, pumpkin farming, hay wagon riding, camp firing, trick-or-treating, cider sipping [I could go on all day, folks] fun to be had!

Another emphasis of this week is time together, which is a good reminder for me to get outside and actively spend time with my kids, as opposed to sending them outside to play while I stay indoors. I’m considering making a goal to spend 1,000 hours outdoors in a year [which I heard someone did and find very inspiring], so it’s been interesting to see how quickly I am ready to go back inside. And I consider myself to be someone who loves the outdoors – but apparently not quite as much as I thought.

1,000 hours is A LOT…

But, anyway, back to TACO week.

Today, we kicked things off with Farm Frolic at our local park district’s farm. We enjoyed face painting, sand digging, pumpkin painting, goat petting, corn shucking, barn raising, and pony riding. It was exhausting for me pulling the three kids around in the wagon by myself, but we had so much fun! I’m glad I didn’t skip it just because it was going to be hot and tiring. Time outside really does do wonders for the soul!

I’ve been reading a new book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk who was raised in Sweden where apparently people love the outdoors so much that there are literal outdoor schools and they go out in rain or shine or snow or sleet or whatever. It has really inspired me to take my kids outside more often anyway.

So, this week is the perfect opportunity to see if I can make my outdoor goal a reality and refocus on spending time outside enjoying this beautiful Midwest fall.

Here are some photo highlights from our day:

So, are you taking a child outside this week?

Karis

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner tonight was from the farm….

…but it wasn’t anything spectacular.

Roasted potatoes and sautéed pattypan squash.

I was considering preparing eggplant as well, but I realized that the potatoes and squash provided plenty of food [there was even enough for leftovers].

I read an autobiography earlier this year called Kisses from Katie by a young woman who left her privileged American life to live in Uganda and love on the people in her village. One story she tells is how she was preparing beans for dinner for her family and she didn’t realize how long it takes to cook dried beans – but the story was a lesson for me that we are far too opinionated around here about what constitutes a meal.

They were eating beans for dinner. That’s it. Just beans. And here I am feeling like my meals have to contain at least five different food groups AND be beautifully presented.

Dinner doesn’t have to have courses, or side dishes, or any specific food group. It doesn’t have to be colorful, or appealing to look at, or come from a recipe. Dinner could just be food – preferable real, healthy food. And in our house tonight, dinner was just two vegetables that I cooked and we all ate until we were satisfied.

[The kids asked for seconds.]

What I love most about our new simple lifestyle is that our food is simple. The meals are simple. The preparation is simple. The ingredients are simple. And they are healthy.

There are many homes in America where a box of mac and cheese is a standard meal for the kids [and I’m not judging because I’ve definitely been there and done that]. But I almost felt guilty about what I fed my kids tonight, and it was literally just vegetables. It may not have been colorful or fancy or a lot of variety, but it was healthy and it was filling and it was tasty.

And it was from our CSA, which I love more and more.

Don’t get me wrong – there are nights when we have company and I pretend that I love to cook and prepare three-course meals and a home baked dessert. But most nights are simple.

Maybe not usually quite this simple…but pretty simple.

Karis