Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Well, I was supposed to post these reviews at the end of June…oops. Better late than never, I suppose.

I read some really, really great books over the past few months. My reviews are lengthy because I love to add in my favorite quotes. If you don’t read any of my words, I hope you will at least read the words from these amazing authors and their amazing books that have helped to shape my understanding of the world and have inspired me to do more, give more, be more, and love more.

April

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I am SO grateful that I have been introduced to Peter Singer [through one of the books in my last review – Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts]. In fact, I can’t believe I have lived for so long without even hearing of this brilliant ethicist. I love the straightforward, logical thought process that he uses in this book to confirm what I already know, but is very hard to live out as a privileged American: that we are morally responsible to ease the suffering of the poor around the world.

If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need.

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

Though I had already started on the path to giving more to the world and taking less for myself, this book was like a friendly pat on the back and a gentle push forward. By providing statistics and arguments that only further fueled my growing desire to change the world through giving.

If it is so easy to help people in real need through no fault of their own, and yet we fail to do so, aren’t we doing something wrong? At a minimum, I hope this book will persuade you that there is something deeply askew with our widely accepted views about what it is to live a good life.

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

Being an ethical human being – especially as an American – is challenging and complicated and much harder than one would think given all of our technology and wealth and luxury. But if you want to live a moral and ethical life, I have three words for you:

READ THIS BOOK.


Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is another book that every man, every woman, every American must read. By sharing stories of real women they have encountered during their years as journalists for The New York Times, Kristof and WuDunn expose the terrifying truth of what women around the world endure. From ritual killings to genital cutting to slavery and forced prostitution – this book was a wake up call.

More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

I also watched the documentary with the same name, which takes you into these remote parts of the world and introduces you to a heinous form of sexism that my feminist western mind can’t even comprehend. And, in my experience, the wealthy western world has completely turned its back on these women.

As someone who spent the majority of my life practicing Protestant evangelicalism and received my bachelors degree in biblical studies, I have been so puzzled by the pious, religious American perspective that the only lives to be saved are the unborn lives. In my experience, which is extensive, very little emphasis is put in the millions of children who die daily from preventable diseases or the half a billion people who don’t have access to clean water or the millions of women who die in childbirth or the refugees or the orphans or the widows….

Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses.

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

Besides just sharing the horrors, this book also shows how educating and empowering women holds the key to improving economies, ending extreme poverty, and elevating developing communities.

After finishing this book [which was so compelling, I cannot stress it enough], I began rethinking how we can prioritize women in our efforts to ease suffering around the world.

Seriously, these stories are so important to hear. I HIGHLY recommend this book.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Published eleven years before the emancipation proclamation, this classic was undoubtedly influential in ending slavery in this country. It is impossible to read this story – much of which is based on true accounts of slavery in the south – and not be completely ashamed of America’s history of slavery. I wish it had been mandatory reading when I was in high school, but it probably contains too much “uncomfortable content” for my conservative religious high school to even have in the library.

Still, I’m glad that I finally read it. [Actually I listened to the audiobook, which was PHENOMENAL because the narrator, Susie Berneis, was one of the best I have ever heard.]


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The four stars are purely because this was a challenging read that left me feeling so sad and hopeless. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good or important or necessary. Sometimes we have to sit with the discomfort of our own privilege before we can really move toward action.

There is SO MUCH TRUTH in this book – truth that is very hard for white America to hear, but that just makes it all the more important to listen [with an open mind and A LOT of humility]. I completely agree with Toni Morrison’s statement: “This is required reading.”

My personal experience in this world has been that the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The quote above is so sad because, in my personal experience in this world, it is so true.

I have been reading many books about race and racism in America over the past few years [I read this book before George Floyd’s murder], but this was the first time that I read a book about race that made me feel like black people must hate me just for being white AND I can’t even blame them for it. I kind of hate myself a little too. That might sound harsh, but the only person I can blame for my own ignorance and callousness is myself.

The history of oppression and suppression and mistreatment and injustice is so long and goes back so far and runs so deep. These are wounds that will not heal quickly. No little acts of kindness or trite platitudes, no promises of equal pay or equal opportunity will erase what white Americans have done [and continue to do] to black Americans.

One of the things I appreciated the most was that Coates always refers to white people as “those who believe themselves to be white” because the very concepts of “white” and “black” are just social constructs – a way of dividing people into two distinct categories, when in reality, skin color is a range not an “either/or,” not an “us and them.” We all have skin and our different shades fall on a range, not within two distinct categories. And worst of all, the whole system was created in order to perpetuate and justify slavery.

White people drew the line to divide the culture into white and black for the purposes of slavery. …There is no “white” and “black” just the beautiful ombré of humanity.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The other thing that I loved about this book was how Coates talks about the Dream. As a believer in god and goodness and morality and ethics, I have often thought that there is a major moral failing bff FCC in our love and commitment to the American Dream and in this book, Coates totally calls us out on it.

The forgetting is habit, is yet another component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the real world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than free.

Ya-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

In today’s world, with our constant access to information, there is definitely a willful ignorance involved in the white American’s attempt to claim innocence.

To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Coates is writing to his son, but this is work that we all must do to guarantee a more just and equitable future for everyone – which is what we all want…right???

Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black peoples were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains…

You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

May

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This excellent book was recommended to me by a friend [Thanks, Katie!] while she was reading it. You can tell by the title that this is something I would love – and I definitely did. Even though I have read many, many, many books on simplifying my belongings and my life, I hadn’t read a book about simplifying parenting. So this book contained a lot of brilliant advice for how to simplify my family’s time and routines, our toys and belongings, and our food choices.

With simplification we can bring an infusion of inspiration to our daily lives; set a tone that honors our families’ needs before the world’s demands. Allow our hopes for our children to outweigh our fears. Realign our lives with our dreams for our family, and our hopes for what childhood could and should be.

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

I love how this book provides practical tips about how to reduce the amount of choices in my child’s life and also provides important wisdom about how my life as the parent affects them. It challenged me to be more cautious about how much of the adult world I allow them to see and how much of my own negativity or criticism I show in front of them.

The most practical tip that I learned was to take an intentional season off from sports and activities for my kids. Nowadays, all activities go year-round and it is always a race. There is an underlying fear, even if it isn’t spoken, that if your child doesn’t start in soccer early enough or if she doesn’t practice her drama skills in the off season that she will be left behind.

First of all, why do we believe this to be true anyway? And secondly, free time is extremely important to a child’s development and when we over-schedule their lives, we rob them of their ability to explore the world on their own, discover their own passions, and rest.

Another great take-away for me was this quote from Lisa M. Ross:

Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Lisa M. Ross, Simplicity Parenting

This is so practical and simple, but so important – especially as a parent with little ears listening and learning from everything we say.

This is a GREAT book! I highly recommend it for all parents!


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I simply ADORE Trevor Noah. Since Covid began and his talk show moved to his home couch [now “The Daily Social Distancing Show”], I have only grown to love him even more. When I discovered he had written a book about growing up in South Africa, I immediately got it from the library [digitally, of course, because at the time all libraries were completely shut down] and read the whole thing in just a few days.

Born a Crime is such an amazing book because it combines humor [like literal laugh-out-loud-while-reading kind of humor] with really serious truth about apartheid and racism in South America. Of course, that’s exactly what Trevor Noah is famous for – speaking the truth with humor.

I mean, some of these stories he tells about his childhood are so funny and others are so tragic, but altogether they provide this perfect picture of how we got this amazing man, Trevor Noah.

For example, in the quote below he is talking about what he believed about Jesus as a child, and it’s both funny and sad because it hints at the deeper, more terrible truth of racism.

My grandmother always told me that she loved my prayers. She believed my prayers were more powerful because I prayed in English. Everyone knows that Jesus, who’s white, speaks English. The Bible is in English. Yes, the Bible was not written in English, but the Bible came to South Africa in English, so to us it’s in English. Which made my prayers the best prayers because English prayers get answered first. How do we know this? Look at white people. Clearly they are getting through to the right person.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

There is also a lot to learn from this book about prejudice and poverty and racism and the hard work and lucky breaks that it takes to overcome these obstacles. As someone who is deeply concerned and completely committed to humanitarian work around the world, I found this book to be even more compelling than I anticipated as Trevor writes about what it is like growing up in a poor community as a half-white [or “colored”] person under apartheid in South Africa. So much of this truth translates to every other country on this planet where poor people are marginalized and oppressed.

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing. Working with Andrew was the first time in my life I realized that you need someone from the privileged world to come to you and say, “Okay, here’s what you need, and here’s how it works.” Talent alone would have gotten me nowhere without Andrew giving me the CD writer. People say, “Oh, that’s a handout.” No, I still have to work to profit by it. But I don’t stand a chance without it.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

This book is SO GOOD! It will make you laugh and it will make you cry and you will never be the same again. These are all the qualities that I look for in a good book.


Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I listened to this audiobook [so I don’t have any quotes for you – sorry] and when I finished, I immediately started listening to it again. So, technically, this book should be on the list twice. It was that impactful.

She begins by writing about a little girl who had a magic book. I related 100% to that little girl. I was also once a little girl with a magic book that contained stories of heroic princesses and little boys defeating giants and a single man calling down fire from heaven and walking on water and good vanquishing evil. But, like Evans, I grew up and the magic faded when I saw all of the other things in my magic book – the slavery and sexism and genocide and racial cleansing and violence and hatred – and it became less magical for me. It was the biggest disappointment of my life – to let go of all the promise and wonder and magic of that book.

I have been on a spiritual journey for nearly ten years now that has lead me away from the Bible and it’s teachings and, strangely enough, back again. This book was the first step toward understanding the Bible as it is meant to be, rather than what the American church has distorted it into.

I can not recommend this book enough – especially for anyone who has been told that homosexuality is sin or that women can’t lead or that you have to dress up for church or close your eyes when you pray or any other false teaching that uses the Bible as a means to perpetuate hatred and prejudice and encourage pharisaical piety. This book will open your eyes to the true God, who I first found apart from the Bible, but who I am now able to see once again through this book of magic.


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

This book is a classic in the environmental world because it was [apparently] the first book that woke people up to the terrible things we have done [and are still doing] to the planet with chemicals. It’s pretty technical, which is why I gave it only three stars, definitely not a super exciting read. It is also terrifying and by the time I was done I totally changed my family’s policies about spraying bugs around our house and even wearing mosquito repellent. I started reading the labels on all the bottles of bug and weed killers we have.

Seriously, this stuff is terrifying.

I also began to view our crab grass and “weeds” as just other plants, rather than pests that must be destroyed. And the huge spiders that hang out around our house are actually helping to balance our mosquito population [and also making beautiful webs]. We used to pay a service to spray our home, which I regret so profusely now that I wish I could tell every one of our neighbors NOT to hire any of these companies. Spraying bugs just creates the need to spray more because the insect world is already in balance. WE are the ones throwing everything off by being annoyed by the creatures that share our planet with us.

When we were driving in southern Illinois through a field of crops being sprayed, I literally made my husband roll up our van windows [despite broken A/C and 90° heat] “because we have no idea what they are spraying!” – and more than likely it is not something safe for humans.

Because we live in a very wooded area near a fresh water river, we have an excessive amount of bugs and mosquitos. But I have come to see bugs [and even weeds] as a necessary part of our ecosystem that deserve respect rather than the indiscriminate spraying of chemical killers. And because I attract mosquitos like a moth to light, I am on the look out for natural mosquito repellents.

The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, and between plants and animals. Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place. But no such humility marks the booming “weed killer” business of the present day, in which soaring sales and expanding uses mark the production of plant-killing chemicals.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

This book is insightful, so if you want to dig deeper into the why chemicals have changed our planet, I recommend it.


June

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As a woman, one thing that I am definitely familiar with is being objectified. I was raised to believe that I had to cover my shoulders, my knees, and especially my midriff or I would cause some man to lust after my body. So, naturally, I blamed myself for all the cat-calls and inappropriate comments I have received from men over the years. It took me until I was twenty-five to realize how insane this way of thinking is.

By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Here’s the truth:

Men’s lust and lack of self-control is THEIR OWN DAMN PROBLEM. Also, women are NEVER “asking for it.”

There was another line of argument that nagged at me: the suggestion that boys simply could not help themselves. As if he never had a choice…You went to a frat and got assaulted? What did you expect? I’d heard this in college, freshmen girls compared to sheep in a slaughterhouse. I understand you are not supposed to walk into a lion’s den because you could be mauled. But lions are wild animals. And boys are people, they have minds, live in a society with laws. Groping others was not a natural reflex, biologically built in. It was a cognitive action they were capable of controlling.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

This book is so important for today’s world because it shows how damning it is for a woman to experience sexual assault – how much emotional damage and physical damage and how socially stigmatizing and career-impacting and life-altering it is to be a victim of rape.

This is about society’s failure to have systems in place in which victims feel there’s a probable chance of achieving safety, justice, and restoration rather than being re-traumatized, publicly shamed, psychologically tormented, and verbally mauled. The real question we need to be asking is not, Why didn’t she report, the question is, Why would you?

Often it seems easier to suffer rape alone, than face the dismembering that comes with seeking support.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Chanel Miller had to deal with the kind of sexist bullshit that allows men [especially privileged, wealthy, white men] to get away with sexual assault by putting the blame on the women. This is so insane I can’t believe I have to actually write it, but that is exactly how it works. Women get harassed, assaulted, and raped and they have to prove that they didn’t want any of those things to happen. I mean, SERIOUSLY?! What the heck is wrong with our world?

If you don’t believe me, read this book. You will find out all the ways that Chanel Miller had to prove that her rape was unwanted – from extensive physical examinations, to pictures of her half-naked body displayed in court, to recounting everything she had to drink and every little thing she did, to proving her character and insisting that she’s not some hussy interested in having sex with a stranger behind a dumpster at a frat party.

Meanwhile, her rapist just had to say “she wanted it” and he got off with three months in county jail. And some people felt bad for him! FELT BAD FOR HIM!!! “Oh, poor kid.” “He doesn’t get to go to the olympics now.” “Just one mistake and his whole reputation is ruined.” WHAT?!? What is wrong with people????

When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is, Did you say no? This question assumes that the answer was always yes, and that it is her job to revoke the agreement. To defuse the bomb she was given. But why are they allowed to touch us until we physically fight them off? Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

All I can say is, THANK YOU, Chanel Miller. Thank you for having the guts to put yourself on display so that we can [hopefully someday] stop allowing men to abuse women without any consequences. Thank you for telling your story so everyone knows all the life-changing consequences of being sexually assaulted. Thank you for shedding a light on how absolutely AWFUL our justice system is and how hard women have to work for justice and how rare it is actually achieved.


12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Brett and I watched the movie [based on this book] shortly after it won an academy award. It was on my list at the time mostly because I was [and still am] obsessed with Brad Pitt and see everything that he is in. At the time, I was unaware of the book and the story and the man, Mr. Northup, and how powerful and important his story was at the time it was written and, sadly, still is today.

Unfortunately, in America today we want to gloss over the horrors of slavery and all of the evils that have continued as a result through the entire history of our country. It is hard to look at this evil directly in the face, but it is necessary. I was always told that learning history is important so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Well, as we learned earlier this year, there is still a war raging against black lives in his country and we must take a stand to put an end to this evil. It is more subtle and insidious than the transatlantic slave trade ever was – but that only makes it more dangerous.

This account, written by a free man who was sold into slavery and sent south because of the color of his skin, shows a first-hand account of what it was like to live in slavery in the south.

It is terrifying.

This should be mandatory reading for every high schooler taking an American history course and standard reading for every American.

And if you are not a reader, watch the movie.


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

Bryan Stevenson is a modern day hero. This man has done so much for the marginalized and oppressed in our society. He has changed the justice system to protect kids and defend the mentally disabled and exonerate the wrongfully accused. I am in awe of how his life’s work has literally changed our country forever. This book inspired me to think differently of how we treat prisoners and criminals in our society, about how we use hatred and prejudice to justify cruel consequences, and how we throw people behind bars and then forget them.

I thought of the many ways we’ve legalized vengeful and cruel punishments. How we’ve allowed our victimization to justify the victimization of others. We’ve submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. But simply punishing the broken, walking away from them or hiding them from sight only ensures that they remain broken – and we do too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

This book is another one that should be MANDATORY READING for Americans.

I have always been against the death penalty [despite being taught that God used the death penalty and therefore, it is ok to inflict the death penalty for certain crimes]. Something about it didn’t seem right. How can we choose to take someone’s life? Wasn’t it Jesus himself who said “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone”? But after reading this book, I can’t believe we have ever done it. We have even executed minors [as recently as 2003]! And we have undoubtedly executed people for crimes that they didn’t commit, as many of these stories that Stevenson shares prove.

Seriously, we MUST put an end to capital punishment.

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

I gave this book an extra star [6 out of 5] because it is SO POWERFUL AND IMPORTANT.

I BEG OF YOU: READ THIS BOOK.


The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I heard about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I was shocked. It was the first openly racist murder [that I knew of] since I became racially aware a few years ago. Though I have been educating myself about race relations in America for a while, I was unaware of how bad things were and how deep the prejudice was embedded in our society and how angry Then, when George Floyd was murdered, I knew that there had to be more that I could do besides read some books and watch some documentaries and give money to racial justice organizations. I wrote about a lot of things I’m doing now that I wasn’t before, but I started by reading this book.

This book helped me to examine my own feelings about race – my own white race and the races of others – and learn how to become a racial justice advocate. In order to advocate for anything you have to learn about it, and then you have to speak out about it. This was a great book for me to begin to do both.

Although the journey to liberation and healing is an admirable goal, the steps needed to be taken are not easy ones. Many White Americans, for example, have difficulty acknowledging race-related issues because they elicit guilt about their privileged status, threaten their self-image as fair, moral, and decent human beings, and more importantly, suggest that their “unawareness” and “silence” allow for the perpetuation of inequities and harm to people of color. As Sara Winter (1977) suggests, it is simply easier to let such topics fade from consciousness, to not listen or hear the voices of the oppressed, to enter into a “conspiracy of silence,” and/or to dismiss, negate, and minimize the experiential reality of people of color. Acknowledging the existence of bigotry, bias, prejudice, and discrimination and hearing the voices of socially devalued groups in our society is the first step in a long journey to healing.

Anneliese A. Singh, The Racial Healing Handbook

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

⭐️⭐️[⭐️⭐️⭐️]

I am totally obsessed with Queer Eye. Each time a new season comes out, I binge the whole thing as fast as I can – usually two or three days because, hello, I have kids ya’ll! I can’t be watching television for nine hours straight! [But I am secretly very envious of everyone with that kind of time!]

I love every single one of the fab five [I really couldn’t choose a favorite], but there has always been a special place in my heart for Jonathan Van Ness. My partner tends to think that he is too…well, over the top. But I love it.

In one episode of the show, each of the guys is telling the story of how they came out to their families. Some of the stories were quite sad, but in Jonathan’s clip he simply shrugs and says something like “Was there ever any doubt that I was gay? I mean, c’mon honey! Is the grass green? Is the sky blue?” Oh my gosh. I died laughing. He is so unapologetic and I love it.

But, of course, his memoir isn’t as peppy as he is on the show. There is a lot of tough stuff in this book – a lot of hard, painful stories. But what I love the most is how our views of other people are based on our small window of exposure to them, when in reality everyone has a long story, a long history, and long journey that has made them into so much more than whatever glimpse we may get.

I don’t think there is anything that could make me love Jonathan Van Ness any less, and his honesty in this book only made me love him more.

[I gave this book 2 stars because I wouldn’t recommend it to many people because of the mature content, but then I added 3 more stars because I could never give Jonathan Van Ness anything less than a perfect score.]


Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is certainly no secret by now that I LOVE PATAGONIA! If I weren’t committed to ethical and sustainable clothing practices, I would have a closet full of patagonia clothing by now. Fortunately for me, patagonia is just as committed to ethical practices as I am, so they intentionally try to get consumers to consume less!

The more you know, the less you need.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

This book was GREAT. It begins as a history of Yvon Chouinard, how and why he began the business that would become the brand patagonia, and what he learned along the way. I love that it was never his goal to be a big company. He created this business to solve a problem. Wow, wouldn’t it be great if every business solved a problem, rather than just trying to make as much money as possible by cutting into new markets and undercutting current prices and not caring who [and what] is hurt along the way?

Then, he writes about all the ways that patagonia does business in an employee-centered way – providing childcare for working parents, flexible time off so that employees can go surfing when the waves are good [he seriously says that!], and providing benefits that prove that patagonia and Chouinard are not just saying that they care about people, they really do!

And on top of that, they care about the planet. As outdoorsy people who love to surf, rock climb, trail run, fly fish, this company is made up of people with a vested interest in protecting our natural world. As a runner, cyclist, and swimmer, I also care about these things. This is why I love patagonia so much. Finally, a company that cares more about doing the right thing than about making money. [I can barely find individual humans who would sacrifice money to do what’s right, let alone businesses.]

Our mission statement says nothing about making a profit. In fact Malinda and I consider our bottom line to be the amount of good that the business has accomplished over the year. However, a company needs to be profitable in order to stay in business and to accomplish all its other goals, and we do consider profit to be a vote of confidence that our customers approve of what we are doing.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

We need more business people like the Chouinards and more businesses like Patagonia and more books like Let My People Go Surfing.


Well, there you have it. Over a month late and way too long, but these have been extremely impactful books for me over the past few months. I hope you find a book from the list that inspires you and helps you see the world in a new and enlightened way.

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

July was a crazy month. I started my two new jobs and felt like I was working ALL THE TIME. I’ve also been preparing homeschool curriculum and gathering resources, books and materials. And I volunteered 12 hours to the food bank in June, packing meals and working at a pop-up drive through food pantry one Saturday morning.

Now that we don’t have Brett’s full-time income [and my part-time income is measly in comparison], I have been thinking about money more than usual. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeschool curriculum is not cheap and that getting a new job means buying appropriate work boots. So, we spent some money.

However, a small mercy came in the form of a bag of clothes diapers that a girlfriend offered me literally a day after I told Brett that I need new ones because I cannot seem to solve the diaper rash problem we are now experiencing with our fourth baby. The same friend also gave us a bigger bike for our son who has completely outgrown the little twelve inch bike he currently uses, which my sister-in-law found for him at Savers for $2.

I already mentioned in my previous update post about making masks for the family which kept me from having to buy any.

Yes, I made them out of old boxer shorts. 🤫

I have also inherited a new sewing machine which is perfect timing because [though I’ve grown quite fond of my little $20 machine] there is more I would like to make and I needed a bigger machine.

This machine also serves as a reminder of our Nana who passed away last week.

This month was Evangeline’s sixth birthday [!!!] and she told us that she really wanted roller skates. We stumbled upon a pair of adjustable roller skates at Goodwill [while looking for work boots]. And we picked up a pair of used knee and elbow pads for her [that also came with a bike helmet that is perfect for my younger daughter] from a neighbor [I love OfferUp!].

I was really stressed about finding work boots because I had to have them in less than a week for my start date and I didn’t want to spend $200 on a new pair. But with just one day left, I was able to find a used pair of steel-toe work boots for $20 that fit perfectly. In my previous life I would have run out immediately to the closest shoe store and bought whichever pair was my favorite. But these days, our new values [which include: intentional living, minimalism, and waste reduction] keep me from making impulsive buys. And I am so glad. Now, even facing a job loss, we are not worrying about money.

So, it may seem that we’ve hit a rough patch financially, but, as always, the universe takes care of us.

What we bought

Roller skates for Eva’s birthday ($5): I’ve written several times already about how and why we give used gifts to our kids. Evangeline didn’t care at all that these were used and they are adjustable so she can wear them for years.

Shoes for Brett ($6): Brett didn’t need shoes urgently [especially since he’s out of work], but while he was in Goodwill looking for work boots for me, he also found himself a pair of brown dress shoes to replace his worn out pair. These shoes are in perfect condition and are apparently very expensive new. Maybe will start shopping at Goodwill more often!

Bell and streamers for Eva’s bike ($19.33): We couldn’t find these used so we bought them from a locally owned bike shop in town.

Knee and elbow pads for Eva ($10): I was so glad to be able to find someone selling these used pads for Evangeline to use with her roller skates [a tough skill to master, turns out].

Work boots ($20): Took a while to find them, but they’ve been working great since I started my job three weeks ago.

Shampoo and conditioner bars ($27): I usually buy Lush bar products, but this time we went back to Ethique, whose bars are cheaper per ounce. It may seem pricey, but our last shampoo bar lasted four months and the conditioner bar is just now almost gone and it’s been nine months. Ethique’s website states that one shampoo bar replaces eight bottles of shampoo.

School curriculum for Eva – minus math ($113.05): I went with a digital download curriculum to cut down on the cost. The program doesn’t include math, however, so I had to buy a separate math program.

Math curriculum ($92): I bought just the teachers edition and student workbooks [no manipulative or resources] and it was still almost $100! I know their are cheaper options out there, but I really need more direction than professional homeschool moms.

Our new budget is to spend as little money as possible – so I guess we went over budget this month. But, overall, we did pretty well. We still spent money, but we bought mostly used and did our homework to find the most ethical purchasing option available.

What We Gave Away

Nothing.

🤦‍♀️

We have set aside a collection of maybe twelve kids utensils that we no longer need, but we haven’t even had the chance to donate them.

Maybe next month…

Hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy!

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Social Media

Lessons in Motherhood and Social Media

One of my favorite quotes is from Brooke McAlary’s book, Slow:

“I don’t need a photo or a video to remember it. And I don’t need an audience to validate it.”

Brooke McAlary, Slow

I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote since I [re]joined Instagram last year. In that time, I’ve been reminded of all the reasons that I left social media in the first place:

  • A waste of time: No matter how good my intentions may be, my time on social media always feels wasted.
  • A false connection: Even though I enjoy seeing updates from friends and family, this seems like an impersonal and lazy way to “keep in touch.”
  • A need for validation: Social media creates a need for approval and a dependence on validation to prove our worth.
  • An inability to be present: For myself personally, being active on social media trained me to view every moment as “gramable,” to be on the lookout for good photo ops, to be thinking of sharing the moment rather than being in the moment.

On the other hand, social media has some valuable uses, such as sharing information and impacting society’s belief systems. We’ve seen that through this past month of protests around George Floyd’s death. Social media has been a way to express and hear the voices of the people in a way that major media is not capable. Social platforms have been used to expose corruption, inform ignorance, and change the world. I have benefited from hearing the voices of people on social media that I would not have otherwise heard. I follow a wide variety of humanitarian and environmental organizations and activists who keep me informed about topics that matter to me.

So, maybe we can’t throw the whole thing out, but I think that I am ready to take another extended break. I’m not going to shut my account down, but I am going to limit my Instagram usage by:

  • Hiding the app. I’ve found that I am less likely to open the app if it is hidden away in a folder so that I have to choose intentionally to find it, rather than using it as a means of killing time.
  • Using Screentime limits. The iPhone [and probably other smart phones] have a feature in settings that allow me to limit my time on specific apps or apps of a certain type. I put a 15-minute limit for my collective social apps [which really includes Instagram, Pinterest, Marco Polo, Skype and FaceTime].
  • Not posting about myself. I am going to start using my account for activism rather than sharing pieces of my personal life. I don’t need the validation and the people who I have real relationships with [along with my blog readers] will learn about my life and my kids. Some things that I will post about:
    • photos of our CSA food hauls to encourage people to support local agriculture and healthy eating.
    • zero waste products and zero waste shopping trips
    • quotes and information about giving and supporting local NGOs working to end poverty locally and globally
    • support for Black Lives Matter and racial justice
    • other humanitarian and environmental issues as they arise

For me, these are the ways that Instagram [and social media in general] are useful to me – as a tool for education and activism and social change, RATHER than a tool for personal sharing and seeking approval.

As for my personal life, I would like to keep it personal. I would rather live in the moment and not care about what anyone else thinks.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

Racism in America: Breaking the Cycle

Racism in America: Breaking the Cycle

I am a mother of four kids, who are my whole world. I have other identities – partner, minimalist, personal trainer, environmentalist, baker, health freak – but they all revolve around my primary role as a mother. Sometimes I am envious of other women who have glamorous corporate careers while I spend a large portion of my day chopping food into bite-sized pieces. But I am glad that I am able to spend these formative years with them, since this is a luxury that many mothers do not have.

Because being a mom is such a large part of my life, and because this blog is about motherhood [well, motherhood and other things, obviously], I wanted to share how I am trying to raise my kids to be racially-aware, inclusive, and anti-racist.

Are Kids Born Racist?

I don’t believe that racism is a part of the human nature, though its existence is evidence of the general selfishness of humanity. Rather, I believe that racism is a learned behavior, passed down through the generations, whether intentionally or subliminally.

Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

There is evidence to support both sides of the issue. Some studies have concluded that children are born with a preference for their own race, and other studies have shown that children learn racist beliefs from their parents, schools, and culture.

I agree with the research that indicates that we are most comfortable with people who share our race and culture because it is most familiar to us. That just makes sense. Our first encounter with a different race may be startling or uncomfortable, but that does not mean that we are racist – that we believe that our race is superior. It means that we fear the unknown. Which is why research has also found that the more time we engage with people of different races [and cultures and beliefs and lifestyles], the more comfortable we become with these differences.

Because institutional racism is so ingrained and so automatic and so accepted, without enough people wanting to enact true, long-lasting change, institutional racism ends up becoming our personal bias.

Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University

A great article about this can be found here [partially quoted above.]

I can also see from my own kids that we are not born racist. My children are happy to play with any other kid, it doesn’t matter in the least what color skin they have. My daughter, who is incredibly outgoing, won’t let race, age, gender or even a language barrier stop her from becoming best friends with other kids at the library or on the playground.

Breaking the Cycle of Racism

It is important to understand that racism is learned because that gives us hope that our children do not have to necessarily become racist adults.

[I know many adults don’t believe themselves to be racist, but as I wrote about it in My White Awakening, unless we have been actively working to overcome our own prejudices, we all have racial biases that inform our view of the world and we all benefit from a racist system based on white supremacy].

We have the ability to end the cycle of racism.

What this means to me is that I have to be especially careful not to taint their worldview with prejudices or biases or any negativity toward people who differ from us. Of course, I would never do that intentionally, but, as I realized while examining my own childhood [which I wrote about in my first racism post], racism often gets passed down from generation to generation very subtly. So in order to not unintentionally perpetuate racist beliefs, I have to intentionally teach my children inclusivity and equality.

It is up to us as parents to ensure that we put an end to the subliminal messages of racism.

1. Talking about our differences [including race]. The first thing that usually happens when kids encounter people who are different is that they ask about it – usually very loudly and in front of the person they are talking about. Rather than being embarrassed and trying to hush my kids, I usually give an apologetic smile to the individual and then give my kid an honest answer. Sometimes if the stranger is standing there, I let them answer for themselves. I view these moments as opportunities instead of embarrassments [even though they are usually still embarrassing], because they allow me to talk to my kids about how we are all different and that’s okay. And this is not limited to race. Some people ride in wheel chairs, some people have curly hair, some people wear hijabs, some people have nose rings, some people are missing teeth, some people speak a different language, some people have lighter skin, and some people have darker skin, because we are all different – but we are all people.

These are some unwritten rules that I have been teaching my kids:

  • We praise our differences. I allow my kids to ask questions, without feeling shamed for noticing differences. It is okay to notice that people are different from us. The key for me has been to speak positively about these differences. Differences do not divide us, they make us unique and special. They make the world a more enjoyable place to live.
  • We recognize that we are all different. I want my kids to understand that to us, someone’s skin may be dark, but to them, our skin is light. It works both ways. We may think they eat strange food, but they probably think that our food is strange, as well. I am trying to teach them that the world does not revolve around their perspective. This is the beginning of apathy and compassion for other people – being able to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what they world feels like for them.
  • We treat everyone with kindness and respect. Again, this is not just limited to race. In fact, I think these are all very important lessons for loving and accepting all people, regardless of their race, culture, religion, orientation, family structure, outward appearance, abilities or disabilities. Teaching my kids the inherent worth of all human beings is vital to ending racism.

Of course, accepting that people are all different is great, but our culture will still teach them racist ideas if we don’t intentionally intervene, which is why the job is not done here.

2. Exposing them to many races and cultures. I love other cultures, so it is a lot of fun to learn how other people live. I want my children to understand that the world is a very big place and it is filled with all kinds of people who believe different things and eat different things and wear different things and, yes, sometimes look differently. One of our traditions during the Christmas season is to celebrate other holidays from around the world. We also like to attend the “Diverse Voices Story Time” at the library, which includes songs in another language and some stories about people from diverse backgrounds. Hanging out at libraries and parks and public places gives us the opportunity to meet people of different cultures and races. And we enjoy going to local festivals and events which offer opportunities to expose my kids to other cultures. As more of my kids enter school, they will meet more kids of different races and I look forward to watching their relationships develop unhindered by the negative affects of racism. I hope that all of my kids experience a much more multi-cultural upbringing than I did.

A children’s book that doesn’t explicitly deal with race, but shows multiple different races within one family and talks about different foods and customs.

As I mentioned previously, research has shown that the more exposure we have to different races [and differences, in general] the more positively we feel about them. This makes a lot of sense, because oftentimes, we don’t interact with people outside of our own race and so we really have no experience to teach us that racial stereotypes are wrong and hurtful. We have to engage with people who are different and when we do, we will discover that they are just people like us.

I don’t want to raise my kids in a white world – I want to raise them in the real world.

3. Teaching the history of racism. This year around MLK Day, we picked up several kids books about the Civil Rights Movement. These books were the perfect way to discuss some of the unpleasant truths about racism in America’s history. One of the books also talked about the holocaust and anti-Semitism. I realized that I need to be more intentional about teaching my kids these important stories. We need to talk about the injustice that minority groups around the world have suffered at the hands of white society. We need to know their stories of struggle. We need to feel the weight of our whiteness.

Additionally, I need to teach my kids stories of minority leaders and heroes and champions and victors. I cannot allow them to grow up with only white protagonists. The same books I mentioned earlier told the stories of MLK and Anne Frank and Audrey Faye Hendricks, real-life heroes who I want my kids to look up to. There are also excellent books about leaders, mathematicians, scientists who prove that race and gender do not determine intelligence or capabilities.

4. Providing diverse toys and books. As a white family, it is easy to end up with all white toys and books, but this is not sending the right message to my kids about other races. I want them to grow up surrounded by diversity, and that starts in the home. In order to do this, I have to basically enforce affirmative action for the toy bin. I want the toys and books and television programming that my kids experience at home to mimic the real world.

This is a great book that deals with race in an age-appropriate way.
I picked up this book because our family was moving and I thought it would help my daughter adjust to the idea. I love how my daughter only noticed how much she had in common with the little girl in this story – not how they are different.

We don’t buy a lot of toys for our kids [and at these ages, they are usually animals anyway – Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Baby Shark] but I have started intentionally including diverse books and being more aware of what races are represented in our home. Black is not the only race that needs to be represented. My kids also need to be exposed other minority groups – some of which are harder to find represented in the toy aisle, evidence that we still have work to do.

We also no longer allow toys that depict racial stereotypes [such as “cowboys and Indians”]. We don’t allow programming that depicts certain races as inept or inferior or as always “the bad guy.” And, though a slightly different discussion, we don’t allow toy weapons of any kind because weapons are for the intention of harming someone or something, and that should never be a part of play.

5. Model anti-racist activism. In my previous post, I wrote about all the ways that I am supporting the racial justice movement. I can’t turn all my kids into little activists, but I can show them by my example that there are things that we can do about injustices that we see in the world.

As I have said before, there is a difference between “not being a racist,” and “being anti-racist.” An anti-racist actively denounces racism in all its forms and promotes equality for all races, ethnicities, and cultures. As a parent, I want my kids to not be racist, but I also want them to be anti-racist.

My hope is that by immersing my kids in the “melting pot” that is American society and modeling an anti-racist mindset, my kids will be able to break the cycle of systemic racism that is so often perpetuated in white families.

How are you promoting racial equality with your kids? Would love to hear other input – especially from parents of older kids.

👧🏼👦🏼👧🏼👶🏼

Karis

May Shopping Audit [and why I’m auditing my shopping]

May Shopping Audit [and why I’m auditing my shopping]

Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I have started asking myself why I even bother to track my purchases. It is a hassle since I am really only tracking my partner’s purchases because I never buy anything. It has also lead to a few passionate [aka heated] discussions between the two of us on what constitutes a “necessary” expense.

But that is exactly why this is a helpful endeavor [despite the nuisance]. It forces us to consider each purchase, instead of just buying whatever we want whenever we feel like it, which is what we used to do.

But it’s not easy to stop impulse buying. The very definition of the word “impulse” implies that it will be hard to stop. The American consumer culture preys on our inability to control ourselves when it comes to spending. Advertisers use all kinds of tricks to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. But we have the power to choose more intentional spending habits. It takes discipline and practice, which is exactly what I am doing with this shopping audit.

Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases

Before we buy anything, we ask ourselves a series of questions.

  • Do we need this?
  • Can we use something we already have?
  • Can we make it ourselves?
  • Is it reusable?
  • How often will we use it?
  • How long will we need it?
  • Can we buy it used?

Honestly, the first two questions usually rule out the purchase. But if we do determine that we really do need it and it can’t be found used, we ask more questions – and these questions are just as important as the first set.

  • What business do we want to support when buying it?
  • What is the most environmentally friendly option for this product?
  • Where can we buy this to ensure it was manufactured ethically?
  • What is the plan for disposing of it at the end of its life?

I will once again share this graphic by Sara Lazarovic [youre going to see this a lot from me].

(c) Sarah Lazarovic

The point is not to keep us from making any purchases, but rather to help us make intentional purchases. And, also, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever buy anything you want ever again. We still buy things that we technically want more than need, but we are intentional about it – which makes all the difference.

For example…

The Story of Our Bike Pump

We needed a new bike pump. Our kids are biking every day and I have two jogging strollers [a single and a double] that I use very frequently that needed the tires refilled. Our bike pump broke last summer. So, once we determined that we needed a new one and couldn’t buy one used, we agreed to buy one. However, instead of running to Walmart or Target that day to pick up the cheapest one we could find, we waited until a local bike shop in our town was open so that we could support a local, ethical business with the purchase.

The bike pump was technically a want, not a need, if you define “need” as something needed for survival. I mean we don’t have to go for bike rides or walks. But, let’s be real, this is a source of enjoyment and health and stress relief and quality time and immersion in nature that our entire family adores. We live on a bike path and use it every single day. And in order to continue, we “needed” a bike pump.

So was it a need or a want?

🤷‍♀️

We made the decision that it would be used a lot and could support a local business and would enhance our lives and so we bought one.

I’m sure your thinking [like my partner did], Geez, what’s the big deal about buying a bike pump? But this bike pump is one of many, many purchases that suddenly pops up. Each time, we try to make intentional purchases. In the case of the bike pump, we purchased a new one from a local business. But in many other cases, we choose to do without, or to wait, or find an alternative.

(c) Sarah Lazarovic

A few weeks back, I chopped my hair shorter than Brett’s and wanted headbands to make me look less like my little brother. I could have immediately ordered a set from Amazon, but instead I made some out of the old clothes that are too shabby to donate. When we needed to install a French drain in our yard, Brett could have gone to Home Depot straightaway to buy the necessary piping, but instead waited and – lo and behold! – found someone giving away enough tubing for the whole project. And when I wanted cute little bumblebee candies to put on my baby’s first birthday cake, I did some research and found a cute way to make them myself using almonds instead. There’s also the tea kettle that would be handy for heating water and the bathmat that I’m now making out of old towels and the new television because ours keeps shutting off on us randomly – but none of these purchases are necessary, so we haven’t bought them…yet.

Usually buying less just requires taking a pause before buying the first option that comes to mind. And in the end, if the choice is made to purchase new, then “where” and “what” become important questions to consider.

As Anna Lappé said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We have the choice to buy cheap and support big businesses who promote greed in our economy and ourselves. Or we can buy ethically and environmentally and support small businesses – the businesses of our neighbors and friends and our community – and find ourselves less concerned about the money and more concerned about things that truly matter.

So, without further adieu, here is our purchases for May.

What We Bought

Bike pump: $40 – I’ve already discussed this purchase at length above [you should have heard Brett and I discussing it for DAYS].

Mother’s Day Gifts: $184.10 – We sent gifts to both our moms, both of our living grandmothers, and my sweet Auntie Paula who is like a mother to me. Especially during this time of being separated from our loved ones, I thought it was important to send special gifts. However, even these were ethical and intentional. We sent two gifts through Etsy in order to support small businesses. We sent two gifts of Fair Trade coffee from Grounds for Change, which is a family-owned and operated business in Seattle that we frequently support because they are ethical and eco-friendly. And we sent a candle that supports one of our favorite charities, Charity:Water, the proceeds of which will help provide clean water to people around the world. So even in buying gifts, we try to make intentional and ethical purchases that support causes we care about from companies whose values align with our own, while at the same showing our family that we love them.

Diapers/Diaper Cream/Toiletries: $22.57 – I have to include this purchase, though it pains me. We did some traveling last month and so we bought disposable diapers and some disposable toiletry items. At home, we use exclusively cloth diapers and I use a menstrual cup and reusable menstrual pads, but when traveling to stay with family this becomes…uncomfortable. So we typically buy disposables for travels.

Brake parts for van: $96.88 – At least we didn’t have to pay the cost of labor to have the brakes changed because Brett has picked up this skill [among many other mechanic skills] and saved us lots of money over the years.

Bike: $10 – We bought a used bike for Evangeline because she outgrew the one she had been using. Now her old one is being used by Josephine.

Connectors for French drain: $5 – Oh, the joys of home ownership. But again, Brett is saving lots of money by digging the draining and doing all the work himself.

Tube for kids bike: $5 – One of the kids’ bike got a flat, so we had to replace the tube. I told you we ride A LOT!

Total spent: $363.55

Over budget: $134.10 [We weren’t over budget on the month as a whole, but we did technically overspend in the “gift” category – we just love the moms in our life so much!]

What We Are Going To Do With It

Everything we bought [with the exception of the disposable products] will receive lots of love – especially those new brakes for the van.

😜

What We Got Rid Of

This month we went through the kids toys. I recently read Simplicity Parenting, which reminded me once again how important it is to keep the levels of toys from overwhelming me, and our house, and even the kids.

Thirty-five total books and toys have been temporarily removed to a safe place where they will wait to see if anyone misses anything [they won’t]. Then off to Salvation Army.

The kids’ room is once again under control.

[Speaking of Simplicity Parenting, over the next few weeks I am going to be posting about how we’ve been simplifying our mealtimes, schedules, possessions, and food choices to improve our time together and provide our kids with plenty of opportunities to just be kids.]

Even though we spent quite a bit, we also gave away a lot of money in May to important organizations such has No Kid Hungry, Save the Children, Charity: Water and our local food bank. We spent over $300 on ourselves, but we gave over $1500 away to help people impacted by this global crisis.

Brett and I are both still furloughed from our jobs, but this time has only made us more aware of how blessed we are and rather than stressing about money or worrying for ourselves, we have turned our attention to people less fortunate than ourselves and given what we are able.

This is a very stressful time for our country and our world, so I hope you all are doing okay, staying safe and healthy, and taking care of yourselves and your loved ones!

✌🏻 ✌🏻 ✌🏻

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Modeling Screen Time Limits

Lessons in Motherhood and Modeling Screen Time Limits

When I was a little kid, we had one HUGE desk top computer in our basement that we could power up to play a game if we had the patience and determination to actually get the machine on and the floppy disk running. But today, my kindergartner has spent the last three months doing her school work on an iPad – watching YouTube videos, playing math computer games, and reading digital kids books.

Times have definitely changed.

I know that opinions are very strong on both sides of the screen time debate, and so I have no intention of weighing in on how much screen time kids should or should not have. I’ll leave that to the experts. But I have realized that even more important than setting healthy boundaries for my kids is modeling healthy screen time usage for myself.

While reading Carla Naumburg’s book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids, it dawned on me that I am breaking many of the screen time rules that I would want my kids to follow. So I decided to set some boundaries for my own screen time.

I don’t have Facebook, but I still often get sucked into spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Sometimes I pick up my phone to check the weather and realize an hour later [after checking emails, responding to texts messages, practicing Spanish, and catching up on news] that I still don’t know the forecast.

But even still, I don’t believe that using my phone is bad [or that you shouldn’t use yours as much as you want]. I have just realized that if I expect my kids to have healthy boundaries for screens, I need to have healthy boundaries as well. While adults may not have the developmental issues associated with screen time that kids do, we still risk negative side effects such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a general loss of time.

My Screen Time Limits

I am not trying to say that everyone should follow these specific rules. Your usage will depend on how your phone serves you. [And it’s important to remember that the phone, tablet, computer or device is there to serve you, not the other way around.] For me personally, these changes over the past few months have provided me with more quality time with my family, less time wasted wandering aimlessly on my phone, and a better example of how I want my kids to manage their own screens when they are old enough.

1. No screens during mealtime. I’ve been working on table manners and dinner time routines with my kids. One of the new standards is no screens at the table. Right now my kids don’t have their own devices, so it’s really just a rule for my partner and I. Sometimes our phones are so attached to us that they come to the table with us, but this just causes a distraction from the focus of time together as a family during meals.

2. Absolutely no phones while driving. This rule is a no-brainer especially since it is now a law, but it is still a struggle. I have a habit of checking my phone at stop lights and using it for directions or even occasionally making calls. Could these things wait? Most definitely. Do I want my kids thinking that it is ok to use their phones while driving? Absolutely not.

3. No television when the kids are awake. Oh, man. This is tough. Television is such an easy and convenient distraction. A few years back, I would start reaching the end of my rope around dinner time while I was waiting for Brett to get home and trying to make dinner and the baby was screaming and my emergency response was to turn on the television. And I wasn’t even putting on kids shows. I would turn on The Great British Baking Show or American Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t trying to distract my kids. I was trying to distract myself. Talk about setting a bad example for my children!

Once I realized my unhealthy tendency, I decided to move the television to the basement and not turn it on [outside of family movie nights or agreed upon screen times] until the kids are in bed for the night.

It has been a game changer. And not just for me, but also for my kids. We watch WAAAAY less television and my kids are much less dependent on it for their own entertainment. We have all learned how to handle boredom or stress without the television.

4. Phone away when playing with the kids. I knew something had to change when I found myself playing with my kids while responding to text messages. How terrible is that? I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’m sure my kids could tell that I was not 100% present. Sometimes the kids and I are in the middle of an epic story about Brown Puppy [my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal] rescuing Super Chase [my son’s favorite Paw Patrol character] from the hot lava on Daisy Island [that’s our dog]…and all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my to do list and that I need to call the doctor to reschedule the baby’s appointment and I need to text Brett to remind him to pick up extra peanuts because I need to make peanut butter for tomorrow’s lunches…

The next thing I know, I’m on my phone and telling my kids to just hang on for one second.

For me, this is a major parenting fail. I want to spend time with my kids. I want to play. I will only have the opportunity to make these memories and share these times with my kids for so long. But I am so easily distracted by everything that I have to do that my brain can’t stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, I don’t keep my phone within reach when I play with my kids. I set it far away – usually out of the room, sometimes even up stairs charging by my bed.

Not everyone has the ability to do this, since many people have to be available at all times, but I have found that even the conscious effort to set the phone down and focus on my kids has improved my ability to set my “adult stuff” aside and slow down my brain for a bit.

5. No screens in bed. The last rule I have set for myself is to not sit and stare at my phone [or any other device – though I don’t have any other devices] before I go to sleep at night. Screens have been proven to cause interrupted, restless sleep when used right before bed. Plus, it’s not a calming way to send myself off into sleep. I often read books on my phone, but for just before bed, I use a physical book. Or I just climb into bed and go to sleep, which is great because sometimes phones create this crazy time vortex where you lose three hours without even realizing it.

Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been personally working on in my own life as a mother – trying to do the best I can for my kids. It’s my job to protect them from things that will harm them, but it’s also my job to set the example.

Parenting is TOUGH! Am I right???

📱 📱 📱

Karis

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.

Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.

[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]

And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.

This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.

Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.

I choose the latter.

Simple Living

So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.

Spending Time Together

My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:

At Home Activities for Kids

We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.

We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.

Eating Real Food

This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.

Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!

Exercising At [or near] Home

Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].

Zero Waste

When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.

Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.

For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.

You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.

[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]

I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.

Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.

That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.

Stay safe [and stay home]!

🌎 🌍 🌏

Karis

[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

Lessons in Motherhood and Trusting the Doctors

Lessons in Motherhood and Trusting the Doctors

As I’m writing this, my son is in surgery. It’s a common surgery for kids [tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy] but still requires a general anesthetic, an OR that I’m not allowed to enter, a two week recovery time, and a fair amount of fear.

I could go into all the reasons we decided to have this done – but the truth is, we are trusting our doctors. Theo was hospitalized twice before he turned one and has always struggled with breathing issues and chronic ear infections and mouth breathing. So there are reasons. But we didn’t have to have the surgery. We could have continued to treat his issues as we have been. We could have waited to see if he grows out of it. We could have told the doctors that we don’t think he should have this done because he’s so young and there are risks.

But I can’t pretend that I know more than the doctors who have recommended this procedure. And I know that they are recommending it because they are trying to do what is best for my son.

In the end, I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about tonsils or adenoids. I take my kids to see a pediatrician I trust regularly because I am not knowledgeable enough about healthcare. I need a professional’s help.

Like the first time I took Theo for a routine well visit and told the doctor that he was fine. Two breathing treatments later we were headed for the ER where he was hospitalized for a week. Or the time I took him into the pediatrician because I was worried about his hearing and it turned out that he had a double ear infection that required two rounds of antibiotics.

I clearly need doctors for my kids.

In the western world today, it is common to question the doctor, to look for advice on the internet and from friends, and to think that we know better than the professionals. And while I think it is important to advocate for yourself and make the best choices you can for yourself and especially your kids [I gave birth to my babies at home, you may recall], there comes a time when you have to trust your doctors.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – even before this surgery came up – because I saw a rant on Instagram about doctors hiding lots of vital, black label information from patients. As if the entire medical world is out to get us. Trying to trick us into doing all these things [vaccinations, flu shots, epidurals, etc] that are really going to hurt us instead of help us.

I don’t believe that the medical world is out to get us and I think it’s a sad perspective to have of a profession that is trying to make [and keep] people healthy.

I, of course, realize that the issue is more complex than I’m making it out to be in this short post, but the main point is that we all need doctors eventually and all we can do is find the best doctors available and then trust them.

Theo is fine, by the way. And hopefully on his way to fewer encounters with doctors in the future.

🩺 🩺 🩺

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