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

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

Every year we do our “Carlson Countdown to Christmas” with twenty-five holiday-inspired activities. This year, we did some new things and revisited some of our favorites from previous years.

For those thinking of starting a similar tradition, here are the activities we did this year and [at the end] some tips for making this happen!

The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas

December 1: Santa’s Holiday Workshop. This year we kicked off the holiday season with a park district event where we watched Santa arrived pulled by sled dogs and the kids participated in a variety of holiday themed activities.

Tip: Check your park district guide or local event calendar for ideas of things to do with your community.

December 2: Put up the Christmas Tree and Make the Paper Chain. Every year, the kids and I make a Christmas paper chain so that we can countdown to Christmas. This is a helpful visual for them to see how far til Christmas AND cuts down on them asking a million times if today is the big day.

December 3: Shopping for Toys for Tots. This is an annual tradition. We take the kids shopping for toys to give to Toys for Tots then drop them off in a local collection bin. This activity reminds us to appreciate our many blessings and give back to other kids in our community. And, as an added bonus, it helps us to see what toys our kids really love.

December 4: Homemade Marshmallows and Hot Chocolate. This was my first time making marshmallows, but I make hot chocolate every year. The kids and I LOVE hot chocolate and it is so easy to make at home. I can’t believe I used to buy it in packets!

December 5: Christmas I-Spy Game. I wanted to create an activity that would get the kids outside, and since my kids are really into I-Spy and “Look and Find” books, I hid a bunch of Christmas items in the backyard for them to find. They played outside for several hours searching and then re-hiding the items. I wore the baby in a carrier and we got involved in the game too.

Tip: The activity for the day does not have to be a big event or time consuming trip out of the home. I always gather a few simple holiday games and craft ideas to use on occasional days when we just want to stay in [or I’m exhausted].

December 6: Geneva Christmas Walk. This is a tradition for us, even though it always means long lines and walking around outside in the freezing cold. This year we got hot chocolate at Kilwins and took photos with the Grinch. This event is a Christmas classic for us.

December 7: Clay Ornaments. Every year the kids and I make ornaments of some kind. We’ve done salt dough. Last year we did paper. This year, we rolled and cut and painted and glittered cornstarch clay ornaments. This is a great way to make gifts and to add some new ornaments to the tree.

December 8: Christmas Light Shows. This is another annual tradition that the kids LOVE. We have several big, fancy light shows in our area [one was even featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight a few years back]. This year we all got in our Christmas pajamas and drove to the displays.

Tip: Even if you don’t have a fancy light show in your area, there are usually neighborhoods to drive through where the lights are beautiful. I have also seen Christmas light bingo cards on Pinterest which would be a fun game to play!

December 9: Bake Christmas Cookies. Every year, I take one day to bake Christmas cookies because I know that I will eat an obscene amount of cookie dough, and my health [and blood sugar] can only handle it one day. Let me tell you – it’s a special day! The kids love to get involved. Thus far, we’ve been making different types of cookies each year, but I’m hoping that over the years we will settle on our favorites. I think the melted snowmen cookies we made this year might be my favorite cookie EVER.

December 10: Deliver Christmas Gifts to our Neighbors. The gift has been different each year [this year we gave away tins of the freshly baked cookies], but we always enjoy walking to our neighbors to wish them a merry Christmas. This year everyone was home!

December 11: Puffy Paint Snowmen and Christmas Shopping. One of my regular holiday crafts is puffy paint snowmen because the kids love it so much and all it requires is shaving cream and glue. The 11th is also our wedding anniversary so we went out to dinner with the whole family and then took the kids shopping for gifts for each other. It was so sweet to see how thoughtful they were in picking out gifts that their siblings [including the dog], would love.

December 12: Daisy’s Birthday Party. We brought Daisy home three years ago on December 12th as a Christmas present for our kids and every year we celebrate that day as her birthday [we don’t know the actual date]. We bake her a little “pup cake” [humans get banana muffins with cream cheese frosting] and wear party hats and sing to her and give her gifts – the whole deal. It is seriously great fun!

December 13: Christmas Movie. I LOVE Christmas movies. And I love the excuse to watch the cute kids Christmas movies like The Polar Express, The Grinch, and [my personal fave] Arthur Christmas.

December 14: Christmas Tree Waffles. These waffles are an annual breakfast tradition – one day a year only. I didn’t get a picture this year but they are just waffles colored green and decorated with mini M&Ms and powdered sugar.

Last year’s Christmas tree waffles.

December 15: Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls. I saw this on Pinterest and thought they were cute. They are harder to make into a tree shape than you would think…only half of them came close to resembling trees. Still delicious though!

December 16: Birdseed Ornaments. This is another annual tradition. We love to take care of our feathered friends – especially since we live in a very wooded area.

17. Gift for Peter Rabbit. This year for the first time, we bought and delivered a gift for the bunny who lives in our local nature center, Peter Rabbit. Then we played at the nature center for the afternoon.

18. Gingerbread Houses with Auntie Paula. Of course this is our FAVORITE annual tradition – with our favorite Auntie!

19. Frozen 2 with Judi. My kids are old enough to go to the movies!!!!!!! [At least, my two oldest are…] So we went to see Frozen 2 with my good friend and fellow movie lover, Judi.

20. Read Christmas books by the fire. We have a big collection of kids Christmas books that we bring out in December – and something about a warm fire in the fireplace makes reading the stories extra special for the kids.

21. Oreo ornaments. More treats! No wonder I gain five pounds every December!

22. Puppy Chow and other gifts. We love to give edible homemade gifts that go in mason jars! We make puppy chow every year because it is easy, delicious, and the kids can help. Only bummer is that I have to buy boxed cereal for it, which I ordinarily never do. Next year I think I’ll try making chocolate popcorn instead to avoid the waste since I can buy popcorn kernels and chocolate in bulk bins.

23. Polar Express and 2 Toots. Every year we do our own “Polar Express” train ride to a little train themed diner called 2 Toots Train Whistle Grill. This year, my parents and my sister and her family came up from Indiana to join us.

24. Christmas Scavenger Hunt. This is a new activity that I hope to turn into an annual tradition. When we had our first kid, Brett and I began the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve – always one Christmas book and Christmas pajamas. Well, our sustainability values no longer include a) buying new books [because we use the library and already own too many books] or b) buying new pajamas when they aren’t needed. We needed to change the tradition, so this year I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find one Christmas gift for them all to share. Because it was hidden, it didn’t need to be wrapped. And it was also a toy set that I bought used.

They were SO EXCITED.

25. Monkey Bread, Orange Julius, [MIMOSAS for the tired mama] and Christmas gift exchange. Every family has their own Christmas traditions, obviously. Ours include a very extravagant breakfast [compared to our usual oatmeal] and a gift exchange. [I like to use the phrase “gift exchange” as opposed to “opening presents” because the former implies that we are GIVING as well as RECEIVING.]

Tips for a Successful Christmas Countdown

1. Make a LONG list. I brainstorm a huge list of ideas of crafts to make, things to bake, places to go, community events to attend, etc. We don’t do all of it, but it helps to have options.

2. Include LOTS of simple, stay-at-home activities. The activities don’t all have to be extravagant or costly. We do plenty of simple activities like reading Christmas stories together, dancing to Christmas music, or coloring Christmas pictures.

3. Be FLEXIBLE. I used to try to plan out the entire month in advance, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen over twenty-five days and sometimes you’ll have to adjust the plan. In those instances, having plenty of simple ideas will be helpful.

PLEASE let me know if you start this tradition in your family! The holiday season is about so much more than just gifts. We have so much fun celebrating it all month long, spending time together, and remembering to real reason for the season.

I hope you are having a very merry holiday!

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and the Season of Giving

Lessons in Motherhood and the Season of Giving

Every December, we celebrate the holiday season with our Carlson Countdown to Christmas – which is basically an advent calendar of holiday-themed activities for us to do as a family like baking Christmas cookies, driving to local Christmas light shows, visiting Santa Claus, making Christmas ornaments, etc. Each year I come up with twenty-four of these activities [some old, some new] and then go through the process of planning and organizing and actually making all of it happen.

It is a lot of work. It is also a lot of fun, but with four little kids, at this point, it is mostly a lot of work.

So, why do I bother?

Well, I am hoping that it will result in a lot of cherished memories for my kids and holiday traditions that we can all look forward to around the holidays. I dream of my kids getting excited on Black Friday, not to go shopping, but to start prepping for our annual countdown which always begins on December 1st with decorating the house for the holidays.

But in these early years, the kids don’t really appreciate or understand the lengths to which I go to ensure that we get to decorate gingerbread houses with Auntie Paula, and go ice skating at our local outdoor rink on a night when it is not absolutely freezing, or coordinate with Brett’s work schedule to make sure we can take our annual train ride and read The Polar Express.

Ah, the things we do as parents…

So, for now, I’ve been using these days to build a foundation of gratitude and generosity in my children by intentionally turning their attention to ways we can give rather than things we can get.

Here are some ways that we celebrate the season of giving:

Giving Thanks

Last year, we had a “Gratitude Tree” in the month of November to count all of our blessings. This year, we are doing a holiday version. At breakfast time, we talk about the things we are grateful for and add some ornaments to our tree.

[I rather like how “Dr. Seuss” our tree looks, pieced together from all the random pieces of green paper I could find in my scrapbook stash.]

Giving Gifts

We encourage [read: “force”] our kids to give gifts in many different ways throughout the month:

1. We take them shopping to buy toys to donate to Toys for Tots. This is hard for the kids, but each year it gets easier. We always explain in advance that we are picking out toys for other kids to open at Christmas. We obviously foot the bill.

[Side note: this is very helpful for giving us gift ideas for them as well.]

The kids drop them off in a local collection box, and let me tell you, I am so proud every time my kids put toys they love into that box.

2. We take them shopping to buy gifts for each other. In my family growing up, all five of us kids always gave individual gifts to every other member of the family. I don’t know when or how this came to be, but honestly, it is still happening even though we are all adults. I want my kids to enjoy giving gifts to their siblings so we are starting young [and also paying at this point, of course]. The kids also pick out gifts for Daisy the Dog, of course.

I ask them what their siblings would like for Christmas to get them thinking about it and then take them shopping. They did really well this year [after my son stopped insisting that his big sister really wanted a paw patrol truck].

Later I wrap the gifts with each child. My 3-year-old son wanted to put a message on the gift tags so he dictated these sweet notes for his sisters.

This just melts my heart.

3. We hand deliver gifts to the neighbors. We’ve done this every year since we moved into this house because I resolved to be intentional in building good relationships with my neighbors. The first year, we gave store-bought boxes of chocolates. [We had just moved in so I didn’t know if people would accept hand-made goodies.] Last year the kids and I made chocolate covered pretzel rods with holiday molds. This year, we delivered a tin of freshly baked Christmas cookies to each neighbor. [I think they know us well enough now to eat them.] We also give a gift to our postwoman.

4. We make ornaments to give to friends and family. We’ve done different kinds of ornaments – salt dough, paper, clay, etc. We tried mailing clay ornaments to the cousins one year. That was a bad idea. The next year we sent Danish paper heart ornaments. This year we made corn starch ornaments and will give them to local friends and family.

5. We give to every bell ringer. I will write more about this some other time, but we have a lot of fun giving to the bell ringers outside of the stores during the holiday season. I always carry cash to make sure we can do this. This sets an example of generosity for my kids. I want them to grow up seeing us giving freely and generously as often as possible.

Giving Time

The rest of our holiday traditions revolve around spending time together as a family. The “Season of Giving” doesn’t have to be about buying stuff and stressing over what to give who and how much money to spend and all of that. Giving is as simple as spending time with friends and family. The gift of time and attention is worth so much more than anything we can find in a store – especially nowadays when everyone is so rushed and busy and families are spread across the country [or around the world]. Time is the greatest gift.

It is also zero waste. πŸ˜‰ Just sayin’…

Putting up the Christmas tree
The whole family in our Christmas pajamas before we head out to see the Christmas lights.
Celebrating Daisy’s 4th Birthday

I try to find as many ways as I can to incorporate giving into our holiday traditions because I hope that someday this will balance out the emphasis on receiving gifts that is an inevitable part of Christmas.

When the kids are older, I look forward to volunteering as a family – all year round, but especially during the holidays – to expose my kids to the hardships that face many people even in this privileged country and to show them that the true joy of Christmas comes from giving not getting.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Karis

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog πŸ₯³

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog πŸ₯³

On May 28th, this blog turned 1 – on the same day that I turned 32. This past year has been the most transformative that I have experienced in my adult life. This blog has been a place for me to share how my family and I have changed our views, values, and lifestyle in favor of simplicity and authenticity.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This has become my life’s motto. And this past year has been all about learning more so I know better, so I can do better.

So, in honor of the blog’s first birthday, I wanted to recap all the changes [to our lifestyle and also our perspective] that my family and I have been working on over the past year.

Minimalism

The changes we have made started with an interest in minimalism. I had grown tired of chasing the “American dream” of wealth and success, which seemed to equate to bigger homes and fancier cars and more stuff, while meaningful relationships, time with family, concern for the less fortunate and other social/environmental causes are ignored. I was anxious for a simpler, more intentional life. I was wanting our life to be about a greater purpose than satisfying our own desires for more.

So, minimalism taught us to purge what we own down to things that are essential or truly appreciated AND to refuse all the excess that society is constantly telling us we “need.” We played the 30-day minimalism game and between Brett and I, removed 930 items from our home.

Mindful Consumerism

My interest in minimalism lead me to Cait Flanders’ book, The Year of Less, which was so impactful that after reading it, I started this blog to document all the ways I intended to end my own mindless consumption.

I began asking myself whether I really needed something before buying it. I continued to purge our stuff without replacing any of it. I committed to first do without, then use what I have, then buy used – and only when all else failed, to buy new.

Slow Fashion

Around this time, I watched the documentary, The True Cost, which describes the fast fashion industry and how the American demand for cheaper and faster clothing is wreaking havoc around the world. I couldn’t believe that I had never considered the wastefulness of my own clothing habits before or how harmful my “take and toss” mentality truly was to the environment and to people around the world.

As a working middle class American, I had always prioritized buying cheap clothing as a way to “manage my money wisely” and thought of myself as some sort of martyr for never buying expensive brands and always shopping the clearance rack in the service of frugality.

Wow, I was so wrong. I am happy to say that I have finally learned to appreciate my belongings enough to spend what they are worth – and I now care enough about my fellow humans, no matter how far away they live, to pay whatever it costs to protect their rights.

Zero Waste

From there, I stumbled upon the zero waste movement, which I had never heard of previously. On a whim I picked up the book, Zero Waste, by Shia Su from the library. I had no idea how significantly this book would change my life.

This book gave me confidence to reduce my waste [it really is so easy!] and opened my eyes to yet another sad side affect of our constant consumption: waste.

Seriously, the waste problem in America is huge. I don’t know why more people aren’t concerned.

So I started trying to reduce my family’s waste. We began recycling, composting, and bulk shopping. This became a passion [bordering on obsession] for me that led to so many other important changes for my family like eliminating processed foods, making most of our food from scratch, and purchasing our first CSA share. It has been a process, and we still are not storing our trash in a mason jar [that is not a realistic goal for us anyway], but we have made HUGE improvements. We only take out one 4 gallon trash bag per week and we have even reduced the amount that we recycle significantly, needing trash and recycling pick up only monthly [or even possibly quarterly] now.

Ethical Shopping

Next, I committed to ethical shopping by supporting brands that are concerned about sustainability and fair, ethical treatment of all members within the supply chain [animals included].

This one is tougher because it is hard to know whether a company is ethical or not and requires research which requires time, but it’s not so bad because we don’t buy very many things, so purchases can be thoughtfully and intentionally made with our values in mind.

Yes, I am boycotting Wendy’s. Yes, I pay more for Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and bananas. Yes, I adore Patagonia.

Simple Living

Then I began to focus on eliminating some of the distractions that caused me to always feel like I never had enough time. We moved our only television into the lower level. I started using the “screen time” feature on my iPhone to limit my time on certain apps. I turned off all notifications on my phone. ALL of them. If you call me and I don’t physically have my phone in my hand, I won’t know it until I actually open my phone app…which I do every couple days. I’m harder to reach, but by responding to texts and calls and emails on my own time, I am no longer a slave to my phone.

The kids and I began spending more time outside after I read the inspiring book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Γ…keson McGurk.

We started having a Monday movie night with the kids as their only screen time for the week. I simplified my cleaning routine to improve efficiency so I don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning. We purged A TON of toys [with the kids’ help], which cut back on the chaos of living with three toddlers.

I also read Slow by Brooke McAlary which was full of inspiration for living a more intentional and less frantic life.

Giving Back to the World

Last, but most importantly, we rearranged our finances to prioritize giving to charities that we believe are doing good around the world. I wish I could be the one doing the good myself, but at this stage in my life, I am chasing toddlers all day and working part-time, so I am prioritizing what I can do, which is give money to those who will use it to help people. I look forward to volunteering regularly and giving back in other ways in the future, as I believe that this is one of our most important purposes on this earth – not to merely look out for our own interests and our family’s well-being, but to care for the less fortunate and fight for a better world.

But, more on that another day.

I am looking forward to improving in all of these areas and more over the next year.

Karis

My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands

My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands

Image by consciouslifeandstyle.com

Over the past year, due to my clothing ban and my journey to zero waste and minimalism, I have TOTALLY changed my perspective on buying stuff. Not just clothes, either. Everything. I now take weeks and sometimes months to decide whether a purchase is necessary and where to make the purchase and if there is any possible way to thrift or swap or borrow or rent or make the item. [Usually I just end up doing without because it’s so exhausting trying to find the most ethical, responsible way to purchase many items.]

But this, I feel, is the type of conscious consumerism we all should be practicing.

First – Consume Less

You may have seen this “Buyerarchy of Needs” illustration created by Sarah Lazarovic.

This is exactly how we should approach purchasing new products. If possible, we use what we have. If that’s not possible, then the next best thing is to buy used or repurpose or borrow or rent or DIY. But if all that fails, then and only then, we buy a product new.

Second – Practice Mindful Consumption

If you make it to the top of the pyramid and decide to buy new, it is SO important that you make a conscious effort to do right by people and planet. Support companies and brands who are taking care of the people in their supply chains – not just their CEOs – and who are striving to reduce their impact on our ecosystems and who give back to their communities and charitable organizations.

In other words, good companies.

As the consumers, we hold the power. It is our money that funds businesses. And we have the ability to choose who we give that money to. We should not take this decision lightly.

Third – Support These Ethical Clothing Brands

Since I’ve been pondering this for a year – and have not made any clothing purchases – I have been researching where I would choose to buy clothes in the event that I make it to the top of the pyramid myself.

Here are some of the clothing brands I am excited to support in the future:

Patagonia

(for casuals, outerwear, activewear and even kids clothes)

I ADORE Patagonia. What I once considered to be just another overpriced American outdoorsy brand has turned into my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE. I love everything about this company. They are committed to sustainability and protecting the environment. They are also involved in grassroots activism in communities throughout the country. They encourage all of their employees to make a positive difference in the world by joining local movements and taking real, legitimate action towards change. They also have a closed loop system, where they take back your used Patagonia clothing and repair it to resell under their “Worn Wear” label or recycle it if it’s beyond repair.

I hope everyone appreciates how TOTALLY RADICAL this philosophy is in our current society. Patagonia is literally stating that they want to cut down on consumerism. That has to be the craziest thing I have ever heard a clothing company say. AND I LOVE IT!

Plus, they carry t-shirts with eco-friendly slogans, like this one that I love so much and want so badly:

Buy it here. Or better yet, buy it for me! Just kidding…[I’m really not kidding. I wear a size small 😁]

I love this shirt because not only does purchasing it support a company I consider to be doing right by people and the planet, it also has an awesome message that I can spread just by wearing it. They have a whole line of graphic Ts with sustainability messages.

Now, you may be thinking, $35 for a t-shirt?!?!, but YES. That’s the whole point. Pay a price worthy of a product made in a responsible and ethical way. Then treat the product with care throughout its life. Then dispose of it responsibly – in this case, SO EASILY – by returning it to Patagonia for repair or recycle!

Naja

(for intimates, activewear, and swimwear)

Naja is an environmentally conscious brand that sells beautiful, luxurious underwear that is eco-friendly, ethically made and fair trade.

But that’s not all.

Naja also empowers women – rather than objectify them – by getting rid of the overly sexualized posing AND by improving the lives of garment workers in their supply chain.

They also carry a zero waste line of undergarments made of recycled fabric…

…like this bralette.

Buy it here. Or shop the whole zero waste collection here.

Everlane

(for everything)

Everlane is an ethical American company with two brick and mortar stores – one in New York City and one in San Francisco – and an online store that sells women’s and men’s apparel, shoes and accessories. They focus on classic styles because, as they state on their website, they want you to be able to wear their products for “years, even decades.”

What makes this company so great is their commitment to “Radical Transparency” [their words] regarding their ethical factories, product materials, and production costs.

Their website contains tons of information about the individual factories around the world where products are being produced – including the materials being used, the story of their partnership, and photos. That is definitely radical.

This is the kind of accountability we should be demanding from all companies. We should always be asking where, and how, and who is making our clothing? And we should expect to receive an answer that includes fair wages, safe working conditions, and all the other benefits that we ourselves would demand from our employers.

On the website, you also have the option to view the “true cost” of the product before the retail markup.

Of course, this is also a great way to tell customers that they are cheaper than the competitor – but again, the price is not the issue here. It’s about supporting an ethical company – which we should expect to be more expensive than the company that cuts corners.

[But don’t worry – they sell t-shirts for $18 and aren’t really overpriced compared to a typical American clothing brand.]

Pact

(for everything)

Pact is an American company that uses 100% organic cotton and fair trade factories. They are also committed to keeping prices down, stating “It shouldn’t cost more to do the right thing.”

Reasonably priced and carrying everything from workout clothes, to undergarments, to kids and babies, to bedding – Pact is a one stop shop.

Thank you, Pact, for restoring my faith in the clothing industry!

If you’ve ever wondered how to find ethical brands, look no further than google. Information is everywhere about this now. It’s not difficult to find ethical, sustainable brands.

What are your favorite ethical brands?

πŸ‘š πŸ‘• πŸ‘š

Karis

April Clothing Donation

April Clothing Donation

April was the final month of my year-long commitment to donate twenty-six items of clothing from my wardrobe each month.

Here are the results for the year:

Clothing items donated: 323 (gave some extra a few times)

Clothing items acquired: 5 (2 gifts, 1 work uniform, 2 race shirts)

Clothing items purchased: 0 (bought no clothes at all – not for me or my kids. My husband did buy some clothes for work and bought me one of the above mentioned gifts)

[The shopping ban officially ends at the end of May on my 32nd birthday, but I’ll talk more about that then.]

The conclusion of this challenge [or experiment or whatever you want to call it] has come at the perfect time – right before I give birth to my fourth and final baby. So, on one hand, I am still holding on to some larger sizes that I will be able to permanently get rid of as soon as I shrink out of them AND a wealth of maternity clothes that I am anxious to find a good home for – possibly with a local pregnancy center. But, on the other hand, it has allowed me to clear out my wardrobe before the newborn craziness begins and my priorities switch once again to meeting the constant needs of the baby. Couldn’t have timed it better if I tried, quite honestly.

Soon I’ll be sharing my favorite ethical clothing brands that I plan to support in he future – in the absence of used clothing options.

πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»

What are your favorite ethical clothing brands?

Karis

A week’s worth of groceries for $30

A week’s worth of groceries for $30

A while back, I wrote about how I buy healthy groceries on a budget. So, here is a real-life example.

Thirty dollars. Two stores. One week’s worth of food for my family of five.

[The thirty dollars also covered a bag of red potatoes, two apples, and a banana which are not pictured here.]

Everything pictured was on sale and at or below my price limit of $1/lb for produce and $2/lb for meat.

This doesn’t include the dry goods that we already have on hand – nuts, oats, rice, beans, coffee, sugar, and flour – which we only buy about once a month and don’t need to restock at this time.

No more snacks

The biggest change to my grocery shopping habit, besides buying only what’s on sale, is that I don’t buy traditional snacks. No more pretzels or crackers or applesauce or fruit cups or yogurt cups or string cheese or fruit snacks or boxes of raisins, etc. I used to buy all of those things regularly, but then I realized that I didn’t need to buy any of that in order to give my kids snacks, or even to enjoy a snack myself. Now, when my kids want a snack, they have apple slices with peanut butter, bananas, oranges, grapes, red pepper slices, cucumbers, or nuts. And when I want a snack, I have the same thing.

If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll bake banana bread muffins or make my own applesauce in the crock pot or even bake my own granola bars, crackers, or pretzels – but I don’t typically have time for that. So bananas and apples are the perfect snack to have on hand that require no prep work at all – and they are also great on the go.

[Side note: I also don’t buy frozen foods anymore – except the occasional ice cream carton 😬 – because plastic packaging for frozen foods is made differently apparently and, as a result, is not recyclable. I used to buy a large amount of frozen vegetables, but I have transitioned to 100% fresh veggies.]

No more, no less

It might not look like a lot of food, but it is plenty for our family of five for a week. The meat and milk and eggs will actually last longer than a week because we don’t eat meat every night or eggs every morning. I have enough vegetables for sides for all of our meals and enough fruit for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

The goal is to buy just the right amount so everything gets eaten and nothing gets lost in the back of the fridge and goes bad. [This way I make sure to avoid food waste – which is a big problem in America.]

The meal plan

So now that I’ve got the food, I decide what we are going to eat for the week. Breakfast is always oatmeal or eggs with fruit. Lunch is always PBJ with fruit and veggies for the kids and a salad for me.

Dinners will look something like this:

  • Tuesday [tonight] – Vegan Burrito Bowls
  • Wednesday – Veggie Omelets and Roasted Potatoes
  • Thursday – Chicken, Grilled Romaine and Asparagus
  • Friday – Pork Chops, Brown Rice and Green Beans
  • Saturday – Leftovers
  • Sunday – Mexican Rice and Bean Skillet
  • Monday – Southwest salad

The schedule may change. I don’t like to set my meal plan in stone because my work schedule often changes suddenly and sometimes I have to just throw something together. But at least I have food and ideas.

New grocery deals come out tomorrow, so I will likely make another grocery run in the next week to take advantage of new sales – but for now we’re stocked and I’m feeling good about our healthy [and fresh] food.

πŸ‘πŸ»

Karis

March Clothing Donation

March Clothing Donation

It has been ten months since I committed to one year without buying any clothes and to donating 26 clothing items per month – my self-imposed clothing ban.

Since then, I have not bought any clothing for myself or my kids [though my husband did buy me a sweater a few months ago] and I have donated 297 items of clothing from my wardrobe.

And I still don’t need any new clothes.

In fact, I feel like I still have an excessive amount of clothes – but, after I have this baby, I will be able to give away all of my maternity clothes and, after I get back to my regular size, I will be able to give away all my postpartum stuff as well. That will probably cut my wardrobe in half – again.

Last year, I heard about fast fashion for the first time when I watched the documentary The True Cost, which highlights many of the ways that fast fashion hurts not only our planet but people all over the world.

“It’s no secret that fast fashion has been responsible for a catastrophic level of environmental pollution. The trifecta of overt use of raw materials, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are only a part of the story. Not only is this circular buy, wear and toss behavior impacting landfills and becoming a major carbon contributor, but that may not be the worst of it. Fast fashion has played a very dark role in contributing to black-market trafficking of forced labor, as evidenced in the New York Times documentary, Invisible Hands, by journalist Shraysi Tandon.” – Forbes (read the article here)

I honestly had never considered how my “buy, wear, and toss” consumer mentality towards clothes [and all products] was affecting the world around me.

And it IS affecting the world. The only question was, did I care enough to change my spending habits? Hence the clothing ban.

This clothing ban has left me permanently changed. It may be over in May, but I will never be able to go back to my old ways of spending money.

Once again, if you haven’t watched The True Cost, DO IT!

Karis

Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

There was a time [not too long ago] when I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away the ends of the bread loaf or the bag of wilted spinach, and I have most definitely been guilty of tossing leftovers that I willfully ignored until they were no longer edible. But now, every time I throw away food – even into the compost bin – it is a reminder of my life of excess which provides me with so much food that I’m letting it go bad and throwing it away, and even more importantly, it is a reprimand for not being a responsible consumer of one of life’s most essential resources. Needless to say, I don’t throw food away without feeling badly about it anymore.

As a family, we began actively trying to reduce our waste [in general] at the start of 2018. To be honest, food waste wasn’t a primary focus until a few months ago when I read statistics about food waste in America being as high as 40% [read it for yourself here].

I am APPALLED at that number – especially when I think of the 49 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table , not to mention the millions around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. And here I am, throwing out grapes because they are a little squishy…

Part of the solution to this problem is recognizing that I am a contributor to the food waste problem in the world and accepting that it is my responsibility to reduce my waste as much as I am capable.

So, in our home, we’ve been taking extra measures to reduce our food waste. I’m going to share them below, but before I do, here are the statistics that I hope you will find as shocking as I did and will motivate you to join the cause.

Food Waste Statistics

The waste is HUGE.

  • An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. (Source: NRDC.org, read it here.)
  • On average, 197 pounds of perfectly good food goes to landfills EVERY DAY. (Source: FeedingAmerica.org)

The problem is serious, and seriously EXPENSIVE.

  • Approximately $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year in the US. (Source: USDA, read it here.)
  • Food waste is costly to our environment as well – using 21% of fresh water, 18% of crop land, and taking up 21% of our landfills. (Source: ReFED)
  • We are paying $218 billion annually to produce and ship and dispose of food.

American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.” ReFED.com

The biggest problem is in American homes – not grocery stores and restaurants.

  • 43% of wasted food is happening at the consumer level.

The chart above, from FeedingAmerica.org, shows the breakdown of where the food waste is happening.

What you can do about it

1. Buy only what you need. Only buy enough fresh food to last you a week or two, depending on the item’s shelf life. Then EAT IT. Don’t stock up on foods with expiration dates unless you are certain you will eat them.

2. Eat leftovers – including leftovers from restaurants. Store them in clear containers so you know what you have available in your fridge. Set up a “first in, first out” rule, eating oldest leftovers first.

3. Store food properly. Prolong the life of your fresh foods by storing them properly.

4. Freeze or preserve excess. When foods are nearing their expiration, eat or freeze or preserve them. Don’t just let them rot and then toss them in the trash.

5. Take inventory regularly. Make it a habit to frequently take inventory of the contents in your fridge and freezer and pantry – noting expiration dates – so that you know what you have, what needs to be eaten soon, and what you need to purchase.

6. Compost your food scraps. Composting is not as intimidating as it sounds and while it is easier to do if you own land, there are a growing number of urban composting resources to help you compost in your apartment or townhome or penthouse with a view. [Read this article by The Washington Post about how to get started.]

7. Donate to organizations that are rescuing food like Feeding America and ReFED. Look for organizations in your area and donate or volunteer.

8. Spread the word. We all have a sphere of influence and are capable of multiplying our impact by encouraging our social circles to join us in ending food waste.

Food is one of life’s most vital resources. Let’s not waste it.

πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‘πŸ»

Karis

5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

5 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy AND Save Money on Groceries

Since I first moved out on my own, I have been trying to figure out this whole grocery shopping thing – how to eat well without overspending money or time.

I have tried everything – from couponing to rebate apps to stockpiling boxes of granola bars [not healthy, by the way]. I shopped exclusively at Aldi for a time. I followed popular shopping bloggers and ran to the store every time they said there was a good deal.

None of these things worked for me. They were all time-consuming and exhausting and didn’t actually seem to save me much money and on top of all that, we weren’t eating healthy foods.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality or healthfulness.

After ten years, I have FINALLY reached a place where grocery shopping is no longer expensive, time-consuming, or unhealthy. I spend less time meal planning, less time at the grocery store, and less time stressing over the grocery budget than I ever have.

To give you an idea of how much you can save, here are USDA’s recommended grocery budgets.

They vary based on the number and ages of you family members and based on whether you are living lean [“Thrifty plan”] or high on the hog [“Liberal plan”].

So according to this chart, for my family of five, a thrifty plan would be $561.50 per month, if I don’t count my youngest who is only 18 months old, or $655.60 if I do count her.

Doesn’t really matter because our budget is $400/month. This doesn’t include our eating out budget which is $60/month and allows us to eat out about twice per month. Also, every other month we cut our budget in half [a lengthy explanation of which I may write and post someday]. So, technically, we feed our family for $300/month, if we average it out.

That may sound like a lot or a little to you depending on your situation, but for us, it is less than half of what Brett and I were spending back when it was just the two of us – and we weren’t eating nearly as healthy as we do now.

[I’m harping on the healthy thing because anyone can eat ramen noodles every day and save tons of money, but I have found that I can eat super healthy – I’m talking fresh produce and high quality foods – and still save money. So if you are one of the many people today who believe that eating healthy is more expensive, please read on.]

So how do we feed our family healthy foods with so little money? Well, for starters we buy very few processed foods [for our health] and we do our best to avoid packaged foods [for the health of our planet]. Those two things contribute a little bit to our savings – but I know that they are not the reality for the average American [though I wish they were].

The bulk of the money and time is saved by following these five simple rules:

1. Buy what is on sale.

Rather than creating a meal plan and then buying the ingredients regardless of the price, I let the weekly ads determine what we eat each week. In my area, each Wednesday, grocery stores roll out new ads with new deals. I compare the ads from four different local grocers and then choose the one [or maybe two] with the best sales and that’s where I’ll be shopping that week.

Besides simplifying meal planning, another benefit of this rule is that it saves a lot of time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I’m going in to get. I don’t need to price compare a bunch of different options, or stroll down aisles looking at different food choices, or fall prey to the clever marketing tricks like flashy signs and end-caps. I go in, get what’s on sale, get out.

Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it.

[As with all rules, there are exceptions. In the case of rule #1, I don’t buy my bulk dry goods on sale because most stores don’t offer regular sales on bulk goods. In this case, I am prioritizing my obligation to the health of the planet over money – ALWAYS a good choice, by the way. But I still save plenty of money.]

2. Set price limits.

Over the past two years I’ve learned what a good sale price is for most items and I have set rules for how cheap they need to be. Simply being “on sale” is not necessarily good enough. Not all sale prices are created equal. For example, it is extremely rare that I will buy produce at Aldi because their sale prices are never as good as my other local grocers. If you [as most people do] assume that Aldi is cheaper for everything simply because it’s Aldi, then you are overpaying.

This week, 1lb of strawberries is $1.69 at Aldi and $.88 at Fresh Thyme. In fact, everything on this Aldi ad can be found cheaper elsewhere.

In order to figure out what a good sale price is, you have to pay attention to sales in your area over a period of months. My price limits are still changing as time goes on. For example, I used to only buy boneless chicken if it was under $2/lb, but after a while I learned that I could find it at least once a month for $1.49/lb. So that became my new price limit.

Here are some examples of my price limits [understand that prices will vary greatly depending on your location]:

I won’t buy produce for more than $1/lb. Sometimes I do buy blackberries at $.88/6oz package and I will buy avocados if they are $.79/each or less, but I don’t make a habit of buying these items because they are so expensive compared to normal produce.

I won’t buy cheese for more than $1.50/8oz package. If cheese is not on sale for this price or less, we just do without cheese. It’s not even really a hardship. In fact, I think it has improved my children’s appreciation for the taste of real foods not covered in cheese.

I won’t buy eggs for more than $1/dozen. Though, I admit, I am going to buy eggs from our farm CSA this summer at $5/carton, but in this case, I am prioritizing supporting local agriculture and health over saving money. I will also be limiting our eggs to one carton per week.

Your rules will depend on what eat, but everything should have a price limit required for purchase. There will always be off cases when you simply must have something – like butter to make buttercream for your son’s birthday cake – and it’s not on sale. Okay. Sometimes we have to bend the rules.

3. Eat less meat…and live longer and healthier lives.

I’m a fitness professional, not a registered dietician or nutritionist, so you don’t have to agree with me on the healthful side of this rule. Eat meat if you want, but know this, meat is WAY MORE expensive than plant-based foods. We used to make two or three chicken breasts for our family of five for dinner. Now, we all share one chicken breast [oftentimes less] and fill the majority of our plates with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.

Check out choosemyplate.gov.

This is the USDA’s newest recommendation for healthy eating which has replaced the typical food pyramid we all learned in grade school.

Notice that three quarters of the plate are filled with plant-based foods. Now think about how your dinner plate typically looks. Most Americans eat a meat heavy diet, with the protein being the main course and the vegetables and fruits being “sides.”

If you need further evidence, watch the documentary, In Defense of Food, or read the book with the same title by Michael Pollan.

Time to rethink the way we eat…and hopefully soon because the health epidemic in our country is quite literally frightening. But the good news is, eating more plant-based foods is CHEAPER!

Also, according to the chart below by health.gov, over 85% of the population is not eating the recommended amount of vegetables…

C’mon, people. Let’s eat some more veggies!

[Someday I’ll go into greater detail about how to eat healthy on a budget. It is not hard, folks. I promise you!]

4. Buy less food.

This might sound obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated anyway because we have a bit of an overeating problem in America.

According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults in the US are obese [read about it here.] And, shockingly, according to this article by NPR, 75% of Americans believe themselves to be eating healthy…so why are obesity rates so high?

There are lots of factors that contribute to the obesity issue, but no matter where you look, portion size and overeating are partially to blame.

Nutrition scholar Marion Nestle at New York University says portion size β€” just eating too much β€” is an issue. “I’d vote for that as a major cause of obesity,” Nestle told us by email.

“Some of the problem is that individuals pay more attention to getting good things in their diet than they do to limiting overall intake,” adds David Just, a behavioral economist who studies food psychology at Cornell University. – npr.org

The accessibility of food in our society has made overeating too easy. Yes, restaurants serve us too much food, but we also serve ourselves too much food at home. We also stock too much food in our kitchen, making it too easy to eat whatever we want whenever we feel like it.

Let’s all do ourselves a favor and buy less food. There is no reason to stockpile canned goods as if we are fearing an imminent apocalypse…unless you are fearing an imminent apocalypse…in which case, there is no need to save your money because it will be useless when the zombies take over.

Some basic ways to buy less food is:

Go grocery shopping once a week and only buy what you need for that week.

Buy fresh produce so you CAN’T stockpile it. Fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER!

Don’t buy [or buy very little] unhealthy snacks and treats. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on food that is going to make you sick and unhappy in the long run.

Avoid processed and packaged foods – for the sake of your wallet, your health, and the planet.

5. Eat all the food you buy.

Again, this seems obvious…but apparently it’s not because 40% of food in America is thrown away.

In 2012, NRDC published a groundbreaking report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. That is on average 400 pounds of food per person every year. Not only is that irresponsibleβ€”it’s expensive [emphasis mine]. Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. – NRDC report by Dana Gunders, source

And before you go blaming it all on grocery stores, this infographic created by the NRDC says that households and restaurants are the biggest generators of food waste [at least in Denver, Nashville and New York].

Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of families in our country who struggle to put food on the table.

So besides the cost of wasted food, I feel just plain terrible knowing that I am throwing food away when some people are not eating today. And I feel like a terrible hypocrite if I talk about our grocery budget being “tight” while I’m throwing food in the trash – or even in the compost bin.

In my home, we do everything we possibly can to avoid wasting food. Some of the ways to reduce our food waste are:

Eat all the leftovers. I set designated days at least once but often twice per week to eat whatever we have that is close to expiring.

Only buy what you need for a week. You may not know what you need for a week, but if you find yourself throwing food out, then you know for next time that you need less. Obviously some things with longer shelf lives, like dairy products and dry goods, don’t need to be purchased weekly. That leads me to the next tip:

Don’t buy more if you still have food to eat. I don’t know why we do this but it seems that it’s totally normal to go buy a full cart of groceries when we still have enough food in our home to feed our family for the next six months. I’m not joking. When we got ready to sell our last home, I started using up all the food that we had in our cabinets and pantry and – oh my gosh – our second freezer. Lo and behold, we had enough food to feed us for months. I decided then and there that stocking so much food in our house was wasteful and expensive and I stopped doing it.

A word on frozen and non-perishable foods: Some people prefer to buy non-perishables because they feel like they throw out more food when they buy fresh – which they really might. The problem is not the fresh food – it’s that there is a disparity between the amount they are buying and the amount they are eating. As I said previously, fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER! Buy fresh food – just not so much – and then EAT IT!

So, this has been a book. If you’ve stuck with me, I hope you’ve found some useful information and, hopefully, some motivation to improve your spending and eating habits.

These are all things I wish someone had told me a lot earlier, but everything I found about saving money on groceries revolved around making a list, not shopping hungry, and clipping coupons. I wanted something that saved me time AND money AND made me a healthier consumer.

For me, this is it.

If you’ve found a method that works for you, share it in the comments! We all have room for improvement!

Happy grocery shopping!

πŸ›’ πŸ›’ πŸ›’

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market finally opened a new location close to my home!

Yes, I was there on opening morning waiting in line with some one hundred other people.

No, I am not ashamed.

Though…I did accept the bag of free groceries that was FULL of packaging.

I am slightly ashamed of that…

Still, I was glad to show my support for a grocery store that encourages customers to reduce their waste by putting bulk bins front and center and by making it easy to bring your own containers.

I’ve been a few times since they opened, but most recently I made my first bulk liquid purchase.

I brought my own jars [and a dry erase marker] and weighed them with the cashier before filling them with maple syrup, local honey, and freshly ground peanut butter [it literally ground the peanuts right into my jar – doesn’t get any fresher than that].

Fresh Thyme also sells bulk oils, vinegars, nut butters, and even kombucha – which I fully intend to purchase in the future.

I frickin LOVE this store.

And on top of that, the prices are reasonable. I paid less for the maple syrup than I do for a jar of pure maple syrup from Aldi.

They also don’t give me side eye for checking out with cloth bags and my own jars. My cashier even said it was “so cute.”

πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ

Just doin’ what I do. Being cute AND saving the planet.

The only waste from the purchase was [once again] produce stickers and the receipt.

All in all, a huge success!

Karis