Last month, I focused on all the health habits that I’ve been developing so far this year:
Drink more water
Quit late night snacking
In order to stay motivated and judge how well I’m doing, I decided to use a habit tracker.
When I looked around for printable tracker ideas, I found this design and immediately loved it because it’s so aesthetically pleasing—much better than a simple chart with boxes to check. I assigned each habit a color so it would [hopefully] look like a rainbow at the end.
Unfortunately, I didn’t even get the idea for a tracker until the 4th, so my first few days were…not great.
But check out how it looked at the end of the month!
Not too bad. I missed a few days here and there, but overall I’m happy with how well I maintained these goals. I definitely still need to work on consistency with yoga and eliminating “cheat nights,” but I’ve made good progress.
A caveat about my exercise habit… You might notice that I exercise every day say “don’t you need a rest day?” And the answer is yes, in theory, but no, technically. A “rest day” is a recovery day, but not necessarily a day sitting on the couch. I choose to have “down days” instead of “rest days” because I am a really active person so I don’t take days and just do nothing. I will discuss this in greater detail next week for those who are curious about it.
This month, I’m making a few changes. I’ve added more specific goals [“drink 64oz of water” instead of “drink more water”] and I’ve swapped the goals that I have mastered for new healthy habits I need to work on [“practice Spanish” for “no junk food or sweets” and read” for “floss”].
This month will be different though because I start my new job at the hospital on Monday and I will work 12 hours shifts plus an hour drive to and from work, so I doubt I will be able to get a lot of these things done on those days. We will have to see how it goes.
Does anyone else keep a tracker? Or check list? How do you keep track of goals and habits? Let me know!
You probably already know this about me, but I’m one of those people who LOVES a list. I make lists for everything: shopping list, grocery list, meal plan list, to-do list, daily habit list, bucket list, household projects list, school assignment check list, daily/weekly/monthly cleaning list, family birthdays list, reading list…even writing this list of lists has proven quite enjoyable for me [don’t judge].
Well, here’s another list that is a life-saver for parents [or at least it is for me]: the children’s chore list.
FINALLY! The kids are old enough to help with some of the work around the house. Giving your kids chores empower them to take responsibility, makes them feel important…and they may be less likely to throw their clothes on the floor if they know they will have to pick them up. But most of all, you’ll get some much needed HELP!!
My kids don’t particularly love doing chores, but they do love the feeling of being an integral part of the family and contributing in a meaningful way [and the allowance is nice too].
How to get kids to do chores
In order to give our kids a little motivation and make chores more fun, we use a two reward system: 1) weekly allowance and 2) a chore chart.
The weekly allowance isn’t really a result of the chores. We give them their allowance whether they do their chores are not. But on the flip side, the chores are not optional either. Chores are how we all contribute to the family and home. [And goddam it, there is no reason why I should be the only one doing them around here!!! Can I get an Amen?!]
As for the chore chart, this is a trick that I myself know and love [but I also read about in Atomic Habits by James Clear]. Checking something off a list is REWARDING. It feels SO GOOD! This is ultimately why I am so obsessed with lists—it provides visible proof that I’m making progress.
So, I printed these adorable chore charts [thanks to Mique at 30days] for my kids and laminated them and hung them on the fridge so the kids can check off their chores each day.
You can download the printable for yourself from 30days here.
How old do kids have to be to start chores?
I don’t know if there is some child psychologist answer to this question, but I can tell you that my 2-[almost-3]-year-old can set the dinner table with napkins, silverware, and put everyone’s water bottles at their seat [in fact, she demands to do this chore and has literally stolen the job from her older sister].
So, I guess I’d say 2-years-old is a good time to start, though kids know how to pick up toys and put things away even younger than that.
There are plenty of lists out there on the interwebs that can provide age-appropriate chores. Just try some out and if needed, adjust the list! [That’s why I had these laminated, ya’ll]
If you want some ideas, here are my kids’ chore charts:
Important rules regarding lists
Lists must be flexible. I think this may be a contributing factor to why lists stress some people out and some other people totally hate them. Lists do not have to be written in stone. While this is true of all lists, it’s especially true for lists for your kids [even unspoken lists like the list of careers you want your kid to choose from]. Things will happen, days will get away from us, we’ll decide to walk to the ice cream shop instead of doing any chores, there will be melt-downs, freak-outs, and some days it won’t get done.
That’s no big deal. Kids are learning about responsibility. They can’t be expected to perform like an adult [even adults don’t perform perfectly…and yes I’m looking at everyone who has ever called into work “sick” because they just didn’t feel like working, myself included].
Lists need regular review and revision. In order to make sure that the chore lists are working for everyone, we review them in our weekly family meeting and make adjustments. [I’ll share more about our family meetings another time, but this is definitely something you should start, if you’re not doing it already.]
We make adjustments to the lists nearly every week [again, that’s why it’s laminated and written in wet-erase marker]. Sometimes we change chores just for some variety. And as the kids get older, we increase the difficulty of the chores.
Look, I’m no perfect parent. I’m not even a model parent. I wouldn’t even say I’m a great parent. But I am trying to be a good parent. I’m also trying to survive being a parent. So in these posts, I’m just sharing ideas that work for me and my family. I am certainly no expert.
Give them a try if you want, or share your own ideas.
If you search online for zero waste deodorants, you’ll find PLENTY of options. But it’s a total crap shoot – a bit like finding the perfect menstrual cup [which I’ll discuss some other time]. No matter how many reviews you read, the only good way to know what works for you is to try some out.
So, when I began my initial search for a less wasteful deodorizer [over two years ago now], I just went with a brand that I trusted: Lush Cosmetics. Since then, I’ve tried four additional deodorants and [go figure] my favorite is the first one I picked two years ago.
Lemme tell you about it…
Lush Cosmetics Deodorant Bars
I LOVE Lush Cosmetics and have been using their bar shampoos and conditioners as well as the occasional body bar, scrubby, bath bomb and some of the other amazing zero waste products. Lush has brick-and-mortar stores, one of which was at the mall where Brett worked for a few years. This was particularly convenient because we didn’t have to have products shipped and Brett could wander into the shop and pick out new and exciting products [hence, the many bath bombs I’ve enjoyed]. Lush products are vegan, cruelty free and all natural. In addition, Lush is a also a very ethical brand, truly walking the talk.
So, it was just natural that I would try out their zero waste deodorants. In April of 2020, I purchased two of their bar deodorants: T’eo and Aromaco. I started using the T’eo bar first.
And I LOVED it.
Also, it lasted me all the way to July of 2021. In that time, I moved away from my beloved store and bought a second T’eo bar when we were visiting Nashville last summer. I’m still using the second bar.
Here is what it looks like now…
This bar smells FANTASTIC. It’s made of compressed powder which I gently rub on to apply, and has waxy base to hold it together. I do not recommend applying immediately after shaving, however, because OUCH!
It’s just a bar, with no container at all. Since I bought this in the shop, all I have to store it in is the brown bag I was given at checkout, which has worked fine for the past year [but is definitely falling apart at this point, as you can see in the photo above].
In the end, I tried the other bar but it was very hard to apply and did not smell as good, so I didn’t use it.
But, over the years, I have tried some other options…
Homemade Deodorant Spread
Another blogger had shared a recipe for homemade deodorant, which I decided to try. The recipe called for coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda and essential oils.
While I loved the idea of a homemade deodorant that I could keep in a mason jar, I didn’t love the smell or the cold [this recipe recommended storing it in the fridge] and I didn’t feel that it was actually doing any deodorizing.
Hammond Herbs Pit Stop Deodorant Tube
Recently, I decided to try the natural deodorant called Pit Stop, which I ordered from another of my favorite zero waste shops: Well Earth Goods. [This is the same online zero waste store where I purchase my dish soap block, dish brushes, toothpaste tablets and laundry detergent strips which I’ve posted about previously here].
This deodorant comes in a recyclable/compostable cardboard container. You push up from the bottom and spread on your underarms. It smells and spreads better than the Aromaco bar from Lush. The tea tree and lavender is strong, though, so you have to like the scent. I like it, but it smells very “clean” and not particularly feminine or masculine [or whatever those stereotypical scents are], like Brett and I could share it. [Ok, that’s just disgusting. We don’t share deodorant, I promise.]
Pit Stop is made in America, uses natural ingredients and, overall, I like it just fine.
But T’eo by Lush is still my fave.
Ethique Deodorant Tube
Another brand that I use for shampoo and conditioner bars is Ethique, so I decided to try their deodorant tube.
This deodorant smells AMAZING [very floral] and is applied just like the Pit Stop deodorant. Also, this tube is bigger than Pit Stop. Ethique is very convenient because they distribute through Amazon [as well as their own online store]. This cardboard tube is also recyclable/compostable, but now that I’ve tried it, I really want to try their deodorant bar, which is more like the Lush Aromaco bar.
However, I won’t be needing more deodorant for…at least another year or two.
And, even when the time does come for more deodorant…I’m still going to order the T’eo bar from Lush.
What can I say? It’s my favorite!
If you try one of these or have other zero waste deodorant recommendations, let me know in the comments!
In Q4 of 2021, I read 19 books. That might be a quarterly record for me!
In 2021, I read 66 books [68 if you count my two school textbooks]. Of those, 16 were about health [my reading goal for the year], 14 were memoirs [my favorite genre], 13 were about racism or social justice issues, and 11 were fiction.
Also, I should mention that I give star ratings for these books just for fun and based solely on my own enjoyment of the book. Also, a four star rating means that I really, really liked the book. These are books that I definitely recommend and think are absolutely worthwhile reads. The only reason they don’t get five stars is because I reserve five stars for my absolute favorites – either for their entertainment value or the value of their content.
After I list my Q4 reads, I’ll share a list of my five star reads and my absolute favorite book(s) of 2021.
Here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2021:
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Fabre and Julie King
Eh. This book was just okay for me. It was very similar to the parenting advice book, Now Say This, which I LOVE and have read several times. But, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen was [in my opinion] not nearly as helpful or practical. Both books have similar content about affirming kids feelings and avoiding harsh reprimands and all of that, but many of the recommended responses did absolutely nothing to sway my stubborn toddlers.
So I would recommend that you skip this and go read Now Say This.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Brett bought me this book to read when I took my kids on a trip to my aunt’s lake house. Maybe it was more about the setting – getting up early and reading with a fresh cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake – but I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely not my preferred type of fiction, but it’s on Oprah’s book list, so I knew it would be worth a read. [Brett did not know that it was borderline erotic when he gave it to me, but I don’t think he was upset about it].
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Probably one of my favorite reads of the entire year – and definitely my favorite book about health and nutrition and food and animals and life and family…
This is the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family buying a farm and growing/raising their food and committing to only eating local for a year.
It is just such a good book! Of course, it’s about topics that I am SUPER interested in: healthy food, sustainable farming, homesteading, eating local, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, cooking, baking, raising, growing, and making food from scratch.
Basically, this book is about rethinking all of the aspects of our food that we currently view as unnecessary inconveniences – such as raising animals, growing vegetable from seeds, and knead bread by hand – and realizing that all of these things reconnect us to the earth, to its finite resources, to its shared inhabitants, and ultimately, to our own humanity.
This book is also largely responsible for me becoming an omnivore once again, after a year of veganism – although I now have much, much higher standards for the meat and dairy I am willing to consume. Here’s an excerpt from her very insightful views on veganism/vegetarianism:
“A hundred different paths may lighten the world’s load of suffering. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.”
Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
But that’s not all. There is SO MUCH good information in this book, I could quote the whole thing! So you just have to read this book!!
Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes
So, I’ve been reading tons of books about health, and then it all took a rather morbid turn and I started reading books about death. This, however, turned out to be especially depressing because she’s basically saying that everything I’m doing to be healthy is a total waste of time.
I didn’t really like the book for obvious reasons. She may have very good points about how worthless preventative screenings are or how pointless it is to avoid wine and chocolate or to frequent the gym when your body is withering away regardless – but she seems to imply that the only reason for healthy habits is to lengthen one’s life. I disagree. I think that a healthy life is a more fulfilling, more useful, more productive, more enjoyable life, even if that does mean a little less chocolate and wine. And, heck!, I frickin love my time at the gym.
Stop trying to take that away from me, Barbara!!
But I will say this: as a result of this book, I am a lot less likely to undergo a colonoscopy in the future. So, I guess I can thank Barbara for that!
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Now this book, on the other hand, was a really helpful, practical book about how to make the most of your time at the end of your life. In particular, I came away realizing how hospice is not just a death warrant that you take on when all else has failed and you’ve totally given up hope of having any meaningful time left, but rather it isa means by which you can experience a full end of life – one that keeps you out of the hospital, away from painful or debilitating treatments, and allows you to enjoy the things that matter most in life for as long as you have left.
It’s hard to imagine an end of life scenario where I don’t want to fight for more time, but truthfully, we need to come to terms with the fact that some fights in the end are simply not worth the trade off. A quiet passing, surrounded by loved ones, without pain or ambulances or defibrillators…that would be my preference in the end [if I am someone who knows in advance that the end is near]. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to know I’m going to die or to die unexpectedly, but if I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die of typical old age ailments, then this book will prove very helpful for me. It has already dramatically changed my view of the medical world and it’s role in the human experience of dying. But I will probably want to reread this book in thirty years or so – assuming I’m still kicking.
“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
“…Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
Though I’m only thirty-five years old, this book has really valuable advice and information about how to make the most of my life all the way to the very end. I mean, the end is coming for all of us. We should be prepared for it.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
This was a great book. I read Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad, which was good, but The Nickel Boys is excellent – gut-wrenching, poignant, suspenseful, and even has an unexpected surprise at the end. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.
As with all fiction I read, I don’t like to give very much away, but it’s worth mentioning that this story is based on a real boys school, which made it all the more powerful for me.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I love this book! Bill Bryson is so entertaining as he recounts the adventures that he and his friend, Katz, have while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m pretty sure I was laughing out loud at times, mostly at Katz’s expense [and as I’ve said before, when I start responding to books audibly while reading, that is a very good sign]. You just can’t make this stuff up…well, actually Bryson totally could have since most of it happened on a completely isolated trail through the woods – but if he did, I don’t want to know. It is too perfect the way it is.
“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
I’ve always wanted to hike the AT – but not so much shit in the woods – and I actually can’t decide if this book made me want to do it more or less…but either way, it was a great book.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (⭐️) for audiobook
Talking to Strangers is a fascinating book and the audiobook is phenomenal. Gladwell introduces the audiobook by saying that he wants it to sound like a podcast – a podcast with a production budget. And it definitely does.
In the book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to understand the people we don’t know, or maybe more importantly, how to not misunderstand them. By using high profile people from world history and recent events – Adolf Hitler, Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Larry Nassau, to name just a few – and the stories of how these people were misunderstood, for good or bad, Gladwell paints a complex picture of how we interact with one another.
I learned A LOT. I was at least vaguely aware of most of these stories, but had never heard them in detail and I was riveted. I was also fascinated to learn of our natural default to truth, how sitcoms like Friends has impacted our understanding of each other, why cops are trained to use aggressive policing methods, how computers are better able to predict a criminals behavior than a judge, and much more.
“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers
Overall, this book teaches us to be more humble and compassionate in our interactions with the people we don’t know. And we all need more of that.
This book is worth a re-read – or, better yet, a re-listen.
Clean and Green by Nancy Birtwhistle
I’m all about green cleaning, but my favorite part of this book was all of her British-isms like “worked a treat” and “boiled on the hob” and, my personal favorite, “bung up the hole.” [I’m just assuming these are British sayings because I’ve never heard them before.]
But in all seriousness, this book is full of brilliant ideas for cleaning without all the chemical-laden, aquatic life killing, toxic fume filled cleaners you find at the store. I decided to earmark each recipe/method that would be useful to me….omg check out the book now:
I should have saved the poor pages and just put the whole book in the “to-do” pile. Anyway, I intend to go through the book systematically using every recommended swap.
I’m especially anxious to try setting my oven racks in the lawn overnight to see if they are magically cleaned in the morning. [This is a real tip that she provides and since it’s in print, it must be true.]
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
What a sad story. It was actually kind of creepy for me in a way because I am not entirely unlike Christopher McCandless in my worldview. The major exception, of course, being that I haven’t rid myself of all my possessions and heading out into the Alaskan wilderness. I’m not that crazy, at least not yet. But, truthfully, the idea is kind of intriguing to me. [Thank God I have kids who keep me from doing anything too rash.]
This book was not entertaining like A Walk in the Woods, but I love how Krakauer slowly unravels the story, or should I say mystery, of McCandless’s final few months of life. Of course, the ending is written right on the cover of the book, but it’s the how and the why that are intriguing.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but with a sort of sadness that weighed down the experience of reading it. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
[I listened to the audiobook and do not recommend it. My low rating is largely because of the reader. Get the actual book.]
As someone who dreams of selling all my earthly possessions and living out of a van, I thought this book would be right up my alley. However, it painted a pretty bleak picture of #vanlife. Instead of praising the nomad lifestyle like was hoping, this is the rather depressing story of an apparently large number of homeless…I mean, “houseless” retired people being worked to death and taken advantage of by big companies who need seasonal labor.
[Seriously. Amazon has a whole department called “CamperForce.” Here’s the enticing info on Amazon’s CamperForce hiring page:
“Want to keep enjoying life on the road? Join an enthusiastic team of like-minded travelers and adventurers at Amazon CamperForce. It provides great seasonal jobs at a growing number of state-of-the-art Amazon warehouse locations across the US.”
I was totally unaware that this subculture, which I always assumed to be full of young hippies in their twenties who smoke a lot of pot, is also populated by folks my parents age and older who have fallen on financial hardships and taken to the road.
But the idea of life on the road is still appealing to me and the book was very helpful in explaining how to live out of your van, make a pee bucket and not get caught by the police. But I guess I was envisioning a more…I dunno…lawful and sanitary version of the nomad life.
Anyway, it will mean pretty wild changes for our economy and our communities if more people leave their houses for the new frontier – Boon-docking [and her close cousin, Wally-docking].
Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards
I only read this book because it was the library’s book club pick so I didn’t have to wait to borrow it. Definitely not my favorite fiction book. The genre was right, but the story was lacking [almost non-existent] and the whodunit was way too obvious – though they hadn’t actually done anything yet. I knew the antagonist a few chapters in and was incredibly disappointed when I was actually right, still clinging to some hope that there would be a surprise or twist or something.
But, alas. Just a book about a girl who takes a ride through a blizzard with five strangers – one of whom is a creep.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Loved this book. What a beautiful story!
Ultimately, I think this is a story about regrets. Everyone has things in their life they would like to go back and change. And the magic of this story is that it reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect life, only our own unique experience based on our choices – our personal opportunity to make the most of what we have.
“It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
My friend who recommended it to me described it as a “feel-good” read, and I couldn’t agree more. I listened to the audiobook while traveling to Chicago for my kidney surgery and it gave me all the feels. Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make the best decisions we can and enjoy the ride.
“The only way to learn is to live.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton
“We all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”
Hilary Rodham Clinton, What Happened
As you know, I love a political memoir. And I have serious respect for this incredible woman. Unfortunately, at the time she was running for President, I was not at all interested in politics and I didn’t vote at all [to my everlasting shame]. And she is correct in her perspective on public opinion because all I really remember about her and her campaign can be summarized in one word: emails. How sad and pathetic that such an innocent and commonplace thing could turn into the media firestorm that it did and cost someone a president election. It’s painful to think about, especially in light of the terrible repercussions of our collective stupidity in that election.
Anyway, in this book Clinton is as gracious as ever. I especially love that she recorded the audiobook so that we could hear her share her story. My favorite part is when she shares what a day on the campaign trail looked like for her. I love this sort of “backstage pass” to the lives of political leaders.
If I could go back to my 2016 self, I’d slap myself across the face and say “Wake up! A woman is a primary presidential candidate!Rally the troops and head to the polls!” But, I can’t do that. Not certain what kinds of “troops” I could have rallied anyway since my circles are almost exclusively sexist and republican…but I would have tried. For my daughters. For me. For all women.
Despite the fact that she didn’t win, she definitely paved the way for a female president in the future and I am SO STOKED that I will be able to see it happen in my lifetime.
So, thanks, Hilary. [Is it okay if I call you Hilary?]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
I listened to this audiobook as I recovered from surgery and I think the pain meds I was on made it hard to concentrate…or maybe put me to sleep while I was listening, because I don’t have many memories of reading it. I will have to re-read it in the future.
Though I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I only read this book now because I was trying to determine whether my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. [From what I remember of it, this book would be fine for them – ages 4, 5, & 7.]
One thing I do remember clearly about this book is being a little disappointed. There are a lot of Harry Potter fanatics out there, so I guess I was hoping to be really blown away by the book, and I wasn’t. But I was also drugged and had other more pressing concerns at the time of reading it.
Ok, I’m definitely going to re-read it. And I think I’ll read the actual book which always sticks better than the audiobook anyway.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
I love Michael Pollan and this book was interesting, but it seemed to be so different from his usual writings on healthy eating [then again, maybe it’s not that different after all]. He begins with a history of LSD and psychedelics, which was fascinating, and then moves on to describing his own experimentation [in safe and controlled environments] with various psychedelic drugs.
I still don’t have any interest in trying psychedelics – not because I’m a prude, but more because I have a stronger fear of a “bad trip” than a desire for a “good trip.” Strangely enough, in Waking Up by Sam Harris, which I read a few months back, Harris wrote that if his kids never experienced psychedelics in their lifetime, he would think they’ve missed out on something important. There seems to be an element of spirituality found in the “loss of self” or “silence of the ego” when using psychedelics, and I am very much interested in experiencing that. However, I’ve since read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and it seems you can find a similar feeling/experience from meditation, which feels less risky…and also controversial.
But suffice it to say, Pollan succeeded in making me curious.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Unfortunately, it seemed way too unrealistic for me to accept the ending. There is no way that would have worked out the way it did. It’s a nice idea though.
I read the whole thing in two days, so it was an interesting book, suspenseful enough to keep me reading, but ultimately a disappointment in the end.
Don’t want to spoil it for you, so if you’re so inclined, read it yourself and see if you agree.
Think Again by Adam Grant
This book reminded me a lot of another book I read a few years ago called Talking Across the Divide. In that book [which was also excellent], Justin Lee taught me for the first time about “echo chambers” and how to be open to listening to opposing views in order to communicate effectively with the people I disagree with. Think Again is like the second part of the lesson. Now that I have learned how to talk to people with different views, next I need to learn how to be open to change my own own views.
“A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
I think of myself as a life-long learner. And I believe myself to be pretty good at questioning my own beliefs. After all, I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being a sexist, homophobic, conservative, religious zealot. And look at me now, a liberal feminist agnostic-leaning quasi new-age hippie. It took A LOT of rethinking to change my beliefs on literally everything. And even now, all my beliefs are fluid and always changing. And since 99% of my connections are still religious conservatives, my beliefs are always being challenged.
BUT Adam Grant has shown me weaknesses in my own thinking and habits that reinforce rather than question my beliefs – quite literally with his story about the debate on the topic of free universal preschool – but also through important lessons about wisdom and humility.
“It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
This is a great book. Two thumbs up!
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
At the time of reading, I didn’t really like this story because of the ending, but now looking back on it, I think it is a good story. The book is about a family who, like all families, has history and secrets and complexities that are slowly unraveled throughout the story. The major events always seem happen on or around Easter [hence the egg on the cover].
For me personally, it didn’t have any redeeming qualities beyond the horrors of hoarding [when I finished the book, I immediately felt the need to purge my excess crap – of which there isn’t much since I’m already a minimalist] and the damage that secrets can do. But I enjoyed the way the story was told.
Similarly to other fiction books I read this quarter, the end of the story was slightly disappointing.
Five-Star Reads from 2021:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Shining by Stephen King
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone
Night by Elie Wiesel
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Think Again by Adam Grant
Favorite Read(s) of 2021
Despite my best efforts to choose only one favorite book of the year, it is a tie between these two:
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
You’ve GOT to read these two! And if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Well, here we are again at Valentine’s Day, trying to give thoughtful, waste-free Valentines to my kids’ classmates.
When Evangeline was in preschool, we gave cuties wrapped in twine with a little “leaf” tag that said “You’re a cutie!”
[You can read my post about how to make these valentines here.]
Then, when Evangeline was in Kindergarten, we made coloring bookmarks with a crayon to pass out on Valentine’s Day.
[You can read my post about how to make these here.]
Last year, I homeschooled the kids and didn’t have to worry about passing out class Valentines – and I’m not sure whether anyone else did either since a lot of schools were doing distance learning because of COVID.
But now the kids are back in school – Evangeline in second grade and Theo in Kindergarten – so we’re making the obligatory school Valentines again.
My daughter adamantly refused to give cuties again [what can I say? It was worth a try] and she fought very hard for heart-shaped suckers, but I really hate giving out candy and dread all the plastic wrappers that will end up in the trash. [This is the unfortunate result of having an environmentalist/personal trainer for a mother.]
So, we agreed on pencils.
I got the free printables from Perfectly Splendid [link here]. You have to check out all the awesome printables for Valentine’s Day that she has on her site, PositivelySplendid.com. [I also used her Bernie Sanders printable for a Valentine’s Card for my husband! Find them here. Too perfect!]
My mother-in-law was kind enough to print the hearts on card stock for me and then we got busy this morning cutting out the hearts, punching holes, and signing names.
Fair warning, my standard hole punch did not make a big enough hole for the pencils so I had to do some fancy punching to make them fit. But it still worked out fine.
Warning: There was some waste created in the making of these Valentines. Five plastic sleeves that the pencils came in ended up in the trash, but all the paper scraps were recycled and these pencils will hopefully get lots of use in the future.
Practical, [nearly] zero waste Valentines for the win!
My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE setting resolutions for the new year. I know, I know. Everyone else is telling you that resolutions never work and you should set small goals throughout the year and yadda yadda.
Well, I don’t really know what to tell you other than that they work for me! I’m a super goal-oriented person, so when I “resolve” to do something, I typically get it done.
In 2018, I resolved to learn to bake. Brett and I had weekly “bake-offs” and now I bake all of our bread from scratch and I have developed a reputation among friends and family as a baker. [I’m hoping for title of “bread lady” some day.]
In 2019, I resolved to learn to knit. That year, I hand-knitted a few blankets for Brett’s grandmothers. Then the next year, I knitted a coffee cozy. This year I knitted four scarves, one coffee cozy, and a cat toy for Christmas presents. Next up, I’m planning to knit hats, socks, mittens, dishcloths, and scrubbies.
In 2020, I resolved to learn Spanish. I have now been studying Spanish on Duolingo every day for two years. No sé todo, pero yo sé más que hací hace dos años. [If you want to join me on Duolingo, my profile name is KarisCarlson. Vamos a ser amigas!]
Also, in 2020, I resolved to volunteer to donate my kidney. Took an extra year, but I got it done.
Last year, my resolutions were simpler. I just wanted to focus on my family and my health. I spent a lot of quality time with each of my kids one-on-one. I walked my dogs a lot. I read a ton of books about health, food, and nutrition. And we spent the entire year as vegans, which really taught me to prioritize plant-based foods for my family, rather than just on my own plate.
My goal to only drink water for a year lasted until mid October when I got super sick and started drinking vitamin C packets in orange juice because I felt like my life depended on it….and, well, I never really got back on the water-only wagon.
The water-only goal was also about raising awareness about the water crisis, and so we funded a well in Uganda to provide clean water to a community that didn’t have access before. That’s pretty cool.
All in all, 2021 was a pretty good year – despite the craziness going on in the world.
So now for my 2022 goals…
Goal #1: In the past, I’ve set a series of goals related to different parts of my life – physical goals, family goals, travel goals, reading goals, etc. But my favorite goals always end up being my new skills. So this year [though I had really debated choosing rock climbing or wood turning], I’ve decided my new skill to learn will be photography. I have a nice camera and I need to learn how to use it! It would be soooo helpful to take my own family photos like my friend, a self-taught photographer, does.
Goal #2: Instead of having aggressive physical goals like running a marathon, this year, my goal is to fully recover from my kidney donation and get back to running. Not running fast. Not running far. Just back to running. Hopefully I can accomplish this sooner rather than later, but they say it can take 6 months to a year to be fully back to normal after losing an organ, so this goal is really more about not going too fast. I’m going to have to exercise extreme strength of will to slow down, take time, and give my body some grace.
Goal #3: Somewhere along the way I had made a previous resolution to get back into school for nursing. And I have finally started. My goal for this year is to [🤞] finish up my prerequisites and get accepted into an accelerated Masters of Nursing program. I’m still quite terrified about this course my life is taking – scared of the financial cost of returning to school, scared of the time it will take away from my kids, scared I’ll fail… But you know what they say:
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
2021 might not have been the year we all hoped for, but that doesn’t mean that 2022 can’t be. I hope you have a safe, healthy, and intentional year!
Today, I’m writing a personal letter to share about a big change I’ve made in my personal life in the last month.
I quit veganism.
Before all my vegan readers swear me off for good, let me explain…
When it comes to what I eat, I’ve been on quite a journey, which began over ten years ago when I decided to get healthy and led me all the way to the past year of being vegan. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, studied nutrition in formal classes and on my own. All of this has lead me to improve my eating habits by eliminating processed foods, making food from scratch, buying fresh, whole foods, choosing organic whenever possible, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, reducing meat and dairy, increasing plant-based foods, and so on.
Then last year I became convinced of the ethical and sustainable imperative to stop eating animal products, and so I did. I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which shared horrifying details about the conditions in which American food animals are raised and slaughtered. I watched David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, which described how our choices as humans are impacting the planet and in which he states that the simplest thing we can do to combat climate change is stop eating meat. Other sources of information are How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger, the short film Meet Your Meat, and the documentary The Game Changers. These [and other] sources of information led me to a year of veganism.
All of that is still true, but I’ve realized that meat and eggs in small quantities from ethical, sustainable, and local sources are an important part of a well-balanced diet and so I became determined to find a source of meat that wouldn’t violate any of my ethical and sustainable standards.
[There are several sources of information that led me to this change including: RealFood by Nina Planck and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – the latter of which has a very compelling argument for eating local, sustainable meat.]
After much searching, I found a farm about an hour away that raises 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens, turkeys, and lambs. Early one morning, we drove up to the farm for a tour. We met the animals, stood in the chicken coop, held the freshly laid eggs, and I immediately knew that this was a farm I could support. So we started purchasing meat from them.
As you may guess, buying meat from a local farm is expensive, so we buy limited quantities, only have meat once or twice a week, and make sure to fill up on plant-based foods at meals.
Though I am not vegan anymore, the past year of veganism has been totally transformative for me and my family. Because of the past year, we no longer think of meals as requiring a meat, and we now know how to prepare various delicious plant-based meals. I have become a pretty decent vegan baker and most of my baking will remain vegan forever. Even my [previously] “meat and potatoes” partner has embraced almond milk, tofu, tempeh, and cashew cheese.
For some people, finding and affording ethical, sustainable, and local meat products will be impossible. If it were impossible for me, I would remain vegan. It is not worth the cost to my health or the health of the planet to eat meat from factory farms. So if the only meat available to you is full of antibiotics, raised in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and fed a diet of grains and dead animals, veganism is still the best and healthiest option. BUT the more we use our dollars to vote for a healthier and more ethical food supply, the more ethical and sustainable meat will be come available to everyone.
We all have to make the best choice we can with what is available to us.
Five years into my zero waste journey and I FINALLY got a safety razor! It was a birthday present from my partner who knew how badly I wanted one, but also knew I have an extreme aversion to buying things for myself. And besides that, we still had a supply of disposable razors and I like to use up what we already have before buying something new. [Side note: I discovered that our local compassion center accepts donated disposable razors, even open packages!]
What is a Safety Razor?
If you’ve been around the zero waste community for long, you’ve probably seen these sleek, exotic beauties floating around Instagram. If you’ve never seen one before, let me be the first to show you.
First of all, let’s just admire how pretty this razor is…especially compared to the plastic disposable kind.
Of course, beauty alone is not a reason to buy a razor. The safety razor is environmentally friendly and zero waste because it is made of metal and has replaceable blades.
It may seem like something new and fancy, but actually safety razors are old [like 200 years old] and made their first appearance as a “safer” alternative [hence the name] to the then-popular, now a horror movie murder-weapon, the straight razor.
As with many other parts of society, we are slowly realizing that the old-fashioned way of doing things may actually have been better. There are some things that convenience and disposability simply cannot trump – like the health of our water and land and the human species.
I love this razor. After three months of using it, I don’t have a single complaint.
I do, however, have to make sure to soap really well, because safety razors don’t have those gel strips…do you know what I’m talking about?
The razor is two-sided, so I switch the blades when I notice that neither side is shaving very smoothly. I started using mine in June and just switched the blade this week. But I don’t shave as frequently as some people, so I’m not making any promises or anything. I typically shave my armpits every three days and my legs about once a week [or less]. I’ve read that a blade is good for 7 shaves, but I definitely use them for longer than that.
Brett also gave me this set of 100 replacement blades. So, at my current rate of usage, I won’t need more blades for…roughly 25 years! [Wait, can that be right???]
The old blades go into this razor blade safe which can then be recycled when it’s full. [Check your local jurisdiction for recycling guidelines.]
But honestly, this safe says it holds 300 blades, so that means it will take me 75 years to fill it up!!! [Ok, I’m going to have Brett check my math on this. That just seems crazy!] But I’m totally planning on living another 75 years, so I may get to recycle this someday.
Doesn’t hurt to be optimistic. 🤷♀️
So let’s review:
Never needs to be replaced – just replace the blades
Easy, close shave that is still “safe”
Maintains beautiful aesthetic of a zero waste bathroom
Initial price. Of course, this was a gift, but according to Amazon, you can buy a safety razor with a stand, a razor blade safe and 100 replacement blades for under $40. Now if that lasts you 25 years like it might last me, then it will actually save you money in the long run. But, anyway, can you really put a price on saving the planet???
Overall, my experience has been great and I highly recommend switching to this eco-friendly shaving alternative as soon as you can. And you can donate any unused disposable razors you may have to a local shelter that can give them away.
And while you’re at it, why not go the full mile and swap the shaving cream for a bar of soap? In our bathroom we use bar shampoo, bar conditioner, and bar soap – all of which work great and create no plastic waste.
Last month was a bit of a shit show, if I’m being honest. I spent the first two weeks of the month scrambling to prepare for school to start: getting my kids registered at their new school [which I had to do twice because communication is not this school district’s strength], sorting out the confusing bus situation [in the end, I decided to screw it and walk my kids to school], making all the necessary doctor, dentist and eye appointments, buying school supplies, backpacks, and tennis shoes.
Yes, I admit, my brain was still so stuck in summer mode that I didn’t realize until two days before school started that my daughter didn’t have any tennis shoes and these are apparently required for gym class. 🤦♀️ And, if you’ve been around my blog long enough, you know that I don’t buy new footwear unless it is ethical and sustainable, so I couldn’t very well go out and buy tennis shoes at Walmart [the only store in this town that sells shoes]. Thankfully, before I descended into a full-on panic, I remembered that my sister-in-law was coming to visit and usually brings some hand-me-downs for Evangeline, and voila! New [to Eva] tennis shoes for school arrived right in time for school to start.
I also was scrambling to get myself registered to take some classes at the local community college. Turns out, having a bachelors degree and trying to return to college after fifteen years is a huge headache. I had to call every school I’ve ever been to, every testing center I’ve received credits from, and every person on the college staff to try to get registered in time for classes to start.
Somehow, miraculously, it all came together just in the nick of time and I am now taking two prerequisite classes for the nursing program at Southeastern Illinois College.
On top of that, we had family in town for a week [the first week of school for me and the kids, no less] which was fun, but exhausting.
Also, our cat [and by “our cat” I mean a stray that my kids fell in love with and we now feed and let live in our garage] had a litter of five kittens who are absolutely adorable, but began wreaking havoc in our garage and created an absolute infestation of fleas, which had to be treated, and then treated again, and then treated again. And now we have five kittens wreaking havoc in our kitchen.
And last, but not least, I’ve been sick for two weeks now with some sort of cold, cough, allergy thing that has me using my son’s nebulizer three times a day. We’ve ruled out Covid, though I never thought it was Covid because I never had a fever or any flu symptoms, just this frustrating and frightening inability to get oxygen into my lungs.
I think the kittens might be to blame.
So, anyway, I’ve been basically in survival mode. Each day is a desperate attempt to get my kids to school, my own school work done, my household chores managed, my pets [now totaling 9!!!] all fed and walked and let out and litter emptied, etc…and not hack up a lung or pass out from lack of oxygen in the process.
Sometimes, being the one who stays home all day really sucks. Sometimes, it’s nice. Or at least, sometimes it’s nice in theory. But in reality, I’m just taking it day-by-day. Just trying to hang on until we get into a rhythm…or the kids graduate from high school…or at least until we find homes for these kittens!
But, lest I sound ungrateful for my incredibly privileged existence on this earth, here are some of the photos of good times last month [more as a reminder for me than anything else]:
Anyway, I didn’t post much last month because I’ve had a lot going on, but I am going to be better this month.
Some things I plan to write about are:
My attempt at vegan carb-cycling
My new safety razor
My family’s unprocessed meals
My kids minimalist wardrobes [another post in my Simplifying Parenting series]
And anything else that strikes my fancy…
Thanks for letting me unload all that on you! I hope everyone else had a better August than I did!