Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

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

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

April

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

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

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

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

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

READ THIS BOOK.


Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

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

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

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

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

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

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

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


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

Ya-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

May

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa M. Ross, Simplicity Parenting

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

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


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

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

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

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

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


Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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

Seriously, this stuff is terrifying.

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

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

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

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

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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


June

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Here’s the truth:

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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

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

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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


12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

It is terrifying.

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

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


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

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

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

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

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

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

Seriously, we MUST put an end to capital punishment.

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

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

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

I BEG OF YOU: READ THIS BOOK.


The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Anneliese A. Singh, The Racial Healing Handbook

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

⭐️⭐️[⭐️⭐️⭐️]

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

The more you know, the less you need.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

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

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

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

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

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

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


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

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

July Shopping Audit [and my new work boots]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we bought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Gave Away

Nothing.

🤦‍♀️

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

Maybe next month…

Hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy!

Karis

June Shopping Audit [and the 50/50 rule]

June Shopping Audit [and the 50/50 rule]

I’m curious: If your job or finances were not negatively impacted by the Coronavirus and you received a relief check from the government, what did you do with it?

Though my partner and I have been furloughed since March and he was actually just let go, we have not been struggling financially. We live very frugally to begin with, we have no debt payments outside our mortgage, and we have always lived well below our income anyway, so our unemployment checks have been sufficient. Plus, we have always kept an “emergency” fund – though not expecting a world-wide pandemic that would wreck our economy and cost Brett his job – so we are surprisingly prepared.

As a result, we didn’t need the relief check that the government sent us and I felt bad keeping it. I wanted to give it away to help people who truly are struggling financially right now, but Brett felt that it would be best to save it for the future in the event that the pandemic drags on or [rightly predicting] he loses his job and has to find a new one.

There is virtue in both options, so how do we choose?

50/50 Rule

Because my partner and I can’t agree, we’ve settled on a 50/50 rule for all additional/unexpected income: 50% to give away and 50% to save for retirement and the kids through our investment accounts.

We have a modest budget which includes all of our bills [mortgage, utilities, internet, phones, water softener, and trash pickup], our necessities [food, toiletries, medical expenses, house maintenance, and pet supplies], some fun stuff [fun money for Brett and I and the family in general, dining out money, and Netflix subscription], and charitable donations [we sponsor three children and give monthly to charity:water]. Whatever income is leftover after these expenses, is considered “additional income” and gets divided between charitable giving and investing.

Before COVID hit, we had roughly $800 of extra income each month, so we have been typically giving away $400 and investing $400. However, since March, we have been bringing in less money, so we have had less to give away. But we did give away what we had, in addition to half of our relief check.

The Ethical Obligation to Give

A few months ago, I read the book The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer, which confirmed what I already believed to be true – that we are morally and ethically obligated to share our wealth with people in need. This pretty much goes against the American ideals of capitalism and independence, which teach us to take care of ourselves first and that our wealth is for us to enjoy because we “earned it.”

The teachings of Jesus are pretty much the exact opposite of the American mindset, which is why it is so surprising to me that America wants to believe itself to be a “Christian nation.”

Regardless, we decided several years ago that we would prioritize giving, rather than giving out of our excess after we had spoiled ourselves and achieved the American standard of living. We made giving a big part of our budget AND intentionally reduced our budget so that we could give more away. And now, thanks to COVID, we have had even more to give than ever before – over $4,000 in the last two months.

Anyway, I share all this to say that giving has a way of changing my perspective from inward to outward. Rather than thinking of all the things that I want or need or could use, I am often thinking about the families without clean water, the children without vaccines, the girls without an education, the half a billion people on this planet living in extreme poverty. So, when it comes to not buying stuff for myself, I’m not sharing this from a place of self-pity. It is a privilege to be able to live a life of ease and luxury and still be able to give so much money away.

So, here’s the shopping audit for June:

What We Bought

Once again, this is only physical purchases outside of consumables like food, gas, toilet paper and salt blocks.

Headphones and cell charger ($116.00): For Father’s Day, I gave Brett a gift card to buy a pair of headphones. We both run a lot and we’ve been sharing headphones since he bought me a pair. We also needed a new cell charger because ours stopped working [does anyone else have this problem???]

New hose for van ($55.49): Our van was leaking something from somewhere [you’ll have to ask my partner for specifics], so Brett bought a part that was needed and replaced it himself.

Gift card for Evangeline’s teacher ($25.00): I wouldn’t have ordinarily given something as impersonal as a gift card to her teacher, but given the circumstances, I thought this was the easiest and probably most preferred option.

House maintenance ($200.00): We finished several house projects this month, including the french drain which required ordering $130 worth of gravel.

Total: $396.49

Over-budget: $0 [We only have a $25 gift budget, but I had accumulated enough fun money over the months of quarantine to pay for Brett’s Father’s Day gift.]

What We Are Going to Do With It

I’m proud of how we did this month because we only bought two things that were “wants” and the rest were “needs” [and one gift]. We will get plenty of use out of the headphones and cell charger and recycle them with electronics when we are done with them.

What We Gave Away

We have a stack of maybe 10 things from our home to donate this month – some baby clothes, a lunchbox, some board games. I completely forgot to gather thirty items this month. Next month I will have to make up for it.

Our future has become more uncertain than ever now that Brett has been laid off, which makes our careful spending habits even more important than ever. But being at the start of something new is also exciting! We are looking forward to the next adventure.

🛍 🛍 🛍

Karis

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Sarah Lazarovic

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

For example…

The Story of Our Bike Pump

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

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

So was it a need or a want?

🤷‍♀️

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

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

(c) Sarah Lazarovic

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

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

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

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

What We Bought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total spent: $363.55

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

What We Are Going To Do With It

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

😜

What We Got Rid Of

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

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

The kids’ room is once again under control.

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

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

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

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

✌🏻 ✌🏻 ✌🏻

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.

Don’t judge me by the ramen noodle purchase–that was my husband’s choice… 😆

My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.

Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:

  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans/Lentils/Split Peas
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Candy/Chocolates

Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.

But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:

1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.

2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.

[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]

3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.

4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].

5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.

6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!

Our lovely collection of plastic grocery bags from one grocery trip.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?

[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]

I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.

So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]

🛒🛒🛒

Karis

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

While the coronavirus pandemic has made some aspects of zero waste living more challenging [such as refusing plastic bags, shopping from bulk bins, filling reusable cups, and the war on disposable plastics in general], there are some aspects of low waste living that are becoming more popular as a result of this unprecedented time [such as unpaper towels, cloth diapering, baking from scratch, sewing, and gardening].

Well, there is one more low waste principle I would like to recommend as being ideal in this situation: repairing our stuff rather than throwing it away and buying new. Since shopping malls are closed now and a lot of “retail therapy” has been exchanged for outdoor exercise [👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻], you might be forced to make do with what you have in your closet anyway.

Of course, there is always Amazon [and other online retailers] to order from, but why not give mending a chance? Especially at a time when everyone at least appears to be extremely concerned about their finances, now would be ideal to practice all those forgotten resolutions of not buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.

So, along those lines, here is my story of repairing rather than replacing.

[Don’t worry – it’s a short story.]

The Story

Before the stay-at-home order went into effect for Illinois [which was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown], I decided to have one of my boots repaired rather than throwing the pair away.

These boots are nothing special. They aren’t fancy. They didn’t cost very much money. But they are my only pair of black flat boots and I have worn them all fall and winter for the past five years. So when the sole ripped apart from the rest of the boot, I was bummed.

Brett immediately suggested throwing them in the trash – even offering to do the job for me since he knows it pains me to throw anything away [what a guy]. But I told him I would see about getting them repaired. Of course he laughed at this and told me that it would cost more to fix the boot than it would to buy a new pair.

Still, I liked these boots and I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I have developed a very strong aversion to new things as it is. Add to that my dislike of throwing things away and I knew I had to at least attempt to get them repaired.

I found a cobbler. [It took a while for me to even remember what the term is for someone who repairs shoes, my only knowledge of them coming from the old story about the elves and the cobbler…oh and the Adam Sandler movie.]

I have never been to a shoe repair shop. I had absolutely no frame of reference for what this might cost. They could have told me it would cost $75 and I wouldn’t have known if this was highway robbery or if shoe repair really is that challenging of a job. But when I told the man the problem, he said he could glue the sole back on for $10.

Ten dollars! What a steal!

I dropped the boot off that day and picked it up the following week, good as new. [Not really, it is still a worn-out boot, but at least there isn’t a huge hole at the heel anymore.] I am confident that I will get at least several more years out of these boots, and in the very likely event that another part wears out, I will return to the same repairman again.

So there you have it. These poor, innocent little boots would have been rotting in some landfill by now if the kind shoe repairman hadn’t fixed them for $10!

[Also, I don’t think I could buy a pair of new boots for $10 – so there Brett!]

The Moral of the Story

Our society has been trained to believe that everything is disposable – even our clothing and shoes. Oh, those pants don’t fit just right? That zipper is broken? The heel snapped off your shoe? There is a stain on your sweater? There is a hole in your jeans? Missing a button??? Well then, just toss it in the garbage bin and *POOF* it magically disappears and you can go buy another one [or two or three] at any time.

The problem is that clothing and shoes are NOT disposable. They are not meant to be treated like tissues, used once and then thrown away. Clothing has a very high price – in natural resources, in skilled labor, in transport and energy. And we keep churning it out and tossing it away like there is no end in sight.

Unfortunately, the end is coming. The clothing industry [as far as it stands in America] is not sustainable, and I’m not even talking about environmental sustainability. I just mean that it literally cannot go on like this. The model takes too much and abuses too many and creates an exorbitant amount of waste.

Even donated clothing has become a huge problem for non-profits and [even worse] impoverished communities to deal with now.

Do we really believe that we can keep creating and buying and discarding textiles to the tune of over 15 million tons of waste per year? Without something breaking eventually?

So, honestly, I hope that America makes a shift from buying cheap, crappy clothing on repeat and instead repairs and mends and tailors and darns and modifies and, heck, if all else fails, repurposes what they already have.

And I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t have substantial skin in the game. My partner has been selling clothing for the past ten years. Our family’s primary source of income is clothing retail. But especially as someone who has seen the background of these businesses, I can promise you that the whole machine has been slowly grinding to a halt even before this pandemic. Big name clothing brands are shutting down stores, filing bankruptcy, continually missing sales projections, clearancing surplus stock just to get rid of it so that they can make room for the new collections that are coming in every month [or more frequently]. By dropping their prices, stores are training customers to wait for low prices, which creates a cyclical effect that is basically a death spiral for the clothing retailer.

This has been coming long before the coronavirus existed.

Anyway, how great would it be if we could trade fast fashion retailers for, say, a booming seamstress and tailoring industry? Or make thrift shopping the primary source of clothing rather than the shopping malls [which have also been on the decline for years now], so that resale shops around the country have to hire tons more employees and move to bigger locations to meet the demand? And what if cobblers become so common that everyone knows where their local shoe repair shop is, rather than wondering where to even find such a thing? And maybe people will start getting creative and turning their old clothes into new, unique one-of-a-kind pieces that they truly love, rather than having to search through racks of the same pants that fifty other people will buy that same day?

Sounds good to me.

Don’t worry – the clothing industry will never go away completely. We obviously will always need clothes. But imagine a world where we only buy what we need, then we would have money to pay more and we would buy better quality and clothing manufacturers wouldn’t have to be constantly cutting their costs to appease the American demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing. This would be a win for everyone.

For more information on the clothing industry, I highly recommend the following:

  • Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
  • Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press
  • The True Cost [Documentary]

Happy mending!

👢👢👢

Karis

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

***COVID-19 Carlson Family Update: We are on day 12 of the 15-day Social Distancing request by the United States Government and day 6 of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order. We are all healthy [which is quite shocking even under normal circumstances because with a family of six someone is usually sick this time of year]. Brett is home working remotely and getting paid 80% of his salary, which makes us very lucky compared to many, many people in the retail industry. Today is the last day of e-learning for Evangeline before spring break next week. This is probably the only time I will ever say that I wish she wasn’t getting a week off since the school work gives us something to do each morning. Still no end in sight to this virus despite what optimist want to say. Infection rates are still increasing and we are still bracing for the worst while staying safely away from everyone. Also…we are still out of toilet paper.***

COVID-19 has changed the whole world, and my zero waste lifestyle is no exception. We are no longer allowed to bring our own reusable bags or jars to the grocery store. I have received emails stating that only prepackaged bulk goods will be available to purchase for the time being. In some of these minor ways, we have had to adjust just like everyone else. But many of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle have become even more important and more necessary.

Although zero waste is commonly thought of as using a bunch of specialty products and buying a bunch of specialty foods — at the real heart of the zero waste movement is the simple concept of [duh] not wasting anything.

I’ve posted this quote before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. The whole point of zero waste is NOT to have all the aesthetically pleasing bamboo products — it’s about simply not letting anything go to waste.

And at a time like this, when people are surviving on less money and our very government is ordering us to stop going out, and shopping malls and stores are shit down all over the WORLD, now is the perfect time to stop all the wastefulness.

So, anyway, all that to say I hope that we come out on the other side of this global tragedy as a less wasteful society because we have learned how to “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

Toothpaste Tablets

In spite of everything, the world continues to turn, so I am continuing to make my usual zero waste swaps. This month I’ve traded traditional toothpaste for toothpaste tablets.

I purchased these a few months ago from Well Earth Goods but was determined to use up my current toothpaste stash before I started with these. However, my partner keeps bringing new toothpaste home from the dentist [I politely refuse their little plastic gift baggy], so I decided to start using the tablets for myself.

Brett saw me try one for the first time, and now he refuses to try it himself. [He said that I made a face which made it look very unappealing.]

🤷‍♀️

What can I say? I was unprepared for how strange it would be to chew up a powdery tablet and then brush it on my teeth. But it didn’t take me long to get used to it.

I like these little tablets a lot now. They provide that minty zing I always want in a toothpaste and my mouth feels clean and refreshed after brushing. AND they are A MILLION TIMES BETTER than the homemade baking soda variety I tried last year. [Yuck!]

In reality, though, the primary reason I like these is that they don’t come in a plastic tube bound for the trash.

But…

Let’s talk about the packaging of these bad boys.

These tablets came in a compostable package and were shipped in a [very nice] cardboard box with paper filler that could be easily recycled.

Still, I’m not a fan of compostable packaging because I’m not entirely certain whether they can be composted in a backyard compost pile, like I have at my home.

[I was disappointed to learn that a lot of packaging that proudly claims to be “compostable” has to be composted by an industrial or commercial composting facility – not just thrown in the backyard bin – which defeats the whole purpose in my opinion.]

I really love the company Well Earth Goods and plan to purchase from them in the future – particularly their laundry strips which I plan to move to exclusively after I’m done with cloth diapers. But I think there may be a better way to purchase the toothpaste tablets, say, in a glass jar that can be recycled or, even better, a container that can be returned to the company for recycling. [I believe this is the case with Lush products, so I will be buying toothpaste tablets there next.]

But over all, I give the toothpaste tablets a huge thumbs up.

👍🏻

I intend to make this permanent switch and now with my bamboo toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bar, water flosser, and wee wipes [thank you, COVID-19], I have a [nearly] zero waste bathroom!

Next, I will be trying out bar deodorant and posting about that after a few week trial.

Stay tuned – and stay well!!

🦠 🦠 🦠

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

My first experience with a vegan diet was two years ago while I was breastfeeding my middle daughter. She was having terrible reflux issues and our pediatrician suggested trying no dairy or eggs. Since I was already eating a vegetarian diet, I suddenly became a vegan [and my [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet was born].

The problem was that all vegan recipes either called for a vegan version of the standard ingredient OR strange ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone had in my cupboard. If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you will likely be familiar with all of these things, but as a newcomer to that way of eating these ingredients were totally unfamiliar to me:

  • Flax eggs
  • Aquafaba
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tempeh
  • Tahini
  • Chia seeds

I had no idea at the time that cashews could become cheese, oats could make milk, quinoa could replace beef, black beans could make brownies, and avocados could transform into chocolate mousse.

Oh, the wonders of the vegan world!

But at the time, I just needed to eat something that wouldn’t make my baby sick. I didn’t have time to go down the rabbit hole of experimental vegan cooking OR go to the grocery store to stock my house with every vegan alternative.

And so was born a simple way to do plant-based, vegan meals – without a single specialty vegan product [no vegan butter, vegan mayo, vegan cheese, etc] or any of the fancy vegan ingredients that can only be found tucked away in the “international” aisle of your grocery store.

And even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian or even flexitarian, it is still smart, sustainable and healthful to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods. So, you may find these suggestions to be helpful as well.

Vegan Meals

I’m not here to provide recipes because I’m leaving that to the professionals. But what I DO want to do is inspire you to SIMPLIFY the food you eat. Eating healthy food is about taking whole foods in their original form, cooking and then consuming them. It doesn’t have to be complex. These meal ideas I’m going to share are just ways to take simple foods you would find in the produce section and make them into a nutritious and delicious meal.

So without further rambling, here are the simplest vegan meals.

Oatmeal

Let’s start with a vegan breakfast – but, of course, I’m not opposed to the “breakfast for dinner” deal either. I LOVE breakfast. And oatmeal is most definitely my favorite breakfast.

If you are a cereal kind of person, then, yes, you could just swap your cows milk for a non-dairy milk alternative. But WHY when you could have a totally dairy free, incredibly healthy breakfast with so many possibilities you’ll never get bored of it??

Here is a secret: oatmeal DOES NOT need to be made with milk! I just add boiling water and let it sit for a minute or two then add my sweetener and toppings!

Oatmeal is the perfect breakfast because it is minimally processed and contains healthy carbohydrates, protein and lots of fiber. Top it with fresh fruit and you have a nutrient packed breakfast.

[My kids also love oatmeal! We eat it every morning – with the exception of rare, special occasions.]

Here are some of our favorite oatmeal varieties:

  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Cinnamon and raisins
  • Bananas and peanut butter
  • Fresh berries and maple syrup

Salad

Salads are totally misunderstood. People think of salads as bowls of lettuce drenched in sugary dressings to make them more palatable. But salads are DELICIOUS when done correctly.

Salad is not only about the greens. You can make a taco salad by adding salsa, black beans and corn. You can make a Greek salad [my personal favorite] by adding olives, artichokes, tomatoes and capers. You can make a classic salad by throwing in every vegetable you have in your house. You can add protein with quinoa or chickpeas. You can add fat with avocados and olive oil. You don’t even need a sugary, store-bought dressing – just toss your salad in fresh lemon juice, or make your own balsamic vinaigrette.

[Here is my favorite homemade salad dressing.]

Salads are not just side dishes anymore! They can be a full, satisfying meal when you think outside the greens.

Burrito Bowls

You’ve probably heard of “meatless Mondays” which are a good idea for everyone to implement because of the health and financial benefits of eating less meat. Years ago, when we started our own meatless Monday tradition, it was always Mexican because Mexican food is already full of so many wonderful whole foods – beans, rice, corn, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few. Of course, a big part of Mexican cuisine is cheese, but it’s still delicious to top a burrito bowl with salsa and guacamole and – if you’re like me – a large amount of hot sauce.

Our vegan burrito bowls are delicious and so simple because I just use whatever we have on hand. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I can always turn these into tacos by making flour tortillas. Or we can throw everything into the crockpot with a jar of salsa and have Mexican chili. Or we can make tostadas. Or we can make loaded nachos. Really, Mexican cuisine has endless possibilities. But I prefer the simplest option: a burrito bowl with rice, beans, peppers and onions, salsa, avocado, and some hot sauce.

Delicioso!

Soup

I’ve already written about my vegetable soup obsession here. I make soup about once a week and it is always different because I throw in whatever I have. I always use some vegetables but I also frequently include other delicious whole foods like beans, rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc. Homemade soup is about as simple as it gets and it doesn’t require any weird vegan stuff – just real, normal, plant-based food.

On soup day in my home, I throw everything in a pot with some water and let it simmer until dinner time.

Mm-mm Good!

Stir-Fry

Stir-frying was my very first cooking experience. When Brett and I first married, I LOATHED cooking and so we bought a lot of those frozen stir-fry meals until I finally got smart and realized that I could make them myself.

To this day, my favorite way to eat vegetables is sautéd in a skillet with some seasonings. I usually skip the sauces because they are typically full of sugar or sodium, but I occasionally create my own with something like honey and balsamic or lemon and capers. But just a seasoning blend is enough to turn ordinary vegetables into a delicious meal.

Sometimes we put the stir-fry over rice or quinoa. Sometimes we eat it plain. Sometimes we make vegetable fried rice! The best of both worlds!

It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of meal.

Make Any Meal Vegan

Additionally, you can make any meal plant-based by following these simple tips:

1. Cook with olive oil. Just leave out the butter. It is not necessary. I keep butter on hand for baking treats for my kids, but we don’t use it otherwise. There is no reason to go buy a vegan butter. Just cook with oil instead. It is a plant-based, healthier alternative.

2. Pass on the meat. No meal that I have ever heard of is made 100% of meat, so just eat everything else. If you are like me and live with a family member who simply MUST have meat, then go ahead and cook meat. You don’t have to eat it just because it is being offered.

3. Make some vegan Parmesan. No vegan cheese is exactly like the real thing, unfortunately [at least not that I’ve found yet], but vegan Parmesan is a good enough alternative if you are trying to avoid animal products. It is cashew based and you will have to pick up some nutritional yeast, but it’s a worthwhile investment and will make the transition to a cheese-less existence more palatable.

So, hopefully you are on your way to a healthier and more sustainable way of eating!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I choose the latter.

Simple Living

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

Spending Time Together

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

At Home Activities for Kids

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

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

Eating Real Food

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

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

Exercising At [or near] Home

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

Zero Waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe [and stay home]!

🌎 🌍 🌏

Karis

My Minimal Wardrobe [Clothing Ban Update]

My Minimal Wardrobe [Clothing Ban Update]

It’s been almost two years since I quit buying clothes and started “minimizing” my wardrobe. Other than one purchase last December [which you can read about in my post My First Clothing Purchase in 19 Months], I have not bought any clothing since I made the commitment to simplify my wardrobe and put an end to my consumerism.

Originally, I was thinking that this would be like a victory lap where I show off how little clothes I have…

Until I actually pulled them all out and counted them. I still have 155 pieces of clothing!!!! That doesn’t sound very minimal to me, but if you look at the difference in the photo below, I’ve definitely made some progress.

Still, this is not exactly as “minimal” as I had hoped.

Here are the numbers:

In general, this is good progress – but I felt like I had WAY LESS than 155 pieces of clothing!! And now I see that I still have too many workout tops and tank tops and underwear and – why the heck do I need two bathrobes?!?!

So, since we are moving and downsizing, I’m going get rid of 55 more pieces so that I end up with an even 100.

What I Wear

I have the benefit of having a casual job and a lack of concern about what people think of my clothes which makes it very easy to get dressed.

Sure, I like to dress up sometimes. I have a few dresses I keep for summer and skirts I like to go out in on hot dates with my man…but in general, I’m a leggings and loose top over a camisole kinda gal.

I’ve already shown my favorite outfit – leggings with a camisole and a button-down flannel that I stole from my partner’s closet.

I took this lovely photo to show off all my wrinkles, but I’m also wearing my favorite piece of clothing – my blue flannel shirt.

I recently stole another one – black this time – and I wear this one a lot now too.

As you can see, my children inherited my complete lack of concern for fashion.

I intentionally kept neutral pieces so that I can create as many outfits as I need – but in reality, I only need a handful.

The majority of my wardrobe still consists of workout clothes because that is my job and my passion and my hobby and the majority of what I wear.

What You Should Wear

Since I am the absolute LAST person who should be telling anyone what to wear, I’m obviously not going to make any recommendations. But if you are interested in reducing your wardrobe, here are some tips I recommend:

1. Get rid of what you NEVER WEAR.

If you have clothes that you never wear, well, chances are you don’t need those. So that’s a good place to start with decluttering your closet. And if you pay attention to what those types of things are and avoid acquiring more of them [regardless of how adorable they look on the mannequin], then you’ll be well on your way toward a less excessive wardrobe.

2. Stop buying what you don’t NEED.

Very few of us actually need new clothes, but we all buy stuff for different reasons. Mindfulness and a little self-reflection go a long way in this regard. I discovered that I liked the idea of certain clothing [wearing a certain style or looking a certain way], so I would buy it, but then never wore it because it wasn’t my thing. I also used to have a terrible problem with turning down “deals.” PSA: Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it!

3. Find YOUR style and wear it with PRIDE.

We don’t all have to look alike. In fact, it’s kind of nice that we have the ability to choose what we like and what looks good on us, so let’s not fall into the trap of letting anyone tell us what we should like or buy or wear. Also, forget all that hogwash about not wearing the same shirt twice and don’t wear white after Labor Day and all that other nonsense. Do whatever you want and don’t worry about anyone else thinks.

Anyway, these are just the things that I’ve been learning and embracing over the past two years.

As always, if you need to know the reasons behind reducing your clothing habits, watch The True Cost documentary and/or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline.

Happy decluttering!

👚👖👕

Karis