Simple Living Goals for July

Simple Living Goals for July

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 I like to celebrate Juneteenth as America’s true Freedom Day, but we are grateful for our country and the privilege of living here. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday.

But anyway, on to my simple living goals for July…

It’s been a long time since I’ve made simple living goals for the family, but since this is our last full month of summer break and the kids will be going to school before long, I am setting daily goals to make sure we make the most of what’s left of our summer.

Every day, we are going to try to spend time doing the following things:

Play Outside

[Recent hiking trip to the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest]

My kids and I love being outside. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we still try to make it work. Yesterday, it stormed all day, but we still managed to get outside for a bike ride/run when the storm passed at 7pm.

The goal for July is to spend some time outside [preferably in the sunshine] every day to boost our vitamin D intake and our moods.

Get Active

[Family bike ride – Jojo is really happy about it, as you can see.]

Most days, we take our dogs for a walk – which is no easy feat for me since I have to push a double stroller with my two youngest kids and hold a leash in each hand. My older two kids bike. We also like to go on family bike rides – to the library, the park, grandma’s house, or just around town – and I pull my youngest two kids in our bike trailer.

We can [and usually do] combine being active with being outdoors, but when necessary, we like to exercise inside by doing kids yoga or family fun workouts.

We are usually pretty active, but this month I am prioritizing active family time together every day.

Be Creative

[Alligator craft out of egg cartons and toilet paper tubes]

I’m grateful that my kids love arts and crafts. They especially love creating with clay and paint – two mediums that get pretty messy so I usually try to avoid getting them out. But not this month! We’re going for it!

My goal is to engage in a creative activity every day, whether it’s just coloring pictures, acting out stories, making clay pottery, or even baking something new in the kitchen.

Grow Our Own Food

[Half of our garden a few weeks ago – now the corn is as tall as my son!]

My favorite part of summer is getting fresh veggies from the garden! The garden that we started at our new home is doing great. We have already started bringing in zucchini and summer squash, the tomatoes are almost ripe, the peppers look beautiful, the cucumbers are growing like weeds and the sugar snap peas are so delicious we don’t even bother bringing them in – we just eat them straight off the plant.

My kids love this exciting [and delicious] summer tradition as well. We are looking forward to picking [and finding new ways to eat] our favorite veggies from our backyard each day.

What are your goals for the rest of summer? I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!

☀️ ☀️ ☀️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.

So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.

Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.

“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“

This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.

Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.

This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.

The “In and Out” Rule

Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.

If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.

Let the Kids Take Charge

I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.

Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.

Declutter Frequently

It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.

The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.

Purge Occasionally

Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.

However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.

So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.

[A collection of toys and books that I had hidden away to be donated.]

BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.

I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.

A note about sustainable toys…

I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.

As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.

Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.

Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!

As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!

Happy purging!

🧸 🧸 🧸

Karis

Zero Waste: Cloth Diapers

Zero Waste: Cloth Diapers

Originally, I planned to write about my experience with cloth diapers as a part of my “Simplifying Parenting” series; however, I realized that cloth diapers are not exactly simple. That’s not to say you shouldn’t choose them. Even after seven years of using cloth diapers non-stop for my four kids, I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are zero waste, wallet friendly, helpful for potty-training, more efficient, gentler on baby’s bum, and absolutely adorable.

But I’m definitely no expert, as you will see. I’m just a mom who wanted to save [at the outset] thousands of dollars and [by the end] the planet – one reusable diaper at a time. So rather than try to give you all the answers, explain the cloth diaper lingo, discuss the laundering process in detail, give my opinions on the preferred inserts, diaper rash cream, and cover brands – I’m just going to tell you my story: how I came to cloth diapers, how I made it work for my family, and what I learned along the way.

But first, let’s get the biggest obstacle out of the way.

First, the truth about parenting and poop

I know a lot of people who considered using cloth diapers but, in the end, decided against it because “it’s gross.” So, I just want to say this now: If you think that disposable diapers will save you from having to deal with poop, I have some bad news. Parenting involves poop. And lots of it. For at least five years of your kid’s life, you’ll be dealing with poop. From the day you bring a baby home, you will be tracking poop, examining the color of poop, maybe even weighing poop. As the baby gets older, you’ll be cleaning poop out of car seats, high chairs, strollers, cribs, and – yes – even off of your hands and clothes. Your baby will have explosive poops that shoot up their backs or down their legs and get everywhere. Then when your baby starts eating real food, you’ll have to wipe poopy butts daily until potty training – and these poops smell awful. Like, so awful you can’t believe your sweet angel produced them. And even if you potty train early like I did [all my kids potty trained at or before 2-years-old], you’ll still have to wipe butts until your kid is old enough to wipe it himself. And there will be accidents. There will be poop in underwear, in beds, and in car seats that has to be cleaned.

Fun fact: I never once had a blowout in a cloth diaper – but the moment I put a disposable diaper on one of my kids, shit would shoot up their back. Cloth diapers = fewer blowouts.

Of course, if you’re a working parent, you may encounter less poop, but there will still be a lot of poop. So, just brace yourself.

If all this talk of poop is making you reconsider having kids, then good. Because there are worse things than poop – like vomit. Last month, my daughter threw up three times on the drive home from vacation. THREE TIMES.

Give me a poopy diaper over vomit any day.

Ok, so now that we’re all on the same page about poop, let’s move on to a few other obstacles…

Other obstacles to cloth diapers

Big expense at the outset. I spent about $250 initially for my cloth diapers, which is less than what most sources told me I would have to spend, but even that was more than necessary. If you don’t have funds available to buy everything you need, just buy what you can and add as you are able.

Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.

No way to wash them. I have read that some laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers, which is why people without washing machines often choose not to cloth diaper. Of course, it’s hardly fair that those who would benefit most from the cost savings of cloth diapers are limited in this way. As the world continues to encourage more sustainable living, we will need to pressure businesses to make a way for these services. However, there are laundering services for diapers. This depends on where you live, but it is worth looking into for anyone who can’t [or doesn’t want to] wash the diapers themselves.

Childcare won’t use them. This is becoming less and less of a problem as cloth diapers become more common, but the only way things change is by encouraging them to change. If your childcare facility is refusing to use cloth diapers, it’s probably because no one has tried to change this policy. In the end, if a childcare facility won’t support your choice of diaper, you should find a childcare option that does. No reason to pay soaring childcare prices and for thousands of disposable diapers. You could also consider diapering in cloth when you are with your child and using disposable for childcare [and other unwilling sitters/situations].

Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.

Now, let’s talk about why to choose cloth diapers…besides that they are so cute.

Why Cloth Diapers [and why your motivation matters]

Cloth diapers are popular because they save money. Lots of money. For example, I have spent no more than $350 [not including the laundry detergent and diaper creams] on my cloth diapers [inserts and covers] and diapering supplies [like diaper sprayer, diaper pail, diaper pail liners and wet bags] to diapers all four of my babies. So, if the average family spends $587 per year per child on diapers [totaling $4,696 for four kids potty-trained at 2-years-old], I saved $4,346 by using cloth diapers.

BUT, I did occasionally buy disposable diapers for certain occasions [which I’ll explain later]. Still, my savings is definitely in the thousands. And looking back on it, it has not been a huge inconvenience – even when I was working up to 32 hours a week.

I have loved using cloth diapers – but not because of the money.

When my second born was one year old, and I was pregnant with my third, I began to take the environmental crisis seriously for the first time in my life. That’s when I really fell in love with cloth diapers.

I’ve known many people to chose cloth diapers because of the money, only to quit later when the going gets rough [and it does get rough at times]. Because, in the end, most people with the means won’t find the savings a strong enough motivation.

However, when my motivation revolves around the “greater good” of lower waste and protecting the planet then it’s much more likely that I will make it work – and not even complain about it.

So what I’m saying, basically, is that why you chose to use cloth diapers is really important for your success. And at the very least, think about the big picture benefits before throwing in the towel.

My Cloth Diapering Experience

So, this is basically how I did it…

Things I bought:

  • Cloth diapers – I bought them on Amazon in sets with covers and inserts and a variety of brands
  • Diaper pail – I just bought a basic tall trash can with a lid
  • Reusable diaper pail liners – I bought two reusable liners from Amazon, which I still use after 7 years [though the elastic is entire shot on both of them at this point]
  • Wet bags – These are basically waterproof bags to carry dirty diapers in when out and about – I bought three, but two would have been enough
  • Reusable wipes – If I had been smarter, I would have just cut up some old cotton t-shirts for this job, but I wasn’t thinking that way back then.
  • Natural diaper rash cream – two brands that I used for my kids: Earth Mama [previously called Earth Mama Angel Baby] and Grandma El’s.
  • Diaper sprayer – I read somewhere that I wouldn’t need a sprayer because healthy poop is solid and falls out of the diaper. Folks, let me tell you, that is a total lie. Hard poop is not healthy poop. You will definitely want a diaper sprayer.

The only thing on this list I had to rebuy was the diaper rash cream. Everything else, I’m still using for my last baby [who is already potty training – yay!].

Using Diapers:

– My babies were 100% breastfed, so all diapers just went straight into the bin and then it was washed [liner and all] every three or four days.

– After six months, poopy diapers had to be sprayed before going in the bin [don’t procrastinate about this task – trust me], but frequency of changes went down so I could wash every five or six days.

– When going out, I brought a change of diaper, a wet bag, and a few cloth wipes.

– I use inserts, but I never actually put them into the pocket of the cover. I just lay one [for infants] or two [for older kids] inserts on top of the cover and wrap up the baby’s bum.

– On long trips [such as week-long vacations], we would buy disposable diapers because of the convenience while traveling. Also, when visiting certain family members who were less than enthusiastic about cloth diapers we would switch to disposable for the trip.

– On a few occasions we switched to reusable diapers for a rash that needed some more powerful diaper cream while I sorted out the wash issue that was causing the rash.

Washing diapers:

Ok, this is by far the hardest part of cloth diapering and the biggest reason people give up. There is so much [often contradictory] information out there about how to wash cloth diapers. And, in the course of seven years, I’ve done it many different ways.

My advice: keep it simple.

First of all, detergent. I originally bought a special detergent for diapers until I read [and can confirm] that a special detergent is unnecessary. Now I just use the regular family detergent [always free of perfumes and dyes] with no problems.

My wash routine is simple. I do a preliminary wash with little [or no] detergent and cold water, then a heavy duty wash with hot water and a little extra detergent. That’s it.

Note, though, that your washing machine and the hardness of your water make a difference. At my last house, which was on a well with very hard water [and an all-house water softener], I had to add a water softener into the washer with my detergent in order to get the diapers clean. How did I figure that out? With lots and lots of trial and error and reading a gazillion articles online. But if the diapers aren’t washed properly, they will cause diaper rashes. If they don’t smell clean, they aren’t clean and you need to re-examine your wash routine.

In seven years, I only stripped my diapers once [because of the aforementioned hard water incident] and bleached them once [basically because I thought they needed it].

My other piece of advice: Don’t give up.

Drying diapers:

Hang to dry whenever possible. I always always hang dry my covers to preserve the elastic. I usually dry my inserts in the dryer, but that is only because I have always lived in a wooded environment where hanging outside means lots of bugs and bird poop [kind of defeating the purpose].

I have hung my diapers to dry in many places around my house: the basement bar [my partner loved that], the heating vent on the ceiling of the laundry room, and nowadays, the dining room chairs…

I hang them up before going to bed and they are dry in the morning.

The wash and dry cycles for cloth diapers really aren’t anything to be intimidated by. When it comes to cloth diapers, you’ll want to remember the old saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You may want to hang that up in the laundry room somewhere as a reminder.

😜

[If you really want to get into all the nitty-gritty of washing and drying diapers, then I recommend reading Erin Tova’s post How to Wash Cloth Diapers or Fluff Love University’s guides for washing diapers.]

What You Should Know about Cloth Diapers

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was SO overwhelmed – by everything, but especially about cloth diapers. What kind do I buy? What is a good price? New or used? What brand? How do I use them? How do I wash them? Etc. There is so much information out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

So, let me just say this: cloth diapering is a “learn-as-you-go” sort of endeavor. Everyone has a different experience, prefers different brands, washes in different ways. That’s ok! Don’t sweat it. Take the plunge. Course correct as needed. And that’s it!

Oh, and always remember that the whole point of cloth diapers is to cover your baby’s bum and catch all the excrement so that it doesn’t get everywhere and make a huge mess. So you could wrap your baby’s butt in a towel, or a t-shirt, or a bandana, or anything that gets the job done. So don’t overthink things.

I’ve had really great experiences with cloth diapers, and I hope that every parent who chooses this route does too. So, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message. I’d love to empower more people to choose this zero waste option for their kids.

Happy diapering!

👶🏼 👶🏼 👶🏼

Karis

The Water Crisis [and my humble attempts to reduce my water waste]

The Water Crisis [and my humble attempts to reduce my water waste]

Most people think of the zero waste movement in terms of refusing plastic bags and disposable straws and fitting your garbage in a mason jar – but zero waste extends beyond just these forms of waste. Yeah, plastic is bad for the planet and filling a fifty-five gallon trash can every week is really bad for the planet, but those aren’t the only forms of waste – they are just the most obvious because they are the kinds of waste we can see.

Another form of waste that we all need to be more mindful of [myself included, but I’ll get to that in a minute] is water waste.

But why is wasting water a big deal? If you live in an industrialized country like the US and water flows freely from every tap in every building, and free water fountains can be found in every business, and a gazillion cases of water bottles are for sale in every store, then it is easy to feel like water is an abundant and readily available resource.

But au contraire.

[Fun fact: I actually grew up in Flint, Michigan, which was all over the news in 2016 for having its own water crisis – proving that the water issues are not only for people in the developing world. Water is a necessity for every human being’s survival and it only takes one bad politician’s stupid decision to bring a water crisis very close to home…literally.]

The Water Crisis

Several years ago, I watched an episode of the Netflix docuseries Explained entitled “The World’s Water Crisis.” Call me ignorant, but I think that was the first time that it really struck me that water is an invaluable resource – and that we may someday run out of it.

[The episode is still on Netflix – I highly recommend watching it.]

Since that time, water has been on my mind. How do we protect this commodity? How do we ensure access for all of humanity? How do we respond to increased demand from industry and agriculture and manufacturing and increased populations? How do we manage the water?!?

Right now, there are over half a billion people on the planet who do not have access to safe water. And unclean water is one of the leading causes of death for children under five in developing countries. And, honestly, with pollution increasing and the population increasing and the global temperature increasing leading to severe weather like droughts – we’ve got to get a handle on this water problem…and FAST.

Here’s some quick stats about the water on our blue planet:

  • 70% of the planet is covered with water, but less than 3% is fresh and less than 1% is fit for consumption.
  • 785 million people on earth don’t have access to safe water. [Charitywater.org]
  • Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene- related diseases. [Water.org]
  • Every day, 6,000 children die of water-related diseases. Young children are the first to get sick and die from waterborne and sanitation-related illnesses—including diarrhoeal diseases and malaria. [UNICEF.org]
  • By 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages. [Worldvision.org]

[Water.org has a great fact sheet with more information on the water crisis here.]

So, what do we do?

Well, for starters, I started supporting Charity:Water as a part of their monthly donor program – called The Spring – that provides clean water to remote and underprivileged communities around the world.

Since we joined in 2019, we have donated/raised more than $9k for clean water projects – impacting 236 people.

That’s pretty awesome.

If you want to help support this organization then you can join me in The Spring by following the link below:

Join The Spring with Karis!

You can donate any amount. Over time, this monthly donation – no matter how small – will add up to lives changed, lives saved, because of clean water.

This is a very simple and tangible way to make a difference in the world.

Two [of the many] reasons [besides what I already shared above] that you should consider giving to Charity: Water:

  1. 100% of donations go to fund clean water projects.
  2. Charity:Water allows you to see exactly where your money is going.

Ok. So anyway, that’s one thing we can all [or mostly all] do to help with the water crisis. The second thing is to reduce our own water waste.

Reducing Water Waste

We all need to take a greater responsibility in the water crisis by conserving water as much as possible to prevent shortages. The people of Cape Town South Africa [in the Netflix documentary] found a way to conserve water in order to push back their Day 0. We should be forward thinking enough to stop wasting water now rather than waiting for doomsday.

For me, reducing water waste is also out of respect for the commodity that it is. Just as I don’t feel comfortable splurging a ton of money on frivolous shit when thousands of children are dying from starvation every day, I also can’t be taking thirty-minute steaming hot showers and running my faucet while doing dishes when I know that there is a kid [most likely a girl] somewhere on the planet who has to walk for hours just to fill a jerrycan of dirty water for her entire family.

And, of course, if you don’t have your own well, saving water will also save you money. So, yay.

So, what do we do?

First, you have to check out this great list compiled by sustainability blogger, Jo, at 43 square meters:

25 Ways to Reduce Your Water Consumption for the Environment and Your Wallet

I’ve already implemented many of these tips, but, as this article proves, there are always more ways to improve!

Some of the things that my family already does to reduce water waste:

  • We wash laundry once a week [except when one of our kids wets the bed] and always with full loads.
  • We bathe our youngest two kids once a week [together] and our older two kids take showers.
  • We turn off the water when we brush our teeth [and are teaching our children to do the same].
  • We don’t buy or eat animal products [except my kids and husband when we are eating out].
  • We have an extremely energy efficient dish washer [apparently only uses a couple gallons of water to run].
  • We buy [nearly] all our clothes second hand.

Still, as part of my New Years Resolution to focus on the water crisis, I’m going to redouble my efforts on reducing my water waste by working on the following things:

  1. Wash fruit and veggies in a bowl rather than running the tap.
  2. Rinsing dishes in a bowl of water instead of running the tap.
  3. Taking shorter showers [this one will be tough].
  4. Getting a rain barrel.
  5. Switch to low-flow shower heads.

So, that’s my game plan for reducing my water waste. At our last home, we lived on a well, so I really had no idea how much water we were using, but since we’ve moved to a house with city water, I am better able to track our water usage [or rather the water company tracks it for me]. Hopefully, I’ll see some improvements in water usage.

There are lots of other things that need to be done about the water issues facing our world. I don’t want to make it sound simple enough that washing my fruit in a bowl of water or donating $100 a month will solve the problem for our future or for the 785 million people currently without clean water, but small changes go a long way, especially if everyone makes them.

Other ideas about reducing water waste? Or suggestions of other organizations working in this sector? Share below!

🚿🚿🚿

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Three Ways to Use Vegetable Scraps

Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.

So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.

Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.

Broccoli Stem Salad

Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.

☹️

Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.

Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!

All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].

And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.

Carrot Top Pesto

I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.

Vegan kale and carrot top pesto

When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.

[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]

Vegetable Broth

My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.

When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.

This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.

👍

Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??

🥕 🥕 🥕

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Sourdough Discard Crackers

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Sourdough Discard Crackers

Now that I’ve been on the sourdough bandwagon for a while, I’ve been anxious to find creative uses for the extra sourdough starter I accumulate from feeding it daily [usually called “discard”]. There are lots of ideas out there, but they never interested me much until I stumbled upon the easiest, simplest sourdough cracker recipe EVER. And so, of course, I want to share it with you, on this most special Super Bowl Sunday, because it is a great snack for a game day, for a party day…or for any day really.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, I’ve seen millions of these sourdough cracker recipes! And I totally agree with you. They are all over the interwebs right now – but, I promise you, this is the simplest recipe. I know because after I found this recipe, I lost it and it took me forever to find it again. Every other recipe I looked at had other ingredients like butter, rye flour,sesame seeds, etc. I couldn’t find a single other recipe that just had four ingredients: flour [any kind], sourdough starter, oil, and salt.

So, if you’re going to a party [which you SHOULDN’T BE – ahem, Covid!] or if you’re throwing a party [don’t even THINK about it!], or you’re doing like us, and pretending it’s a special occasion while sitting in your own living room watching the game by yourself, these crackers make a great snack.

If you don’t currently have a sourdough starter, get yourself one! It took me a long time to find one [without ordering one online], but I realize now that I have lots of friends who have them and all I had to do was ask! Sourdough bread is so delicious and simple to make [albeit time consuming] and only requires a few simple ingredients and is quite impressive to serve at your next family get together [after COVID, of course!].

I mean, who doesn’t want to say that they baked a sourdough boule [which is just a fancy French word for “ball”]?

I’ve even started attempting fancy scoring patterns. My latest attempt:

Eh, needs some work….

Anyway, on to the crackers.

The sourdough discard cracker recipe [which seems too simple to even qualify as a “recipe”] comes from Bon Appetit [You can find the original here.]. But I will summarize and add my own tips and modifications for you.

First, combine 1 cup flour [any kind] with 1 cup sourdough starter [ripe or not], 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/4 tsp salt [or more]. I have used all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and a mix of the two – all with the same delicious results.

Next, mix until the dough comes together and isn’t sticky to the touch. After a few seconds of mixing, the dough becomes smooth and elastic. It isn’t dry, but you can touch it with your finger and it’s comes away clean. This far, every time I’ve made these crackers I have had to add a little bit more flour [just a sprinkle] to get the right consistency.

Then, take a portion [I usually pull about a fifth] and roll it out on a silicone baking mat [or parchment paper if you don’t have a reusable baking mat – but then go buy one!]. No flour needed. The dough should not be sticky [thanks to the oil]. I don’t even flour my rolling pin. The key: roll it thin. I roll mine so thin that I can almost see through them. This is important if you want a crispy cracker [and, I mean, who really wants a chewy cracker???].

Next, cut into crackers shapes with a pizza roller, prick each cracker with a fork, and top with salt and/or seasonings. I use a flaky salt or garlic salt.

Finally, pop in a 350° oven for roughly 15 minutes. I put mine in for exactly 16 minutes, but every oven is different, so some experimentation may be necessary. You’ll know when they are done because they will all turn a uniform [and lovely] golden brown.

[Obviously, repeat the last three steps until you’ve used up all the dough.]

👍

This recipe yields at least five dozen crackers when I make it [usually closer to 100], but I’m not much of a perfectionist, so the sizes are all different and sometimes wonky…so, I don’t promise a certain amount of crackers. BUT I do promise that they will be yummy!

Different colors indicating different baking times, as I experimented with getting the perfect crispy cracker.

Great dips include hummus, guacamole, salsa, peanut butter – or just eat plain, by the handful!

Anyway, I hope you give it a try!

Happy snacking!

😋😋😋

Karis

A Month of Misfits Market [saving the planet by saving produce]

A Month of Misfits Market [saving the planet by saving produce]

Shortly after moving to our small town in southern Illinois last November, I signed up for Misfits Market, a weekly produce delivery service. Here are my thoughts for those considering using this service.

What is Misfits Market?

Misfits Market rescues organic produce that isn’t fit for grocery stores and ships them at a discounted box rate to customers around the country.

“Every box of Misfits produce you order benefits farmers, helps prevent food waste, and ultimately helps save our environment.”

Misfitsmarket.com

Sounded really good to me, almost too good to be true, so I was a little skeptical. I have heard negative reviews of other similar programs promising to “rescue” produce, but now that I’ve received several orders, I believe that a lot of this produce is, in fact, rescued. I’ve found banana-shaped cucumbers, oranges the size of my head, perfectly round sweet potatoes, plenty of bruised [but perfectly edible] apples, and extra large lemons like this one here:

Of course, a lot of the produce seems to be perfectly normal and fit for any grocery retailer, but then again, I’m not even close to a professional in this area.

They also ship the produce in eco-friendly packaging, which you can read more about here.

[This is one of those businesses that I would like to visit so I can really see with my own eyes what’s happening and, more importantly, how it’s happening. Because if this company is really doing what it says it is, then it’s fantastic and everyone should get onboard!]

Why Misfits Market?

Our town has two grocery stores: a Walmart Supercenter and a local grocer which is mostly salvaged and overstocked goods. Neither option is great for produce on a normal day, but I’m used to our CSA produce from our local farm, so I really wanted to find something comparable down here. Shouldn’t be hard, since this is a farming community…or so I thought. I began searching for local farmers markets or CSAs in the area, but couldn’t find anything open or running during the winter season. I did, however, discover Misfits Market.

As with everything, there are pros and cons. I prefer not to have anything shipped if I can pick it up myself and I have advocated repeatedly for eating local produce, so…I am definitely compromising a little bit. However, eating fresh, organic produce from sources I can trust is my number one priority. And I am committed to shop local for all of our other needs, like pantry items, dry goods, etc.

How does Misfits Market work?

Currently on Misfits Market, there were two sizes of weekly boxes. I chose the larger [called “Madness”] for $35 per week. The box comes with fourteen types of produce, 2-4 portions each. [The smaller box is called “Mischief” and has 12 types of produce, 1-2 portions of each for $22.] The price doesn’t include taxes and shipping and I have the option of adding additional items for extra cost from the “market,” which I have always done because I LOVE Brussels sprouts. So with my add-ons, I have spent $45-50 per week on the box.

Each week, I have a window of two days to make selections based on what is currently being rescued from farms around the country. The items are available on a first come, first served basis. I literally have an alarm set on my phone. I make my selections on Saturday and my box is delivered on the following Friday [I could choose my delivery day from a list of three or four options].

Today was my delivery day, and here is what my box contained.

Looks a lot like my CSA box, doesn’t it? [Except for those pesky stickers on all the fruit and several things still wrapped in plastic.]

What I Like

Overall, I am really happy with the service. My box always arrives on time, it is priced really well, I get to choose the items I want, the food is in season, the produce is all organic, and it comes straight to my door [which is super convenient – I’m a mom of four, don’t forget!]. I can also skip a week, pause my shipments, or opt for bi-weekly delivery any time I want. And my experience with customer service has been terrific [more on that below].

As I said before, I would prefer to find local produce, so when the summer comes I will likely pause my deliveries and return to my absolute favorite store: the farmers market! But, in this case, shipped produce is better than my alternatives.

What I Don’t Like

I’ve had a few problems with things missing from my box. But it is very easy to contact them about a missing item [quick form online] and I was issued a credit within twenty-four hours [no hassle and no fuss].

I’m not complaining or trying to discourage anyone from using this service, but be warned – the quantities can be a little strange. One week I ordered Brussels sprouts and I found six tiny sprouts at the bottom of my box. Another time I ordered spaghetti squash and received four ginormous squashes. Sometimes I get two oranges, and other times I get six. When I ordered lettuce, I got TONS of lettuce. You never know. It’s not really a problem, it’s just unexpected. [Part of the fun, I guess?]

Sometimes the produce is not in great shape. I avoid ordering leafy greens [especially delicate ones like butter lettuce] because they have often arrived soggy and brown. Of course, this is part of the issue with shipping produce, and it is to be expected. Not a big enough problem for me to stop using the service.

Overall, I am really happy with Misfits Market. I recommend it, but I also recommend hitting up local farmers markets, looking for CSAs in your area, and making the decision that is best for you. If you don’t have a local option available to you, then this is a good way to get organic produce for your family AND help cut down on food waste [which is a major problem here in America].

So, it’s a win-win! Eat produce and save the planet!

🥦🍐🥬

Karis

Zero Waste: Wooden Dish Brushes

Zero Waste: Wooden Dish Brushes

Since I first went zero waste [four years ago now – wow!], I have wanted to trade every plastic thing I own for the beautiful wooden equivalent. In addition to being biodegradable and better for the planet, these products are just so darn pretty! I dreamed of having one of those zero waste Insta-worthy homes where everything is natural and simple and minimal…however, in reality, making a full switch is in itself wasteful. So, I have been making due with what I have until what I have breaks down or gets lost or ruined or whatever. Then I replace it with the beautiful alternative.

Well, the time finally came for the dish brushes to be replaced. For years I have been using the $.97 plastic variety from IKEA [I am hanging my head in shame], but now that I know better, I upgraded to a set of brushes that are beautiful and functional and won’t still be in existence at the end of time [which may be coming sooner than we think with the current state of things].

Anyway…I digress.

Here is the low-down on these brushes. I ordered them from Wild Minimalist, whose newsletters I have been receiving for…I dunno…four years and never ordered from because [as aforementioned] I wasn’t replacing anything until it became absolutely necessary. But I was excited to give the company a try because I like supporting small businesses who are trying to do the right thing. Other than it taking a looong time to receive them, I have no complaints about my transaction with Wild Minimalist and will likely order from them again in the future.

Let’s talk about the price

Here’s the breakdown of my order.

So, let me just point out the obvious here. These things ain’t cheap. Did you see where I said I was previously using plastic dish brushes from IKEA that cost me $.97? Well, this is the thing. It costs money to do things right. You can [almost always] count on this: if the price is too good to be true, that’s the only thing that’s good about it. A cheap price gets you a cheap product and a guilty conscience. In the case of my $.97 dish brushes, my conscience will suffer because they will rot in a landfill FOREVER.

So, this time around I’m paying more money for something that won’t last as long.

I know, I know. I sound like a crazy person. But this is the change that has to happen. We have to care more about what happens to our stuff and a whole heck of a lot less about how much it costs.

Trust me, I’m not a fan of spending money needlessly – or overpaying for products. But it’s not overpaying for a product when it was made ethically, fairly, and sustainably. That is not overpriced, that is just the price of doing things right.

Let’s talk about the product…

Ok, so now that we’ve got the price tag issue out of the way, let me tell you – I freaking LOVE these guys! They are so much more aesthetically pleasing to have on my kitchen counter. And they work great. Of course, it doesn’t take much for a brush to function as a brush…but, still, I’m happy with the work they are doing for me. As you can see, I went all-in and got three varieties of brushes: the pot scrubber, the bottle brush, and the dish brush. I love and use them all, but truthfully, I could have done with just the pot scrubber and bottle brush. The great thing about the dish brush, though, is that you can order replacement heads for when they wear out – which they will do because [like I said before] they are supposed to wear out! That’s literally why I bought them!!

The handles are made of beechwood and you can choose horsehair or tampico bristles. My bottles brush and dish brush have the horsehair bristles which are nice and soft. The pot scrubbers have tampico bristles which are much sturdier and better for scrubbing the crusty stuff.

Tampico fiber: a natural fiber made from the Mexican agave plant.

👍

For maintenance, keep them dry [which is why I store mine upright in a jar] and oil the handle occasionally. [I haven’t bought the oil yet, but I intend to because it extends the life of all wooden utensils, cutting boards, bowls, etc.]

For disposal, when they are completely worn out, compost the entire thing [remove the bristles and compost with the brush], except the metal part of the dish brush [which should be recycled].

I also got the dish soap block. I am all-in on the bar soap bandwagon. Talk about reducing waste! Since I switched to bar soaps and shampoos and conditioners and body bars and deodorant and dish soap I have saved…like A TON of plastic bottles from going into the rubbish bin [well, my rubbish bin at least]. So, get this awesome soap block and put it like I do, right next to your sink. Then rub the cute little brush on it, and wash away. It’s fabulous. No unsightly plastic Dawn bottles on my countertop, no siree bob.

So, there you have it. Another zero waste swap in the books!

I hope that when [and ONLY WHEN] it’s time for you to replace your dish brushes, you’ll join me in the wooden dish brush club. [That’s not a real thing. I just made that up, but that would be fun!]

Let’s quit this plastic crap for good!

Happy Dish Washing!

🧼🧼🧼

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Veganism [Do I feed my kids meat?]

Lessons in Motherhood and Veganism [Do I feed my kids meat?]

Now that I’m a vegan, I have to face my own inconsistencies about how I feed my kids.

The Conundrum

For years I was a moderate vegan or “vegan before six,” and I never changed my kids diet. We have always eaten a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes anyway. But my kids also got yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken nuggets, burgers, ice cream and even the occasional macaroni and cheese. It didn’t seem so bad.

Now, however, I’m fully vegan because of my own personal convictions about the healthful, ethical and environmental necessity of a fully plant-based diet – so how can I, with a clear conscience, feed my kids animal products?

[Side note to clarify my statement above: I believe it is unhealthy to eat meat in the large quantities that we do in America, and I believe that it is unethical because our demand for large quantities of cheap meat has caused significant suffering for the animals we consume, and I believe that meat and animal products are the leading cause of damage to our planet. I am not saying that any meat at any time ever is wrong or unhealthy, but rather that in this current time with our current systems in place and our current ecosystems at stake, it is best – even necessary – to be vegan. I wrote in more depth about my reasons for becoming vegan in my post Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]]

I obviously want my kids to be healthy. In fact, I care even more about their health than my own [hence why I hide the junk food for after they are in bed…and maybe partly so I don’t have to share…], so if I believe that Veganism is the healthiest and most ethical way of eating, am I wrong for feeding my kids the traditional American diet of Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and go-gurt?

But on the other hand, is it right of me to force them into a vegan lifestyle [purely by omission of all animal products]? Will they feel like they are “missing out”? Will they resent me?

But then again, is it right to raise them to be carnivores? Will they later ask me why I forced them to eat poor butchered animals? Will they resent me?

Do you see my dilemma?!?

Reflecting on this made me think about my own upbringing. I was raised in an omnivorous [mostly carnivorous] family and no one bothered to ask me whether I wanted to eat animals or drink their fluid secretions or not. I was given cows milk from the moment I stopped nursing until…well, milk was a big staple in my childhood home. We consumed at least a gallon per week. Meat was the main component of every meal and ice cream was the dessert of choice after every meal.

So basically, we ate like typical Americans.

And I’m not mad at my parents in the least for feeding me animals. They fed me and I am immensely grateful. But now that I have a choice, I choose not to eat animals, which is different than my family, my partner’s family, and, quite frankly, every other human being I know on the planet […except one coworker once].

Maybe that’s what’s so tough about choosing veganism for my family – it is different, and different is a little scary. Honestly, I don’t mind making choices for myself that go against the grain [I rather enjoy it, in fact], but it’s harder to make those choices for my kids, knowing that my choices will greatly influence their worldviews and their lifelong habits. Even if I believe it’s the best thing to do, I know that it won’t always be received well. [So help me, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I get enough protein…] I know that my kids will eventually realize that they are different and I don’t want to force them to be outsiders.

The Crux

As parents, we make a lot of choices for our kids. I, personally, make a lot of controversial and unpopular choices for my kids [at least in my circles]. So maybe choosing to feed them only plant-based foods will not be any different than my decision to, say, not take them to church or not hit [aka “spank”] them or not circumcise my son or any of the other ways that we choose to do things differently than other families.

What is most important to me is that the choices I make for my kids are intentional, not merely the result of “going with the flow,” not just doing it because everyone else does or because that’s how it’s always been done, and not eating without considering why and where and how and how much and to what end.

I’ve come to discover that eating, like everything else in life, is a moral choice. And what I feed my kids is an even greater moral responsibility.

The Conclusion

So, I am going to switch my family to a vegan diet when we are at home. I am not going to be the meat nazi at restaurants or the rude guests at dinner parties, I promise.

I am going to model healthy eating habits, including not binging on junk food, not snacking late at night, not starving myself, and not eating animal products. I am not going to force my kids to become vegans nor discourage them from eating a wide variety of foods.

I am going to make vegan food delicious and exciting by trying all the recipes and being creative. I am not going to be heartbroken if my kids don’t love being vegan and choose a carnivorous lifestyle for themselves.

I am going to be flexible and course-correct if this plan doesn’t serve my family best and I am not going to be upset about it.

Anyone else rethinking how they feed their kids????

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas [and my FINAL shopping audit]

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas [and my FINAL shopping audit]

I know this is the time to talk about resolutions and the year ahead, but I’m still basking in the glow of the holidays. Despite being an extremely strange month, December turned out to be pretty great. We managed to celebrate the holidays with our 25 days of Christmas activities AND have a low waste Christmas despite being in a new house, in a new town, and with only the clothes on our backs.

I haven’t written a single thing all month because I’ve been focused on my family and our transition to our new town [and quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like it]. But of course, we’ve been celebrating the Christmas season like every other year.

The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas

Our family Christmas tradition is to celebrate the whole month long with a holiday-themed activity every day from December 1st to December 25th – which I call the Carlson Countdown to Christmas. This is usually rather stressful for me, trying to plan and organize an activity for every day, which range from a simple paper craft with the kids to ice skating at a local rink. Because of Covid this year, I took a more laid back approach. We did something every day, but I didn’t stress it or plan in advance. I just let us go where the wind blew us each day. It was really great.

Some highlights from our Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2020 [or at least what I took pictures of]:

Christmas countdown paper chains
Christmas tree pancakes
Socially distanced Santa Claus
Homemade [vegan] hot cocoa with aquafaba marshmallow fluff
My favorite tradition – decorating gingerbread houses! [And I even baked the houses from scratch this year.]
Family time on Christmas morning.

Tips for a [Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas

I have by no means written the book on zero waste living, [Several other people have written excellent books on it though like Zero Waste by Shia Su and 101 Ways to go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg], but this is how we cut down on Waste at Christmastime.

  • Buy used gifts. I’ve written about this so much that everyone is probably sick of hearing it – but I’m trying really hard to normalize giving used gifts, so you’re going to hear about it again. The benefits of giving used gifts are numerous, but one of the best things about it [especially for kids] is that the toys don’t come wrapped in plastic with a million twist ties in a cardboard box that is taped so securely that it takes five whole minutes to open while your kid is whining to play with their new toy. My son was ecstatic when Brett drove his new remote control car into the living room on Christmas morning, and my daughter didn’t have to wait to put her American Girl doll right into the new bed we gave her. And there was no waste from these gifts.
  • Use reusable wrapping. At some point when I was growing up, my parents gave up on wrapping our individual gifts [there were five of us kids, after all], and instead gave us each a black trash bag with all of our gifts inside. Economical for sure, but here’s one better – reusable clothe Christmas bags. My friend MADE these beautiful bags for me and I love them so so so much! But if you don’t have a friend as awesome as mine [and you don’t have sewing skills yourself], then I’ve seen similar bags for sale around the holidays, and I’m sure Etsy would provide lots of options to buy them.
  • Use [and reuse] gift bags. Whenever possible, use gift bags for wrapping because, when treated carefully, they can be reused indefinitely. After the gifts were open, I gathered all the bags, neatly folded them, and even tucked the paper inside to use next year. I keep a small collection of gift bags for various occasions to use throughout the year, which keeps me from having to buy bags for awkward gifts that can’t be wrapped with my brown paper.
  • Recycle everything possible. Once all the gifts were opened, we went through all the packaging and paper and divided it into what could be recycled [cardboard, hard plastic, plain paper] and what was trash [ribbons, bows, paper with glitter or sparkles]. In our new small town, recycling consists of taking paper/cardboard, plastic, glass, and cans to “the dump” on Saturdays. [Can’t wait to expound on this process for you at a later date, but quite frankly, I’m just relieved that this town has a recycling system of any kind in place.]

More tips: Don’t use glittery or shiny wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, as these items cannot typically be recycled. I love to wrap gifts in simple brown paper and tie with twine. After all, “brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things.”

😜

For my family, it’s important to have a happy Christmas where we celebrate love and time together and giving gifts – but without all the consumerism, expense, guilt and waste that typically accompany the holiday season.

December Shopping Audit

I’m done with this audit bullsh*t. Hallelujah!

Happy [Belated] Holidays and Happy New Year, ya’ll! Stay safe tonight and wear your masks!! ✌️

🎄🎄🎄

Karis