Vegan Thanksgiving [surviving the carnivorous feast]

Vegan Thanksgiving [surviving the carnivorous feast]

I bet there are vegans out there who are lucky enough to be surrounded by other vegans, or at least know some other vegans. And they probably had tofurkey for Thanksgiving with vegan stuffing and steamed vegetables and dinner rolls with vegan butter.

Well, that’s not how it happened for me.

Unfortunately, not a single other member of my family, my extended family, or even my partner’s extended family is so much as on a diet, let alone vegan. Same goes for my small group of friends. So this year, at my in-laws Thanksgiving feast this year there was only one thing on the entire menu that wasn’t either cooked in, slathered with, or dunked in some sort of animal product.

…and that was the dish that I brought…

So, this is what my thanksgiving meal looked like:

[This is a dessert plate, ya’ll.]

I roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts using only extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. [And I could only have a roll because my mother-in-law set aside one for me before they were all coated in melted butter.]

Everyone else ate turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, ambrosia, and dinner rolls.

Dessert was obviously much worse, but I still got into the holiday spirit with my cinnamon glazed pecans.

Of course everyone else had pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate mousse pie, cupcakes, ice cream, and sugar cookies.

While it might sound like I missed out, in reality it felt really good not to stuff myself to the brim and then top it off with a round of desserts. I had everything I needed for a delicious thanksgiving meal: vegetables, bread, and my candied pecans for dessert. It was actually a really good holiday.

My Thanksgiving didn’t look like it has in years past, but I was totally okay with that.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family or friends. And, despite the year it’s been, I hope everyone could recall all of the reasons we have to be thankful. For me, it was my health, my privilege, my sweet children, my partner and our exciting new adventure that is just beginning!

🦃 🦃 🦃

Karis

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

Veganism and Dining Out [or ordering in]

As promised in my last post [Simplifying Veganism], I’m back to talk about how I eat at restaurants as a vegan. There are already plenty of good resources out there that provide vegan restaurant lists and menu modifications for popular restaurants [like this list of Vegan Restaurant Options by PETA] so I won’t rehash specifics. [BUT, did you know that Olive Garden breadsticks are VEGAN?!? That’s not real butter, folks!!!! See? Being vegan ain’t that bad!]

Instead of specific lists or menu options, I just want to share how I go about figuring out what to eat at restaurants – something that might be considered a stressful experience for many people.

In order to eat vegan at restaurants, I follow a three-step plan, which goes as follows:

1. Plan ahead. This is rule number one for eating healthy in general, so I’ve been practicing this for years. Before I go to a restaurant, I look up the menu and make a choice before getting seated and seeing all the pictures of spinach and artichoke dips and bacon avocado burgers. If there aren’t any vegan menu items, I begin to look for ways I can alter meals to make them vegan. For instance, pizza usually becomes vegan by opting for no cheese, which may not sound like pizza, but is a super satisfying way to partake in family pizza night – and get your fill of vegetables. [My kids like my vegan pizza as well!]

Thin crust pizza with no cheese and all the veggies from Papa Johns.

[Side note: we LOVE making homemade pizzas and a while back we started making a salad pizza, which is basically just salad on top of baked pizza crust and it is DELICIOUS! Though I suspect it should technically be classified as a flatbread, it is a great way to feel like you are eating pizza, even when you’re not.]

2. Try to find a vegan-friendly restaurant. These little up-and-coming gems need our support, so if it’s in your power to choose the restaurant, go for the cute vegan shop on the corner. If you, like me, have nothing but Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and McDonalds at your disposal, then just move on to step number three.

3. Get Creative. One night my husband and I had a rare opportunity to go out without the kids [!!!!] and we wound up at Applebee’s. Turns out the only things that are vegan at Applebee’s are the French fries and the wedge salad [without the dressing, of course, which pretty much just makes it a wedge of lettuce]. So, I ate French fries.

Let’s clarify a common misconception while we’re on the topic. Being vegan does not equal healthy. Yes, it does avoid a lot of unhealthy foods, but there are still plenty of unhealthy foods available for vegans. For instance, sugar is vegan, margarine is vegan, skittles and starburst are vegan, French fries are vegan, Haagen Daz dairy-free ice cream is vegan and absolutely AMAZING, but also most definitely not healthy in the least. And did I mention, Olive Garden breadsticks are vegan?!? So clearly, vegan and healthful are not synonymous.

Now, back to the Applebee’s French fries…

That night, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of steps one and two. However, I also learned that you can always find something vegan or ask for something to be made vegan.

Here are some of the ways I find vegan options at restaurants [organized by cuisine type]:

Soup and sandwich shops like Subway and Panera and Jimmy Johns are great for vegans. Pretty much every sandwich shop nowadays has a vegetarian option and usually all you have to do is ask for no cheese and you’ve got a vegan sandwich. Vegetable or bean soups are also usually vegan.

I’m currently in LOVE with Panera’s vegetable soup! [And the Greek salad without the feta cheese.]

Mexican restaurants are really good choices because Mexican foods are easily made vegan by swapping beans for the meat and holding the cheese. I LOVE Mexican food and I am SO GLAD that I can go to pretty much any Mexican restaurant and order a vegan taco loaded with beans and vegetables and spicy salsa and guacamole mmmmm yum! And the chips are usually vegan too. [Always check, of course.]

Sushi and poke bowl restaurants like Poke Bros and Wok ‘n Fire have vegan California rolls or create your own options that can be easily made vegan.

Pretty much any pizza place as I’ve already mentioned can easily make a vegan pizza by holding the cheese. Most pizza places have vegan crusts and marinara.

Breakfast and brunch restaurants usually have oatmeal as a menu option and bagels are also usually vegan [pass on the cream cheese obviously].

Breakfast from Panera

[Another side note: pancakes and muffins and quick breads can very easily be made vegan and while my kids and partner are not vegan, it doesn’t hurt them to eat that way so I have switched all my baking over to vegan recipes – and, you may be surprised to hear that Brett has given glowing reviews of my vegan banana muffins calling them the best I’ve ever made! I’ve also switched my kids to almond or oat milk for cereal in the mornings – which they only get on weekends – because they can’t even tell a difference!]

American restaurants often have a veggie burger available, but if not, salads sans cheese and meat and with a vegan dressing is a good option. Also, there are typically vegetable sides that are vegan – plate of steamed broccoli, anyone?

Pasta and Italian restaurants are easy to eat at because noodles and marinara are typically vegan. Pass on the cheese and the meatballs, but enjoy a filling plate of spaghetti. Of course, I wouldn’t constitute that as a very healthy meal, but it is vegan. I love that Noodles and Company has started offering zoodles [spiralized zucchini noodles] in place of traditional spaghetti for the more health-conscious people like myself. I would much prefer a bowl of zucchini over a bowl of refined carbohydrates.

Pesto zoodles from Noodles and Company. Warning: zoodles get juicy

So, that’s my simple plan for eating vegan out [or, thanks to covid, ordering in].

Stay tuned for a post about what I eat at this years Thanksgiving gathering with my carnivorous in-laws.

#savetheturkeys

Gonna need some vegan wine!!!

🍷 🍷 🍷

Karis

October Shopping Audit [and WE’RE MOVING! – for real this time]

October Shopping Audit [and WE’RE MOVING! – for real this time]

In the beginning of 2020 we were getting ready to move to downtown Chicago because of Brett’s new job with the Chicago Cubs. Then came the pandemic, shut downs, layoffs, unemployment, murders, protests, presidential campaigns, homeschooling, virtual marathons, two new jobs for me and a really great job offer for Brett and, between the two of us, lots and LOTS of job interviews…

And here we are.

We have finally made it into the final stretch of 2020 and we are once again planning to move for Brett’s [new] new job. This time, however, we aren’t moving to the city. Quite the opposite. We are moving to southern Illinois, to a small farming town with a population of 5,500.

This is going to take some getting used to…

I’ve always lived in suburbs, but my heart has always been in the city. I like the idea of living in the country, but there are some big downsides to living in a small town. For instance, I’m going to have to figure out how to recycle in a town that doesn’t have recycling pickup.

😳

Also, I’m going to have to drive forty-five minutes to the closest bulk store.

😩

AND everyone in the town voted for Trump!!!!

😱

[Well, I do actually know of one democrat in the town, but as she said, “We are few and far between.”]

Oh man.

But there are up-sides to the small town too. My in-laws will be a mile away. [That may not sound great to some people, but I love my in-laws!] The living is cheap. The pace is slow. The people are friendly. The vegetables are fresh and the corn is a-plenty! Also, they act like covid doesn’t exist down there – probably because it pretty much doesn’t.

So before I get into our shopping last month, I wanted to give you a heads up that this blog is heading south and I’m going to be basically starting from scratch on the whole zero waste thing.

Now, let’s get to the point.

What we bought

Well, this past month was our absolute worst when it comes to spending, but our issue wasn’t buying stuff – it was buying food.

So, I’ve got to focus on getting that under control going forward.

Car expenses

We spent $51.38 on car parts so we could change a headlight bulb and solve an emissions problem.

Household expenses

I bought new castile soap for making dish soap which cost $13.80 for six bars. We also spent $139.32 for the materials to replace our second bathroom floor before we sell the house [which, unfortunately, had to be done]. Brett did all the work himself, so this was a savings for sure.

Isn’t that pretty?!

Homeschooling expenses

I also spent $65.50 on school supplies like a rock collection and geodes for our unit on the rock cycle [definitely wasn’t necessary, so I chalk that up to a moment of weakness].

Totally worth the money, just for this adorable photo!

Clothing/Personal expenses

Brett bought me some clothes for $115 as a “surprise” [which is what he calls spending money on me without telling me because he knows I won’t approve but will be guilted into accepting]. It is actually very comfy, ethical and sustainable underwear, bras and yoga pants, so I guess overall he did good. I bought a meLuna menstrual cup for $30.40 because the one I have just ain’t working for me anymore. [I plan to review this zero waste menstrual solution eventually.]

Miscellaneous Expenses

Brett paid $31.00 for a new “real ID” which will be mandatory for flying next year. I picked up heavy duty packing tape for $8.99 – for the obvious reason. And we spent $33.00 on firewood on our camping trip.

[The beer bottle came with the fire pit… 🤷‍♀️]

Our final big expense [which was actually a service rather than a product and therefore doesn’t typically count] was $500 for family photos.

Since we are moving, I had to have the photos in the woods behind our house which we absolutely ADORE and I will miss so, so much.

So that was our spending for October.

I mean, it could have been worse…

Instead of buying used Halloween costumes as I typically do [because Halloween is my FAVORITE HOLIDAY EVER!], we just let the kids pick from the dress up box.

What a cute little lion! 🥰

We also gave away A TON of stuff. The moment we made the decision to move, I went through closets and clothes piles and random clutter and CLEANED HOUSE, literally and figuratively. It was the kind of fun that only I enjoy.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to new adventures ahead for our family! I’ll keep you posted!

🧳 🧳 🧳

Karis

Zero Waste: Cloth Napkins

Zero Waste: Cloth Napkins

Of all the zero waste swaps we’ve made over the past few years, the switch to cloth napkins has been my absolute favorite. They are so much more beautiful than the quilted, flower-printed, paper kind. Just by setting the table with cloth napkins, our family dinners are instantly elevated to restaurant class – even if nothing else about the meal is fancy. And they are so practical because I have little kids and the number of flimsy paper napkins that we would need at each meal is enormous.

How to use them…

Originally, I was afraid to make the switch because I worried that guests would be afraid to use them and that my children would destroy them and that the added laundry would be a hassle. Turns out, however, that the napkins are the least hassle of all the swaps. I have even used them for big dinner parties [well, “big” being 15-20 people which is all my house can hold]. When we are done, they just go straight into the washer to be cleaned with the next load.

They definitely get messy, but they come clean in the wash and in our experience, each person only needs one no matter how messy the meal is.

Where to get them…

I bought mine from World Market years ago when we were first making the switch, but now I wish I had just made some myself. You can also buy them at home goods stores such as Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, and don’t forget Amazon! But, as you know, I’m not a big proponent of buying things, so don’t buy them if you can make them! Or check out Etsy. Or pay a friend who sews to make some for you.

I love having a variety of patterns and the ones that I bought are really beautiful. I have also been gifted a few packages of cloth napkins. [One of the great things about identifying as a low waster is that you will often receive AWESOME, practical and beautiful gifts! I have received so many wonderful zero waste tools as gifts and I am so grateful for my understanding and thoughtful family and friends!]

Why to have them…

The better question is why would I want to continually buy paper napkins bound for the trash when I can use beautiful, reusable cloth napkins instead? It has been four years since I have bought any paper napkins, and I have no intention to ever going back.

Of course, there is an environmental cost to both paper napkins and cloth napkins. Reusable cloth napkins require water and energy to produce and to wash; and though paper napkins require much less water and energy to produce, they are only used once before being thrown into the trash where they will continue to have a negative affect on the environment in a landfill.

Over the lifetime of a cloth napkin [which should be as long as a persons lifetime – if not longer], reusable napkins are much more environmentally friendly.

And they will save money.

And they will make your mealtime fancy.

Here are some of our beautiful cloth napkins.

Do you use cloth napkins? Why or why not???

🍽

Karis

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September was supposed to be the month that we revised the budget to reflect our new income; however, our income continues to fluctuate, as does our spending. Despite a lack of strict regulation, we still aren’t spending very much because we have effectively made ourselves into “savers” rather than spenders. In fact, over the course of September, the combined total of money we saved, invested, and gave away was significantly greater than what we spent – even including our bills.

On a reduced income, I’d say that’s pretty good!

Also in September, I participated in Charity: Water’s September Campaign [raising money to get clean water to 20k people in Mali] and raised over $1,000 in addition to the $200 that I donated toward the cause. I am planning a larger campaign of my own to raise money for Charity:Water starting in January.

That, my friends, is where the good news ends. We had car trouble [tire trouble, more specifically] which cost us $575.24!!! We bought two books for my father-in-law’s birthday for $37.48 and I bought several books for my kids about religions and mythology that I couldn’t find at the library for $77.97 [these books were obviously SUPER important to me because I haven’t bought a book – other than as a gift – in over three years]. I bought a pair of used black pants for work from Goodwill for $7.00, which have turned out to be my favorite pair of pants EVER [now, that’s $7 well spent!].

But the real trouble started when it was time to get a gift for my daughter’s third birthday. Per our gift policy, Brett and I found a beautiful Mickey Mouse racetrack used for $30, and I planned to take my older two kids to Goodwill to pick out their own gifts for their sister. The night before her birthday we waited for Josephine to go to bed and then snuck out of the house to go shopping. Unfortunately, Goodwill has shorter hours than I realized [thanks, COVID!], so it – and all the other resale shops – were closed for the night.

Out of desperation, I took the kids to Walgreens [because it was in the Goodwill parking lot] and they each picked out a gift for their sister.

🤷‍♀️

Sometimes I have to bend my own rules.

The incredibly cheap [and basically worthless] walkie-talkies that Theo picked out and the plastic tea set that Evangeline chose were the first brand-new toys that we have purchased in three years. I was very nearly depressed about it – especially seeing all that plastic upon plastic wrapped in plastic entering my home – but the next morning, Josephine was so excited to see her racetrack and open her gifts from her siblings.

It made the whole thing [almost] worth it.

Josephine painting with the new paint sticks she received from her Aunt Amber [and cousins] for her birthday.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

August Shopping Audit [and my new work boots, round 2]

August Shopping Audit [and my new work boots, round 2]

Well, the saga continues….

Last month I wrote about my new job that required work boots, which I found used on OfferUp [yay!]. But two weeks after starting, I was offered a position in management which comes with a dress code that includes [but is not limited to] a collared shirt and the covering of my tattoos [two of which are on my forearms].

Well, despite the positives of the new position [higher pay, immediate health benefits, and more tuition assistance], the dress code was a real bummer. Partially because I love my tattoos, gosh darn it! And I work in a warehouse that’s been 90° even at 4am which makes wearing long sleeves totally unbearable! But it’s a bummer mostly because, other than the purchase of three pairs of panties with a Christmas gift card last year, I haven’t bought a single item of clothing in over three years.

All that changed this month. I bought a total of three polos and five button-down dress shirts [all used from local people] and two pairs of sleeves to cover my tattoos [brand new because who really has these things lying around???]. Oh, and another pair of boots because my husband, the fashion guru, said it was not acceptable to wear my current beat-up orange-laced work boots with dress shirts.

So I bought this nice pair of black Timberlands from a very nice woman who lives near me and only wore them once! I had just been reading about Timberland’s commitment to sustainability in Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, The Conscious Closet [which I highly recommend], so I was excited to find a pair for only $35 on OfferUp!

On a positive note, I have resisted buying any new pants for the job. I currently own two pairs of jeans which I rotate and I borrowed some pants that didn’t fit my sister-in-law. I also am still refusing to buy any new socks, underwear or undershirts, despite all of mine [save my three new pairs of panties] being full of holes and basically threadbare. I kid you not. If they weren’t my intimates, I would share pictures. Instead of buying, and thanks to Ms. Cline’s influence in the aforementioned book, I’m taking up mending and darning.

I’ll let you know how that goes…

Besides the things I bought for my job, we also purchased some used LEGO sets for the kids, a used tool box for Brett and a new cast iron Dutch oven [and by “we” I mean Brett because I wouldn’t have bought any of it, but I’ve been too busy working and homeschooling to even pay attention]. I, however, did buy $50 worth of school supplies [500 sheets of construction paper, a set of acrylic paints, a wooden tangram puzzle set and a bag of math manipulatives] but I had a gift card so I only spent $3 after tax — so does it really count???

Next month, the plan is to rebuild the budget since this Covid situation [and our new financial status] appears to be sticking around for the long-haul. We’ve kind of been flying by the seat of our pants since it all began in March, but now that our income is stabilizing [fingers crossed], it’s time to revisit the budget and review our financial goals and priorities and recommit ourselves to intentional spending, giving, and saving.

So that’s hopefully what I’ll be sharing about next month. But, really, who even knows??? It feels totally pointless to even make a plan at this point – which is why my posting is so sporadic. Well, that and because I’m operating on very little sleep and basically zero alone time these days.

Ah, life. What an adventure!

😜

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

Carlson Coronavirus Update [and our trip to the zoo]

Carlson Coronavirus Update [and our trip to the zoo]

Life has changed A LOT since I last posted an update about my family. My partner was laid off at the end of last month. I am now working two additional part-time jobs [on top of personal training, which has been painfully slow due to everyone’s understandable hesitation to return to the gym]. I have officially withdrawn my daughter from the public school system and began plans to homeschool her and my son [who would be in preschool].

We are not moving now. At least, not until Brett finds a job – which may take us far away, or we may stay here. Who knows.

🤷‍♀️

This is a very strange time of uncertainty for my family, but I’m actually really excited. I’m excited about the opportunity to work more away from home [stay-at-home momming was never my calling]. I’m excited about the possibility of moving to a new place. I’m excited about teaching my kids at home with a hands-on, literature-focused approach that you just can’t find in a traditional classroom. And I’m excited about all of the time we’ve been able to spend as a family enjoying the sunshine this summer.

We even went to the zoo yesterday, which was so strange with everyone in masks and all of the pathways marked with one-way arrows – but the animals were totally oblivious to how crazy our world has become.

Because masks were required at the zoo, I had to make masks for the whole family. I used some old clothes that I had been hanging onto as scrap materials and my little $20 portable sewing machine. Despite that [and my total lack of sewing experience], I think they turned out pretty well. I put it off for a long time, but since the mask era is most likely here to stay for a while and I can’t keep my kids at home forever, I finally got it done.

😷

Anyway, I primarily wanted to let you know that I will not be posting very frequently for a little while as I transition into my new jobs [one of them is from 3-9am] and plan for homeschooling [which I intend to start mid August].

I still need to post my Q2 book reviews [I read some AMAZING books] and a series of simplicity parenting posts and a motherhood post about STRESS.

😜

I hope you and all of your loved ones are healthy and well and enjoying this summer – despite everything that is happening around the world.

☀️ ☀️ ☀️

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

[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