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:
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.
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.
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
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!
I just got back from a relaxing [and also safe and socially distanced] vacation with my family at the beach.
Before our trip, Brett and I got our Covid vaccines [on the day they became available for our age group].
But now we’re back home and it’s back to the reality of homeschooling [only a few weeks left!] and being at home with my four kiddos.
For that reason, I’m going to be writing a few posts about simple-living, low-wasting and minimalist parenting. This is an area that is extremely underrepresented in the zero waste and minimalist communities, probably because having children complicates both of these goals tremendously – but that doesn’t mean we throw the whole thing out.
I became a [nearly] zero-wasting minimalist after I already had three children, but I noticed immediately that the people at the forefront of these movements didn’t have children. [I’ve never seen a mother who is able to fit a years worth of trash into a jar.]
When it comes to kids, the aim should be simple and intentional living and – as is true in all areas of life – that goal will in turn reduce waste and clutter and excess. It will also give kids a childhood full of curiosity, discovery, imagination, creativity, and exploration. As a parent, it’s my job to protect my kids from all the “extras” that threaten to monopolize their attention, rather than the common view of parenthood which says we need to constantly provide toys, gadgets, activities and structured time for our children.
But, anyway, I’ll get to that later on. Right now, I want to start at the very beginning.
“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
If there is one thing I wish I could tell every woman, it’s this: You don’t have to fear childbirth.
From the time we were old enough to absorb society’s subliminal messaging, we’ve been condition to believe that childbirth is a) terrifying, b) excruciating, c) dangerous, and d) a process that we cannot handle without medical intervention.
None of this is true. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be, if women could regain faith in their own ability to give birth.
[And I’m not only talking to women here, because fathers need to be active participants in childbirth as well and can encourage and strengthen women’s belief in themselves, if only they would also believe that childbirth is natural and that women are capable. Childbirth is NOT something that women need to be saved from.]
Contrary to popular media portrayals, childbirth is like a marathon – really hard work [yes], very painful at times [for sure], but totally achievable with proper training, determination, and a belief in our body’s natural processes – not to mention a totally powerful and praiseworthy achievement that women should get the credit for – not a medical team.
And, let me tell you, the reward at the end is totally worth all of it.
Giving birth to my four babies were the most empowering moments of my life. [I’ve run two marathons, which are also empowering, but they don’t even come close to giving birth.] It breaks my heart that so many women view their birth experiences as scarring or traumatizing or, at the very least, experiences they would rather forget. [When I was pregnant many, MANY women shared their horror stories with me – which FYI, is not a nice thing to do to pregnant women.]
Listen, childbirth does NOT have to be a bad experience!
We need to simplify childbirth by getting back to the basics, by believing in ourselves and trusting our instincts, and by birthing our way.
In our society we discredit pretty much every aspect of womanhood, including a woman’s ability to know what is best for her and her baby at childbirth. The fact that we have handed over control of childbirth to men [who were initially the only doctors when birth moved from the home to the hospital] is just another consequence of our patriarchal society which tells us that men know best…even about a process which is uniquely woman’s. [Forgive my feminist soapbox here, but we really can’t talk about childbirth without talking about feminism.]
It’s time to take back control of childbirth.
I chose to give birth my way, but, I assure you, it was not easy. I had to fight [and fight really frickin hard] to be able to give birth in the way that I wanted, rather than in the way that is most convenient for the medical staff, hospital, and obstetrician. It took me an entire nine months of scouring the suburbs of Chicago during my first pregnancy to find a practice that would allow me to have an unhindered, natural birth in a hospital – and I had to travel an hour and pay out of pocket for it. And truthfully, I still had to advocate for myself pretty much the whole time. [“No, thank you. I won’t wear the frumpy hospital gown that someone might have died in yesterday.” Also, why the hell do they call it a gown??? More like a sheet with arm holes.]
So, my next three births were at home, where I could give birth in peace and quiet, surrounded only by loved ones whom I trust. It’s the only way to have a baby without the uncomfortable addition of strangers staring at your vagina, sterile beds with stirrups, fluorescent lights, beeping machines, and a long list of nonsensical rules about what I can’t eat, whether I can take pictures, and who can be present.
And because I chose home birth, I have a wealth of wonderful, positive memories about my birth experiences. And what is more, I also have a sense of my own ability to do hard things – even things that the rest of society tells me is too hard for me to achieve.
Imagine what the women of the world could accomplish if we all had that sense of empowerment.
Books about Childbirth
During my pregnancies, I read countless books about birth as part of my preparation for labor. Ladies, childbirth is a HUGE deal that will forever alter our bodies, our social standing, our relationships, and our careers – so the least we can do is study up on it! That’s what I did, anyway. I wanted to know everything about it. I read everything I could get my hands on. I asked every woman I knew what her birth experiences were like. [And, Fellas, you don’t have to be a bystander. You can learn about childbirth and play an active role in the birth of your children.]
Through books, I learned so much and I gained the confidence I needed to do what was best for me and my babies. These books are my favorites:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I read this book during each of my pregnancies as a reminder that my body is capable of birthing my baby.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon: Before reading this book, I literally didn’t know a thing about the details of childbirth. This book taught me everything I needed to know and made me believe that I could have a natural birth.
Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan: This books is not as strange as it sounds and is the method of preparing and laboring that was most helpful to me.
Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel: This book was a lifesaver as I tried to find a compromise between natural birth and hospital birth.
Also, I highly recommend the documentary, The Business of Being Born, which is available on YouTube.
Even if you’re not wanting a natural birth, you deserve to see real birth, not the overly dramatized version that television offers. And you deserve to know what to expect [in a hospital or in a birth center or in your home] when the time comes.
One Last Thing…
I am NOT trying to say that everyone should have natural births [though statistically, fewer women would die if everyone gave birth naturally] or that all women should give birth at home [because home birth is not a safe or realistic option for all women] but what I am saying is that every woman should be free to choose where and how she gives birth to her babies. This should not be a decision that laws or doctors or insurance companies or family members or society chooses for a woman.
And, if you are a women, you should not let the fear of childbirth [which is inaccurately and unfairly portrayed in media and society] prevent you from approaching birth with confidence and power like the badass that you are. [Other than having a trained professional present in case of a complication] You need very little else to give birth to your baby.
Good luck! [But you don’t need it – you got this!]
A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.
I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]
[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]
My Rant about Breakfast Cereal
I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.
Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.
Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.
On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]
On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.
So, now, on to the recipe.
My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.
But here we go anyway….
This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].
3 or 4 ripe bananas
2/3 – 1 cup sugar
2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 3/4 cup of AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°
Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]
And that’s it!
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!
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.
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.]
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??
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.”
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!
Now that I’m a vegan, I have to face my own inconsistencies about how I feed my kids.
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.
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.
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????
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]:
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!! ✌️
Well, due to a sudden change in Brett’s training schedule, we moved early!
Brett flew home from training in Florida on a Thursday and by Friday night we had packed everything we needed [or at least everything we needed that would fit into our two vehicles] and moved our family of six [plus Daisy the dog and Patty the python] to our new house six hours south. AND that same evening, we put our house back on the market and left it ready for showings to start Saturday morning.
What We Bought
Moving without all our belongings has been …challenging, but we haven’t bought anything to replace what we left behind other than a diaper sprayer [$30.00]. We have, though, borrowed quite a bit for the kitchen from my in-laws. I am so grateful that they are close by and so generous to us!
We did, however, have to set ourselves up with a new composter and I bought a countertop container as well [$110.00] – I’ll be introducing everyone to these zero waste beauties at a later date.
The rest of our expenditures for the month were mostly eco-friendly necessities like bamboo scrub brushes [$51.81], bar shampoo [$15.99], a cloth shower curtain liner [$10.99], a used stainless steel tea kettle [$50.00], and reusable cloth gift bags and utensil wraps a friend made.
Then there were the not-necessarily-eco-friendly necessities: ink cartridges for the printer [$16.70] and furnace filters [$33.00].
And, finally, the stuff we feel is necessary because we live in a wealthy, privileged society: headbands for Brett [$12.90], headphones for Brett [$42.99], and water bottle with alkaline filters – a surprise from Brett [$50.00].
[I blame a lot of our spending on Brett, which is not without warrant and he’s a perfect scapegoat because he doesn’t read my blog; however, I fully admit that my $50.00 tea kettle was a total splurge on my part, used one not.]
Now that we will have reliable income for the first full month since March, we are getting back to the budget [I know I’ve been saying that for months, but for real this time!]. Of course, December is the hardest time to stick to a budget. Does anyone stick to their budget in December???
As with every year, I am trying to focus my family on all the joys that money can’t buy, so we are once again doing our “25 Days of Christmas Activities” which have already begun with making our countdown-to-Christmas paper chains and coloring Christmas pictures to send in our Christmas cards.
Beyond that, we are just slowly adapting to small town life and this new house, which is not at all what we would have chosen, but is what the universe has provided and we are grateful.
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, 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!
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!]
[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.
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].
[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.
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.