Helpful Kids

logandishes

A big part of our daily rhythm lately has been centered around developing “Practical life skills”. What are practical life skills, you may ask? Basically, they are the little household duties that we do every day and probably never think to ask our children to help with. You know, doing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning windows… that sort of thing. I’ve known for a while that I should be including my kids more in these activities, but it wasn’t until I was reading an inspiring new book this past month that I decided it was time to get to work. And I have to say, it’s been a pretty interesting experience!  We have found that not only do these daily activities help them contribute a bit to the house keeping and teach them about the importance of work, but also can be rich in sensory activities and basic math. Also, they are a great way to use up extra time.

Anyways, if you’re interested, here’s a list of some of the activities we’ve added in so far. Though this may seem like a lot for a 4 year old and two 2 year olds, I assure you it is just enough for my kids. In fact, they love helping so much that they are often the ones to remind me what “chore” is next!

1. Dish washing. We’ve started putting a bucket full of soapy water and a sponge on a beach towel on the kitchen floor. Every day after lunch, the kids wash their own dishes (with my help) and put them on counter. This makes for a great sensory activity.

2. Vacuuming the living room daily (and their own rooms on Fridays). My girls LOVE vacuuming so this is an easy one to sell.

3. Washing the windows once a week. Each child gets a window they get to spray down and wipe. That way there’s no fighting :)

4. Baking days on Monday. We can practice simple math when measuring and adding ingredients.

5. Helping with cooking in general. My son absolutely loves to cook, and often asks me for the recipe for his favorite meals. So, instead of brushing him off, I try to let them all help me with at least one aspect of every meal. It may take longer, but I think the memories we create are worth it.

6. Soup day veggie cutting. We recently purchased an awesome kiddy knife that allows my kids to chop veggies along side me. So, every Thursday after their nap we wash our vegetables and spend the next 20 min. (slooowly) chopping them and adding them to our soup.

7. Bed making. My son is responsible for making his bed every morning before coming downstairs.

8. Kiddy table wipe downs after meals.

9. Watering the potted plants outside every morning in the spring and summer.

10. Picking up their messes before nap time and bed time.

* I’d like to add a toy polishing to this list, but still haven’t gotten around to doing it. We have a plethora or wooden toys around here these days, and I think many of them could use a good beeswax rub down now and again :) .

** I’d also like to have them help me fold laundry, eventually. Maybe in a year or two.

blog1 blog2 blog3 blog4 blog5 blog6 blog7 blog8 blog9Images from around our home this week :)

This holiday season was good, not one of my favorites, but it was good. Honestly, I’m actually liking this “post holiday” time more than the actual holidays. I feel like I can finally breath again. Like all of the bad parts of the past year have been laid to rest (though honestly it wasn’t THAT bad).  Even though the days are long and gloomy, it seems like the further I get from 2013 the happier I am. Cold, snowy January? Bring it on! Even colder, greyer February? Lets do it! As the kids and I have started adapting to our new winter rhythm (this is the first year I’ve planned their curriculum around the changing seasons…loving it!) I feel a fonder appreciation for these frigid months. Really, they only seem so long because most of us hate being cold (me! me!). But truly, winter is just a fleeting as every other season (Though it can be a bit longer in Utah). So, we are pushing ourselves to spend time outdoors daily, even though we’d rather stay huddled over our little living room heater. We search for animal tracks, made bird feeders, paint with food coloring on the snow. There’s magic in every season. Looking forward to getting to know you better, 2014. Its gonna be great!

Oh, and since I haven’t done this in a bit, I thought I’d let you in on what I’ve been up to lately:

1. Found this class online and was so excited. I really miss school (surprisingly) and this looked like the perfect mix of academics and fun. Starting in March.

2. For all the real food health nuts out there, this upcoming (free) conference looks awesome!

3. Loving this book, a gift from my husband (er, santa). Its full of great tips about the most antioxidant rich plants varieties, cousins of the ones we eat now, and where to find them (for instance, the wild apple has over 50% more antioxidants than the average grocery store apple, even the organic ones). I know, I know. I’m a nerd.

4. Lastly, can’t believe I’m reading this for the first time. Its been recommended to me so many times, but I’ve only just gotten around to starting it. Such a wonderful, helpful, uplifting book.

Christmas Smithsmas!

christmas2013christmas2013(1)christmas2013(2)christmas(3)christmas2013(4)christmas2013(5)Oggl_0452christmas2013(6)christmas2013(7)Happy Holla-dayz, y’all!  Oh, man.  This year felt CRAZY!  It wasn’t, but it felt like it was–know what I mean?  As you may have gleaned from previous posts, I kind of love traditions.  I’ve taken it upon myself to institute more than a few of them in our little family and, while am pretty committed to maintaining most of them, I’m still figuring out which ones will stand the test of time.

This holiday season was a bit simpler than the last.  That is to say, we haven’t really gone anywhere and I cooked neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas dinner!  (That’s kind of a huge deal because they’re my favorite.)  As a result, we ended up joining friends for those meals and it was totally a thousand times better that way!

I’m not saying I’m never cooking holiday dinners again.  I’m just saying that you can cook them for me if you want.

As for what we’ve been up to, there has been a lot of crafting!  The boys and I made all of our tree trimmings and decorations aside from the lights (maybe next year?) AND they helped build and paint their new beds!

We had our second annual Polar Express party and it was even more fun than last year!  We made golden tickets, Rowan penned an invitation for us to deliver to Buck at work, and we ding-dong ditched all of our friends with their invitations.  I think that may be our favorite part of the whole ordeal!

We wait until night time to deliver them and try to time it so that their friends are getting ready for bed when we get to their house but, as is customary, I’m usually running late so people are either out or asleep when we get there, haha.  Still, it’s so fun parking down the street and running up to the door together, Stellan trying desperately to be quiet, ringing the doorbell and scurrying into the shadows to wait for someone to answer and find their shiny ticket on the ground.  When nobody answers we run back to the car, stifling giggles as we go.  It’s so cute!

Rowan shocked us all this year by informing us that Santa was dead. It’s a long story but, it stemmed from that Veggie Tales movie where Greek carrots act out the story of Saint Nicholas and I may or may not have pointed out that that was who Santa is based on and that he lived a very long time ago.  I decided to just roll with it because I was traumatized as a child when I happened upon Santa’s true identity in my household (I was 5).  We learned a little bit about St. Nicholas (they’ll learn more as they get older–he wasn’t all sugar plums and candy canes, after all.  Dude was hard core!) and decided that we still wanted to pretend like so many other people.  We visited Santa, twice.  The first time, the boys tried to guess who it really was beneath the beard.  By the second visit, we had been pretending long enough for them to assume it was the real deal, haha.

Rowan surprised me with his first gift to me this year!  It was a cute light-up musical Christmas house.  I guess he saw it when he was at the store with me and my mom.  He took her aside and asked her how many cents it was because he wanted to buy it for me.  Sweet boy.  My mom got it and wrapped it for him.  He was so excited to have a surprise for me, he wouldn’t stop talking about it.  It was pretty much the cutest.

We did presents with my mom on the 24th and she totally astounded us with the number of gifts she had accumulated for the boys throughout the year.  Girlfriend knows how to spoil somebody!  The boys loved everything she brought and I was a little worried that Christmas morning would be rendered somewhat underwhelming as a result.  We only do three presents per person every year, haha.  But, stockings don’t count and they’re kind of a big deal.

On the morning of the 25th, the boys woke up to the little gifts at the end of their beds and we played in their bedroom until daddy got home from his long night at work.  They didn’t look at all disappointed when they observed the small assortment of gifts beneath the tree and were pleased to see that one of Santa’s reindeer had apparently come into the apartment to eat the carrots and hay that we had left out–and Santa, his Christmas jerky.

We made our Christmas pancakes and challah (a traditional Jewish bread that is served on high holidays and other special occasions, the braids of which are representative of the 12 tribes of Israel) and spent the rest of the day with family and friends!

I can’t believe the year is over already and I can’t wait to start the next.  I have a feeling it’s gonna be sweet!

**Oh, and some anonymous cutie left a note from Santa on our door Christmas Eve night!  Thank you, whoever you are, for your thoughtful gesture.  It was pretty precious.

Shopping Responsibly (Pt. 1)

*This post is a long one, but stick with me to the end–you won’t regret it!  …Or maybe you might.  But, probably not.  I’m about 97% sure.*

Hey, you guys!  I know, it’s been a coon’s age since I last posted.  I’ve been researching some things and mulling a lot of stuff over in my head.   A few weeks ago, I watched a short video spotlighting a young man who is on a mission to put an end to the use of sweatshops and forced labor/child labor in the manufacturing of so many of the products that we buy here in America (and elsewhere in the world).  It was meant to be an uplifting video about change and protecting the rights of others, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how upset I was after watching it.

The fact that some companies use unethical practices in order to keep costs down and profit up is not new to me.  When I was in college, I saw a screening for a documentary on the lives of Chinese factory workers who had been contracted under Wal*Mart.  I was appalled by what I saw, and decided not to shop there anymore.  (This was a fairly easy decision for me because I had worked there for 3 years and had reached the point where you literally couldn’t pay me to step foot in there, haha.)

A few years later, I came across another article that gave me doubts about one of my favorite stores (Forever21).  It wasn’t about Forever 21 specifically, but I started to wonder how they could possibly afford to sell $3 camisoles and stuff without making ethical concessions in the manufacturing process.  I no longer felt like I could shop there and frankly that wasn’t that big of a deal either because, while their clothes are certainly cute and well within my budget, they’re also very poorly made.

Since then, I guess I put it out of my mind.  I took my business to places like H&M, Target, DownEast Outfitters, and occasionally the clearance sections J.Crew, Banana Republic and Anthropologie (crazy good sales!).  I’ve long had my concerns about H&M since they’re pretty inexpensive, but I’ve been reluctant to look into it.  If I don’t know about a potential problem, it’s like it isn’t there–right?

Anywho, I ultimately came across the aforementioned short video and it has apparently sparked something within me.  I’ve been researching international labor standards, reading article after article pointing fingers at some of my favorite brands, watching documentaries that show exhausted factory employees working in unsafe environments under unacceptable conditions.  I’ve watched with disgust and disbelief as people in various positions of power explain in interviews why it doesn’t make sense to “pay their employees more to do less” or why it’s impossible to increase pay or lead-time for deadlines when consumers expect more product faster and at a reduced cost.

I’ve seen pictures of children sewing intricate beading onto the plackets of Gap shirts, watched videos of them being stolen or sold by their parents and taken far away from their homes to harvest cotton or cacao.  My breathing gets shallow just thinking about it.

People argue that if there were better jobs available in those areas, people wouldn’t work under those conditions.  They argue that it’s impossible to hold developing countries and areas with failed economies to the same standards we expect where we live.  They say that we have to respect cultural differences and the laws of these other countries (or lack thereof).  In one documentary, one of the interviewees (an abused worker) requested that we don’t stop buying the products that they make–after all, it is the source of their livelihood–if that’s what you can call it.  To a certain extent, that ALL makes sense.

BUT….something must be done.  That may be the way things work in those areas, and it may be the best option for the people working there, but that in no way makes it acceptable.  These factories are contracted by many of the wealthiest brands in the wealthiest areas of the world–companies who can afford to pay fair wages and have the influence and resources to ensure that their contracted laborers are being treated properly.  I don’t think these companies are giving us consumers enough credit, either!  I’m not exactly rollin’ in the Benjamins, but I’m willing to pay in increased price for a product if I know it’s not the product of human atrocities.  I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Some links:

  1. I can’t find the specific video, but here’s a TED talk with similar information:  Making Global Labor Fair
  2. I can’t find the one about Wal*Mart, either.  But, there are lots about them.  (Like “The High Cost of Low Prices.”  You can find the entire documentary on YouTube and I think it’s streaming on Netflix and Hulu.)

Soooooo…..what’s a girl to do?  Freak out and spend five weeks being depressed and overwhelmed?  Did that.  With flair.  After that, maybe search for some socially/economically/generally ethically conscious places to spend money while continuing to investigate ways to address the big problem.  Luckily for you guys, I’ve compiled a heart-inflatingly impressive list of businesses who take human rights seriously and even give back to the world through various programs and charities.  If you’re like me, you’ll be pleased to find that you’ve got so many options outside of recycled tire shoes and solid jersey knit yoga wear (but you better believe it’s in there!).

I don’t think this needs to be an all or nothing kind of decision.  As I mentioned earlier, the workers themselves rely on the meager income they’re making–so, boycotting the companies that employ them won’t necessarily improve their situation.  The idea is to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and to use our minds and our buying power to convince manufacturers that they won’t go out of business if they demand higher prices for their goods in order to pay their workers fair wages and improve the quality of their working conditions.

Having said that, we can support companies with good ethics while we strive to find a realistic way to address the issue at hand.  Look for things that are labeled “Fair Trade” or “Union-Made”–though that certainly doesn’t guarantee you anything.  Dishonest companies know the buzz-words, too :(  I can’t vouch 100% for any of these brands because, you just never know.  But, as far as I can tell, these are some of the good ones!

While many of the brands on this list are probably within the price range you’re used to, many more of them are likely to be well above it.  That being said, higher prices are to be expected when sweatshops haven’t been utilized in the manufacturing process.  (Case in point:  handmade shoes.  Don’t worry, nothing on this list is that expensive :))  Think quality (and quality of life) over quantity.

(Other options, of course, are to amp up your thrifting or to make your own stuff.  In which case, you get a fun foray into finding ethically made materials–hooray!!!!….?)

I think it’s kind of fortuitous that I ended up writing this post during this time of year.  Everyone’s looking for presents to give–why not find your loved ones a gift that gives back?  We can use this opportunity to spread the word about labor rights in an exciting and uplifting way!

Without further ado…

Brands that ROCK!

31 Bits: (jewelry) Gorgeous bracelets and necklaces, designed by women in Uganda who are paid living wages, given health education, finance training and business mentorships.  They offer a trunk show program where they send you some necklaces and an information kit and you can host your own 31 Bits party at home and give your friends an opportunity to buy some pretty jewelry and learn a little somethin’ somethin’ at the same time!

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TOMS:  (shoes/glasses)  Anyone who hasn’t already heard of TOMS likely doesn’t have the internet either, so I doubt an introduction here would do them much good.  If perchance you’re reading this and aren’t acquainted with the brand, I should tell you that they offer several styles of shoes and glasses and have a “One For One” program so that, for every purchase you make, you’re essentially supplying shoes/glasses for someone in need.  They recently added a marketplace feature to their site that promotes brands with a similar mission to use business as a means of bettering the world (many of which are included in this here list)

fashionABLE:  (scarves/leather accessories)  Each purchase funds the creation of small business cooperatives for women in Africa, and the company only partners with manufacturers who employ women with fair wages and fair hiring practices.

Falling Whistles:  This business was born from an experience that one of the founders had when traveling to the Congo and met with child soldiers who told him how the children who were too small to bear arms were sent to the front lines armed only with whistles.  The whistles they sell serve as a symbol of protest and the revenue is used to educate people about the war, invest in Congolese entrepreneurs and promote justice, accountability and transparency in Africa’s Great Lakes region.  BUY ALL THE WHISTLES!!

Falling Whistles

The Giving Keys:  (jewelry/accessories)  This company uses old keys to make their products and employs those who are looking to transition out of homelessness.The Giving Keys

Same Sky:  (jewelry and even cuff links for the gents!)  K, this shop is one of the priciest (we’re talking $50-$500), but if you’ve got the money to spend, why not use it to help provide jobs for women around the world who are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty?

FORTUNED CULTURE:  (jewelry)  Founded by a woman who was raised in Los Angeles but whose roots are in the 3rd world countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Every purchase funds charities that address the various different human needs that are symbolized by the pieces in each collection.

HALF UNITED:  (jewelery/accessories) Half of their profits from every purchase goes directly toward fighting the global hunger epidemic.  Their materials are locally sourced, so they also support local small businesses and artisans!

Harper Belle:  (jewelry)  This one is another splurge site ($50-$200 a piece).  Harper Belle has partnered with a company called Vitamin Angels to provide vitamins to children in need, and the company employs local artisans in Bali.

From You With Love:  (jewelry) Each bracelet purchased provides one year of schooling for a  Tibetan child in need.

The Base Project:  (jewelry) The Base Project partners with two Namibian artisan cooperatives to build a bridge between artists in the developing world and the U.S. fashion market.  Their products are fair trade and provide the artisans with additional income for school fees, health care and food.The Base Project

LemLem:  (women and children’s clothing and accessories/home decor) Founded by Liya Kebede (supermodel, actress and former World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador) LemLem helps to inspire economic independence and preserve the local art of weaving in her native country of Ethiopia.  Most items in this shop are $100-$200, but there are a few in the $30-$50 range.

Apolis:  (MEN’S clothing/accessories) These guys….they just take care of their people.  The create good jobs in several countries, including our own.  They are committed to fair treatment and their products are downright sexy.  They’re also a certified B Corporation, which is awesome.  This shop has higher end items, so unless you’re in the market for candles and keychains, expect to spend a bit.

Krochet Kids intl.:  (womens’, kids’ and mens’ clothing/accessories) This company teaches women in Uganda and Peru how to crochet, provides jobs and educates them so that they can be self sufficient.

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Della:   a socially responsible fashion line that provides jobs, education and skills training to women and men of Hohoe.

So many more to come!

Weekly Simplicity: Simplifying how we raise our children

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For today’s simplicity post I wanted to talk about something that is very near and dear to me lately… Simplifying how I raise my children. Maybe its just me, but I often wonder when in our history raising children became such a difficult task, filled with so much theory and critique? Its all too common to feel like an inadequate parent today, even when you are trying your absolute hardest to make their childhood memorable. There always seems to be someone out there doing it better, some new news article telling you why your ideas about raising your children are wrong, even when they feel so right. Never mind all the housework, cooking, cleaning, and quality time that goes into raising children, you need to do THESE things (insert whatever this month’s new child development research is pushing) in order to have happy, healthy, emotionally balanced children. Its enough to make any parent feel inadequate…and slightly crazy.

Something I have come to realize, and I hope I can accurately convey in this post, is that nobody knows your  children better than you. Sure, there may be that certain relative out there who claims that they truly DO know the best way to do X and if you would just listen to their advice, your household would be a lot calmer. Or the friend that always seems to do it a little bit better than you, and is always offering advice . I’m not saying its not good to listen to and ponder their advice. On the contrary, I believe that’s what makes a well rounded individual. But there is a difference between hearing advice from others and thinking, “Hmmm, maybe she has a point. Let me think on this for a while and figure out if it goes along with my values and what I know to be true” vs. “Man, they have so much more experience in this stuff, and clearly its working… apparently they know best.” Get it? And unfortunately, I think many mothers, myself included, frequently go along with the latter. Maybe its because so and so’s kids really are so much better behaved than mine, so she’s GOT to know better than me! Or maybe its a societal pressure, “Hey, everyone else’s kids are doing this. I don’t want my kid to be an outcast!”

But you know what? MOST all of us get a chance to be a parent in some form or other. And do you know what that means? It means that MOST every person on this earth gets their chance to raise their children the way that seems most natural and fulfilling to them. And you know what else? Its going to look different in every household. To me, that’s completely necessary. The world thrives off of its diversity and uniqueness. As long as you are a kind hearted, well meaning parent that is actively trying your best to raise your children right, you’re decisions are as good as anyone else’s. That’s my take, anyways :)

So, back to simplifying our lives with our children. I believe that’s the first step, trusting your parental instincts above all others. Next, I think its just as important to learn to keep the big picture in mind. This has really helped me. Stop for a minute, or five, and think about the kind of man or woman you want your child to be when they leave to house. What characteristics do you want them to have? For me, I imagine my children being: Confident, creative, honest, hard working, free spirited, passionate, and kind. I want them to leave our home with a deep desire to please heavenly father over anyone else, and to respect themselves as a child of god. I also want them to have a deep love of nature and the outdoors. When it comes down to it, if I can cultivate those things in them, or even HALF those things, I know I’ll have a big smile on my face as I watch them go.

So, that brings us back to today. Once you know what kind of person you hope them to be, and if you are able to keep it in mind, your day to day will get less and less complex. Why? Because you know the end goal, and that’s a powerful thing. So what if they have to wait until next year to take piano because you don’t have enough money? And who cares if you accidentally messed up and let them watch television today when you swore you wouldn’t? Is this really going to impact your end goal? No. So what if I forgot to read to my children today.  You know what I did do? I DID tell them I loved them multiple times, AND sat beside them while they did arts and crafts, AND taught them how to clean up after themselves, AND played make believe with them before dinner, AND took them for a walk. Wait a second, I just worked on FIVE of the goals I had for them! And I didn’t even know it!

And just like that, you’ll realize what’s truly important in your day, and that more than likely you are already doing quite a bit to reach those goals.

Its the quality time, and the good intentions that count in the end.

I’m not saying we should become lazy or stop trying, I’m just saying we need to learn to cut ourselves some slack now and then. Yes, keep trying, daily even, to be a better parent. Its so, so important. But when you inevitably mess up, and we all will, stop and reflect on all that you HAVE done to meet your goals for them. Then, take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and let it go. Its those end goals that you’re aiming towards after all. Keep the big picture in mind. The rest will follow naturally.

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“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

 

I love this quote, its something I live by. Never remain static, every day is another chance to improve for the better.

Happenings and Links

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Tea parties. Road trips. Walks around the lake. A few of the things we’ve been up to lately. Sorry for the silence. I’m getting back into the swing of this blogging thing after a long, crazy summer. Thanks for those of you who follow us here. I’ve noticed our number of followers has been growing, and I’m so thankful to be reaching so many more people. The main purpose of this space was to provide hope and encouragement in the way of healthy living, healing sickness, natural parenting and all that goes with it, and homeschooling (for those who do that as well.) Thanks for sticking around and following us. If I help one person with this blog, I’ll have reached my goal:)

Things I loved this month:

1. This short film. Seriously, these women are awesome. It may seem silly at first, but give it a chance. They can all teach us something about living life to its fullest, and choosing to see the positive side of things no matter how bad it gets :)

2. The fact that this calendar is actually happening. I love Phoebe Wahl’s work. Can’t wait to purchase it.

3. This series a friend introduced me to. Guilty pleasure :) .

4. Using this stuff for our cuts, bruises, and on occasion severely upset stomachs.

5. These cute lavender satchels. I’m thinking of having the kids help me make these into mini pillows, and putting them in their beds to help them fall asleep.

 

Weekly Simplicity: Simplifying your food

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This week I wanted to talk about something that I don’t think is touched on enough, but that I think has a tremendous impact upon your health, your peace of mind, and your overall goal of simplicity…. Keeping your meals simple. It seams easy enough, but mealtime can become a real stresser for families. Ours included. It is so easy to let it become more complicated than it should, or forget the basic principles that make meals simple and nourishing in the first place. Here are a few rules that help keep our family in check, in case anyone is interested:

1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Whole, nourishing real food is key to simplifying your meals. If you only eat foods that your great grandmother would recognize as food (Mostly things on the perimeter of the grocery store with a few staples from the middle) you are already cutting down on the amount of excess junk stored in your kitchen, and taking the guesswork out of your cooking (Is this healthy?….Yes!). Once you have that basic foundation, you can mix your meals up any way you like. Can’t get much more simple than that.

2. Every meal doesn’t have to be a special occasion. One peak at instagram or pinterest and you realize that people are obsessed with eating intricate, decadent meals regularly. Or so they make it seem.

“Oh what, you didn’t have boeuf bourguignon made from all organic ingredients, with homemade chocolate eclairs and poached pears for desert? Hmm….That’s too bad.”

Seriously people, meal time should be first and foremost about simple and nourishing foods. Sure, there are times when we want/need to cook a decadent meal, but we shouldn’t feel pressured to make every meal special. Sometimes mealtime is just plain boring. And that’s ok. I can’t tell you how many times my son complains, “Uhg, lentil soup AGAIN!!” (We have it every week). Its a simple dish that feeds us for two days, and yes, its downright boring. But its simple and healthy and cost effective. And on those regular days when nothing important is going on, that’s all that matters.

3. Have a rhythm to your meals. I have found that our family probably has a list of 10 meals we eat regularly. That’s it. The meals are all simple and most of them last for two days, or have ingredients in them (like leftover chicken) that can span the space of two to three days. We have a few basics that we eat every week, and then the rest of the time we rotate the remaining meals in as we see fit.  Even though we all know what’s coming, and it might not be particularly exciting, it makes planning meals so much easier. Having a rhythm to our meals, knowing what we are going to eat beforehand, really takes any extra guesswork out of cooking, and makes it all the more simple.

4. Don’t get wrapped up in the supermarket hype. Supermarkets are like the mall; advertising everywhere! One trip down the grain isle and you can easily feel like you need five different products to improve your health. This cereal says it will lower your risk of heart disease! This fortified milk has added omega-3′s so you’d no longer have to eat fish! This meal replacement drink has so many veggies, you’ll never have to eat a real one ever again! Eeesh! Stop and recognize those advertisements for what they are…scams. No amount of processed fortified food can ever replace the real stuff. And though the packaging might look pretty, and the health claims may seam like they’ll change your life, they almost always come up empty. Just focus on the real, whole foods. Keep it simple. Your body will thank you for it in the end.

El Día de Los Muertos

diademuertos1)  A picture of me and my Dad, my Lola & Lolo, and paper elephants to represent Buck’s Mom.  2)  A calavera, colored by Rowie.  3)  Mexican crepe paper banner.

I’ll come back to Halloween in my next post, but I wanted to talk about today while it’s fresh in my mind because I was unexpectedly moved as a result of our celebration.

Earlier this month, I was looking into different activities we could do for homeschool and I came across a bunch of Halloween themed worksheets and a few sugar skull coloring pages.  They were so pretty and fun, I knew I wanted to have the boys color them so I figured we could do a lesson on El Día de los Muertos!

At the time, I knew very little about the holiday other than that it involved ornately decorated skeletons and took place right around Halloween time.  The more I learned as I researched it, the more I wanted to incorporate the celebration into our family traditions.

There’s a LOT of history behind The Day of the Dead!  It’s origin dates back to a month-long Aztec festival that was dedicated to the goddess of the afterlife.  The holiday evolved when Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico and brought Catholicism with them.  That is apparently why it’s now celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd) instead of the entire month of August, as it was before.

While, at first glance, the multitude of skull and skeleton decorations may seem a bit macabre–they’re actually really sweet!  The culture in which I grew up portrays skeletons mostly as symbols of death (as the end of life).  My understanding of the Day of the Dead decorations is that they are meant to represent the fact that our loved ones may have passed, but they’re not gone.  The calaveras (skulls) are decorated beautifully to inspire happiness.  The calacas (skeletons) are depicted engaging in activities that the deceased loved ones had enjoyed in life.  Día de Muertos is a celebration of life!  It’s an opportunity to devote a few days to really thinking about the people who have gone before us, remembering them fondly, passing on their legacy, reinforcing our connection to them and reminding ourselves that death is not the end.

Every November 1st and 2nd, the souls of our loved ones are said to return to be with us.  Traditional celebrations vary widely all over the world, but most people either visit their family’s/friend’s final resting place to tidy it up, decorate it, enjoy a picnic and sometimes spend the night–or they set up an ofrenda (like an altar or shrine) in their home with pictures and food, etc.  Marigolds are supposed to attract the souls of the dead, candles are lit to light their way through the darkness, their favorite food and drink is left to nourish them for their long journey, often a bowl of water and some soap and a hand towel are placed nearby so that the souls can wash up before they head back.  Sometimes, pillows and blankets are set aside so that they might take some rest beforehand as well.  :)

While I personally believe that our deceased loved ones can check in on us anytime they like during the year, I am deeply inspired by the idea of having an actual annual event to honor them in such an earnest, playful and positive way.  It’s a fantastic way to preserve memories!  I learned lots of new things about my Dad tonight and was reminded of many things I had forgotten.  My boys were so excited to hear stories about the Lolo (grandpa) they’ve never had the chance to meet!  I also think it was cathartic for my Mom to get to spend an entire evening reminiscing and looking at pictures of her sweetheart.

I showed her this cute video short that explains the meaning behind The Day of the Dead and it sparked a vague memory of having picnics and spending the night at her family members’ graves when she was a little girl in the Philippines!  It’s a super big deal there but it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have celebrated it growing up.  (She emigrated to the United States when she was very young.) **I cry every time I watch that video and the boys have watched it about a million times in the past three days.**

Mom brought a picture of my grandparents to add to the ofrenda, and we’ve included my husband’s Mom as well, only we don’t have any pictures of her on hand (!) so the boys and I made little paper elephants to represent her (as they were her favorite animal).  I asked the boys what they wanted to put on the table for Lolo Jimmy and Grandma Kitty and they put all of their remaining Halloween candy (more on that, later) in their little bowls :)  We made a plate of food for everyone to share (it’s a small table, and we’re only doing it for the symbolism anyway) and since it’s 2013, I included wet naps for their pre-departure cleanup.

Remembering my Dad, eating food he loved, listening to The Beatles and looking at pictures…..it was all so nice.  My Mom went home, I took the boys to bed and Belly asked to sing “the Heavenly Father bird song” before going to sleep.  (My Heavenly Father Loves Me –it’s a children’s song that we sing at church sometimes.)  I sing it to them sometimes because my Dad used to sing it with me, but I had never mentioned that to them.  Anyway, it was a perfect song to sing tonight and as we did, I felt completely overcome.  I was sad….but so happy at the same time.  And, I felt comforted and close to my babies– and my Dad.

Of course, I think about him all the time.  But I’m already really looking forward to celebrating this holiday every year.  Buck had to work today, so we’re going to celebrate his Mom tomorrow :) WP_20131102_016WP_20131102_011

WP_20131102_009WP_20131102_019The boys’ cute masks were printed offline for free–aren’t they so cute??  I got them here! The sugar skull that Rowan colored was a free printable too, but I can’t remember where I found it.  You can be sure that there was plenty of Googling involved.  I free-handed the skeleton, which is why the proportions leave a little something to be desired (don’t talk to me about that ribcage.)

Click here to learn more about The Day of the Dead!

You KNOW you better click here, too.

Tonight was so good.  If you have any more information or personal experiences celebrating Día de Muertos, please share!

Weekly Simplicity: Quality over quantity, and buying less

simplicitytoo

This is a new, weekly series on the things we all can do to introduce more simplicity into our homes and lives. Simplicity to me means learning to be content with less. It means freedom from physical and mental clutter. In my opinion, it is a catalyst for lifelong happiness in so many ways. Because simplifying branches into every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupe

This weekend I made a big decision. Well, a big decision for me anyways. I got new shoes. I know, I know. I usually go shoe shopping once every 2-3 years, and though I wanted to push it off another year I couldn’t. My normal cold weather shoes were raggedy and stained and starting to fall apart. Again. So, I went to work on the internet to see if I could find another cute, reasonably priced pair. In the midst of my hunt I realized something. I am always looking for the next bargain, not the long term solution (Aren’t we all?). I mean sure, price is important, and should be a major factor on if you buy something or not. But it also needs to be functional, practical, well made, and beautiful. Buying things that you know will just fall apart in a few years or less only leads to spending more money in the long run. And it leads to a house full of replaceable things that we are only kinda sorta attached to.

That is what I wanted to talk about today. I think that the concept of choosing quality over quantity ties in perfectly with adopting a simplistic, meaningful lifestyle. Excess breads excess, as we all know. There will never be enough, and as long as you’re not attached to the (Well made, sentimental, or aesthetically pleasing) items around you, you may as well count on replacing them often.

Maybe I’m strange, but I love the idea of being surrounded by simple, well made items in my home. Things with a soul, made by someone who put time into them. Artwork by my children. Knicknacks made by family members. A shelf made by my husband. Things that have a story and bring joy. Trends come and go, but those items are always in style.

Buying, and surrounding ourselves with quality helps us buy less. Not only does it last and prevent future purchases of the same type of item, but it minimizes the amount we buy based on the sheer amount time it takes to find such an item. Finding something of good quality that you can see yourself holding onto indefinitely is a task. But I believe its well worth it in the end.

Obviously, not all of our things are going to be so meaningful to us. My broom or trash can, for instance. Just can’t find it in me to care about the quality of those! And there are plenty of other items just like that in my home. Not everything has a special purpose or was made with care. Sometimes we just have to settle for things that simply perform the task we need them to.  What our family has been doing, however, is becoming more aware of this and trying to make quality our GOAL. We won’t always achieve it, but we are gaining that mindset. Any given day, if possible, we will chose quality. Whether we can afford it is a different matter. But it is always the goal. One day I hope to have a home filled with memories and quality objects (homemade, gifted, and bought). But until then we will continue to slowly simplify our lives, one object at a time.