Archive for ‘Minimalism’

March 26, 2012

Our best sleeper is suddenly our worst (and other horror stories of toddler room sharing)

For a long time, my hubby and I have said we would love having a tiny house like these. Our only request would be a small, almost closet sized room for each kid with a loft style bed and dresser/desk combo underneath. Last Summer we rented a cabin in the Outer Banks, NC and it was tiny. And functional. And lovely. Less mess, more forced togetherness. I can dig it.

Now, the house we owned in PA was gorgeous, 2400 square feet and had four bedrooms (and a pool and a two car garage and…I’ll stop now so I don’t feel a tiny bit sad for my old self). At the time, we had my husband’s niece living with us and my daughter (yay!), and Champ wasn’t born yet, so we had three kids sharing two bedrooms. The boys shared brilliantly. Never a problem. At all.

Our NY rental house is smaller than our PA house, but in a less functional way than the tiny houses and certainly without a small space for each child. When we rented it, I thought “Hey! This brings us one step closer to our small-house-love, and who cares if there is one less bedroom…the boys share beautifully already.”

Enter premature baby brother and night terrors for the oldest boy. Even though my daughter moved to live with her Father around the time Champ was born, two bedrooms to share between three boys under four (and sometimes an eight year old girl), has proven to be a problem. We have had long stretches where everyone slept pretty well.

Then this winter happened, and my kids got sick left and right. Champ decided that he should wake up every night at least once; even if he felt well it was a habit now. Against all of my better judgement, every night, I swooped in and moved him to a portacrib downstairs. Our middle guy, Jude, was the best sleeper (and probably the one that needs it the most) and if Champ’s screaming woke him up, that would be a real problem.

So, besides having my sleep interrupted every night (which yes, probably contributed to this), I thought we found a good temporary solution while we waited for Champ to sleep through the night again.

I thought it was a brilliant idea…until Saturday morning around 5:30am when we heard a loud thud downstairs. Champ figured out how to climb out of the portacrib. I’ve never even seen him try this…not even when he’s playing “babies” in it with his brothers. Had. No. Idea. It. Was. Coming. I hate it when I’m unprepared!

Saturday night, when Champ started crying, we moved Jude to Carl’s room. It was around 4am. Jude never went back to sleep and consequently, neither did Carl. They played “quietly” (as quietly as four year old and three year old boys can), and BH and I nodded off but a few times during the next three hours. We were all exhausted Sunday.

Sunday night, we tried a new plan. Before Mommy and Daddy went to bed, we moved Jude to Carl’s room. The thought was that if we moved him after sleeping only a few short hours, he would stay asleep. We figured our mistake was waiting until almost 4am the night before (since Jude had been asleep for more than 9 hours at that point and probably felt rested enough to play at the time). The move went well…not a peep from anyone (not even Champ)…until four o’clock in the morning again! Jude was awake and ready to play. WTH?

This has happened every time we have tried to put Jude in Carl’s room. My only guess is that Carl’s room isn’t quite as dark and there are things within reach (like lamps), that make it obvious he could play if he wants to. Ironically, Champ slept all night. Not a peep. First time in a month. What gives? Maybe Jude makes small noises in his sleep that were waking up Champ before? Maybe Champ woke up, discovered he was alone, and decided it wasn’t worth yelling if no one was there? I don’t know!

For now, I’ve decided to keep Champ and Jude in their room together tonight. I figure if Champ yells and wakes up Jude, maybe Jude will realize how crappy it is when someone wakes you up and they will both grow out of this? ;)

Well, internets…I have 24 hours until Lizzy comes home for Spring Break (yay!!). If you have any nuggets of wisdom please share.

January 13, 2012

Paleo Family on a Budget: One Month Down

Last month was our first official month trying to stick to a $600 food budget. As it turns out, it wasn’t the best month to start with! We ended up traveling (kind of last minute) 3 straight weekends, which meant more eating on the run and/or buying different food that works better for road trips. So, the good news is: We came in under budget for grocery shopping! The bad news is that we spent more money on dining out than we had budgeted (we budget less than $40/month for dining out- no joke). Did we break even on our dining out and grocery budgets? Not really :(. As it turns out, we ended up spending an extra $100 on food in the month of December due to travel.

That said, when I did buy groceries, I was able to stick to my rules no problem. This is an evolving budget, and there are a few things I am thinking about as we go that could change some numbers for us. For example, my husband and I strongly prefer grassfed beef to poultry. I have some great chicken nugget recipes for my kids, which is nice since they don’t like red meat very much yet.

I can always get a good deal on chicken or pork, for $1.99 a pound or less, but grassfed beef is at least three times that price. I plan to do the math on the difference between buying cheaper conventional cuts of poultry or pork and then having to add in healthy fat by way of coconut oil or grassfed butter, but I haven’t yet. I guess I haven’t because there is a huge element that I’m not sure how to quantify: I’m calling it the feel-good element! See, grassfed beef isn’t just delicious. It feels good buying grassfed beef because I know it is better for the environment and my body. I hate to admit this, but there have been nights we have considered going out to dinner instead of eating it at home simply because (although I’ve done the best I can dressing it up for deliciousness) chicken just isn’t as tasty as grassfed beef, IMHO. And, going out to dinner, my friends, doesn’t do anything good for our budget!

Anyway, that is my struggle at the moment…I will keep doing the math and considering changes. For anyone who is curious, we are right on track for January, and have spent just shy of $300 so far!

Are you eating real food on a budget? Paleo? Primal? Gluten-Free? If you have any tips, please share!

January 12, 2012

Recipe: Super Simple Paleo Cauliflower Rice

If you are the type to gag at the thought of using frozen vegetables, or think it’s a terrible alternative to fresh vegetables, or whatever this probably isn’t a recipe for you (this blog might not be either? lol), If, however, you are the type that appreciates the finer points of frozen veggies, read on!)

Recipe: Super Simple Paleo Cauliflower Rice

Ingredients:

One Bag Frozen Cauliflower

Butter or Coconut Oil for Sauteing

Method:

1.  Place frozen cauliflower in colander and run warm water over it until semi-defrosted.

2.  Take out handfuls of defrosted cauliflower and dump into this awesome Food Chopper, and pull the handle 10-15 times.

3.  Pour the “rice” into a saute pan, and cook using butter or coconut oil, and maybe even some garlic if you feel fancy :) Enjoy!

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January 10, 2012

Recipe: Sweet Potato Spinach Curry

Recipe: Sweet Potato Spinach Curry

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef (you could also use cubed chicken breast/thigh- it is delicious either way)

2-3 cups fresh spinach or kale
-or-
1/2 bag of frozen chopped spinach or kale

1 bag frozen stir fry vegetables
-or-
3 cups of your favorite fresh stir fry veggies

1 tbs curry powder

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
-or-
2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato

Balsamic Vinegar to taste

Method:
Brown meat in skillet over medium high heat. Remove meat from skillet; reserve fat if using grass fed, or drain pan and add two tbs coconut oil. Add fresh or frozen vegetables to skillet and sauté vegetables in fat until soft.

If using fresh sweet potato (not mashed), reduce heat to medium low, cover pan, and cook until potato is desired level of tenderness.

If using mashed sweet potato, add to vegetables an reduce heat to medium low.

Pour meat back into skillet and stir to combine. Add curry powder (1tbs more or less to taste) and let flavors combine for 5-10 minutes.

When ready to serve, drizzle balsamic over individual servings and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

This recipe was inspired in part by this recipe.

December 24, 2011

Minimalist Eco-Friendly (Green) Gift Wrap Idea

We really don’t go all out for Holidays. As I’ve mentioned in my son’s birthday post, we don’t get crazy with the commercialism and stick to a pretty minimalist theme. We also don’t celebrate Christmas in our house (more like Chrissmas), but more on that another time.

Other family members, however, are a different story. Many people (especially older folk, wink wink) seem to equate love with gift giving, and it’s really tough to get them to break the habit.

Unfortunately we live away from all family, so for many years my Mom has been sending Amazon gift cards and I have been ordering what she wants to get my kids. I use my Amazon Prime Membership to save money on shipping and it really does help to simplify things (for my Mom too). The only issue I have is when Amazon ships in multiple shipments and I end up with extra boxes. I do my best to avoid that, but some things are shipped from different distribution centers, so there isn’t a lot I can do.

So, I’m already feeling kinda bad about extra boxes…how could I even consider using a bunch of wrapping paper to wrap each gift? I searched the web for eco-friendly or green wrapping paper ideas, and I liked what I found. That said, since we are minimalists we don’t have a lot of that stuff laying around. Even though I love the reusable tote bag idea, I already have those and my kids don’t need ‘em. I also want to do something we can do every year for Xmas and even for Birthdays (why not?).

For the last two years, we’ve just piled everything into one Amazon box per kid and let them open the box of unwrapped gifts. This year, I’ve come up with a new plan for Minimalist Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap! The kids are going to repurpose plastic storage totes we already own!

I wish I could tell you we already did this and I could provide pictures of their handy-work, but we are opening gifts from my family on the 28th because we will be out-of-state for Xmas (and the date doesn’t really matter to us anyway). So, on our Chrissmas Eve (Dec 27th this year), I will have the kids decorate their storage bins with stickers and markers. I think it will be a fun new tradition for them and we can reduce our carbon footprint at the same time!

I will update this post next week with pictures, but in the meantime….what do you do that helps you to be green during the Holidays?

December 19, 2011

Traveling with Toddlers: How to Enjoy your (Holiday) Vacation with Young Children

Last year, we had a six-month-old preemie, so we didn’t go anywhere in the winter. We politely declined invitations for out-of-state holiday celebrations and family gatherings mostly because we didn’t want to expose our littlest guy to germs, but there was a small sigh of relief. Having an excuse to avoid driving 5-6 hours in the car with multiple young children, and having to drive from obligation to obligation as a sleep-deprived-horrible-mother felt kinda nice.

This year we don’t have an excuse to stay home, and to be honest, I was kind of wishing we did. At least until last weekend.

This past weekend, we decided to take a quick trip out of state to see some extended family that we haven’t seen in far too long. Initially, we opted out of the trip because we would have to drive up Friday night and come home Sunday afternoon. Driving for 5-6 hours for less than 36 hours of family time sounded crazy. It. Was. Crazy. But it was awesome and totally worth it. This time, I think we gave ourselves an advantage. We started the trip with our eyes wide open….saying to ourselves:

“Hey, this is crazy. We will not get enough sleep. The kids will not be on their regular schedule. There will be food we know isn’t healthy. Our kids will want it. It will be okay. Getting to see our kids with family and enjoy time with other adults is worth it.”

Well, all of the above happened. I tried to bring some healthier food options, which the kids did eat, but they also ate all of the other food. I cringed a little, but explained why we don’t usually eat this way, and that it may make them feel a little bit sick. I think as they age, they will be more in tune with their bodies and opt-out of the junk food, but at 4, 2 and 1, I forced myself to not freak out.

The trip was great! So great, that we decided to go visit different relatives out-of-state for Xmas even though we were originally planning on staying home.

With that said, traveling this weekend for Xmas will be our third weekend in a row of travel. Somehow, I have learned more in these back-to-back trips than all of the traveling we’ve done in the past year. I guess that’s probably because traveling so much to different states every time requires a plan to not loose my mind!

Five Ways to Mitigate Stress When Traveling with Kids (especially if you happen to be a Paleo Minimalist):

1. Consider Food Before You Go.

If you are eating Paleo or anything different from SAD, try to bring healthy snacks and even healthy meal options if possible. If you are visiting family and you feel comfortable, ask if you can cook and/or buy some groceries. Recently, I offered to make eggs for everyone for breakfast instead of the sugary cereal and milk that was being offered. Everyone wanted eggs and appreciated the home-cooked meal. Win-Win.

2. Stagger Kids Bedtimes

If you are sharing a room with your kids, or your kids are sharing a room with each other (and they don’t usually), stagger bedtimes. This is one we’re working on during our next trip. The novelty of being in a new place and being in a bedroom together is more than little (tired) minds can handle. Don’t make the mistake I made and assume that they will pass out because it is past their normal bedtime and they are exhausted. Even if your kids usually go to sleep at the same time, try to stagger sleep by at least 20 minutes for each kid.

3. Know When Your Kids Travel Best

For us, that means getting in the car between 8am and 10am. Maybe your kids travel well at night…they sleep in the car, you love the silence, and you can function on less sleep than usual. That last part is critical. If traveling at night means you don’t get enough sleep to be a good parent the next day, don’t do it! If you can’t avoid traveling at night, try to do it on the way home from vacation. Having your regular routine, food, beds, etc, makes it easier for everyone to have a good day when you’re overtired from travel.

4. Pack Light

No, you do not need twice as many pairs of underwear as number of days in your trip. Making umpteen trips to the car to bring in luggage or trying to bring way too many suitcases to the airport just invites stress, accidents and lost luggage. For a great article on what clothes you should pack, check out this one. Remember, you can always do laundry. I promise, throwing a load of laundry into your in-law’s machine is totally worth it. My favorite thing? Washing the laundry before heading home so I don’t come home to piles of dirty laundry…more on strategies for returning from your vacation stress-free another time ;)

5. Chill Out

A few days (or weeks) will not ruin your life. Don’t stress out if your kid wants the sugary cereal (cringe) like all five of her cousins. Quietly explain why “we don’t usually eat this way,” and try to let it go. If your kids can’t nap at their usual time every day, just aim for a regular schedule most days. You get the picture :).

I love that I am writing this post the morning before our third weekend in a row of traveling. What I think is hilarious is we still have one more weekend of travel ahead after this one. I’m going try to take my own advice and chill out and enjoy it. What about you?

November 26, 2011

A Minimalist Kid’s Paleo Birthday

My oldest boy Carl turned four last week and we didn’t have a party. Well, we didn’t have a party in the traditional sense of the word. If we lived near family, we totally would have had some people over, but we don’t so we did a Skype get together. It worked out swimmingly.

We also didn’t buy him any traditional gifts. Even before starting this minimalist journey, we never went crazy with birthdays. I feel like a person should be made to feel special on their birthday, and I don’t think commercialization and tons of gifts should be what does it.

Things were slightly different this year, because it was Carl’s first Minimalist and Paleo Birthday. Of course, it’s just a normal birthday to him, and I don’t put those labels on our life when I explain how or why we do things differently than a lot of other people, so I certainly didn’t label his special day as a Paleo Minimalist Birthday either…but, it totally was. And it was great. Here’s what we did to celebrate:

1. The Birthday Kid Gets to Pick All Meals…and gets to eat on the red “You Are Special Today” plate!

Breakfast: Paleo Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Primal Whipped Cream

Lunch: We walked to his favorite local restaurant where the kids had chicken and Daddy and I had bunless burgers.

Dinner: Gluten-Free Paleo Pizza with Primal Spinach Pizza with Feta Topping

Dessert: Paleo Pumpkin Cupcakes with Primal Cream Cheese Frosting

2. Open Gifts from Family:
While we don’t typically buy birthday gifts (I’m more likely to get something special on any-ol’-day because of great behavior or something “earned”), it makes most people feel good to buy gifts. This is especially true for long-distance relatives. Both sides of the family are usually really good about this and try to buy one nice thing or a few fun educational toys.

3. Talk to Family on Skype
My parents are in California and my hubby’s are in Massachusetts, so a Skype party is perfect! Short and sweet and everyone is happy.

4. Family Play Time
My husband works a lot. Birthdays are a day he makes sure to reserve completely for family, with little-to-no-work. We played with a few new toys as a family and just enjoyed each other.

That’s it. Nothing crazy. Nothing stressful. Nothing could have been better.

November 19, 2011

Window Treatments and Pictures Usually Mean I’m Moving (but not this time)

Since moving away from my parent’s home at seventeen, I haven’t lived in one place for longer than a year and a half. There were always good reasons to move, sometimes I was selfishly “moving up,” and other times, it was a requirement for a job or monetary reasons. Whatever the reason, I have moved almost twenty times in twelve years. Just writing that makes me sick to my stomach.

Moving is unsettling on it’s own, but never feeling settled down…well, that’s an awful feeling for anyone, especially a woman and mother who feels it is her job to provide a home for her kids and husband. And as we all know, a home is not just a house.

Usually, somewhere between the six month and one year mark, I decide I should try to hang some pictures and install some window treatments. On homes I have purchased I did that right away, because who ever buys a home (not intended for strictly investment purposes) they are sure they will move out of within eighteen months, right? Anyway, on the other dozen-and-a-half or so rental homes I’ve been slow to settle in because who wants to pack over and over again?!

So, here we are in New York for my husband’s job. We have no family here and very few friends. We have seriously considered a move to Massachusetts to be close to BH’s vast extended family, because let’s face it, life gets oh-so-lonely here. But, that would mean another move, and either a very long commute for my husband or looking for work in this crappy economy and leaving a job he is very good at and truly enjoys. After much debate and contemplation, we’ve decided to stay in NY for the foreseeable future. And…drumroll please…we just hit the eighteen month mark in our current home which makes it the house I’ve lived in the longest since I left my parent’s home.

What did I do to celebrate? Hung realwindow treatments (aka simple curtains, lol) in our bedroom. If you ask my Mom, she would say every time I’ve hung window treatments or pictures, I end up moving immediately afterwards, so she thinks it’s a bad omen. I’ve decided that’s just because I wait so long to do it. So, I stopped waiting and just did it. It feels good. I know it’s something little, and something my husband will probably always find silly and not the least bit helpful in making a “house a home” but it helps our goal of achieving excellent sleep and it makes me feel like a grown-up again. A grown-up that has been dying to settle-down for over a decade.

September 27, 2011

Tuesday Tip: What’s the Best Sippy Cup? I May Finally Know!

Having four children, ranging in age from one to eight years, I have had the opportunity to test out a lot of different cups for kids.

Most cups fall into one of the following two categories:

1. They leak
2. There are too many parts to clean, find, lose, etc.

Some wonderful cups actually fall into both categories. I feel like I have tested (and promptly donated) way too many cups, even considering how many children I have.

As a mom striving for less stuff (read: Minimalist Mommy), this has been a struggle. Each of the kids have only two cups with lids, whether they be water bottles or sippy cups. When Champ turned one in July, I started thinking about the sad, sad day (coming all too soon) when I will need to ween him from the bottle.

Like most of you, my thoughts tend to have a domino effect (which, according to my husband, usually means him writing a check). I thought about Champ moving on to a sippy cup (he already tries to steal his brother’s), and how a spouted sippy cup is getting kind of ridiculous (and probably not good for his dental health, if I’m being honest) for Carl, who will be four this fall. An even bigger challenge here, is that when Carl gets something new, especially big boy related, Jude wants it too. I decided I would get new spoutless cups for the eldest two boys, and pass-down the spouted cups to Champ. My plans were derailed when Jude couldn’t get his new cup to function (you’ll see why in my cup review below).

Anyway, the starter Sippy cups I tried that had soft, nipple-like spouts all leaked (Munchkin Mighty Grip Trainer Cup, Munchkin Mighty Grip Spill-Proof Cup). I’m sure there are some that do not, but I never saw the need for that kind of transition, really.

Then, I tried all of these transitional cups:

  • Take & Toss Sippy Cup
  • This thing gets dropped once, the lid opens, contents spill out. No bueno, even if it is for temporary or occasional use.

  • Vital Baby Toddler Straw Cup
  • First of all, the cover is attached with a very small plastic hinge. I tried these with Carl and Jude at ages 24mo and almost 3.5 years. Carl broke the lid off his in one day. The straws are also very narrow, making it difficult to even sip water…don’t even try a smoothie! Lastly, this cup has way too many pieces. Who wants to worry about washing all of those?

  • Munchkin Mighty Grip Flip Straw Cup
  • These cups are tough to clean and hard for kids to flip the straw open (at least mine). Again, too many parts.

  • Crocodile Creek Stainless Steel Reusable Drinking Bottle
  • This would be a great water bottle for the price, but the lids won’t stay on, and I bought two, so I doubt mine were just defective. I probably should have forked out some extra cash and purchased the Sigg bottles, but after discovering how painful it is to have an aluminum water bottle dropped on a toe, I decided to wait a few more years to try aluminum again!

    So, in my humble opinion, the best sippy cups by age are:

    12 months to 24 months (one to two years) : Playtex Insulator 9 oz Cup
    Easy to clean. Only one removable part. Won’t leak unless you don’t screw the lid on correctly (my husband says I’m the worst person to ever attempt to put a lid on anything, but I do okay with these ;)).

    Two years to 3.5 or 4 years: Playtex Baby Coolster Twist ‘n Click Insulated Cup

    Easy to clean. Only one removable part (happens to be the same part as the spouted cup! Yay!). Missing the spout so looks more like a big kid cup (and it’s better for dental health) Won’t leak if you put the lid on correctly.

    3.5 years until you’re not concerned about spills (ten? Lol): Contigo Autoseal Kids 14-Ounce Trekker Cup

    This thing is rad. It’s basically your travel coffee mug meets Coolster cup. It doesn’t require the sucking action to extract liquid, which makes it uber grown-up. Instead, the kids have to push a button to open the hole and have a drink. This does take some coordination, so it isn’t recommended for kids too young. I originally bought a set of two cups, thinking my 2 year old Jude would want to try it, but he just couldn’t get the hang of pushing the button and drinking at once. It’s also a little bit bigger, so that may be part of the coordination issue.

    It actually worked out nicely, we now have Champ, at 14 months, using the Playtex Spouted Cup, Jude, at 29 months, using the Playtex Coolster Cup, and Carl, at 3.5 years using the Contigo Cup.

    Have I missed any awesome cups? Please share!

    September 10, 2011

    DIY Toddler Preschool Chart: Weekly Menu aka “You Try It, You Like It!”

     

     

     

     

    Our first delivery from Urban Organic arrived two days ago.  I know I’ve said that I use a lot of frozen vegetables, and I still use some, but I’m trying something new.  You see, I’ve been trying to reinvent the wheel, and get my kids to like eating Paleo.  I had this fancy schmancy idea to create a food chart/ weekly menu for Jude and Carl to help with every week. My hope is this gets them excited about trying new fruits and vegetables.  So far (two days in), it has totally worked! Yay me!

     

    Let me start by saying, I am not even a little bit crafty. Even my penmanship stinks.  I can, however, do a thing or two in Google Docs.  So, I bought a pocket chart at the One Spot at Target and got to work.  Using Google Docs Paint, I searched for copy-write free images of all of the fruits and veggies found on my Urban Organic list for the week.  I shrunk each picture to the correct size, threw a label on it for reading practice, and voila… a Weekly Menu “You Try it, You Like it” Food Chart!

    Every Friday morning (our delivery comes Thursday night), the two oldest boys help me by picking out the fruit, vegetable, and breakfast item they want for that week.  I’ve already come up with my recipes based on the produce list, so I just insert my meals into the days the kids have selected.  Hopefully, the Yo-Gabba-Gabba line “You Try it, You Like it” will help us out here. . .I’ll be posting my recipes and what works as I go, so wish me luck!

     

    It’s not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but hey- if it gets my kids excited, I’m happy!