caring for creation while caring for family

Month: October 2016

Overwhelmed by Stuff: The November Minimalist Challenge

I’ve written before about how, in the last two years, I have been on a journey to simplify our life.  Specifically, that has involved the amount of items in our small house.

My husband has always been a minimalist at heart.  He loves to keep things simple and since he moved frequently after high school and even into our marriage, he tried to keep only the amount of stuff that would fit in his small car.  This worked great until he suggested that we only needed our backpacking kitchen gear in our first apartment together as a married couple.  I was not so keen on the idea…

I am not a hoarder, by any means, but I certainly was never a minimalist, either.  I like having the comforts of home around me.  Even while backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail for months at a time, I liked to nest in our tent every night.   I liked to feel at home and the things that surrounded me played a part in that. They still do…

However, the more kids I have, the more I have found the need to simplify.  And the more I simplify, the more I feel a sense of peace in my home.  I have yet to find that perfect balance of stuff – every time I get rid of stuff, I still feel like there is more to let go of, so the process continues…

That is where this challenge comes in.

This is a challenge that many bloggers and YouTubers have done in the past.  I first heard about it a year ago.  The month long minimalist challenge is simply to get rid of the same number of items as the day of the month.  So, on November 1st, that is one item, the 2nd is two items, all the way until November 30th at 30 items.  In all, after the challenge, I will have gotten rid of at least 465 more items in my home.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

This summer I went through my pantry, pulled out all the food, got rid of things that we didn’t want anymore or were expired, and put the rest back.

That might sound like a lot, or it might sound like a little.  It really depends on you and the amount of items you are comfortable with.  Since each time I declutter, I have gotten rid of hundreds of items, I know this will not be too hard at our house.  Kids bring in clutter. All. The. Time.  It’s crazy how much stuff accumulates with kids – especially school age kids!

I also want to clarify that an “item” can be as large or as small as you want it to be.  It could be a really large item like a piece of furniture, or it can be as small as a piece of paper you don’t need, or anything in between.

I am not a rule follower by nature – I like to mix things up, so I will most likely NOT be doing the exact number of items a day as the day, everyday.  I will be counting up my items as I donate, discard, or recycle them and try to hit at least 465 items for the entire month.  If I break it up by week, this is

  • Days 1-7: 28 items
  • Days 8-14: 77 items
  • Days 15-21: 126 items
  • Days 22-28: 175 items
  • Days 29 and 30: 59 items

Suggestions of things to go through to donate or discard:

  • Clothing/shoes – I will especially be going through my T-shirt, underwear, and sock drawers again.
  • Cabinets – especially the bathroom cabinets, but the kitchen is another great place
  • Pantry – Old food? Old party stuff? Plastic food containers?
  • Toys and children’s books – if you have kids, there are likely many, many toys that your kids just don’t play with anymore.  I know the kids toy shelf and book shelf is ready for me to go through it again.

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

    Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after declutttering this summer, but it is not so neat almost 6 months later…

  • Laundry room/linen closet – old blankets (great to donate this time of year), old cleaning supplies, junk that accumulates (my laundry closet is a magnet for junk!)
  • Books/DVDs – old books, DVDs, or movies that you just never read or watch anymore.
  • Office – piled up mail, old files, pens, papers, excess office or craft supplies, expired batteries
  • Kitchen – extra dishes (especially kids dishes and plastic cups – these seem to breed), expired spices, excess dish towels and rags, nasty stuff in the refrigerator…
  • Garage/car – I could easily find 465 items just in the garage (and we park our cars in there every night, so I know we have less stuff than most our neighbors). My car is another 100 items easily – junk accumulates faster than I can clean it out with 3 kids! (My husbands car, on the other hand, is spotless – go figure!)

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

    Our garage camping shelf after decluttering this summer – so much better!

  • Digital clutter – don’t even get me started on the number of emails in my inbox.  Let’s just say that 465 items would be nothing compared to that!  Thank goodness for the “Search” tool!

So, anyone want to join me on this crazy venture?  I know I already have a few friends who are game!  Make sure to follow me on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with my progress.  And I’d love to follow your progress as well, so make sure it tag me on Facebook or Instagram in your posts – @amylovesnature

By most hardcore minimalist standards, I still have a LONG way to go, but I’m happy to say that I’m making progress.  Life is getting simpler one donated item at a time…





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My First Birth Story: where nothing went as planned…

I had the hardest time deciding which of my three birth stories I wanted to write about first.  They are all unique and special in their own way. After thinking about it for a couple months, I decided I should start at the beginning… a very good place to start… (cue Sound of Music)  And, if you just LOVE birth stories, you can binge to your heart’s delight at my friend Suzanne’s blog The Glorious Mundane’s Birth Story page.

When I was pregnant with my oldest son, Clayton, I really wanted a natural birth.  I’m a natural girl, I’ve done marathons, I’ve backpacked thousands of miles, I knew I could do it.  However, in my naivety, I made my biggest mistake. I chose our local hospital. 

I did not think that the place I decided to give birth made a difference.  I thought all hospitals were the same, all nurses and doctors were the same, and the only variable in the equation was me.  Now, over 8 years later, I cannot believe I was so naive, but that was where I was.

I was thrilled when I found out we were pregnant with our first and quickly looked into OB/GYNs in the area that delivered at the only hospital closer than 45 minutes to our house.  I chose an older man with lots of experience who looked a lot like my childhood doctor.  He was actually very sweet – and he proved to be the best decision I made for my delivery.

My first birth story - where nothing went as planned. Sometimes the best birth plans don't happen.

Soon after we found out we were expecting our first!

As my due date approached, I registered with the hospital, took a birthing class with my husband, and prepared our home for the arrival of our little one.  The one thing I wanted to avoid at all costs with this delivery was being induced (and, of course, a C-section).  I had heard that Pitocin (the drug used to induce labor) made labor extremely painful and I was not sure if I would be successful with a natural childbirth under those circumstances.

Just after midnight, on the morning of my due date, my water broke.  I didn’t wake up my husband and tried to get some sleep – which was pretty much impossible as all I could think about was the immanent arrival of our son.  Would he be born by morning?  By noon?  Surely by the evening he would be here.  How prompt of him to come on his due date!

Well, by morning, nothing much had happened.  And I knew the hospital had given specific instructions to call them and come in the minute my water broke.  However, I also knew that if labor did not start soon, they would induce me – my very worst fear!  I wasn’t going in just yet…

So we spent the morning walking, several miles, trying to get things moving.  I started to have steady contractions, but they really didn’t hurt.  They came every 20 minutes, then every 10 minutes, and finally they were closer than 5 minutes.  Still they did not hurt much (I know now it was only very early labor), but about 8 pm we decided to go into the hospital.  

When we checked in, I was immediately scolded by the staff for not checking in the night before – but that was just the beginning of them getting to deal with my stubbornness.  I was 2.5 cm – which was something since I was only ½ cm dilated when I was at my doctor’s office the day before.  However, I was immediately told I HAD to be induced.  It was the hospital policy when water had been broken for so long with no active labor.  We stalled for a couple hours, but I was not allowed to return home and my labor (as minor as it had been) had completely stalled when I got to the hospital, so I got an IV and Pitocin, as well as a monitor  – all things I absolutely did not want!

Labor then started – and it hurt – a lot!  But I worked through the pain and 4 hours later asked to be checked again.  I had to be at least a 6, right?  Nope – still at 2.5 cm dilated.  They turned down the Pitocin some and gave me something to help me sleep and rest – since it was obvious this was going to take some time.  The medicine only made me sick, but I did get a little rest.  Early in the morning, they turned up the Pitocin again and I continued to fight through the contractions, knowing that each one was bringing me closer to meeting my son – except they weren’t.  My body continued to fight the Pitocin, although it started to dilate some.  After 16 hours of induction, I gave in.  I was only 5 cm dilated and I just couldn’t take the pain that led nowhere anymore.  I asked for an epidural and finally got it at 4 pm.

Things went smoother after that because I could no longer feel the pain, but my body still would not cooperate.  I had slowly reached 7 cm, but had stalled again. At 8 pm, the nurses came in and told me that I needed to have a C-section.  I was devastated. I had just been laboring for almost 2 days – I had fought through 16 hours of pain with Pitocin, and now I would have to have a C-section?

So I argued with them.  

“Was the baby in trouble?”

No, not yet – but he could be at any time.  They made me feel guilty and like a bad mom for even suggesting that I did not need a C-section.  According to them, I was putting my baby at risk by not complying immediately.  

So I asked to see my doctor.  I was in tears and devastated, but I trusted him more than the nurses (who worked for the overcrowded hospital that I was still taking up room in).  He came in, calmly talked to me and my husband, listened to my fears, and told me – no, I did not have to have a C-section at this point.  Then he left the room to fight it out with the nurses.

Then we started to pray.  And my mom and sister who were with us got on the phone to get everyone else to pray.  We prayed that my body would open up, that our baby boy would be born safely, that God would give our doctor wisdom. And I tried to prepare my heart in the case that I would need to have an emergency C-section after all.

My first birth story - where nothing went as planned. Sometimes the best birth plans don't happen.

Meeting my little boy for the first time.

Two hours later, my doctor came to check on me again.  And praise God, I was finally 10 cm and could push!  It took two hours of pushing, as well as help from an episiotomy (which I also did not want, but figured it was better than a C-section), and a vaccuum, but finally, just after midnight, Clayton arrived.

He was perfect! Ten fingers, ten toes… two beautiful blue eyes.  A little rosebud mouth.  He was laid on my chest and we were able to try to breastfeed immediately.  He had a hard time with that because he was really groggy from my epidural still, but nevertheless, I was in love!  

My first birth story - where nothing went as planned. Sometimes the best birth plans don't happen.

Daddy’s boy from hour one!

Just over 12 hours later we were bringing him home.  (Another thing I got to fight the nurses over.) But I was sick of that hospital, we were both given clean bills of health, and I was ready to be home.

My first birth story - where nothing went as planned. Sometimes the best birth plans don't happen.

About 12 hours after his birth, we were relaxing at home…

Clayton’s birth taught me so much – not just because it made me a mother for the first time, but also because it taught me what I did NOT want to be part of my future births.  But, despite the unexpected twists and the fighting with hospital staff, I had the outcome I wanted – a healthy happy baby boy!

The one thing that I want anyone wanting a natural labor to take away from this story is that the hospital you choose, and the birthing practices of that hospital, makes a difference.  I naively thought it did not, I thought that I was the only variable in the equation, but that is just not the case,  So, no matter what type of birth experience you want, make sure to choose the place you will be giving birth very intentionally.  Do your research, because every hospital is NOT the same. (Okay.. End rant…)


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Choosing the best homeschooling option for our family

So, Part 2 of my homeschool series is how we chose the method of homeschooling that we currently use.  (If you missed part 1, on why we chose to homeschool our kids, you can read it here.) This is a personal option for any homeschool family, and like the choice to homeschool your kids, or not, it can change depending on the current needs of your family.  The options that I mention are not available in every state, so you will have to research your homeschool options based upon your state’s, or country’s, laws.

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life -

Micah traces numbers and places the right number of teddy bears on each one at age 4.5.

California Homeschool Options

The homeschool options in California, where we live, are very good.  Not only is private homeschooling an option (if you register your ” private school” with the state, a process that I am told is relatively simple), but there are numerous public charter homeschool options and online options, as well.  There are also some private schools that have homeschool programs attached to them – an option that my parents used when I was a kid. Homeschool groups, coops, and programs also give parents many options within these broad categories. We looked into each of these options and the many different charter schools available in our area – we talked to people who had used all of these things, assessing the pros and cons of each option.

The best option for us

In the end, we decided on what we believed to be the best option for our family, a charter homeschool with a local campus.  The campus gave us the option to enroll our students in on-site classes once or twice a week for 60-90 minutes of learning in a classroom setting. (Jr High and High school students have more on-site classes). It allows them to get used to other teaching styles, classroom expectations, and interact with their peers while still spending the majority of their school day at home.  My boys, who are slow to read just like I was, are able to participate in programs to help them with reading, all free of charge because it is a public school – which is such a blessing!

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.comCost – Another reason that we chose the public charter school route was that it was much less expensive than private homeschooling.  When we started homeschooling, we were trying to raise our family on two part-time adjunct professor salaries – which is not much money!  So we had to find an inexpensive option.  Because it is a public school, the curriculum is provided for us.

Curriculum – However, we don’t just have one curriculum option, we have many many great options to choose from.  When my oldest was in kindergarten, the basic handwriting curriculum we were given just wasn’t working, so I asked about another curriculum and was able to check it out of the school’s curriculum library that day! (Find out what it was in my favorite curriculum post coming next in the series!)

The only drawback to getting free curriculum through a charter school is that Christian (or any religious) curriculum is not an option.  We are okay with this.  We supplement our own Bible curriculum and we know that our kids are getting a solid Biblical foundation even without books that specifically address it.  More on that in my curriculum post.

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life -

Addamay always wants to do what her brothers are doing.

Personalized Learning Teachers – Another great thing about going through a charter school (although this is a drawback for some) is that we have a credentialed teacher overseeing our children’s education.  She helps us create an individualized learning plan for each of the kids and is incredibly encouraging!  We check in with her frequently; she ensures that we are staying on track and is always so encouraging. We love our PLT (Personalized Learning Teacher).  However, if we didn’t like our teacher, we have the option to switch teachers, even in the middle of the year.  Every parent and teacher has a different approach to learning/teaching, so sometimes it can be a process to find the teacher that works best for your family. We did our research before applying to the school and made our teacher request based on our research – thankfully she had openings that year!

Classes – The optional  onsite classes have been wonderful for our boys and have allowed them to have an in-class experience each week.  These are taught by the credentialed teachers and there are always several options for the kids to choose from.  This year my boys are doing a reading program twice a week to help them with their reading and they each have one fun class.  My 3rd grader LOVES his science class where he gets to do experiments with his peers each week – he wants to be a scientist of some kind, but thinks it’s too much pressure to choose what kind of science just now – smart kid!  My 1st grader started in a fun math class, but found it too easy (which is boring for a 6 year old), so he switched to a reading class that has different stories and crafts each week – he loves crafts!

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life -

On a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Student Resources – Finally, our public charter school allots resources for additional or extra curricular educational classes or tutoring from approved vendors throughout the year.  The funding is limited per month, of course, but it allows our children to participate in some great educational classes that we otherwise would not be able to afford!  The boys are currently taking semi-private swimming lessons twice a week because of this!  Other kids choose tutoring in every subject, music lessons, karate, ballet, etc.  There are so many options!

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life -

Our school room at home (I’ll write a post on that soon, too) and my lesson planner.


After researching all the options – we settled on the public charter school option as the best one for our family currently.  It is certainly possible that the best option for our children may change at some point in the future.  If we move, we may decide that private homeschool is the best option, or we may decide on a charter school without a campus.  I don’t think we will ever choose an online school for our children, because my husband and I are opposed to that idea for children’s education. Of course, never say never – right?

So, do you homeschool?  And if so, what is the option that you have chosen for your family? I’d love to hear about it!


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