NatureAmy

caring for creation while caring for family

Category: Green Living (page 1 of 2)

Why my kids don’t have many toys…

OK, OK, this makes me sound like the Grinch.

I promise, my kids have plenty of toys, they really do.  However, compared to most families we know, regardless of income, my three kids don’t have many toys.  But before you start donating all your unwanted toys to our house, let me just clarify – this is completely intentional…

There really are two main reasons we don’t have a lot of toys for our three (soon to be four) children,  The first is that about two years ago, I made the very intentional choice to severely cut back on our belongings.  This was not a sudden decision – it was actually very gradual and you can read about it here.

We live in a small house, so we don’t have a play room.  Our living room is naturally where the kids play. During that time, our living room went from looking like this – home of all the toys…

Our living room at Addamay's first birthday party.  This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

Our living room at Addamay’s first birthday party. This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

to this.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress.  We've done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress. We’ve done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Where did all the toys go?  Well, a lot of them were donated.  The rest mostly live here on this one bookshelf in the hallway.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff - NatureAmy.com

Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after decluttering this summer.

We also have a big box of Legos, a Lego display small bookshelf in the kids’ room to keep their creations, and a few things in our large pantry and garage that act as a toy library.

The second reason we don’t have many toys is because when my two boys were little my sister Ella read the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Dr. Kim John Payne.  I have since read it, but when she read it she went into great detail about his philosophy on toys and play and I was absolutely fascinated by it!  (My sister and I spend a lot of time on the phone together each week and like to talk about anything and everything!)

I started to implement some of Dr. Paynes strategies then – the first one I embraced was that toys should not do anything for the child. Toys that do too much squelch the imagination – so out with the noise toys!  Yes! (I really was looking for any reason to get rid of that stupid singing alphabet caterpillar!)  Instead, we stick to “old fashioned” non-electronic toys, like blocks, Legos, Play-Doh, and wooden trains.

And do you know what we’ve found?  Our kids play longer, fight less, and enjoy the toys they have more when they own less.  Too many toys can be overstimulating for kids.  But when we purposefully pare down what they have to play with – keeping only their favorites and the ones that use the most imagination – they are actually happier, calmer, and more content.


Dr Payne’s research is really quite amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to simplify their children’s lives.  His prescription to his clients to simplify their children’s environment has helped with behavioral issues, ADHD, and anxiety, among other things.  In most of his case studies, the children’s symptoms disappeared entirely! He suggests that most people need to reduce their children’s toys by about 75%.  He uses the following guidelines to reduce the toy clutter:

  1. Get rid of broken toys- pretty simple
  2. Get rid of “fixed” toys – toys that don’t trigger the imagination (character toys from TV shows or movies fall under this category)
  3. Developmentally inappropriate toys – is this too mature or too immature?
  4. Annoying toys – if you can’t stand it, he gives you permission to toss it.  I love this one!
  5. Complicated toys, battery operated toys, toys that break easily.
  6. Commercial toys – ones that you were pressured to buy because everyone must have it.
  7. Toys that cause the kids to fight or interact unhealthily

So what toys do we keep?  Toys that encourage the imagination.  Think blocks, dolls, dress up clothes, craft items, wooden trains.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

Your son doesn’t need a police car with a real siren – he can make the noise himself!  She doesn’t need a doll that cries or talks or poops – her imagination can do that very well.

My boys do occasionally beg for toys they see their friends have.  For instance, they really want bullets for their Nerf guns, but I won’t get them for them.  (I tossed them all a couple years ago.) You see, when we had bullets, they spent more time trying to find them and asking me to help them find them than they actually spent playing.  However, I know they can spend hours playing with their toy guns fighting off imaginary bad guys in some elaborate story.  But if they have to stop to find Nerf bullets, the game stops.  I’m sure you have similar stories of how your kids imaginatio

n has just stopped because a toy does too much.

The toys that made the cut at our house:

Legos

Mega Blocks

Magformers              

Some of the toy cars and trucks and racing tracks

Wooden trains and tracks

Bean-bag animal stuffed toys (these are a surprising hit and the kids can play for hours in their animal world)

Play-dough – I make my own play-dough and we use a variety of tools to play

Melissa and Doug Castle Blocks and knights and dragons

Melissa and Doug puzzles

Marble Run tracks

Pirate ships

A few toy guns and foam swords – nothing realistic looking

Baby dolls, baby carriage, clothes, and accessories

Toy kitchen, toy table/chairs, cookware, food, picnic basket, and tea pot

Dress-up clothes

Art and craft supplies – these live in our homeschool room

Children’s books and board games – these live in the closet

When I write it up like that, it does seem like a pretty long list, but it does include three kids of different genders, ages 2-8.  Plus, it mostly fits on one IKEA shelf bolted to the wall in the hall.  I keep a few items, like our toy kitchen and large trucks, on the back porch.  And a few items are stored in the garage or our large pantry.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.


Does anyone else get Toy Story guilt when you donate (or toss) a toy?  Oh my goodness, that movie has scarred me for life!  LOL! Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and tried not to think too much about it when I donated Buzz Lightyear! Sorry, Buzz, but hopefully you’re getting played with at your new home!toy-story-3

I also am that mom that usually does not include her kids in the donating decisions.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine go into full blown hysterics over the thought of giving away ANY of their toys – even toys they have NEVER played with!  However, if I donate the toys I know they don’t play with anymore while they are asleep, they are not upset by it.  They usually don’t even notice.

On the couple occasions that they have noticed something missing, I explain that I gave it away to a kid that didn’t have many toys so they could play with it.  Sometimes, a couple tears were shed by my 6 year old who is very sensitive, but he got over it quickly and was happy to know it went to a good home.

If there are toys that I’m not sure about, I often move them to a shelf in the garage.  Sometimes I will add them back into the toy rotation.  Other times, if they are forgotten for 6 months or more, I donate them.


So, what do you do about toys at your house?  Are they taking over or have you found a good balance that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

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A Few of My Favorite Things Giveaway: Celebrating 1000 Instagram Followers

I recently rolled over 1000 followers on Instagram, which isn’t much for veteran bloggers, but is a huge achievement for me! I’m totally doing a happy dance over here!

So, in order to celebrate, I am doing a giveaway!  And, since I am incredibly indecisive (don’t even get me started on baby names – yikes!) I am making this giveaway the winner’s choice!

I am offering the winner of this giveaway a choice of ONE of four of my very favorite books!  Each of these books is somehow related to my blog and they are all really good and life changing!  At least they have been life changing for me!

The first two books go together – they are the Trim Healthy Mama Plan: The Easy-Does-It Approach to Vibrant Health and a Slim Waistline OR the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook: Eat Up and Slim Down with More Than 350 Healthy Recipes.  I love THM and have been living the THM lifestyle for the last 2.5 years.  You can read about my THM testimony here.  Or how it has helped me (a former sugar addict) give up sugar for good here.

The third book choice goes along with my current minimalism challenge, but it is not really a book about minimalism. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo has really helped me simplify and organize our small home.  It is not necessarily a book about minimalism, however.  It is really about just keeping only the things that bring you joy or have a purpose.  So, if a lot of your stuff brings you joy, truly brings you joy, then you should keep it. (However, most people find that most stuff does not truly bring them joy – but it is a personal process for everyone.) I am not a minimalist in the starkest sense of the word.  I have a colorful house full of pictures and toys and craft projects – things that bring me, or my family, joy!

The final book choice has been really instrumental in my parenting choices. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Dr. Kim John Payne has really helped my husband and I simplify our lives to be the best parents we can be.  This means less after school activities, less noise toys, less screen time, and less temper-tantrums.  It also means more quality time, more imaginative play, more family time, more secure kids.  It is a must read for today’s parents!

How to enter to win your choice of one of these books?

Simple – you can enter both on my Facebook page or my Instagram account.  Follow the rules outlined in the post on Facebook or on Instagram to enter.  And make sure to give my pages a “like” or “follow” while you’re there!  It’s as simple as that!  The giveaway is only open to US residents – so sorry!  And it closes at 9 pm Pacific Standard Time on Saturday, November 19, 2016.

Good luck!

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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 - NatureAmy.com

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 - NatureAmy.com

    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 - NatureAmy.com

    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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DIY All Natural Deodorant – 4 Ingredients, gluten-free

Until recently, I was not aware of how important it is to be careful of the things we put on our skin.  I would lather products on liberally to protect from the sun, to prevent wrinkles, moisturize, or to beautify, but I was completely unaware of what was in these products.  

It’s just our skin, we’re not eating it – what’s the big deal, right?

Well, the big deal is that our skin is our largest organ in our body and  it absorbs pretty much everything we put on it.

Yikes! That’s why medications like the nicotine and birth control patches are so effective.

In the last few years I have stopped using makeup and face creams that are filled with chemicals.  I started making my own deodorant, or buying natural kinds, and this year I made the switch over to entirely natural mineral based sunscreens.  Although some of these things have actually saved me money, other things (like natural sunscreen) are a lot more pricey, so I like to save money by making my own whenever I can.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen me testing a new recipe for a DIY deodorant. I’ve made some deodorants from recipes in magazines or on Pinterest in the past, but I’ve always been disappointed with the results. Most recipes simply combine coconut oil, baking powder, and corn starch for a simple deodorant that is easy to whip up.  The result was oily (grease stained underarms – yuck) and really didn’t cut it in hot weather.  However, I used this basic recipe during my entire pregnancy with my daughter since I didn’t want to put anything with chemicals on my skin – especially while pregnant – but I never liked it. When summer came, after she was born, that greasy deodorant just didn’t do the trick.

An all-natural simple deodorant recipe that actually works! It even goes on just like a conventional brand! Inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals' Hippie Stick - NatureAmy.com

My recipe was inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals’ Hippie Stick

I was excited to try Trim Healthy Mama’s skin care line Trim Healthy Naturals’ deodorant Hippy Stick when it came out last year.  I absolutely love it and it is completely natural and it actually works!(If you aren’t the DIY sort, you can click here to buy THM’s Hippie Stick).  However much I love the Hippie Stick, it is a bit pricey for our growing family’s budget, so I wanted to make something similar for myself and family members.  The following recipe is the result.

After creating this recipe earlier this month, I knew I needed to put it to the test. I loved how it poured easily into a deodorant tube so that when it cooled and hardened it was easy to roll on.  I also liked how I could tailor the smell to my favorite essential oils – definitely a plus for this smell sensitive pregnant lady!  The big test, however, came when we spent the day hiking at Lake Tahoe in 90+ degree weather.  I got home and did the sniff test – no stink! Success!

Ingredients: (Scroll down for a printable recipe)

  • 6 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons organic beeswax pellets
  • 11 Tablespoons Arrowroot Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
  • 20 -30 drops essential oil(s) of choice to desired fragrance

Instructions:

  1. Add coconut oil and beeswax to a small saucepan. The first time I made this recipe I used unrefined coconut oil, which has a gentle coconut smell. The second time I made this I used refined coconut oil, which has no smell. Depending on the fragrance you want, you can use refined or unrefined oil.

    An all-natural simple deodorant recipe that actually works! It even goes on just like a conventional brand! Inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals' Hippie Stick - NatureAmy.com

    Slowly melting the coconut oil and beeswax. Don’t let it get too hot!

  2. Over low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and beeswax. Just enough heat to heat up the oil will do the trick – don’t let it get too hot. Turn off the heat when the oil heats up and let the wax melt on its own.
  3. Add the arrowroot flour/starch and baking soda and mix well. If you can’t use baking soda, you can certainly try leaving it out. I have always used it, however, so I don’t know if it will absorb odor quite as well without it.

    An all-natural simple deodorant recipe that actually works! It even goes on just like a conventional brand! Inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals' Hippie Stick - NatureAmy.com

    Add the dry ingredients and mix. It will harden as it cools. Add the essential oils to your desired fragrance strength.

  4. Add food-grade essential oils of choice until you reach your desired fragrance. I used 10 drops of doTerra Lavender, 20 drops of doTerra Grapefruit, and 10 drops of doTerra Citrus Bliss. The lavender is naturally anti-bacterial and the citrus are my favorite fragrances.
  5. Now pour the deodorant into two containers. If it has cooled too much (mine hardened quickly) simply heat over very low heat for 30 seconds or so until it is liquid again. I used two old deodorant containers I had saved to store them in. Make sure to lower the plastic push thing (sorry, but what do you call that thing!) to the very bottom of the container before you pour in the deodorant. To harden quickly, place in the refrigerator to cool.

    An all-natural simple deodorant recipe that actually works! It even goes on just like a conventional brand! Inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals' Hippie Stick - NatureAmy.com

    Heat up and stir the deodorant mixture so that it is easy to pour. Pour into some old deodorant containers. I used an old blue one and my Hippie Stick container.

  6. Store at room temperature and use as you would a store bought deodorant. The coconut oil will be harder in the winter and softer in the summer. I find it to be just right in the summer (not too soft even though we keep our house pretty warm). It can be pretty hard in the winter, but if you warm it up for 5-10 seconds on your warm underarm, it should spread nicely.
Nature Amy's DIY All Natural Deodorant
Author: 
Recipe type: Deodorant
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 deodorants
 
An all natural deodorant inspired by Trim Healthy Naturals' Hippie Stick
Ingredients
  • 6 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons organic beeswax pellets
  • 11 Tablespoons Arrowroot Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
  • 30 - 40 drops essential oils of choice to desired fragrance
Instructions
  1. Add coconut oil and beeswax to a small saucepan. The first time I made this recipe I used unrefined coconut oil, which has a gentle coconut smell. The second time I made this I used refined coconut oil, which has no smell. Depending on the fragrance you want, you can use refined or unrefined oil.
  2. Over low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and beeswax. Just enough heat to heat up the oil will do the trick - don't let it get too hot. Turn off the heat when the oil heats up and let the wax melt on its own.
  3. Add the arrowroot flour/starch and baking soda and mix well. If you can't use baking soda, you can certainly try leaving it out. I have always used it, however, so I don't know if it will absorb odor quite as well without it.
  4. Add food-grade essential oils of choice until you reach your desired fragrance. I used 10 drops of doTerra Lavender, 20 drops of doTerra Grapefruit, and 10 drops of doTerra Citrus Bliss. The lavender is naturally anti-bacterial and the citrus are my favorite fragrances.
  5. Now pour the deodorant into two containers. If it has cooled too much (mine hardened quickly) simply heat over very low heat for 30 seconds or so until it is liquid again. I used two old deodorant containers I had saved to store them in. Make sure to lower the plastic push thing (sorry, but what do you call that thing!) to the very bottom of the container before you pour in the deodorant. To harden quickly, place in the refrigerator to cool.
  6. Store at room temperature and use as you would a store bought deodorant. The coconut oil will be harder in the winter and softer in the summer. I find it to be just right in the summer (not too soft even though we keep our house pretty warm). It can be pretty hard in the winter, but if you warm it up for a few seconds on your warm underarm, it should spread nicely.

A quick note about essential oils:

It’s important to use a high quality food grade essential oil (like doTerra or Young Living) when using it on your skin (or breathing or ingesting it).  I use some cheaper brands I can get easily at our local natural food store for making some of my cleaning products, but I won’t use them for skin products or in food recipes.  I think most people know someone who sells these high quality products, I know several people myself, but if you don’t, you are welcome to use this link to support my friend Teresa’s doTerra business, Shine Brighter.  I love to support friends whenever I can!

Containers

If you don’t have an empty deodorant container lying around, you can always store this in a glass jar.  Or, you could buy a cheap deodorant from the dollar store, dump the contents, rinse with hot water, and add your deodorant to this container – whatever floats your boat! Maybe you want to make a bunch to give away (Christmas gifts, anyone?), then you can buy these empty containers online Pack of 20 Deodorant Containers New & Empty.

Ingredients

I was able to find all of these ingredients locally, which was nice.  The coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oils I already had in my pantry.  The organic beeswax pellets I was able to buy in bulk at my local health food store, so I just bought a small amount.  If you can’t find a small amount of pellets, you may want to buy the wax in a small block and grate it up for ease of measuring.  Or you could buy a pound from Amazon here 100% Organic Yellow Beeswax Pellets. The arrowroot powder was also at our local health food store in the gluten free section, or you could get it at Amazon here Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Starch / Flour, 16-ounce.

So far I’ve made some of this great deodorant for myself and for my oldest son.  I love that I can make something that is not filling his young body with chemicals!  I tweaked the fragrance for him to something he liked better.  Next, I will be playing around with a spicier masculine fragrance for my husband – he’s definitely not a fruity smell kind of guy.  The options are limitless!

I hope you like this as much as we do!  Let me know what fragrance options you try! I love to connect with my readers on Facebook and Instagram.  If you aren’t following me there, yet, could you head on over and give me a like?  Thank so much for reading!

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A Trim Healthy Mama Goes Camping: or what I eat on a weekend camping trip

I just published a post on the allergy-friendly camping menu I use at least twice a year to feed 20-40 people.  One thing I love about the menu is its versatility.  There is something for everyone in the mix, so if you want to eat healthy, but a large part of the group does not, there are options for everyone.  See the original post for details on the complete menu I use.   This is the companion post I promised to write on what I eat on this trip while still staying “on plan” – the Trim Healthy Mama (THM) Plan, that is.

What I eat on a weekend camping trip to stay on plan with THM -

Burney Falls is one of our favorite stops on our field trips. This pictures says it all…

I love THM (you can read more about my journey with THM here), but one of the BEST things about the plan is that it is easy to tweak a basic menu to be on plan for you, but not for others.  The basic meal types simply pair healthy carbs with protein for an Energizing meal (E), healthy fats with protein for a Satisfying meal (S), or combine healthy carbs, fats, and protein for a Crossover meal (CO).   While camping, I am personally very active and generally hike a lot and I’m on my feet all day.  Therefore, I eat a lot and also indulge in a good amount of Crossover meals.  THM recommends incorporating Crossover meals occasionally when you are at or near goal weight, pregnant and/or nursing, trying to gain weight, or for people with high metabolisms.  When camping, I am burning even more calories than I do in a normal day; as a home school mom with little kids, I am generally quite active everyday (plus I try to exercise daily), but camping takes it up a notch.  If you are the kind of camper that likes to lounge at camp all day enjoying a great book and relaxing, there is nothing wrong with that, but you probably don’t want to eat as many crossovers as I do…

Please read my entire menu plan to understand what I pack for the large group for our trip – this article just goes into what I eat from that menu.  So, let’s jump in…


Day 1 :

Lunch

Lunch for the group is make-your-own sandwiches, fruit, chips, and water or juice.  For myself, I like to do an E sandwich (think healthy carbs and low fat) on a couple pieces of sprouted whole wheat bread.  I use turkey meat, light mayo/mustard, lettuce, and tomato.  However, if I want to make it a Crossover by increasing the healthy fat, I would add some avocado and a cheese slice – yummy!  I add a piece of fruit and some water for a perfect meal.

If you wanted to make an S meal instead (think low in carbs and higher in fat), simply  switch out the sprouted bread for a low-carb wrap or a couple pieces of some THM Nuke Queen Bread made at home before the trip.  You could have up to half an avocado, cheese, and mayo with this option. You could also have a fattier sandwich meat, like salami or roast beef, or even add some pre-cooked bacon slices for a treat.  Most fruits would be too high carb for this option, but if you packed some berries, that would pair perfectly with an S lunch.

Snack-

Snacks can be a bit tricky, because on THM we want to make sure they are centered around protein to keep us fuller longer and to stabilize our blood sugars.  My go-to camping snack is a piece of fruit (an E) and maybe some healthy popcorn (low in fat), but that does not give my body enough protein to balance out the snack.  If you pack some low-fat cheese sticks or a Triple-Zero yogurt, that would work.  You could also grab some sandwich meat from the cooler to add to the snack.  Nuts are also a great snack, especially to take along on a hike.

Sometimes on camping trips, I like to prepare some foods that travel well to bring along.  (I don’t do that for these large group trips, however – getting food ready for 40 people keeps me too busy!) I love to make some Cowboy Cookies by Mrs. Criddles Kitchen or make up some pack-able treats from the THM cookbook (there are too many wonderful choices to list).

tacochiliDinner-

Dinner on the first night is my Famous Taco Chili, which feeds an army and is THM E.  I make the base of it at home and then add the canned beans at camp for a quick “from scratch” meal.  To keep this meal an E, skip adding cheese and sour cream (unless it is low fat) and eat it with some on-plan blue corn tortilla chips.  I always add a pre-made salad mix to the meal, so for an E meal, I make sure it has a lighter dressing and toppings, and, of course, skip the croutons.

I love bringing pre-made salad mixes camping.  I never buy them normally, but when I’m camping, I still want to get my greens, but I don’t want to bother with washing, chopping, slicing, etc.   Read the ingredients carefully.  You may need to mix up a salad without some of the additions to keep it on plan, but that is easy to do.

Dessert – 

I wish THM marshmallows roasted well, but I don’t think they would hold up!  Instead, I have some Lilly’s chocolate and some hot tea and sit back and enjoy the fire!


Day 2

What I eat to stay on plan while camping with THMBreakfast –

I like to keep breakfast simple with such a large group, so I have a large variety of continental breakfast items and heat up a big pot of water.  I eat 2-3 packets of oatmeal topped with a little milk and sweetened with some THM Gentle Sweet.  I also have hot tea sweetened with some THM Gentle Sweet packets (you can find them at the THM store – so convenient for camping!) and half-n-half.  A piece of fruit is always a good addition to this E meal.

Be sure to select the  instant oatmeal packets carefully to find something on-plan.  Most instant oatmeal is made with many added ingredients, including a lot of sugar.  Even the “Plain” variety can have many additional ingredients, but there are some healthier brands, so make sure to read the labels.

To add some protein to your breakfast, I like to add a scoop of collagen powder – it is easy to pack ahead in small Ziploc bags.  Alternatively, you could add the collagen to your hot coffee or tea.  Collagen can also be found at the THM Store, when they are not out-of-stock because it is such a high quality in-demand product!

Lunch – 

In the interest of keeping things simple, day two has the same lunch as day one.  There is a lot of variety in the sandwich meat, so I generally make it a bit differently, but still have an E or CO. (Actually, lets be honest – I always have a crossover – avocado is just too good to pass up on a sandwich.  Plus, I need the energy for all the hiking and caving we do all day.)  I add fruit and a lunch size packet of healthy popcorn.

Snack – 

Same options as day 1.  I like to pack a piece of fruit, or two, and some nuts or cheese sticks along for some hiking energy.  Some Lilly’s chocolate is also a treat!

WurstsDinner –

I love cooking food over the fire while camping, and this dinner does the trick.  I make everyone cook their own sausage (they come precooked, so I don’t have to worry that anyone will under cook them). I generally have Aidell’s Chicken sausages and/or cheddar-wurst for an S meal.  I skip the bun and baked beans I feed the group and have a large salad (from a pre-made salad mix again), this time indulging in something with a creamy salad dressing, since this is an S meal.

Dessert –

We have s’mores and hot drinks again for the group, but I enjoy some Lilly’s chocolate and hot tea or sugar-free hot cocoa instead.


Exploring the caves at Lava Beds National Monument

Exploring the caves at Lava Beds National Monument

Day 3

In keeping with the simplicity theme, my second breakfast is the same as the first.  Just like with lunch, there are so many options that there is still much variety for the group.  I have oatmeal and tea again, though, and a piece of fruit.

Depending on what we are doing on Sunday, we pack a lunch for a hike or simply pack up camp for the long trip home.  We stop for lunch (or dinner, if we had lunch on a hike before leaving) on the drive home someplace where there are many fast food options.  I like to have a lettuce wrapped burger or a large salad – my go-to choices when we eat fast food.


This is just an example of what I eat while feeding a large crowd of non-THMers on a weekend trip.  We will be taking a week-long family camping trip soon, so I plan to document my meals on that trip so that I can post about that as well.  Staying on-plan while out and about is more challenging than when we are at home, but it is very possible.  I try to keep things simple – that works well for me.  But if you like things fancier, that is also possible with some planning and prepping ahead of time.

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An Allergy Friendly Weekend Camping Menu (for a crowd!)

We LOVE camping as a family – and we love taking others camping, as well.  In fact, twice a year, we bring a large number of college students on a weekend camping trip.  This last weekend, we took a group of 30 college students,  plus our family and some extra help, for a grand total of 40 people on a three-day, two-night trip.  This group always includes my husband, who has multiple food allergies, and usually at least one or two students who also have allergies.  So, not only do I have to feed 40 ravenous people, but I also must have a menu that is allergy friendly!  The most common allergies on the trip are dairy, gluten, nuts, and eggs.  Thankfully, I am used to cooking for food allergies (check out my recipe section for my allergy-friendly recipes), so I enjoy the challenge.  It is also a treat for the students with multiple allergies to be able to eat on a school-sponsored trip.  As a wife of someone with multiple food allergies, I know how rare this is!

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. - NatureAmy.com

Checking out the Sulfur Works at Lassen National Park while my hubby lectures in the background.

We visit different locations with our Fall and Spring Semester trips, but the schedule and the food is the same for both.  I have found a menu that works well and I stick to it!  Below is the menu we use, with some variations that I add for those that have food allergies or intolerances.  The healthiness of the food definitely varies, and since I don’t eat sugar or processed flour there are many items I choose not to eat, but since I am feeding 40 people who don’t choose to eat the same way I do, I make sure there are many options available. (Read this post to see what I eat as a Trim Healthy Mama on this trip.)

Another good option if you have a big group is to have an allergy-friendly ice chest with its own cutting board and knife as well as a special table for allergy-friendly food.  I keep gluten/dairy/nut free options away from the potential contaminates in the other food.  The last thing I want in the middle of nowhere is to take an emergency trip to the hospital or have a sick student.  If you have a small group, this may not be necessary depending on the severity of the allergies.


Friday – Day 1

An allergy friendly 3 day camping menu for large groups

Everyone makes their own sandwiches for lunch

Lunch (breakfast is eaten before they come, hopefully…)

Sandwiches with many different bread choices, including whole wheat, sprouted, and gluten-free options

  • Various lunch meat options, we usually have turkey, ham, roast beef, and salami
  • Mayo and mustard
  • Various sliced cheeses
  • Lettuce (already washed and cut into bread-sized pieces)
  • Tomato (washed before and slice when serving)
  • Avocado (cut, scoop, and slice when serving)
  • Peanut butter and/or Sun-butter
  • Jelly

Fruit

  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes

Chips

  • We buy the lunch size variety packs – they actually have some popcorn options that are quite healthy.

For beverages, we make sure everyone brings their own reusable water bottle (read why that is important here) that they can refill often.  We also have 100% juice boxes as an option for those who really want something to drink other than water.

Snack time

The snack options vary greatly in how healthy they are, but it gives choices for everyone.

  • Fruit
  • Several varieties of Trail mix (I have even found a dairy/gluten/peanut-free option at Costco before, but for many allergies, you may need to make your own)
  • Chips and Salsa
  • Cookies

Dinner

I make a HUGE pot of chili (actually, I often need two pots for a really large group) by doubling or tripling my Famous Taco Chili Recipe.  This recipe is allergy friendly and generally a huge hit.  I make the base of it before hand (see the recipe for details) and simply add the canned items at camp and heat.  It makes a homemade camp meal easy-peasy and fills up those hungry tummies with lots of healthy hidden vegetables.   Generally, one recipe of my chili feeds 10-12 hungry adults, so you may need to double (or halve, etc.) the recipe for your group’s needs.

Garnish as desired with shredded cheese, sour cream (Daisy’s squeeze bags are convenient for camping), dairy-free sour cream (my husband loves this special treat), and tortilla chips.

I also serve sliced French or Artisan bread with butter and I bring pre-made salad mixes to toss and serve as well.

I love bringing pre-made salad mixes camping.  I never buy them normally, but when I’m camping, I still want to get my greens, but I don’t want to bother with washing, chopping, slicing, etc.   Read the ingredients carefully – usually there are gluten/nut/dairy/egg-free options.  You may need to mix up a salad in a special bowl excluding an item or two for the allergy group and place it on its separate table.  With a large group, we may have two salad options and mix one bowl especially for the allergy-friendly serving table.

Dessert

S’mores, of course!  We always get a special dairy-free dark chocolate for those who need a dairy-free option,

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. - NatureAmy.com

Roasting marshmallows for s’mores

Also. hot water for hot chocolate, cider, coffee, or tea.


Saturday – Day 2

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. - NatureAmy.com

Breakfast

I like to make breakfasts simple when I’m working with a big group.  So a continental breakfast is the way to go.

As soon as I get up, I put a big pot of water on to boil.  This is used for hot drinks and instant oatmeal packets.

  • Large muffins cut in halves or quarters
  • A large variety of cereal options
  • A large variety of instant oatmeal options (including a gluten free option)
  • Milk (regular, rice, and almond)
  • Fruit
  • Juice
  • Hot drinks
    • Instant coffee (I know, sacrilege, but we’re not coffee drinkers)
    • Tea
    • Hot cocoa packets
    • Apple cider packets
    • Sugar/Stevia/Half-Half

Lunch

In the interest of keeping things simple, day two has the same lunch as day one.  There is so much variety in the type of sandwich each person can make, it gives people the option for something different, if they choose.

Depending on the schedule for the day, we sometimes have the group pack their own lunch right after breakfast.  This has worked very well when we have a long hike.  We also make sure there are plenty of snack items available to pack as well.

Dinner

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. - NatureAmy.com

I love cooking food over the fire while camping, and this dinner does the trick.  I make everyone cook their own sausage (they come precooked, so I don’t have to worry that anyone will under cook them).

  • Pre-cooked sausages, an assortment
    • Costco polish sausages
    • Aidell’s Chicken sausages (these are a great allergy-friendly option)
    • Cheddar-wurst
    • Buns, I like to buy the large hoagie size – Gluten-free simply enjoy this bunless, or they could use some GF bread from lunch
    • Baked beans – I heat these up on the stove
    • Condiments – ketchup, mustard, etc.
    • Premade salads (see the note from Friday night)

Dessert

S’mores and hot drinks again.

And my mother, who often comes along to help me (I am spoiled that way!), makes an amazing peach cobbler in the Dutch oven for an additional treat.  It is made with canned peaches, Bisquick, some sugar, and dairy-free margarine.   She works the magic – and we all enjoy it!

cobbler


Sunday – Day 3

In keeping with the simplicity theme, my second breakfast is the same as the first.  Just like with lunch, there are so many options that there is still much variety for the group.  Sometimes there is even leftover cobbler from the night before and that is especially good for breakfast!

Depending on what we are doing on Sunday, we have packed a lunch for a hike or simply packed up camp for the long trip home.  We stop for lunch (or dinner if we had lunch on a hike before leaving) on the drive home someplace where there are many fast food options.  We also make any leftovers available if people don’t have money for lunch or dinner.

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. - NatureAmy.com

Caving with a group of students at Lava Beds National Monument


 

That is how I feed 20-40 people and keep it allergy friendly and mostly healthy for a weekend.  It’s not amazing, but it has worked for several years and gives a lot of variety while keeping things as simple as possible.

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Tips for Hiking with Little Kids: or how to NOT carry them the entire trip…

My husband and I have quite literally been hiking together since day one – yes, really – we met on a backpacking trip in college!  Since then, we have hiked over 5000 trail miles together, most of those while hiking the length of California on the Pacific Crest Trail two and a half times. Backpacking and hiking are second nature to us, so it is only natural that it is something we love to do as a family, as well.

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Pre-kids thru-hiking the length of California on the Pacific Crest Trail.

However, making the transition from two long-distance backpackers to parents of small children has been a challenge. We are serious about our hiking and the trails we chose – it is not just a stroll along a well manicured trail for us!  When we had just one baby, it was easy still, we could still hike as we wished.  We enthusiastically purchased a nice baby backpack (the most expensive item we had bought for him) and took him everywhere we went.  It was easy and natural and fun. Babies really are incredibly portable and our little guy fit pretty seamlessly into our active lifestyle – he went camping at two weeks old, as well as hiking for the first time on that trip – it was not a problem at all.  

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Hiking with a toddler and a baby was still pretty easy.

When our second came along not long after our first, we invested in a second backpack when he was too big for the front carrier and carried them both for a year.  But, the summer our oldest turned three, hiking as a family became much more challenging…

Hiking with young kids is similar to trying to hike with a cat (something I have actually done, but that is another story). They sit down in the middle of the trail and refuse to take another step. They are fascinated by every little bug, stick, or rock they stumble over. They decide to turn around and hike home before you get to your destination.  And, unlike cats, they throw temper tantrums or dissolve into tears.

hiking3

Hiking with an independent three-year-old and a one-year-old – Things just got interesting!

So how do we take a fun family hike in those years between 3-ish and 7-ish and actually get somewhere?  Despite the difficulty of taking the little ones, we regularly go on long(ish) hikes with them (between 3 and 8 miles) and these are the tricks that work for us.


Turn your hike into a game.  

In my experience, kids of all ages love games and we have become experts at finding fun ways to keep them moving and distracted by how “tired” they feel.  The following are the games we use most frequently:

  • Interactive storytelling is by far our kids favorite hiking game.  Storytelling gets their imaginations flowing and thoroughly distracts them from any discomfort they might be feeling, plus, it has the added bonus of being excellent for their cognitive development. I will start a story and then pass it on to my son, and he takes over for a minute or two and then passes to his brother or dad.  Depending on how old your kids are, you may need to get the story going with another adult, or tell the entire story yourself.  It is fun and the miles pass easily with this family activity.

    racing

    The boys love to race up the trail!

  • Trail races – My boys love this one, but it is certainly exhausting! Children love to race and will happily race each other.  However, if you don’t have multiple children, or they are not at the same skill level, the adults may need to get involved.  In our family, usually I race our 5-year-old and my hubby races the 7-year-old to a predetermined point on the trail (the big rock up there or that large shade tree).  We ensure the child wins, but just barely so they don’t think we “let” them win.  If you are the adult carrying the baby, it is not so hard to “let” them win. At the end of the race, there is a celebration and a water break before starting over again. We find this works best in the challenging uphill sections and it is a great interval workout!
  • Choo-choo trail trains – this is a fun one, especially if your child likes trains. It works best if you have something to link the train “cars” together.  We have used hiking poles and sweatshirts with each person hanging on to the shirt or pole in front and behind them.  The engine leads the way and the rest of the family chugs along behind. Make up obstacles and stories along the way – passing over bridges, picking up cargo, and of course, the classic “I think I can” for big hills!hiking2
  • Scavenger hunts – this is a classic kids hiking game, but it can slow the party down significantly, so it is not one we use unless we have no mileage goal for the day.  However, it is a great learning activity and really gets children exploring the outdoors.  They love looking for a stick shaped like an arrow or the roundest rock you can find.  There are some great printables on Pinterest you can bring along, or you can just think of things on the fly and give the next challenge after they find the first.

 

geocache

Geocaching makes treasure hunting real!

Geocaching

This one could fall under the hiking games category, but I’m going to give it its own category.  My dad is a master geocacher and loves to take the grandkids out treasure hunting.  Check out Geocaching.com for more information, or this post by REI on how to get started if you’ve never tried it.  Although national parks do not have physical geocaches to find (the educational earth caches at national parks are fun) most public lands have physical treasure boxes of various sizes hidden not far from trails. The kids love finding treasure and will happily run to the next geocache location.  Most of the trails we frequent have caches every ¼ mile, so there are many opportunities for kids to explore. Let kids navigate using a handheld GPS unit or smartphone – it’s a great way to teach them about cardinal directions and latitude and longitude.


Pack fun snacks

 Who is not motivated by food? This is not one that I am particularly good at because our hikes are often last minute.  However, if your kids have a special hiking food that they love, but only get on hikes, it can really help them get through those long miles.  My kids love trail mix, yogurt or chocolate covered raisins, and fruit snacks, to name a few.

snacktime

Homemade Rice Krispy Treats at the summit!


Bring a hidden carrier, just in case.  

Our ergonomic carrier packs in the bottom of our day pack pretty easily and we have pulled it out when our little guys are just too exhausted to make it to the end.  However, we have found, that if the kids know there is the option to be carried, like bringing an empty baby backpack along to hold snacks, they often beg and whine to be carried and pester power eventually wins.  The ergonomic carriers are easy to pack and they are much easier than carrying a kid on your back or shoulders.


Reward (or treat) at the end 

After a good long hike, we love to reward the kids with a fun stop on the way home. There is a great frozen yogurt shop on the way back from some of our favorite hikes and the kids look forward to stopping there all day.  But if we are somewhere else, we may stop at the campground store, Rite Aid, or even McDonald’s for a soft serve ice cream or fruit parfait.

crater lake

Hiking at Crater Lake


Be patient 

*This is likely the most important tip* – Expect that the hike will take at least two times as long as it would without little ones.  Don’t have a strict timeline or no one will be happy. Take lots of breaks for water and snacks.  Enjoy the nature around you. There is so much to learn outside and your children are sponges eager to soak everything in. Take time to really enjoy it.

If you do not make it to your destination, in most cases, the world will not end. Usually our kids can hike 5 miles, but some days their limit is 3 – honestly, some days their limit is a ½ mile when they are overly tired.  Pay attention to their signs and know when it is a good time to turn around.  No one knows your kid like you do, so you are the best one to know how much is too much and can likely distinguish between whiny and truly exhausted.


 

destination

Making it to the destination is a reward in itself!

We want hiking to be something that our kids look forward to and really enjoy. These strategies all take a good amount of work or prep from the parents, but they also create lifelong memories and bonding.  I believe that is worth the extra effort.  They will not always be little, but, hopefully, they will always love hiking!

What are some ways you make hiking fun for young kids?

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Why I don’t want a “successful” blog

You may have noticed that things have been quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks and I have not posted anything new.  I wanted to apologize to my loyal readers (Hi, Mom, Dad, and Grandma!) and let you in on the why…

I started this website because I love to write (and had not written for fun in way too long) and I love to teach and share; I wanted a place to share my passions and I have really loved this new experience.  I loved being a mom and a teacher and I loved my life, but I wanted an outlet – something that was just mine – to be able to share my heart.  This blog is the result of that longing.

However, I also did a lot of research on how to make a blog successful (i.e. attracting large numbers of visitors and making an income) and I started to feel very overwhelmed.  I spent a good amount of time trying to make sense of the world of successful blogging and the more I read, the more I felt in over my head.  I am not a business woman and I have no desire to sell anything.  In fact, I want people to buy and consume less, yet the world of “successful” (read money making) blogs is about selling products and essentially become an advertiser.  Annoying popups and flashy ads make money.  I started to feel like I needed a degree in marketing and business to be successful.  I felt like I needed to be flashy and impressive to draw in an audience and the whole thing was making me feel sick to my stomach and very uncomfortable.  I started to stress about the number of visitors on my website and likes on my Facebook page and as my anxiety grew, I realized I needed to take a step back to remember who I am and why I started a blog in the first place.amy crop

I am a teacher at heart and an encourager.  I believe in living a simple and lighter footprint life by consuming less and loving others more.  I love to eat healthy, get outside into nature, and create sugar-free recipes. I want to encourage people who find my site no matter where they are in life.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think there is anything wrong with monetizing a blog and working hard to increase an audience. Most of the bloggers I love are monetized and it does not bother me, but it just isn’t for me.  I may occasionally promote a product that I really, really love or become an affiliate of a company that I truly respect and admire (like Trim Healthy Mama, the one company I am affiliated with currently), but that is not why I started this blog and it is not what makes me happy.  

The second reason I have stepped back a bit at this time is I am finding it hard to get back on track after my miscarriage. Everyone told me to take time to heal and grieve and process the loss.  But, I am the type of person that wants to jump back into everything immediately – I’m fine, I’m strong, etc. – but when I tried, I just felt overwhelmed and I cried – a lot.  So I have had to take some time to quiet my soul and to allow myself space and time to heal.  I am getting there, but I am not there yet…selfie

I will get back to writing some posts soon, I promise. I have several in the works currently.  Plus, I have been listening to some great audio books recently and am feeling inspired to write some more about living simply.  I will also be writing more about our journey to live greener lives with less negative impact.  And, of course, there will be more recipes and healthy living tips.  And, hopefully, some great guest posts, as well!

This blog has only been around for three short months, but I am blessed beyond measure with the number of shares and pins my posts have gotten and the positive feedback I have received.

Thank you for reading, my friend,

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The Family Corner: Life on a Hobby Farm

Let me introduce you to my wonderful older sister (by 20 months), Ella.  Ella has been my best friend since the day I was born and I just love her and her wonderful family to pieces.  She has been so supportive of my blog and will be guest posting about her rural family life, family friendly recipes, and adoption regularly.  I live in the suburbs of a small town, but Ella lives in the country, with all the animals to prove it!  We are very alike (we even look alike) and spent our entire childhood correcting people as they mixed up our names and claimed we “must be twins” – actually, it still happens!  We both are Trim Healthy Mamas.  We both homeschool. We both are passionate about Jesus, our families, and living greener lives.  I think you will love her posts!

~Amy

I have a farm. Five acres of gently sloping hills with trees scattered throughout, a castle farmhouse, three outbuildings, one pig, two dogs, two cats, 10 ducks, 25 sheep (though that number may change due to lambing season having started early this year), 50 chickens, four kids (and counting), one husband and me. I have fruit trees and a large garden and I rarely get enough sleep.

My husband (the Sheriff) and I did not set out to run our own small village. But there is something magical about owning land. It gets to you. Three sheep to help mow turn into twenty seemingly overnight. A few chickens become many more when you realize that fifty chickens are no harder to take care of then five. Gardening and growing your own fresh produce are addictive.

The Sheriff maintains order and does most of the heavy lifting, while I plot and plan. The kids are roped into feeding pigs and collecting eggs. Friends come by to pick fruit when the plums are ripe and abundant. We hire kids earning money for mission trips to help clear land and build garden beds. It is our own little community and we love it.

2012-01-17 10.08.17

Babies and baby goats!

It is lambing season currently and we are enjoying seeing the new colors of lambs produced by our new ram, a white kataden, out of our Barbados black-bellied ewes. We deal with disappointment when some lambs don’t survive, and we laugh at the antics of the twins who start butting each other at just a week of age.

Soon our pig will fill our freezer. It is the second we have raised and the kids love the bacon so well that they don’t mind knowing the pig personally. The Sheriff and I love the fact that we know exactly what went into the production of our pork and lamb. We know that our animals were happy and healthy with no added hormones or abnormal fattening agents. We rarely buy beef any longer and never any pork from the store.

My garden planning is already under way and I am combing seed catalogs to see what new and fantastic things I can add this year. (Did you know you can grow purple carrots?) Soon we will be out in the garden on each sunny day to dig and prepare the garden for the coming spring. Manure from all of our animals will be added to the soil to enrich it. Our compost pile will be mixed in to replenish the organic material from last year. New beds will be built and filled with soil. The automatic watering system will be set up. I will clear out my junk storage room just enough to make room for the new seedlings that will be started indoors. And I will enlist the Sheriff’s help to fight the battle against the encroaching blackberry bushes once again.

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A rainbow of carrots from my garden.

I have a farm. It is small. Just my size. But it is full of life and magic.

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Finding Peace in Living Simply: or why we got rid of so much stuff…

Do you ever feel like there is just TOO MUCH STUFF!  Kids toys, junk mail, cheerios everywhere, piles of kids craft projects? Laundry, laundry, never ending piles of laundry… A to do list a mile long?  I am not an easily stressed person – okay, let me rephrase that – before kids I was not an easily stressed person – but something about the uncontrollable nature of these little monsters children makes a once calm person want to scream.  The constant barrage of questions, the never ending cleaning, the demands of homeschooling and extra curricular activities makes me want to lock myself in the bathroom and not come out for a week!

kidsplay

Creative play is always a big part of our homeschool day

But, I can’t escape motherhood – well, maybe I could, but I definitely don’t want to.  As much as they might drive me crazy at times, my three kids are my joy and they truly are blessings from God and a reward from Him. I believe that the highest calling in my life at this time is to be a present and engaged mama – teaching my kids, encouraging them, disciplining and training them.  I am so blessed that I get to be their mama and I get to spend each day with them.

But I hate house work and cleaning and I don’t think that will ever change.  I am not a naturally organized person – I clean because I need to, but it is not something that I want to do or that I can’t go to sleep without doing.  I’m a mom with three young kids – I would much rather sleep than have a clean kitchen!

A year ago, I had just about had enough – not of being a mom or wife – but I had had enough of the constant work of house cleaning and trying to keep things tidy in the midst of the chaos of homeschooling two kids and nursing a baby.  Before I started homeschooling, I would devote a good amount of time each morning to housekeeping while the kids played (and undid what I had just cleaned). After I started homeschooling, those morning hours were instead devoted to teaching my kids reading, writing, and arithmetic. My house cleaning time was pushed to the back of the list.

We have a small house and the chaos of toys and clutter, schooling, cooking, and nursing was more than I could sanely handle.  The mess and clutter was causing stress in my life and adding stress to my already-stressed-by-work husband.  I knew something needed to change, but I felt like since we lived in such a small space with five people (and therefore did not have enough room to have “a place for everything, and everything in its place”) that there weren’t too many options.

I have decluttered before (in fact, I did it about every 6 months or so) but I had never really purged.  I realized that the size of our house was not going to change any time soon, so the amount of stuff in it needed to drastically be reduced for the sake of my sanity.

Decluttering allowed me to make room for a homeschool room in our home office.

Our home office after I turned half the room into a homeschool room. It looks so nice and clean in this picture – usually there are papers strewn all over!

There are a lot of methods of reducing clutter, even to the point of becoming a minimalist with only the bare essentials for survival.  I was inspired by a pin I found on Pinterest January 1st, 2015 and decided to jump in.  This Household Organizational Diet by Clean and Scentsible was exactly the motivation I was looking for and only required 15 minutes per day, which I thought was doable with my busy schedule.  Although, once I jumped in, I found I would spend hours each day tackling a room or area in our house until it was done.  15 minutes was not enough for me to feel like I got anything done. In some ways, I embraced the popular KonMari Method (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing) although I didn’t know it at the time.  I dove in and at the end of the month I donated dozens of boxes and bags of stuff.  I sold a few things and I recycled whatever I could and threw away things that were too destroyed to be donated.  I felt lighter and much more on top of things, but I knew I was not done.  In May, at the end of the school year, I donated a medium amount of stuff, although not as much as before, and again I felt lighter.  In August, when my husband left for a two week work trip, I tore apart his office, files in the garage, our closet, anything that had been hard to do with him around.  I donated the largest amount of stuff and spent hours shredding paper and documents and redoing our filing system (this video by Do It On A Dime was very helpful).  I felt ready to tackle the new school year after that and I had used the extra space in his office to make a school room for the kids.

 

Simple toys engage kids imaginations and allow them to play more peacefully and for longer.

My boys playing happily with their castle blocks  and  – keeping it real – a pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded behind them.

Decluttering toys is something I want to talk extensively about, so I have written an entire post on it.  Suffice it to say, kids don’t need as many toys as our consumeristic society says is normal.  In fact, my kids play better, and for much longer, with fewer and simpler toys that engage their creativity, don’t make noise or light up, and keep the imagination flowing.

After all that decluttering in 2015, I felt much lighter, but even with all that, I still had a hard time staying on top of all the house work.  Most things had a “place” but not everything.  So this January I did another large purge.  I finally feel like I can keep up with the house while homeschooling and doing all the extracurricular activities we decide to participate in (I actually limit these as well because keeping a simple schedule also brings peace).  I have time to cook from scratch (with the food allergies in our house, that is just the way we do things, plus I think it is healthier) and exercise often.  I have time to hangout with friends and not spend hours before they come over trying to straighten up the house to be at least slightly presentable.  I am less stressed and so is my husband.  He comes home to a mostly clean house each night and it really has helped him to feel more loved and less stressed, which is great for our marriage.

For me this was a year long process, but the time was necessary to find the right balance for our family. I find with each purge, I can release things that just months before I was not ready to let go.  It takes time to say goodbye to sentimental objects.  It also takes time to realize that there are things that I really do not need and that they are adding stress, not joy, to my life.  After this most recent purge, I think I may have found the right level of stuff for our small house, although I will continue the process (I want to try the KonMari Method and will post about that after I try it) until we find the perfect balance.  We are not minimalists, but we are learning to live with less and find joy and peace in the simplicity.  It is also liberating to our budget (I don’t buy it unless we really do NEED it) and helps us to be less focused on stuff and more focused on others. This helps us to live cleaner, and greener, lives and really is bringing peace to our little house.  

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