NatureAmy

caring for creation while caring for family

Tag: simple living

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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Why We’re Switching to a Home Birth

In my last pregnancy update, I hinted at a big change in our birth plan coming up.  As you can see from the title, we’ve decided to switch from a hospital birth to a home birth.

I have always wanted a home birth with a midwife.  My mother had four of her five kids at home with a doctor or midwife.  I was her first home birth and I love the pictures of her and my dad and newborn me snuggled up on the bed, cozy and comfortable at home.

I’m a homebody, an introvert, and I hate hospitals.  With my three previous hospital births, I have always requested an early release and have checked out of the hospital about 12 hours after giving birth each time.  I just want to be home, in my own bed, being cared for by my mom.  No nurses coming in at all hours.  No loud sounds from the hospital coming through the walls.  No uncomfortable hospital beds.  I want to be home.

I love my bedroom - it's bright and cheery, uncluttered, and it makes me happy. I can't imagine a better place to give birth!

I love my bedroom – it’s bright and cheery, uncluttered, and it makes me happy. (This post was a perfect opportunity for a mini-tour!) I can’t imagine a better place to give birth!

I also love the relationships that you get with a midwife.  I’ve had midwives for my last two hospital births and they were both great.  However, I delivered with a midwife group, so there was very little, if any, prior interaction with my midwives.  My mom developed a wonderful friendship with the midwife that delivered my little sisters. I crave that.

My husband and I had discussed paying out of pocket for a home birth before we knew we were expecting this little one.  He was completely supportive of the idea. However, I felt somewhat selfish and guilty for spending all that money on what I wanted.  We could use that money to help pay off our school debt faster. We could use that money for a family trip to Disneyland.  I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t get over feeling selfish about it.

I love my poppy print!

I love my poppy print!


My husband has good insurance coverage with his work and we are very blessed by the generosity of his employer, but we are limited to one insurance group and hospital.  (Not the hospital based birth center that I’ve delivered my last 2 kids in – which I loved.) I’ve been happy with my care and our family doctors, however, I have had many friends deliver at the hospital we have to use, and I know that it is NOT my ideal birth environment.

I’ve had a friend who has had two of her births at that hospital all-naturally, so I was encouraged that it was, indeed, possible.  She had to fight a bit and sign some liability forms, but she was able to get the natural birth she wanted.  So, I was prepared to fight to make the situation work.

However, a couple weeks ago, I decided to call to make sure that everything we thought was covered by our insurance plan (which said it covered all prenatal appointments, etc.) was actually covered.  I learned that although all my appointments, labs, tests, etc were completely covered by our insurance before meeting our high deductible, the actual birth was not.  We would have to pay our full deductible before they would cover the rest of our labor, delivery, and hospital fees.  So, I learned, that it would actually be significantly cheaper for us to pay out of pocket for a home birth instead of using the hospital.

I was really excited! The search for a midwife started immediately!

I love this verse from Song of Solomen 8:6

I love this verse from Song of Solomon 8:6

We live in a more rural area, so finding a midwife that delivers here, even when only a couple months pregnant, can be a challenge.  But I had the additional challenge of finding a midwife that delivered locally AND had availability in just TWO short months!  After making a lot of calls, I finally found a midwife team who could take me.  I set up a meeting with them the following week.

Before the meeting, I prayed that God would give me a feeling of peace if this was the right place for me.  In previous pregnancies, I’ve met with providers before that I was not comfortable with.  I couldn’t tell you why, but I had an uneasy feeling after our meetings.  I didn’t want that to be the case with this meeting, but I prayed for God to make it abundantly clear to me.  And it was.

The two midwives work together, are licensed and certified, of course, and have birthed over 1000 babies between them.  The meeting was relaxing and peaceful.  Addamay played happily and I talked about my previous births and why I wanted a home birth.  I felt comfortable and at complete peace with the situation.


Now it’s time to get serious!  In the next few weeks I’ll be ordering the supplies for my home birth kit, picking up one of the birthing tubs that they provide for their clients, and generally getting everything ready for our birth!

I'm planning to make my bedroom prayer corner my birth place. The table and chair will move temporarily to make room for the birthing tub.

I’m planning to make my bedroom prayer corner my birth place. The table and chair will move temporarily to make room for the birthing tub.

I’ve had friends tell me I’m brave for not having the option of pain relief during labor, but really I’m not worried about it at all.

God created women to give birth.  It is completely natural and something that women have been doing since the beginning.  I’ve given birth completely drug free twice already and my third birth was my easiest yet.

Of course, some women have high risk pregnancies and really should give birth in a hospital setting.  I, thankfully, do not fall into this category.  I have very easy pregnancies and somewhat easy births (not counting the useless interventions in my first birth).  I don’t think any birth is exactly “easy”.

I am not afraid of not having an epidural.  I’ve given birth with an epidural and without – I much prefer doing it without – but, that is a post for another day…


So – that’s our big news!  I’m so excited that I’ll be finally getting the home birth I’ve always wanted!

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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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This post contains affiliate links – as always, if you buy a product from the links it does not cost you anything extra but it does help to support our family and this blog.  Thank you!

 

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I’m back! Did you miss me?

You might have noticed that things have been especially quiet on the blog these last two months, and I apologize for that.  But, I’m back!  I explained on Facebook where I was, and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram (which you should!) you have seen some pictures of our summer adventures.  Summer is an especially busy season for our family.  We spent the majority of the summer camping (stay tuned for some fun posts on that) and lots of time hiking, swimming, relaxing in hammocks, and prepping for large scale backpacking adventures…  I also tackled the KonMari Method in an attempt to simplify our life further. It was a busy season.

Some of our summer adventures in northern California

Some of our summer adventures in northern California

However, now this home school mom and wife of an educator must get back to the school routine.  We are home for the last few weeks of summer, prepping for school, getting in more swimming before the public pool closes, potty training, and generally trying to stay sane in this crazy heatwave in Northern California.  But getting back to a normal routine also means that I will be posting regularly again!  Stay tuned for some yummy healthy recipes, parenting tips, and some exciting changes coming our way…

Dirty little 2 year old hiker!

Dirty little 2 year old hiker!

Thanks for hanging out with me all summer – I am truly so blessed by the consistent traffic this little website generates daily, despite my posting absence.  That is really all due to your Pinterest pins and Facebook shares and I am so thankful for you all!

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Running the Race

I want to introduce you to my dear friend, Christine.  Christine is a mom of four very energetic young boys and she has a heart of a Warrior Princess.  She is currently writing a book, a curriculum actually, on this topic.  She is a wonderful friend, mother, and teacher.  She is also a talented writer and speaker.  I’m honored to share her work with you!                    ~ Amy

I ran a marathon before I was married. I’ve never really cared for running, but caring for my body has been a priority for a while now.  Without access to a gym, training for a marathon was a great way to employ discipline to stay fit.   And the peer pressure of the friend I was doing it with was a great help too.
The marathon was in San Francisco, California. The course took us through all kinds of terrain; flat roads by the bay and wharf, hills by the Golden Gate Bridge and through Golden Gate Park.  Along the way I was presented with a few obstacles.  I broke out in hives on mile one so by mile 3 I was running with Benadryl in my system.  About mile 13 my foot started throbbing and swelling.

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Christine and her family

Just as the race course goes through different terrain and we are met with all kinds of circumstances- our spiritual life looks similar. As we approach the different seasons of life, it’s crucial to realize that this race we are in is a marathon.  This is no 5K.  This race is our lifetime and will impact eternity.  Friends, there will be a time to sprint and a time to walk.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12:1-3

Perseverance has been defined as a steady persistence in a course of action, steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success, a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.  So I would say following the instruction in Hebrews 12 means moving forward.  As long as we don’t let a circumstance take us out, if we take the time to deal with them so that we can continue in the course marked out for us, we are persevering. Let us consider Jesus, the way our God cared for Himself and others as He ran His human race.  His actions were never rushed, His ways were steady as He moved toward His finish line.

I was diagnosed with a hypothyroid a few years ago.  The season of discovering my illness and recovery was slow going, learning how to really rest was crucial to my recovery.

It was in this season I came to a much greater understanding of God’s grace.  My inability to run well forced me to lean into Him.  His grace carried me, and I had to be okay with not being strong enough. I saw this image of trying to run my race with my four young boys.  Like hauling them along with me- constantly verbally pushing them and physically dragging them along this dusty trail.  They were getting filthy and scuffed up.  I was getting nowhere and my exhaustion was not only going to destroy everything in my world but also kill me. This picture slowed me down.  And when I did the scene changed.   In this new picture I was not in workout gear sweaty and straining, but in more elegant attire.  Walking leisurely along this dirt road, holding a mug of coffee and smiling while conversing with the four children around me.  They’d discover things along the path, eager to show me and tell me all about it.  I was able to laugh and enjoy every bit of them. Although this picture is different than the one that comes to mind reading Hebrew 12:1-3 I think it can be applied.
I knew that Jesus had come to give me a full life- wanting me to thrive- not just survive, so I changed my battle plan.  It was time to look at the season I was in and consider the terrain.  It takes discipline to slow down.  Sometimes it takes more discipline to slow down then to “keep up”.  Sometimes the things that ensnare us on our journey are sins of pride as we seek perfection and holiness with our own effort and perhaps even competition with our fellow runners.

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Christine’s four boys

Run your race sister.  Focus on the ground before you, feel inspired and encouraged by the other runners, but remember they won’t be able to beat you in your race, because God did not make your life or my life a competition.  Others are running their own race and we can celebrate the successes they have, the ones they post on social media, just as we would want them to celebrate with us.

Warrior, strive to press on, enjoy and embrace the terrain God has brought you to. This requires us to beat our body into submission.  Practically speaking this will mean striving to keep up in spin class or telling our body to be quiet, and climb in bed mid-day to read a novel.   Maybe it’s doing the dishes, and maybe it’s snuggling with a child.  God has called us to run the race as if to win.  You will need to pace yourself.  Depending on the terrain you’re on, acting in the spirit of discipline will be to reach out and say “yes” to the leader in church who’s asking you to serve.  Other times it will mean beating that people- pleasing desire down and saying the word “no.”

As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith we will be able to run with perseverance the race marked of us.  Our goal is progress- not perfection.  Perfection is being with Jesus at the end.  For the joy of being with Him in eternity- of finishing the race with a smile and an embrace from our proud Lord.

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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.

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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.

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    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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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!

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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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