Life is not easy right now. I went from being home  a few days a week to being in school Monday through Friday, as well as working three evenings. Factor in ball practice, games, squeezing in gym time, grocery shopping and cooking, meeting the needs of my family, attempting to stay in contact with friends, studying for several hours a day…you get the idea. Every hour of my life seems to be filled up right now, and I don’t have much time for anything out of the regular schedule.

Keeping the house running smoothly takes a lot of effort. This not only means keeping it clean, but also insuring that laundry is done so clothes can be laid out the night before, food is available for cooking in advance, and supplies such as dish detergent and toothpaste are always on hand. I’m amazed at how a little thing like being out of baking powder can throw a whole afternoon off.

I’m trying my best to do a “clean as you go” method, but my family is having a difficult time adapting to this. I don’t want to spend my Saturday mornings cleaning the house, but  I also don’t want to make housecleaning into such a big daily routine that I get way behind if I miss a morning wiping everything down. Any advice?

One a positive note, I’ve found it extremely helpful to plan out my days in advance. Each evening I jot down what the next day (may) hold. All meetings, gym time, kids’ practices and who will be doing the drop off/pick up, etc. I also make sure that we have our clothes laid out the night before and an idea of what we’ll pack for lunch the next morning (I don’t like to make lunch until the morning of…I have no idea why.)

All in all, my very busy life is getting simpler by means of planning and anticipating what’s to come. Of course, life happens and there are always unexpected events like sick children, grinding breaks, and snow days, but it’s nice to have a basic plan to work with.


Simplicity Inspiration

Just looking at this home makes me relax.

Photography by: Ben Rahn, A-Frame Inc.

In my last post, I talked about clearing space out in your home in order to have, well, space. Even though we might feel a need to fill every drawer and closet up, it’s a good idea to leave some drawer space for unexpected items, and also keep in mind that the being-able-to-see-the-floor idea works well with closets, too.

Here are just a few tips that I’ve either implemented or will be working on this month:

Find a home for everything and group like items with each other. There’s no need to keep the coffee in the cabinet across the kitchen from the mugs, which are around the corner from the coffee pot. Simplicity is all about making life easier, so try to see what you can do in your daily routine to do just that.

Look at your walls with fresh eyes. It might help to actually take everything off your walls in a room and start fresh. Sometimes we need a blank canvas to work with. Could your walls use a fresh coat of paint in a warmer hue? We recently painted our downstairs a warm golden brown, and have heard from many people just how “warm” it actually feels now. It’s also made the room more interesting without adding more pictures/paintings/stuff to it. We decided not to hang up all our photos and wall decor, but instead to use a couple of fun throw pillows and some new curtains to add color (very cheap! Made the curtains myself, and I don’t even know how to sew!) At first, our walls seemed bare to me, but now I feel content and peaceful in the living room instead of restless. I credit this to not having so much visually competing for my attention.

Do a quick run-through each evening before bed and do a 10-second tidy (big up to that limber chick on Big Comfy Couch). Just sweep through and put stuff back. This one tip is priceless, I swear. If you do it a few nights in a row, I promise it will start to become second nature and you won’t be able to relax until it’s done. (my next post will delve more into simple cleaning. Just know that I’m not a Flylady, mmkay?)

Don’t stop just because you let things go for a week. It’s ok to get a little lazy and screw up, or let that same dang pile of papers grow again. Just try your best to be consistent and keep at it. If you’re like me and not naturally “gifted” with the clean and organized gene, you’ll have to work at this much harder. That’s fine. That’s life…learning new skills to make life more enjoyable and peaceful.

I found the floor!

The main reason I picked simplicity as January’s Challenge is I feel that getting your environment and schedule in order helps set the tone for future goals. Having a clean, uncluttered environment enables us to focus on the task at hand, rather than the overflowing baskets and piles of papers all around us. Uncluttering (spell check is trying to tell me this isn’t a word. I’d have to politely disagree) and ridding your home of excess stuff also makes life easier when it comes to cleaning and maintaining your surroundings. And dang if it doesn’t just let you relax a little bit and enjoy life more. There’s nothing worse that stepping over homeless legos and seeing piles of US Weekly when you just want some peace and tranquility while watching Toddlers and Tiaras.

The first thing to do is to figure out what it is that bothers you in your home. Do you have to walk around a piece of furniture to get to another room? We had a movable island in the middle of our kitchen. Anytime I wanted to go from the sink to the refrigerator, or from the oven to the table, I had to walk around this thing. I kept thinking that I really needed it for the extra surface space itt provided. And to, you know, catch all the paper and unopened mail that came through the house. Finally, after about the 300th time of running into the friggin’ thing and being overwhelmed by the fact that it made more than 2 people in the kitchen at once a nightmare (family of 6, hello) I moved it out of the kitchen. Ah, I can breathe! I can move around freely, several people can pack lunches at once, and I found I didn’t even need it after all. Once I continued clearing off surfaces in the kitchen, I have more than enough room on my counters to place dishes and whatnot. I also fixed the paperwork/unopened mail issue by dealing with it as it came in the door and not waiting until the pile of bills fell on someone’s head.

“Only furniture should touch the floor.” Once I read this rule it helped me look at my home with fresh eyes. Your floors shouldn’t have anything on them other than rugs and furniture. No stacks of books next to the bed, no toys stored right on the floor against the walls.

Speaking of furniture, what can you do without? Do you have a random bookshelf cluttering a wall that’s too small to house it? “But what about my books?” you ask. Get rid of them. I know, I know, this is very difficult for a lot of us bookworms, but really, unless they’re some great rare collection or was written by your now-deceased grandma or you actually refer back to them, what are you doing with them? It’s not like you couldn’t have that exact book in your hands within a day if you really needed it again. Sell them, donate them, and you can get rid of that particleboard bookshelf that you have to walk around every time you want to get to the powder room. I keep only the amount of books that fit on a single shelf in my bedroom. If I find myself struggling to fit another book in there, I know it’s time to pare them down. (Now, I’m a regular patron of the library, and at any given time I might have 5 or so books on my bedside table, but I don’t “own” them, meaning, I’m not tied down to them.)

Back to furniture. As you’re looking around your home, ask yourself if you truly need each piece. Does your living room really come together because of those mixed-matched tables on either end of your sofa? Do you need that separate stand just for the microwave or could you place the microwave on a stationary surface and get rid of the stand you stub your toe on once a week? Does each room need a huge clothes hamper or could you put one in the hallway bathroom and let everyone share? Do you need that basket beside the rocking chair to hold all the magazines you “might” get to reading one day, or can you recycle those and move the basket out?

Be brutal as you’re doing your inventory. It may take some time to get used to the look of the actual floor showing through, but I promise your place will not look bare and unlived in once you’ve gotten rid of excess furniture and things littering your floors.

I like to work on a room at a time, but sometimes this can seem like a huge undertaking, especially if you’re like I was and have entirely too much junk crammed into every nook and cranny. Maybe breaking it down by sections would be doable? It can seem overwhelming at first, but once you get started on a shelf or drawer, you might just find you have the momentum to keep going on to the next area. Then again, you might call it a day. Be gentle with yourself at first, remembering that getting rid of our stuff sometimes takes a lot out of us. There is a lot of sentimental value in “things” and it can be painful to separate from what we’ve spent so long feeling like we couldn’t live without. But I promise life will move on without that ancient CD collection contained in the CD tower in the middle of your living room. 1994 called…they need that junk back.

January Challenge

(Nirvana by E. Pi Longo via Flickr)


I just love that word. It brings to mind calming waters, a clear pasture, a smooth stone, and all that other Zen-y jazz. I’ve spent the past few months really focusing on doing just that. Simplifying my life. Getting rid of excess. Clearing space so I can clear my head.

Notice I said “Simplify” and not “Organize.” I spent years and lots of energy trying to organize my life. Multiple notepads and lists, labeled clothes baskets, holders for my ten million pens, boxes for the twenty million toys, bulk buying of stuff we don’t even really need (just in case!), endless hours planning and re-planning our “next big organization project.” Enough. I’m done with trying to rearrange junk to make it all fit. I love the look and feel of clear surfaces, near-empty drawers, and unused space. Come to find out, we don’t actually need more space in our home. We just need a lot less stuff.

An important figure in my life liked to collect things. Well, “liked” is a strong word. She felt a compulsion to hold onto items. She felt more secure when she had multiples of the same item, just as back up. Her house was clean, no doubt, but so cluttered that it was difficult to breathe in there. No clear walkways, no clean surfaces. Every table had neat stacks of magazines or books on top, or nick nacks or mixed-matched picture frames. She had furniture on every wall and in every available space. Half-finished projects sat around waiting for attention. Bookshelves overflowed with books that hadn’t been touched in twenty years. One of the bedrooms was so full of junk you couldn’t even see the bed. All this so she would have her “stuff,” just in case. After she passed away we found lists made on note cards detailing the contents of cabinets and drawers. She had so much stuff, yet her imbalanced desires for organization and hoarding drove her to list out exactly how many plastic containers, bread machines, and pairs of scissors were in each drawer. She died with all of these unfinished projects left, ones that had been a burden on her for years and years. I can’t tell you the number of times she muttered the line, “I need to get that back bedroom cleaned out. Then I can turn it into…” She never got around to it, in the 18 years she lived in that house. My sister and sister-in-law did it in a weekend.

I don’t want this for my life or for my children’s lives. I don’t want “stuff” to dominate my thoughts and patterns. I want to be free of excess, whether that be actual things or the way I write or how I choose to spend my leisure time.

The goal of the month for January is Simple. That’s it. Just keep it Simple.

This month I’m going to share some steps I’ve taken to create a more simple existence, as well as try new ways of making my everyday life flow more smoothly. I’m always open to suggestions via comments, and I hope you’ll choose to go on this journey with me. Happy New Year, everyone!

(My single favorite resource for Simple Living is the blog “Zen Habits.” The author has another site called “Mnmlist” that’s got a ton of information on how to simplify. Consider them required reading for the next month!)

Vegan Challenge Roundup

Today is the 30th day of my Vegan Challenge, and I feel great. The first couple of weeks I felt tired and weak, but after tweaking some things (laying off the processed crap and relying more on natural foods and less on “fake” meats) I feel much better.

It hasn’t really been that difficult. The hardest thing for me was the planning, because it’s not like I could just run in a fast-food place while I was out running errands and grab a chicken sandwich. At some places, I can’t even eat their fries because they have animal lard in them. Once I learned to pack a PB&J sandwich or some almonds, I was good to go.

I slipped once, and that was on Christmas Eve. Other than that, I wasn’t really tempted after the first few days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight in the end. I lost a couple of pounds at the beginning, but once I mastered the art of vegan cookies, it was so on. Needless to say, I’ll be back on the Weight Watchers program come January 1st. (1/3 cup tofu, 2 points!)

I feel so much better without dairy that I plan on continuing that throughout next year. I’m not going to be super strict about it, though, and will eat when I’m invited to someone else’s house and they prepare a meal with butter or milk or cheese. So, yeah, invite me over and serve cheese, please!

As far as meat, I’m a bit torn. We have local, hormone-free beef in our freezer, and I’m not sure how I feel about eating that on occasion. I’m thinking I will at some point, but I’m not ready just yet.

I do have to be honest and say that I’m eating sushi tomorrow for my New Year’s Eve dinner and I’m gonna tear it up.

I hope this last month has been eye-opening to someone out there, as it sure has for me.

Check back tomorrow when I go into detail about January’s Challenge…Simplifying!

Cheatin’ with Santa

It was the sweet potato casserole with pools of butter on top that got me. And the lemon icebox pie, which is my favoritist dessert my mother-in-law makes just for me. I was fine for an hour or so after scarfing it down, but let’s just say later that night and most of Christmas day, I was hurtin’.

I guess my body had gotten used to not having dairy in my system, and when I reintroduced it with so much at once, it protested. Loudly and painfully. I experienced cramps and bloating and some other unmentionables. I noticed lots of tiny blemishes on my face the morning after my dairy binge. I also felt lethargic and run-down and had the sniffles, which have now disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

This incident makes me aware of just how much our bodies depend on good nutrition, and also how great a plant-based diet is for our digestion and overall health. It also reinforced my belief that cow milk is for baby cows, not humans.

As many as 80% of African Americans, 90% of Asians, and 60% of Hispanics have some degree of milk intolerance. Overall, about 75% of the world’s population, including 25% of those in the U.S., lose their lactase enzymes after weaning. This means the ability to break milk down into digestible forms is gone once we hit childhood. It used to be said that folks who didn’t have this enzyme were “lactose intolerant” but now we’ve found that those of us who can tolerate milk as adults actually have a genetic mutation, labeling us “lactase persistent.” So who’s the freak now? (I kid, I kid).

One more issue I want to touch on (and there are many many reasons out there to stop consuming milk, by the way. I’m not discussing them all in this post, but I do urge you to read up on milk intolerance and anything related to dairy consumption and our health. Just make sure it’s not sponsored by the dairy industry!) is the myth that milk prevents osteoporosis. This has been proven to be false. In fact, after doing my own research, I believe over-consumption of meat and dairy products may actually be the main cause of weak bones. It’s true that milk contains a lot of calcium, but animal protein causes a loss of calcium in our bones by actually leaching it out. So any potential gain in calcium by consuming dairy is canceled out by the animal protein.

Think about it…how many of your parents or grandparents have broken hips or fractured other bones in their old age? And you know you’ve seen these same people chow down on cheese, eggs, meat, and milk their entire lives. Why is it that Americans have a higher rate of osteoporosis and hip fractures than do women in China, who consume very little dairy? Maybe starting our morning off with eggs, yogurt, and a big glass of milk isn’t such a great idea after all. (facts found on Cornell U’s website)

How do we get calcium without consuming dairy? Easy:

Table 1.
Calcium and Magnesium in Foods
Food Source Calcium Magnesium
Barley (1 cup) 57 158 57 158
Black turtle beans (1 cup, boiled) 103 91
Broccoli (1 cup, boiled) 94 38
Brussels sprouts (8 sprouts) 56 32
Butternut squash (1 cup, boiled) 84 60
Chick peas (1 cup, canned) 80 78
Collards (1 cup, boiled) 358 52
Corn bread (1 2-ounce piece) 133
English muffin 92 11
Figs, dried (10 medium) 269 111
Great northern beans (1 cup, boiled) 121 88
Green beans (1 cup, boiled) 58 32
Kale (1 cup boiled) 94 24
Mustard greens (1 cup, boiled) 150 20
Navel orange (1 medium) 56 15
Navy beans (1 cup, boiled) 128 107
Oatmeal, instant (2 packets) 326 70
Orange juice, calcium-fortified (1 cup) 350*
Pinto beans (1 cup, boiled) 82 95
Raisins (2/3 cup) 53 35
Soybeans (1 cup, boiled) 175 148
Spinach (1 cup, boiled) 244 158
Sweet potato (1 cup, boiled) 70 32
Swiss chard (1 cup, boiled) 102 152
Tofu (1/2 cup) 258 118
Vegetarian baked beans (1 cup) 128 82
White beans (1 cup, boiled) 161 113
Source: J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1994.)
*Information from manufacturer

If an adult female’s daily calcium requirement is between 1000-1500 milligrams, you can see that it’s not too difficult to meet this on a plant-based, non-dairy diet. Oatmeal and orange juice at breakfast takes care of about half my day’s needs.

For more information on lactose intolerance, calcium, and osteoporosis, check out The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.