Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Minimalist Guide to Simplifying the Holidays with Children

I am going to start with a story about a five year old little girl. Christmas was coming up and money was tight. Her parents didn't want to deprive her or her little sister of a glorious, bountiful Christmas, but they only had the money to get her one gift. A little kitchen set with a pretend stove and a little sink. They placed it under the tree Christmas eve. The little girl's eyes lit up when she came down stairs and saw that kitchen set sitting there. In her joyful little voice she exclaimed, "I got everything I wanted!"

That little girl was my first born daughter. She is now grown with her own son. She may not even remember saying that, but I will never forget that Christmas because her wise little words shined a light on the truth about over consumerism and Christmas. She clearly was not deprived by her lack of gifts. That one gift meant the world to her and to share it with her family was all she needed.

Friends and relatives who do not grasp this, who feel it isn't Christmas unless their are stacks of gifts under the tree, they will be the hardest challenge to getting through the holidays. "Don't you feel like you are depriving your children?" they'll ask. "But part of the joy of Christmas is giving," they'll exclaim, "and I enjoy giving." Let these well meaning folks know they may still give gifts to your children, but to please limit them to experiences or time spent together. Ideas might be a cooking class for your son who likes to cook, a museum pass, tickets to a special event the child can attend with grandma and grandpa. There are endless possibilities and memories last far longer than any soon to be broken toy will.

If they must give a physical gift, guide them toward purchasing something used. Last year I purchased a child sized table and chairs set for my son off Craigslist. It would have cost me a lot more new. I've also picked up books and old record albums at the thrift store. Gifts don't have to be new to be loved and appreciated.

Children love to participate in random acts of kindness, and the holidays are a great time to get your kids on board. Again, the list is endless. Bake cookies together and deliver them to neighbors. Leave random good wishes on windshields. Last year I took my youngest son to a nursing home where he handed out goodies and visited the residents. He and the residents were beaming when we left.

Kids also love to make presents. Some of the things I've helped my kids make in the past are little stuffed monsters, tied fleece blankets, pretty recycled jars filled with hot cocoa mix, and clay ornaments. Guide them on some options, but ultimately if it is their idea they will be more excited about it. Your time is much better spent helping them make these gifts than fighting crowds at the store.

For more ideas on simplifying the holidays with children, I recommend going to The Center for a New American Dream. They have many resources and ideas for a commercial free holiday. They have printable coupons and a booklet full of tips for less stress and more joy. You can also find them on Facebook and Pinterest.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Minimalism Can Help You Break The Chains of Poverty

This is another one of my thinking out loud posts. Some of you already know I am getting back on my feet after some really tough years. Not easy, let me tell you. My first year as a single parent I was earning well below the standards set for poverty in our country. That year my total taxable income was $7,000. It took a lot of creativity and help from family and friends to keep a roof over our heads, but I did it. By all comparisons, I am doing much better now. But busting out of poverty is no easy task unless you make a really significant jump in income. Why? Things break. Credit piles up. If I hadn't been thrust into poverty, what I earn now, with my lifestyle, would be bountiful. I'd be able to build a savings. But that never happens. Because things break.

Right now I am ignoring the fact that my Jeep has a leak in the cooling system because going to the mechanic is not a financially sound option. So I keep adding fluid so it doesn't overheat and kill the engine. I haven't replaced my eye glasses in, well, it has been so long I can't remember. I have been putting off seriously needed dental care for that same amount of lost time.

Poverty is like a really deep hole in the ground with loose soil piled up around it at the top. You can attempt to climb out, but you've got to find a way to do it without burying yourself. At times you will be so tired from climbing your way out you want to just give up. You've had so much dirt thrown in your face it seems impossible to climb out. Occasionally you get a glimpse of someone walking by your hole and you try not to get angry, try not to envy them for having both feet on the ground. And occasionally someone up there will toss you a stepping stone so you are a little closer to the top, or hand you a shovel so you can dig easier. Someone may even throw you a rope, but you still have to climb out. Just as occasionally, someone will kick dirt back into your hole, where you will taste the grit of it in your teeth and it will mix with the tears on your cheek.

I have been climbing out of that hole for nearly four years now and I am not quite to the top yet. Getting there, but I still have more climbing to do. I am close, so close. If only things would quit breaking.

But I wouldn't have made it this far without grasping onto minimalism and, perhaps, being very frugal.

Minimalism has allowed me to focus on what's important even when things aren't going well. It is a matter of focusing on what you do have and not on what you don't. It is paying attention to your real needs and letting go of what isn't necessary. Instead of panicking, you trust that slow climb upwards. You take time to see the beauty within the chaos. You find peace in wanting less. You no longer feel poor when you are surrounded only by things that bring joy.

Well, most of the time you no longer feel that way.

Things still break. Important things that need fixed. But you are no longer at the very bottom of the hole getting dirt kicked in your face. Minimalism gives you some measure of control in a situation that can leave you feeling helpless. Even when things break.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Perfect Pumpkin Scones with Pumpkin Spice Icing

When autumn rolls around, people seem to divide into to camps. The one's who go crazy putting pumpkin into everything and the ones who mutter, "Meh" under their breath as their pumpkin crazed friend lists all the pumpkin related recipes he or she has made. Everything from pumpkin soup to pumpkin spice lattes. It's an obsession for some.

I must admit, I fall into the pumpkin lovers camp, An absolute favorite around here is my recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes. And for your dog, try these Wheat Free Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

I love making scones. They are simple and delicious with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa on a cool autumn morning. So, with my pumpkin cravings in mind, I whipped up a batch of pumpkin scones yesterday morning. There were no regrets. I may have to make another batch next weekend!

I recommend baking scones on a pizza stone. They bake more evenly and come out perfect. I always had problems with burnt bottoms when I used a cookie sheet, but not with my pizza stone. 

Pumpkin Scones

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp pumpkin puree, chilled
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp half and half

Pumpkin Spice Icing

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp half and half
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Thoroughly mix together in a large bowl the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and both sugars. Break butter into small pieces and cut into flour mixture until butter is no longer visible. I prefer using my hands, but you can also use a pastry cutter or a food processor on pulse. 

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients. Pour into dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Dust a surface with flour and knead into a circle. Slice dough into 8 wedges. Dough will be sticky.

Transfer dough wedges to a baking stone or a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Brush with 1 Tbsp half and half. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes before drizzling with icing.

For icing:
Whisk together powdered sugar, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and half and half. Drizzle spoon fulls of icing over cooled scones, or pipe icing onto scones by using a plastic sandwich bag and cutting a small hole in one corner.

Best eaten warm, but may be stored in an airtight container for breakfast the next morning :-)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Finding YOUR Ideal Minimalist Life

One thing you will discover once you embrace becoming a minimalist is that, just like anything else in life, there are many paths. You will not want to wonder down all of them. Case in point, in my last post I announced all the reasons I was giving up having internet at home. Well, after three months without it, I realized that the logistics of leaving the house to access wifi when I wanted to use the internet to plan for my art classes or to blog just was more than I wanted to deal with. The idea behind minimalism is to simplify your life so you have more enjoyment in life and less stress. I sure wasn't feeling less stress from this decision. I found a cheaper internet provider and here I am, sitting at home blogging again.

Minimalism is not about doing without the things that bring you joy or help make your life less stressful. While my three months without the internet made life difficult, there are things that I have eliminated from our home that I do not miss. I do not miss a TV, nor do I see ever replacing the microwave. I always hated the clunky microwave sitting on the counter. It just took up too much space. Not to mention concerns over health issues. However, maybe your microwave eliminates stress in your life. I am not here to judge. Perhaps you can, and do, live without internet at your home.

Ideally, I would love to live somewhere where I could walk or bike everywhere and not worry about owning a car. But, living in an older suburb with a six year old son, I need a car to get around. The best path for me is to own a used car with no car payments to worry about.

My point is, we shouldn't beat ourselves up for not becoming puritans. We do need to pay attention to what brings us happiness and what leads to our ideal life. I find my happiness in creating, in being in nature, and being around those I love. None of this has anything to do with buying or owning stuff. It doesn't mean I don't want things. I would love to have a new plush robe to replace the worn and faded one I have had for over sixteen years. I want some rugs to make our home feel more cozy. I would be thrilled to own a newer camera. But these aren't things my happiness depend upon.

Minimalism is personal, so make it about you.

Less stuff, yes. Jump off the hamster wheel of over consumption and debt. Generate less waste. Slow down and cook at home more. From scratch, even. Spend more time being with the people who bring you joy, or in quiet retrospection alone. Do more of what brings you happiness, if that be reading, strolling in the park, or dancing all night surrounded by friends and strangers.

Just don't be hard on yourself over that one thing that doesn't quite fit into your ideal of minimalism that you hang on to anyway.

There are many paths up the mountain. What is important is that you enjoy the view along the way.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Unplugging from the Internet and Finding Happiness

One of the minimalist bloggers I follow talks about his choice to not have Internet at his home. It's true I don't own a television and I gave up my microwave, but I just couldn't imagine giving up our internet service. No Netflix? No quick access to email, Pinterest, or Facebook? How am I going to find time to go to the library or local coffee shop to blog?

At the end of July I found myself caught in a perfect financial storm. Child support, which I was used to getting weekly, switched to monthly payments, leaving me with a three week gap receiving no payments. That left me digging into the savings that was supposed to hold us over until the end of August, when I went back to work. On top of that, our pup, Julius, became very ill with parvovirus, even though he had two doses of the vaccine. I dropped him off at the vet not knowing how I was going to pay the bill. Fortunately, most of his vet expenses were covered by fundraising efforts thanks to my friend Erin. But I had to use money set aside to pay our internet provider toward his initial vet bill.

You can see where this is going. Yes, the Internet was disconnected. The thing is I don't know if I am going to have it reconnected. It has been about a month now, and, well, our home seems more peaceful without it. I will also save about $100 a month without it, or $1200 for the year. That money would look really nice sitting in a savings account.

I see positive changes in my son as well. He has been spending more time climbing trees and playing with Julius and our two chickens. Even with school starting, as soon as we are home he heads outside to run and play.

As for myself, I have been reading more. I picked up a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at the thrift store probably well over a year ago, meaning to read it then. Last week I finally plucked it off my bookcase and read the whole thing in about three days. This used to be the norm.

Suddenly our days are filled with more time to do the things we enjoy. I am now aware of how much of our time has been sucked into that vast virtual world. Do I want to return to that? I don't think so. I am not anti-technology. I still have 4g on my cell phone, along with a Facebook app. I keep in contact with far away friends and family that way. Some of these friends I met online. Those connections are important. Not having internet in my home just means I only focus on using the technology that I see as important and my time isn't spent being distracted by unlimited ideas on Pinterest or wasting time browsing through Cake Wrecks, which I fully admit to doing.

I sit typing this on my IPad from the air conditioned comfort of my local library. If I so choose, I can go take a walk on the park trails surrounding the library. This is doable. I can live without Internet service in my home and remain virtually connected to the world. But I am also here in the real world, in real time. By disconnecting, I have become more connected.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Light Salad Perfect for Hot Summer Nights

Cucumber, Mango, Chickpea Salad
This past week the heat has finally arrived in south Texas. Thank goodness it took a while to get here, though we could have done without the sudden and destructive flooding in May. Now here we are half way through summer and it's hotter than a Texas grill on the 4th of July. Everything withers under this relentless sun by midday and no one wants to go outside, not even the dog, and little man tries to get away with running around in his underwear all day. In fact, he decided to come hang out with me during the big garage sale I had this past weekend sans pants. While I was making a sale.

I feel lazy in this weather. I want to take afternoon naps while dreaming about mountains, or lounge around with my nose in a book. The last thing I want to do is cook, but children still expect to be fed. Imagine that.

This cucumber, mango, and chickpea salad is perfect for dinner on hot summer nights. I served it with some leftover rosemary focaccia, making a complete meal. It is vegan, but will satisfy your omnivore friends as well. It is also full of kid friendly flavors to keep the little people happy, too. I am awaiting an invitation to a potluck just so I can make up a big bowl full to share.

The recipe is adapted from the book Clean Food, by Terry Walters. I picked up the book from a book sale some time ago and only recently have been experimenting with the recipes. In my quest toward minimalism I have given away most of my cookbooks. I seem to use recipes from food blogs that I find on Pinterest more often than an actual book, but Clean Food was one of a handful that made the cut. The recipes are seasonal and use healthy and sustainable ingredients. All of the recipes are vegan, but shouldn't be overlooked if you include animal products in your diet.

Cucumber, Mango, and Chickpea Salad

  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and diced
  • 1 diced mango or 1 bag frozen mango chunks
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup organic raisins
  • 1/4 cup minced dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine cucumbers, mango, chickpeas, raisins, apricots, and mint. Whisk together ingredients for dressing in a small bowl. Pour over salad and toss. Serve with a good bread.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Minimalism and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I purchased a copy of the life changing magic of tidying up solely on intuition, and I am glad I did. Marie Kondo's philosophy pairs nicely with minimalism. She states, "The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life". That is the essence of minimalism. How do you want to live your life? Choosing to live in a small house, own less things, say no to the things that don't bring you joy; all of these speak volumes about your life.

The first step in tidying up that Marie Kondo describes is to go through your clothing. I had already gone through my clothes and bagged up everything I didn't want prior to reading her book, but yesterday I decided to apply her method to see if I could further down size. Her number one criteria is the simple question, "does this bring me joy?"  She also describes a very specific way to fold your clothes and put them away. So I emptied my drawers and went to work.

There is a measure of reflection using her method. I found myself noticing the lack of color in my wardrobe and took time to notice the sad state of most of my socks. I wondered what this said about me, hiding in dark colors and refusing to let go of worn out socks. By the time I finished, I had gotten rid of an under the bed storage container, a closet organizer, and another heap of clothes, some destined for new homes while others had definitely finished their job.

I am not going to sugar coat it. This process of getting there, of minimizing our home and our life is hard. It is going to take months to shed everything we have accumulated that does not bring us joy and get us down to a size where we are ready for our tiny home. And there are obstacles. Like the unsolicited, rather large gifts to the little man from his dad that I am forced to store because his dad doesn't have the room. Like the bins of stuff my hoarder teenager hangs on to. Although, he just recently let go of a few things, perhaps picking up my cues.

The life changing magic of tidying up offers a workable path to follow if you are struggling with minimizing your home and your life. Especially if you become easily overwhelmed getting through the layers you need to shed. Like I said, it is not an overnight process and I certainly have a way to go, but I can already feel a shift in the way our house feels more like the peaceful, uncluttered environment I seek. While some of it may seem a little odd or silly, like thanking the possessions that you chose to let go of, I think it is more about maintaining gratitude and respecting our living environment.

This process has opened my eyes to all the meaningless, shiny baubles we surround ourselves with. And all the painful memories from our past. Why do we want to hold on to this stuff if it hurts us? Why do we blind our view with all this stuff? Why do we sacrifice so much time maintaining stuff that doesn't bring us joy?
What do we really want from this life of ours? How do we really want to live? 

Minimalism is about opening up space to see what is really important to us.

You see, we tend to clutter our lives with not only things, but also busyness and chatter. All this clutter takes up space in our homes and in our minds. And when we start to clear that clutter, suddenly the fog that has been blocking our view lifts and we can see our life more clearly.

I am not there yet. But I am learning a lot as I go. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wheat Free Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

After my oldest son's dog died, we ended up with Leo, a typical sassy, aloof cat. He has been a great addition to the family, but little man wanted a dog. So, I finally relented with a promise that we'd look for an older rescue dog after school let out. Well, that's not quite how it happened. A few weeks before the end of school a friend of mine posted photos of the cutest little puppy to her Facebook timeline. He was in need of a home. My friend is a foster for dogs and had been at the local shelter after hours to pick up a couple dogs that were going to foster homes when a man drove up with the puppy. His intentions were to drop the puppy off at the shelter. Did I mention the shelter was closed? So, yeah, he was dumping the little guy on the shelter steps with the off chance he'd be found alive in the morning. Like a puppy was just going to sit there until they opened their doors. My friend rescued the little guy and took him home, but couldn't keep him due to a house already full of dogs. You can guess where this story is headed. Yes, weeks before school was out we adopted a slobbery, energetic, uncivilized mess of a puppy, and we couldn't be happier.

His name is Julius, evidently taken from Paul Frank's Julius Jr. ( little man named him). He has chewed up more than one shoe left unattended. He sneaks off with the kids stuffed animals and hides them in his crate. He irritates the cat, though I think Leo secretly likes him. But what cat can admit to liking a dog? Julius loves to play fetch and go on walks. We even took him with us to South Padre Island, where he seemed perplexed by the never ending waves and loved frolicing in the sand.

At the Beach

I picked up some treats for Julius at our local pet store out of their bulk bin. There were three different kinds because I wasn't sure what he'd like. He ate the fresh breath minty biscuits, but wasn't totally sold on them. His favorite were the pumpkin flavored ones. I decided I could probably make them at home cheaper, while also making use of that darned dog bone shaped cookie cutter that has been sitting in the cookie cutter drawer untouched for who knows how long. Eons, maybe. So today little man helped me bake up a batch for Julius. And apparently, he approves. He gave me his sappy-eyed "please can I have another" look after gobbling up the one little man had given him.

Brown rice flour is easy for dogs to digest. Evidently pumpkin is supposed to be calming to their tummies too, though as I type this there is an uncanny smell wafting up from the dog sleeping at my feet, so I am unsure if that is true. But, then again, he's a living vacuum eating what ever food the boys drop on the floor so that might not be a fair assessment.

Wheat Free Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 Tbsp dry milk
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 1/2 cups brown rice flour
Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together pumpkin and eggs until smooth. Add dry milk, sea salt, and brown rice flour, combining with hands to form a stiff dough. Roll dough out on floured surface, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, depending on the size of your dog. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutter or biscuit cutter. Bake 15 minutes, turn biscuits over, then bake for 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Store in air tight container in the refrigerator. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monkey Bread Ice Cream

What a busy month June has been! After wrapping up the school year, we headed north for a long overdue trip to Ohio to visit family. Two days after returning home, we headed out again, this time to South Padre Island. This was our second time to South Padre. Both times we camped in tents at Isla Blanca Park, the absolute cheapest accommodations on the island. While I like hanging out at the beach, my favorite thing to do is to explore the as of yet undeveloped part of the island, driving all the way to the end of the road where you can get a good view of being surrounded by water. I feel uncomfortable going off road at this point because much of the island is privately owned, and, well, we'd be trespassers. But it is beautiful, and you can get a glimpse of what the whole island must have been at one time. If you are ever down there, I also recommend the birding center and Sea Turtle, Inc., a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles.

South Padre Island
I also dusted off the ice cream maker this month. Making ice cream from scratch takes me back to Mom and Dad making ice cream from fresh milk and cream in one of those old fashioned wood slat ice cream makers. The process seemed almost magic to me as a young kid. I was thrilled when I finally picked up my own ice cream maker a couple years ago so I could continue the tradition of homemade ice cream in the summer with my boys.

Our first batch this summer was basic vanilla bean ice cream. After that quickly disappeared, my oldest son requested monkey bread ice cream. It was enough motivation to get him out of bed on a summer Saturday morning to go to the farmers market to pick up a loaf of our favorite monkey bread from Sol y Luna Bakery. So, yes, I was going to make it happen. I made some tweaks from the original recipe to avoid using corn products, and I am quite pleased with how it turned out. It is a rich, creamy ice cream with yummy chunks of monkey bread through out. You can bet on this becoming a summer favorite.

Monkey Bread Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tsp tapioca flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP cream cheese at room temp.
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • monkey bread, torn into small pieces ( I used half of a standard loaf)
Mix tapioca flout with 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl and set aside. 

In a large pan, stir together remaining milk, cream, sugar, honey, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in tapioca flour mixture and continue cooking until thickened. Remove from heat.

Add small amount of hot mixture to cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into pan with the rest of the hot milk and add vanilla. 

Allow mixture to cool in ice water or over night in your refrigerator. Once cooled, freeze following the directions for your ice cream maker. When the ice cream is nearly finished, add the chunks of monkey bread. My ice cream maker has a hole at the top that allows for adding goodies into the mixture, but if your machine doesn't have this, simply fold the monkey bread pieces into the ice cream when it is finished churning.

Allow ice cream to set in freezer for a couple hours.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Embracing Minimalism and Letting Go of a Cluttered Life

I have been reading a free ebook by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, better known as The Mininalists. Perhaps it's because May is my birthday month or I am just feeling a need for letting go and moving on from many aspects of my past, but I have embraced the minimalist philosophy with an almost obsession. How else am I going to downsize to a tiny home? And do I really want my children going through boxes of crap 40 some years from now after I am gone wondering what the heck I was thinking keeping all of that?

Minimalism isn't to be tackled overnight. It is probably going to take me the entire summer, a couple yard sales several trips to the donation drop box, and lots of trips to the recycling bin to get rid of all the stuff I no longer want to carry around with me. Today I threw away a broken carousel horse from high school prom 30 years ago, recycled old play bills and movie tickets, anniversary cards from my first marriage, and letters from people who I don't even remember anymore. I still need to go through stacks of handwritten poetry and photographs taken before digital became the preferred imaging device. Then there is the rest of the house to sort through...

What is minimalism, anyway?

To me, it is a welcome remedy from the uber consumer driven culture we have created. It's a lifestyle placing more value on time and people than on stuff and "keeping up with the Jones's". For a single mom like me, it means taking a lower paying teaching job at a small private school in exchange for more time with my kids and grandkids. It means no car payments in lieu of that new car smell. It means having less stuff equals having less burdens to carry. Less to maintain, less to have to work for, yet more time to spend how ever you wish, with who ever you desire. 

In a way I have already been living a minimalist life. Like I have mentioned before, I haven't had a TV in years. I purchase nearly all of my clothes at thrift stores. But I still feel like I have too much stuff. Nostalgia is not necessarily a bad thing, but when you carry a broken horse around for 30 years in a box of other "mementos" gathering dust in a bin in the garage, it is time to let go.

Embracing minimalism is the art of letting go of all the things holding you down, letting go of the layers of your life that no longer matter. 

Not to say that it is easy. Letting go rarely is. The hardest for me has been culling my books down to a more manageable library. I love my books, but it no longer serves me to hold on to books I will never again read. I will also hold on to my mountaineering boots a little bit longer. One day I may be ready to say goodbye to them, but they symbolize the strength I have within me. The day I summited a mountain changed me forever, and I am not quite ready to forget that even though I don't know if I will ever wear them again.

I'll continue to write about my journey with minimalism from time to time as I progress. I feel like it is going to be very profound and freeing. I'd love to hear from others who have jumped in with both feet. How did you overcome challenges? Or, if you are just getting started, what propelled you? 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

5 Delicious Mother's Day Breakfast Recipes

As a single mom with a six year old, I am not expecting breakfast in bed this year. However, if I were, I would love to be served any of these delicious breakfast recipes with a glass of mimosa and a mug of hot coffee. Heck, I'd be happy with just coffee in bed. A bit of cream and two sugars, please. Seriously, though, if you are looking for a delicious and easy recipe to cook up for mom this Mother's Day, any of the following five recipes will start her special day off just right. Just click on the link and it will take you to the full recipe.

A fast and easy breakfast that also looks quite fancy, fresh berry bismark is also a great recipe for the kids to make. Any kind of fresh berries make a great topping. Be sure to use real maple syrup or local honey to really make it special. Serve a little cup of yogurt on the side and you have a fulfilling and healthy breakfast for mom.

Easy Cinnamon Rolls

No yeast is used in making these cinnamon rolls, so they are both easy and fast to make. They are also just as delicious as their yeasty cousins. Whip up some fluffy scrambled eggs and a cup of fresh fruit and mom will have a complete and yummy breakfast. 

(Ugh, I really need to make up another batch of these just to photograph them again. That lighting stinks.)

Gluten Free Banana Breakfast Muffins

Even if your mom doesn't have special dietary needs, these muffins are a delicious addition to any Mother's Day breakfast. Make them extra special by serving them with boiled or poached eggs and a side of yogurt and fresh fruit.

The Best Buttermilk Pancakes (and a syrup recipe too)

For a super simple and delicious breakfast, make up a batch of these for mom. 

Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

I love scones, and these are by far my favorite scone recipe. These would be a special addition to any Mother's Day breakfast. Slather them in some lemon curd and serve along side an omelette or poached eggs.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Healthy Homemade Mango Popcicles

I must confess. I have a sugar addiction. My weaknesses are my morning cup of coffee (which I like strong, creamy, and sweet), chocolate, and ice cream. I am trying to find healthier sweets, sticking to dark chocolate and avoiding the ice cream isle at the grocery store (especially when I have a coupon for a dollar off a pint of Haagen Dazs ). Spring brought a renewed desire to get in shape, eat healthier, and gain more energy, so I have been on the lookout for healthier ways to indulge my sweet tooth. I just need to find a way to adjust to less sugar in my morning cup of coffee. Ugh. Or give it up altogether.

It's not just my sweet tooth I'm worried about. Little man can have a melt down over sugar cravings. I really don't allow him to have a lot of sugary foods and soda doesn't even enter the house, but he still prefers sugary breakfasts and asks for desert if I don't offer one. Like most kids, his eyes light up when he sees candy.

In an effort to satisfy our sweet tooth and eat healthier, I made a batch of yummy mango popcicles. With summer around the corner I think I will be making these regularly. Mango popcicles are a great way to beat the south Texas heat. They are also super easy to make. The popcicles are a hit with the boys. Mr. Sweet Tooth himself asked if he could have a second one.

Mango Popcicles

  • 6 cups slightly thawed frozen mango pieces
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Blend ingredients together until smooth. Pour into popcicle molds and freeze.

That's it! Easy peasy. The hardest part is waiting for them to freeze. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How to Live A Life of Joy

Sometimes you don't see a blessing headed your way until it is standing right in front of you. You look up and there it is, filling your heart and changing you for the better.

This past week it has rained quite a bit here in south Texas, causing my lawn to grow wild and lush. This afternoon I finally pulled out my mower to tackle the overgrown mess. It was a rather warm day, so I was hot and sweaty, thinking how I just wanted to be finished. I was about 2/3 of the way done and pondering how I was going to mow a small section of yard at the side of the house that I hadn't mowed last time because it is awkward to reach with my electric mower. That's when I looked up and saw him, an older gentleman wearing a stark white t shirt and a back brace walking towards me, pushing his own mower down the street.

In my neighborhood it is not an unusual thing to see someone pushing a mower down the street, but when he got to my corner lot the man reached down and started his mower, smiling at me. He set off walking again, mowing the edge of my lawn along the street. When he got to the overgrown area at the side of the house, he turned his mower into the tangled mess and began clearing it, still smiling. For a while we were both mowing in tandem, but I shut down my mower and backed out of his way while he finished cutting the final strip of lawn. The whole time he was smiling.

When he finished, he introduced himself and tells me he is 83 years old and dying of cancer. Doctors already removed a cancerous tumor from his brain, but now it has settled in his chest. He was told he has six months to live. He smiled again and said he had a great run. I thanked him for his help and tell him it looks like he has done a great job at living.

After he left, I headed into the house to tell my daughter what had occurred. I was nearly in tears. I heard a weed eater and peered out the window to see he returned to tidy up the spots you can't get with a mower. I couldn't see his face, but I am sure he must have still been smiling. Little one wanted to tell him thank you. I encouraged him to take the man a glass of water, but the man turned it down, saying thanks, but he had his own.

We could all learn a lesson or two on how to truly live out our days from this man. He didn't want anything in return other than the joy it brought him. How few of us reach out to help our neighbors, especially with a smile on our faces, yet this man who knows he is dying has found a life of joy at the end of his days by reaching out to help his neighbors. I am blessed, my heart feels fuller, and I feel somehow different. I have been shown how to live by a dying man.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

I love lemons and all things lemon scented. If I could, my house would smell like fresh lemons all the time. Some of my favorite memories involve lemons, like a dear friend of mine taking the time to make homemade lemonade on a summer day way too long ago. One day I hope to grow my own lemons, maybe just a potted Meyer lemon tree with a handful of lemons each season, but it would make my heart sing to pick the sunny fruit and use its juices and rind to make up a batch of lemon poppy seed scones.

I haven't baked as much as I'd like to lately. I haven't done a lot of things I enjoy these past couple months. I hadn't picked up my beloved camera since the beginning of January for little one's birthday. But, today I photographed lemon scones. I photographed lemons. I spent about twenty minutes photographing lemons in the evening light, while I ignored the kitchen floor that needs mopped and the dishes stacked from lunch. The light and the lemons were mesmerizing. Just what I needed after too many rainy days here in South Texas.

I discovered this scone recipe about five years ago. It originally appeared in Bon Appetit in March 2002. According to the notes, this recipe was developed by Ledbetters, a breakfast restaurant in Connecticut.

Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

  • 3 Cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Cup plus one tablespoon sugar
  • 3 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 Tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup or more whole milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, 1 cup sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, lemon peel, and salt in large mixing bowl. Add butter and mix in using hands or a pastry cutter until mixture resembles a course meal. Whisk together the egg and lemon juice. Add to flour mixture until moist clumps form. Add milk and mix until dough forms, adding more milk if it seems too dry. Using floured hands, gather dough into ball and flatten into an 8 inch round. Cut into 8 wedges. Transfer scones to a large baking sheet, brush with milk, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. 

Bake until scones are golden brown and a tester comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes. Cool. Store in airtight container at room temperature. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Make Popcorn the Old Fashioned Way

Since I got rid of my microwave, I have had to take a different approach toward food preparation. Out of habit, I ripped open a packet of instant oatmeal and poured it into the bowl before I remembered I couldn't just stick it in the microwave and zap it for about a minute. So I boiled some water, measured out the suggested water, poured it over the oatmeal and waited. The oats were still, uhm, not cooked and runny. Then I read the package. These were steel cut oats. I would need to cook them. In a pan. Why in the world am I buying instant oatmeal in wasteful little packages when I could simply cook my own? That's the question that popped into my head as I stirred the oatmeal into a paste and my son waited impatiently with hungry eyes. So, no more instant oats. Not even the organic ones.

Then there was the realization that I still have two packs of microwave popcorn in my pantry. We don't make popcorn often. My supermarket sells these mini packs of organic popcorn, but it still probably isn't much healthier than the regular kind that is supposed to contain all kinds of toxins from the chemicals they use in the bag liners. Tonight I have my son and grandson in tow at the grocery store. We go down the snack isle past the popcorn, and that is when I decide we are going to go home and make it the old fashioned way, the way I remember making it when I was a little kid.

I was a little nervous about popping popcorn on the stove top. It has been years since I have made it that way and I feared a burned mess with lots of smoke and fire alarms going off, but it turned out perfectly and the taste was much better than the bagged popcorn too. I have to admit it was fun to make, also. We might be having popcorn more often now.

Stove Top Popcorn...The Old Fashioned Way

  1. Cover bottom of lidded pan with 1/8 inch of melted coconut oil. Drop two or three kernels of popcorn into the oil and heat over medium heat until they pop.
  2. Add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup popcorn to the pan, depending on pan size. 
  3. Shake the pan until popping stops and remove from heat immediately to prevent burning.
  4. Empty into a bowl and season with salt, butter, or other favorite seasoning
  5. Voila, done! Enjoy!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent without Borax - Repost

I am still scratching my head as to how one of my most popular posts disappeared. I really enjoyed the comments that were shared with it, as well. I didn't realize laundry detergent could spark some interesting conversations.

Some people had commented on the cost of a bottle of Dr. Bronner's castile soap. First off, you don't have to use Dr. Bronner's brand if you can find a cheaper castile soap. Second, the initial investment may seem costly, but this stuff lasts forever. I have had my current bottle for months and it still has quite a bit in it. I also use it to make a multipurpose cleaner and when I mop. I have discovered that the cheapest place to purchase it in my area is actually Whole Foods, which I must admit surprised me. It was even cheaper than ordering it through Amazon.

 I would like to note that I have been using this recipe for homemade laundry detergent for some time now and I am pleased with the results. In fact, I am about to mix up another batch this weekend. Since it does not contain any stabilizers, the mixture may become lumpy, especially in cold weather. You can either gently warm it up or give it a light shake to evenly distribute and use it chunks and all. The chunks will dissolve in the wash.

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

  • 1/2 Cup Super Washing Soda
  • 1/2 Cup Baking Soda
  • 3/4 Cup Castile Soap ( I use Dr. Bronner's unscented baby mild)
  • 20-40 drops essential oil, such as lavender, geranium, or your favorite scent
  • 2 gallons water
You will also need a two gallon bucket, empty containers, and a funnel.

Pour the super washing soda into the two gallon bucket  and cover with hot tap water. Stir to dissolve. Add the baking soda. Once dissolved, fill the bucket to the top with water. Add the castile soap. Stir to mix in the soap. I just use my hands, but a large spoon would do. Add essential oils. Pour into bottle(s) using the funnel.

Use 1/3 cup per standard load.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Things You Can Live Without

I've finally picked up the book No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan, and started reading it. It is an entertaining read and Beavan brings up some thought provoking points. Every one of us can, and should, decrease our impact on our environment, but how far can we take it? What can we live without to lower that impact? Over the past 3-4 years, as I have worked to build a financially secure life for me and my boys, I have learned a thing or two about what is necessity and what our family can live without. I also know it takes continued tweaking to refine this simple life of ours.

My goals are twofold: 1. lower our impact on the environment. 2. Build a simple life that allows more time for being a family together. Both of these work beautifully together. The bottom line for achieving both goals is to buy/own less stuff. Economically, environmentally, and, yeah, spiritually, it makes sense for my family and the life I am building to think carefully about where our money goes, how much stuff we bring into our lives, and how much of it is disposable or stuff that actually enriches our lives for the long haul.

In case you haven't read my last post, I recently ditched my microwave. But there are other things that are in the typical household that you won't find in mine either.

Paper Towels

The ex loved using paper towels. I used to tell him he needed to plant a forest for all the trees he was killing off. I used to buy a roll of recycled towels every now and then to keep on hand, but eventually found myself no longer using them at all. We dry our hands on a hand towel. I have plenty of reusable rags for large clean up jobs and washing windows. It is a small expense off our grocery budget as well. 

If you would like to make your own reusable paper towels there are many tutorials out there, including this one. You can also purchase them through Etsy vendors.


My students, and some adults, freak out when I tell them I don't have a TV, and haven't had one in years! These days it is easy to watch a movie on the computer or tablet. We do subscribe to Netflix. But my kids aren't exposed to all those exploitative commercials selling the latest gadgets and cereal jam packed with sugar. We also aren't sitting in front of a screen for hours. One of the common questions I get asked is what do we do if we don't have TV. I have to laugh at this one. Uhm, read a book. Go outside. Move your body and/or your mind. I have four children (two grown) who love to read and who appreciate the outdoors. My youngest son couldn't think of anything to put on his Christmas list this past December because he hadn't been inundated with what he should want. He just turned six. I think this is amazing and good.

A Cabinet Full of Toxic Chemicals

The cleaning and laundry isle at the grocery store is full of items sold to make our homes sparkle and our laundry smell fresh. But the truth is they often contain ingredients that are harmful and are packaged in throw away containers that pile up in the landfill. Plus, you don't need five different kinds of cleaners to keep your home clean. I mainly use one cleaner I mix up in a reusable spray bottle consisting of a few squirts of castile soap and 10-20 drops of essential oils. Lately I have been using cinnamon, tea tree, lavender, and rosemary oils. I use this on the kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, even in the toilet. As for my laundry, I have been mixing up my own borax free laundry detergent for some time now. 

*Note* I can not link to my post for the laundry detergent because it has been deleted and/or lost in cyberspace. Not sure why or how, but I will put it up on the blog again when I can. 

Coffee Filters/ Disposable Coffee Cups

This includes cups obtained through stops at your local Starbucks. I make my own coffee using a coffee press, no filters needed, and drink in my favorite coffee mug before I even leave the house. Sometimes I will fill a glass jar with coffee and warm it up at work. My go to travel mug needs replaced, so there is no consuming on the go right now, but I have gotten into the relaxing routine of getting up early and savoring my coffee before the rush to get out the door happens. It's a much better way to set the day than by juggling hot coffee on the way to work and spilling it on my lap. My compute these days is only a short 7 minutes anyhow. 

There are other things I just have never seen the necessity in, like dryer sheets for instance, and plastic water bottles. And there are things I don't use often. Disposable razors are one of them. I rarely shave. My legs get neglected all winter. Then there are the things I may have to get used to going without, like my dryer that is on it's last bit of life. It is going on 14 years old and when it dies I'm not sure I am gong to replace it. I have my clothes line. I'll just have to readjust how I do laundry. Now, the washer is another thing. If it dies, it is getting replaced...somehow. 

My point is, you can live a simpler life and there are many things you just chuck into your cart that you can live without if you just think it through for a moment. That list of things may be different for you than it is for me and my family, but it is important to take the time to eliminate these things from your life to make room for a simpler, happier, less cluttered life and decrease your impact on our beautiful planet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Aak, I've been hacked? Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe Gone!

It is with some alarm that I discovered my blog page for homemade laundry detergent is gone!!! When you click on the link it says the page doesn't exist. One of my most popular posts ever, and poof! Has anyone else ever had this happen with blogger? Have I been hacked? I will re-post when I have the time, but I am disheartened. Where did it go? It was still live yesterday. Since this little blog is a gathering of my thoughts and not a major money generator, I haven't backed up my posts, but I guess it's time...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why I Ditched My Microwave

I had been mulling over getting rid of my microwave for some time when a friend gave me a convection oven. Having very little space in my kitchen, it was an either or position. Either I kept the microwave or ditched it for the convection oven. Here is why I chose the convection oven over the microwave:

More Control Over What We Eat.

I must confess. Our schedule has been very busy. Now that the spring soccer season has started, it has become even busier. It is really easy to slip into filling up the cart with convenience items out of the freezer section at the supermarket, but it is also unhealthy and more costly. Slipping back out of that habit isn't easy and I still tossed in a frozen pizza on my last grocery trip. But getting rid of the microwave provides a chance to take a step back and reassess our eating habits. 

Precooked convenience foods tend to have more sodium than home cooked meals. They also have mystery additives and preservatives that can make one feel like a biochemistry experiment. I avoid eating fast food for those reasons, so why did  I become dependent on prepackaged foods? Taking away the convenience of the microwave, I now can refocus on quality ingredients and pay attention to what I am feeding my family. Yes, it takes a little more time, but to me it is worth it, even when I am feeling zombie tired, which is often these days.

If you'd like to learn more about the biochemistry experiment going on with your food, read this: a-feast-of-engineering-whats-really-in-your-food

Disputed Long Term Health Effects

While the radiation given off from a microwave is touted as too low to pose any possible risk, it is a big unknown of what can happen over time with low level exposure. According to some sources, it is accumulative, meaning the longer and more often you use a microwave, the more detrimental the effects. It also appears to change the molecular make up of the food we eat and deplete vital nutrients. 

While trying to get to the bottom of this mystery of microwave safety, I discovered there is a lot of controversy, but I found an excellent article that outlines the way a microwave works and how it can be toxic to your health over time. Written by Dr. Mercola, the article gives scientific sources backing up his claims. 

Embracing Simplicity 

Every choice I have made since becoming a single parent has been about creating a peaceful home environment and simplifying our lives. While exchanging the microwave for a convection oven isn't really clearing any clutter, it does allow me to test out principles of tiny house living before I actually live it. With a small number of people in our household, it is becoming apparent that I can easily prepare our meals without a full size oven. A stove top, a refrigerator, and a convection oven are the only appliances I plan on having when I finally am able to own my small home. 

I have had to make some small changes in the way I cook since ditching the microwave. I think the main use for it was to heat water for tea or coffee or cook instant oatmeal. I purchased a tea kettle. Problem solved. There is something pleasant about putting the kettle on to boil and hearing it's gentle whistle when the water is ready. Even if it is a small change, it evokes larger change toward an unhurried lifestyle that allows time to savor my cup of coffee in the morning. 

Ultimately, getting rid of the microwave was one step toward creating a healthy, unhurried lifestyle for me and my family. I encourage you to consider it.