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 :-)