The Minimalist Journey

Sometimes as mothers, we aspire to minimalism because things in our own lives seem complicated.  I recently started a thread on a  Facebook group I am on, about paring things down for the school year, especially for those of us who are are homeschooling older teens who have to be places but can’t yet drive, and for those of us who are homeschooling larger families (way larger than mine) and having the activities of the older teens impact the family all the way down to the littlest ones.

Can you really have simplicity and minimalism with homeschooling and parenting older children and teens, with multiple children of large age ranges?  Some families make a very conscious decision to roadschool or wildschool and have the work flexibility to do that, and I think many of us think that is what minimalism looks like.  However, many of us don’t have that kind of lifestyle, and I think we need to remember that minimalism can look different to each family because each family is different! 

So, as many of us are planning for the fall, I wanted to throw out some ideas I am toying with.  Last year was our absolutely most complicated year ever, largely not due to anything within our control, so those years happen, but for a “normal” year… here are some ideas!  Share yours!

  1.  What are your values and your most valued communities?  Pare things down around that.  You don’t have to do all things.  There are often all kinds of things that look great for homeschooling families or even when children attend school.  There can be pressure to keep up.  The more we rebel as this generation of parents and say that our children don’t need 20 activities during the school year to “keep up” or “get ahead” or “get into a great college” (when they are 10 years old!), the easier this will become over time.  In the meantime, be a rebel and pare down to your most valued things.  Find out what your children value!  Our girls value being home and with us, church choir and that community,  and their horses.  Our littlest guy values being home and playing!  As parents we value being outside, our community of friends, music and yes, learning!  So making priorities around those things makes sense for us.  Minimalism begins with priorities!
  2. If you live in a community where the driving factor is high, you are going to have to say no just on the basis on the drive sometimes. I went through a phase where I was done driving, and chose everything to be within a 15 to 20 minute drive (because in our area, driving forty-five minutes to an hour for something isn’t unheard of).  This year, we will be branching out a little in driving to a homeschool enrichment program  one day a week that is 40 minutes away, but this is the first time in several years we have had a drive like that.
  3. Figure out what you need – does it bother you to go out daily?  Can you homeschool in the morning and go out in the afternoon and feel fine or do you need days where you don’t leave the house?  How many days?  If this is what it is, then you have to have a schedule that reflects that you need to be home three days in a row or whatever it is that makes you feel good!  If you need to be home, cross days off on your weekly calendar so you don’t normally schedule things on those days!
  4.   Streamline your stuff.  We spend a huge amount of time in the United States managing things like a home, the stuff in a home, a car, etc.  Pare down!  Summer is a great time to do this!  You can’t organize a mountain of stuff.  Just get rid of it!
  5. Enlist help in cleaning and cooking.  Everyone in the family can help in some way!
  6. Plan margin.  Margin during the day, the week, and the year.  Plan 32-34 weeks of school knowing it will stretch out into the full number of school weeks you need.  Plan four days a week knowing that is enough.  Plan margin for the day – rest times, down times.  That is just as important as learning times.
  7. One way to get down times during the school day is to COMBINE children in lessons.  See my back post about some ideas regarding the Waldorf Curriculum.
  8. If you have appointments for health care, try to get as much done in the summer as possible. That is what most of the families  I know whose children go to public school do.  I know so many homeschoolers who feel like we should be super accommodating to appointments and things because we have potentially have that flexibility (and then we feel stressed we aren’t getting enough done!)  Use summers, breaks, one day a week once a month that is planned ahead for appointments, errands, etc as much as possible.
  9. Make the mail  your friend.  There are so many things you can order on-line. See how many groceries you can get on-line and if you can’t get the rest at your local farmer’s market.
  10. There are seasons for things.  Don’t feel badly about what you can or can’t do right now.  Parenting is a season!

Please share your favorite minimalist tips!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

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Getting Ready for Winter!

The temperature has finally dropped here in the Deep South. It feels much colder than it acutally is, because we have been living with temperatures above 85 degrees F for so many months.

This is a great time to take stock of what one needs for winter.  This is my checklist, and I would love to share it with you:

Do I have the supplies to make elderberry syrup?  (so, for me, that is essentially stinging nettle, yarrow, lemon balm, echinacea, elder berries and elder flowers along with spices and local honey)

Do I have the herbs to add to bone broth? (so, for me, that includes burdock and dandelion root and astragulus)

Do I need any other herbal tonics to get me through the winter?  I like the Urban Moonshine blend mentioned in Aviva Romm’s article here

Do I have our cabinet stocked with things for colds and flu?  Silver throat spray,  Theives Oil or a variation, other essential oils, homeopathic remedies, etc.

How (and where) is our outerwear ?  To me, this includes mittens or gloves, hats, warm socks, jacks, snow pants, and boots.  For kids, I still love LL Bean Boots, but I know everyone has their favorites.

Who needs woolens? I like to get mine from Green Mountain Organics.   If you are wondering about warmth in children, I recommend this article about “Warmth, Strength, and Freedom.”

Who needs long shirts or sweaters?

Do I have flannel sheets? Sleep is super important, and I think the winter months are a prime season to take advantage of sleeping longer.

Am I prepared to slow the rhythm of our week down? I think this is natural seasonal adjustment.  August, September, and October can be super busy here with marching band for our oldest and horse shows, but I find things in November and December can be calmer if we block it out that way, and then January and February tend to be fairly calm on their own.

Do I have crafting supplies and other inside fun at the ready?  One thing I ordered this week is three months of Happy Hedgehog Post. It was a gift to myself and especially our second grader to have some indoor fun.  Other ideas include having baking supplies on hand, wool, yarn, craft kits, art supplies, snuggly blankets for fort building.

Where are our beeswax candles and lanterns from past Martinmas festival celebrations?  These can make the school area especially lovely during the darker winter months.

When will I see people?  I feel tired and  am ready to withdraw after our busy three months starting school, but I would like to still see people.  I am thinking of hosting a hygge morning during January and February as mentioned in this article..

We have animals, so I also check what the animals might need. Our horses need sheets and blankets, our dog has little booties for icey conditions.  I try to make sure I have ordered enough horse feed and that we have toys on hand for our dog.

Please share with me the ways you get ready for winter!  I would love to hear all of your ideas!

Blessings,
Carrie

 

My Favorite Natural Products For Your Healthy Family

One thing that many Waldorf families have in common is a love of things that support  total health. Many families choose Waldorf Education and Waldorf homeschooling because they feel this supports the development of the whole child in an appropriate way. Many families who choose Waldorf Education are also interested in a healthy, organic lifestyle and products that support family health, self-care, cleaning, and more.

I have been buying and eating organic food for the past 25 years. In this time, I have also embraced the use of herbs and the making of herbal infusions, essential oils, alternative health care systems, organic personal care products and cleaning products and more. Many, many people are futher along on this path than I am, but today I wanted to share some of my favorite family care, personal care, and cleaning products. I know many of these kinds of products could be easily made by hand, especially things such as laundry detergent and deodorant, and sometimes I have, but I also wanted to share my favorite brands with you (no affiliation, just happy using the product) so if you are short on time or just getting started on this path, you will have some tested recommendations!  Please do feel free to add your own recommendations in the comment box, share your favorite product lines, and more.

I have asthma, and we are headed into flu/cold season here in North America as well, which is always cause for concern for my lungs.  Therefore I  use the Environmental Working Group guides for products to often help discern which products have a higher risk of respiratory effects.

Family Care

I have used both homeopathics from  Boiron and  many of the herbal tincture products from Herb Pharm for both adults and children. My favorite general things to have on hand include arnica gel, collodial silver, and oregano essential oil.  I also like to have a selection of something similar to a Thieves Oil  as we head into flu/cold season.  You can find recipes on-line as to how to make a version of Thieves Oil out of basic essential oils.

My favorite supplements and probiotics so far are from the Jarrow line.

To make herbal infusions, I typically order directly  from either  Frontier Co-op or Mountain Rose Herbs.

Water Filters – I am currently looking for both in-house filters and shower filters.   If you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comment box!

(We also use allopathic preventative medicine and chiropractic medicine for general health as well, but this post is mainly about products!)

Personal Self-Care

For deodorant,I like Purelygreat and the Bergamot and Lime Schmidt’s. I have tried Primal Pit Paste without good success due to senstitive skin, but that seems to be what most people I know use.  I have also heard good things about Piperwai deodorant from several people now. Deodorant is fairly easy to make as well.

For lotion, I tend to use just straight oils instead or a combination of oils mixed with a facial lotion or body cream.

Facial cleanser/anti-aging products.  My dermatologist remarked to me that she felt cleanser in general wasn’t as important because it is on your face such a short amount of time compared to creams, serums, eye cream, etc.  so to invest in better quality brands for those things.  Derma E has some products that are rated highly in the Environmental Working Group SkinDeep Database (and some are not).  I don’t really have any tried and true favorites in this category yet.  I keep trying new things!  Please leave me your recommendations!

For shampoo and conditioner, I have not found ANY natural shampoo that I have liked for my hair type and texture. I have on my list to try Carina Organics Shampoo and Conditioner and see if I like those.

Soaps/body wash –  I like shea butter soaps and those generally score well on the EWG database. I find olive oil based soaps drying for my skin.  This one is a little hard for me since I was raised on Dove soap, LOL.

ToothpasteDavid’s Natural Whitening Toothpaste in peppermint is supposed to be good; does anyone use it?  It is flouride-free.  For  small children, we used flouride-free toothpaste and Kiss My Face toothpaste for the older children.  Our teens now prefer a regular brand of whitening toothpaste (yup, I know).

Hand soap – I like to try to find things at Amazon’s Subscribe and Save for products such as these, but Amazon doesn’t seem to carry any of the products marked with the green gold standard or a “1” , the next level down,  in the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.  Miessence and Beautycounter both get high marks in this category; perhaps you can find a person who sells those products, or order from the ATTITUDE line directly from their  website.  ATTITUDE is one brand that seems to get consistently high marks in the EWG Database for both personal care products and cleaning products.

For sunscreen, (which I don’t wear a lot except on my face/neck and the backs of my hands due to the blocking of Vitamin D, probably much to the horror of some medical professionals),  I try to choose from the EWG Best Sunscreen list.

For all of the above items, I try to check the Environmental Working Group database several times a year since recommendations change due to manufacturer’s changes in formulation.

Cleaning Products

Laundry Detergent – is super easy to make; however, if you are in a pinch and want laundry detergent you can try BioKleen powder; Seventh Generation Free and Clear, or ATTITUDE laundry detergent.  Or, many folks use soap nuts.

All purpose cleanser is also easy to make and you can add essential oils to make everything smell lovely.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner – many natural substitutions here, but  Green Shield or Seventh Generation scores high on the EWG list for a premade one.

Dishwasher Detergent/Powder and Detergent for Hand-Washing Liquids – I like ATTITUDE for both the dishwasher and hand washing of dishes.    I have also used Seventh Generation and Ecover in the past; I think Seventh Generation scores higher in the EWG database though.

Share with me your favorite tried and true natural and organic products! I always love to hear people’s recommendations!

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

 

 

My Top 5 Tips – Thriving in Homeschooling and Homemaking

We are starting our third week of homeschooling this week and I was reflecting on the fact that I have been homeschooling for ten years (I am counting my oldest child’s six year old kindergarten year forward to ninth grade this year).  I was trying to think the other day of what really helps hold everything together for me as a homeschooling mother in terms of also being a homemaker, since as homeschooling families we are moving in both overlapping circles continuously.   When children are smaller, the academic demands are less and I think easier to work into homeschooling, but as children get older these arenas become more separate in some ways.  After some thought,  I found five things that help me homeschool and make a home:

  1. Accept some mess will happen…If you look at my house on a homeschooling day, yes, it may have papers and colored pencils and clay and main lesson books and projects in both our homeschool room and in our breakfast nook. Our high schooler tends to work in the breakfast nook, and the other children tend to work in our homeschool room so that is why we have two places.  The garage, where we do a lot of movement, can also get messy.  However….
  2. Accept that mess can be cleaned up within a half hour window.  That is sort of my barometer.  Can everything be tidied up within half an hour?  If it can, then the part of me that is extremely sensitive to visual clutter rests a little easier.  Everything everywhere just doesn’t work for me.
  3. Do things as promptly as possible and have a rhythm.  For me, the prompt part means doing dishes after we eat, sweeping up when the puppy drags in mud and grass on her paws, throwing in a load of laundry every morning, etc.  Of course, having a rhythm really helps with many of these pieces. What day do we change the sheets on the bed, clean the bathrooms, dust?  At what points during the day do we tidy up and clean up?   I cannot always free up hours on end to these things consecutively, but all of  these things can get done within in the course of the week.
  4. Elicit help. All members of the family can help, and i notice the more upper level grades I am teaching and the more subjects I am teaching, I  simple need more help because I am spending more time teaching and then older children may have activities they need to be driven to after teaching is done. I need everyone to pitch in and help, and at this point, our older two students are adept and independent in many areas of housemaking.
  5. Think ahead and streamline. For me,  things such as menu planning; sitting down and figuring out doctor and dentist appointments and field trips for two to three months at a time; deep cleaning at various points in the school year actually ends up saving me time in the long run.

I would love to hear your best tips for homeschooling and homemaking together.

Blessings,
Carrie

Finding Rhythm With Littles

I think this is the time of year where many mothers of tiny children are re-thinking rhythm.  Rhythm is that elusive thing, that when done in a healthful way, feels nourishing and peaceful and helpful.  It should never feel like a tight noose around your neck that you cannot live up to nor get free of.  But sometimes, finding rhythm, especially with littles, is so challenging.

So, for those of you with small children out there (and by small I essentially mean the Early Years of up to age 7, with points for consideration for those ages 7-12)….

  • It is a great day if all the children have been fed, been diapered or gone to the bathroom and dealth with basic hygiene, played outside, rested or napped, and were loved with kind words, kind hands and a kind heart through the fatigue and exhaustion that often accompanies mothers dealing with small children 24/7.  All the rest, I really believe, is icing on the cake!
  • I always ask mothers who are baffled by the concept of rhythm and who are certain they don’t have any in their home to start with keeping a log of two to four days of what they are doing during each day. Usually a pattern begins to emerge around sleep and eating.  That is a great basic place to build upon!
  • There is no perfection.  I find mothers who want everything to be perfect often drive themselves to complete burn-out.  Please don’t!  People before things, as always.  With small children afoot, you may  not get a lot done, and that is okay.
  • Find your order.   The best thing to show children outside of laughter and having fun and playing is that work can be fun!  This means thinking about what piece of the things you do can be done by hand instead of by pushing a button, and then to think which of those “hand pieces” could little hands do?  That is part of rhythm, and part of purpose.  Littles weave in and out, littles make a mess behind you or in another place you are not – that is part of it.  However, there are parts they can assist with and become proficient as well.  Even toddlers!
  • Where is your rest?  I find mothers of littles are typically so exhausted.  Physical rest before other things.
  •   I think at this stage of life, your spiritual work is in your hands.  Make the work of your hands your prayer; say a prayer that instead of perfection  you are showing love and kindness.
  • Set up help and support.  Every mother needs help and support – from her spouse, from her extended family, from her friends.  Plan B, C, D, and E are really important since Plan A rarely works out in parenting!
  • Less is more. In my area, suburbs of a major metropolitan area, the amount of outside activities many 3-7 year olds are engaged in absolutely stymies me!  Three to seven year old are always far better served being at home and with small things – walks in the neighborhood, feeding the birds, care of the home and the family pet. It doesn’t need to be much more!
  • What makes you smile  and laugh?  Find that and do more of that!

Lots of love in the striving,

Carrie

 

Three Reasons I Need Rhythm…

I find many of us are still trying to get our rhythm back at this time of year.  I know I am!  Actually, in my world of the Anglican Communion, we are still in the season of Epiphany and now coming up to Lent, so there is this sense of still being in the middle of things in a way….and many of us find our children grow and change over the holidays, so whilst the work of the day may remain, perhaps meal times or outside times or bedtimes needs to shift around.  Never be afraid to make a rhythm that works for you!  I always start by looking at what pattern we are in, and then seeing if it needs to change…or maybe it is a real pattern that remains..

Rhythm is this idea of a flow to the day; it is not a schedule because it is  flow -oriented and not as time-oriented perhaps as a schedule (although there may be times assigned to meals and bedtime).  It provides an order to the day and a sense of strength for the parent because it takes away some of the thinking involved with every single decision we have to make in a day.  If you know your errand day is on Friday, then you don’t need to go out on Tuesday, for example.  If you know you always put your boots after your walk in one spot as part of cleaning up from your nature walk each day, then you don’t have to round up boots that land in various places.  Rhythm just IS, like the tide coming in and going out or sun coming up and setting.

The three reasons I  particularly need rhythm are:

To continually remind me of the importance of the home. In a society that often does not seem to value being home except for short pit stops between activities (even for small children), rhythm in my home reminds me of the time and care it takes to create a nourishing environment and that there is value in that for the health of all of us in the family.  Ideally, in a home full of rhythm, a small child would be able to tell what day of the week it is by the meaningful work being done in the home on those days.  For example,  perhaps Tuesdays are always ironing days or Thursdays are always bread making days or Mondays are always the cleaning of the home from the weekend.  Traditionally, Waldorf Education has assigned different work to different days based upon more planetary influences (does that sound esoteric enough?!), so there are suggestions from Waldorf kindergartens for different activities for different days of the week.

It reminds me of the importance of what I call “soul hygiene” – that there should be a time and place in the day for inner work, for physical activity outside, for sleep and rest.  This helps remind me to pace myself and to honor these activities.  This helps me remember my main goal of parenting is to help my children be healthy adults – healthy physically, emotionally, in how they see light in others and how they communicate with others, spiritually.

We set up the environment with care, which teaches me attentiveness to activities and models this for my children.  We might have a song or verses to go with the activity.  We put things away  and clean up with care.  Again, it forces me to slow down and see the value of the activities we are doing for the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.

Lastly, (yes, I couldn’t resist sneaking in reason number four!) is that rhythm is your aid to discipline.  When we know when things will happen and how it will happen, it cuts down arguing.  This time of year, that can be valuable.  It is even valuable for teenagers and older children.

How is your rhythm valuable to you?

Blessings,
Carrie

 

Meal Planning for January

I love these cold January days.  We have been hiking numerous days in a row, the sun shining through the bare trees, the hawks flying around us, the rivers running fast and high.

We have also been home, basking in candlelight, salt lamps, cozy woolen warmth and fires.  Books and board games and creating things.  It makes my heart so happy.  We have had places to get to, but not so much that one feels rushed or overwhelmed.  I love this time of year.  One thing I deeply enjoy this time of year is the warmth and love of the kitchen. I have a pot of bone broth going right now.  I love to cook and I cook frequently.  Warming foods seems so important.  I am no cooking expert at all, but I would love for my readers to  share some ideas for your favorite foods for this month and ideas for meal planning, and I will share a few of mine.

For warming drinks for little people, I like warm apple cider and raspberry tea.  For older children, I like hot chocolate.  Bone broths can also be a satisfying hot drink.

Smoothies feel a little out of place to me in January when it is cold, but I have to admit that sometimes a smoothie is my breakfast or lunch when everyone else wants something that is higher in carbohydrates that I don’t feel like eating.  I like ice with water, chocolate protein powder, a banana, and a little bit of chocolate coconut almond butter.  You could also add greens to it, and whatever powdered adaptogenic herbs you like.

For breakfasts, we have been having spinach scrambled eggs in tortillas with salsa, waffles on special festival days, buttermilk pancakes, and oatmeal done in a rice cooker with cinnamon and chopped apple.  Also, we have been juicing.  For my husband especially I have been making a combination of beet, apple, pear, carrot and lemon.  It is yummy, and our six year old really likes it too!

Lunch has always been the hardest meal for me to figure out.  I recently took Beauty That Moves Freezer Cooking Class.  I love Heather’s recipes, and I have been trying out many of her recipes from this class for lunch.  So, right now on our rotation we have some legume dishes, soups, and rice bakes and I usually cook fish for one lunch a week.

For dinner, we usually do some sort of crockpot meal.  This can include pastured chicken or pork from our local farmer or some sort of bison, along with some vegetarian meals.  I am not huge on wheat, but we do like barley or millet mixed with lentils or split peas or roasted potatoes and lots of vegetables.

I have been trying to cut desserts down after the holidays, which is hard with the sweet tooth of all the children, so if we have to have something baked apples are so warm and lovely.

I would love to hear what you have been cooking!

Blessings,
Carrie