Friday, 22 February 2013

No Gifts Please

This weekend we will be celebrating my middle daughter's sixth birthday with a secret agent party that I have been planning for weeks. Last year she had a very sweet fairy grotto party.

I enjoy celebrating my daughters' birthdays with fun parties. We always start with thinking about the theme for the year. Much like Hallowe'en costumes, my girls begin brainstorming ideas immediately after all the decorations are cleaned up from the last party. Once we have agreed upon a theme, I am in charge of making invitations and organizing all the decorations and treat bags. With input from my girls (and Pinterest) we decide upon the games and activities and have fun dreaming about how much work it is going to be fun we are going to have.

One thing I really don't like about kids' birthday parties is all the clean up, and I don't mean the messes the kids make. I don't like recycling all the present packaging for plastic toys that my kids love, but either break (because plastic is cheap) or get lost in the mountains of toys that they already have. I hate seeing the piles of cardboard and plastic in the blue box at the end of the week because I prefer to reduce what we have than recycle what we get. Often the plastic is the wrong type for recycling or the cardboard has plastic bits glued or imbedded in it so it cannot all be recycled.

My daughters don't have huge parties with everyone they've ever met and played with, but I think that over ten kids is still quite a few friends, especially as I try to host the parties at our home. A few years ago a friend gave her son a choice, have a small party with friends bringing presents, as is traditionally done, or a large party where each guest brings a monetary donation. Half of the money would be used to buy a small gift for the birthday kid and half would be donated to a charity / cause of his choice. I loved this and so decided to copy her. 

When I brought it up with my oldest daughter for the first time, when she was turning six, I told her the same thing: big party = donation or small party = presents. I didn't want to force her into something so I merely presented the choice. Of course at first she was against the donation idea completely, so I just left it. The day before I made the invitations I asked her again what she wanted to do and this time she was undecided. We talked about the positives of donating to something important to her and why this would be good to do. I also reminded her that family would still be giving her presents. Then she realized that if she combined her portion of the money with other birthday money she would be receiving she would be able to buy herself something that she really wanted. Again I left her to think about it. When I was in the middle of making the invitations she came to me and said that she had made the decision to do the donation instead of gifts. 

That birthday party, a Spongebob Squarepants party, was so much fun and she did not miss having presents to open. She decided to use her portion of the money, combined with money she received from family, to buy a Build-A-Bear for herself, which she had been wanting for some time. We all enjoyed watching her pick her own stuffy and go through the ritual of putting a heart inside and stuffing it. Later that month we went to our local animal shelter, one with an official no-kill policy, which is very important to us (the B.C.S.P.C.A. may have a low euthanasia rate but does not have a no-kill policy) and donated $50.00. Like most children, my girls love animals and they have a well-developed sense of empathy for animals, possibly because they were raised with three cats. The volunteers were so impressed that she was using birthday money to make her donation they brought out some kittens for her to cuddle. Such a thrill for my girls! Then they gave us a little tour of the facility to show us how they might use the money.
We went to Build-A-Bear then the local animal shelter where my girls got to cuddle with some kittens

After this she has always wanted to do this for her parties. My middle daughter, who is turning six, has not wanted to do this and I have not wanted to push it so I have left it with presents. Even when planning for this year's birthday party she did not want to do donations. However, when it came time for me to make the invitations, she came to me and said that she wanted to do donations for her friend party. I was so proud of her!

We are looking forward to our next visit to the animal shelter. Perhaps this year we will go to their cat sanctuary, the largest one of it's kind in North America, because we love cats so much in our home. It feels good to help the environment, help animals and teach my children about our environmental impact all in one go.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Listening To My Kids

Welcome to the February edition of the Simply Living Blog Carnival - New Beginnings cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. This month's topic, our writers consider where they are with their New Year's Resolutions or new ventures of 2013. Please check out the links to posts by our other participants at the end of this post.

I do not live a particularly simple life. I have a husband and three daughters and I work half-time as a teacher in the public school system. Like many families my husband and I juggle jobs, school drop off and pick up, childcare (thankfully my mother), activities, and professional development. For all intents and purposes we are a typical suburban family.
A wet coast walk in Steveston, a picturesque 
fishing village down the street from our home.

I do dream of the simplified rural life, free of time constraints and pressures of urban living, where we could live on one income so I could be at home full time with my daughters.
From our trip to Salt Spring Island last year - the trip that 
reawakened my modern homesteading dreams.

This is why I am grateful that I work half time and have my summers off; I can do a vegetable garden, bike ride as much as possible, cook from scratch and make rather than buy.

Before we plunged head first into the school years I always said that I could not spend my days chauffeuring my children from activity to activity, filling their days with lessons and sports and classes. I vowed that each child would be enrolled in a maximum of one class at a time because I remember the golden days of my childhood when my friends and I played for hours, unaware of the time until we heard mothers calling children home for dinner. I wanted my own children to know the joys of playing pretend and making things. I did not want to have their time scheduled and planned for them so that they would not know what to do with themselves when there was a free moment.
Oh the simple joys of childhood.

As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. We largely resisted after school and weekend activities as long as we could, until my oldest became aware of things that her friends were doing. She joined one activity that she wanted to do with a friend. Then came another that she "really" wanted to do. Then swimming lessons (for safety) and others. Add to that a younger sister who is now in school and wanted to do two different things. When I returned to work after having my third daughter, things became a constant juggling act, which is not unique to families these days.
Ice skating lessons

This school year I relented and between my two oldest girls they were signed up for several activities. Two of the activities I practically begged my girls not to join but they insisted that they truly wanted to do them. I had my doubts but listened to my kids. I know this may sound selfish, but taking them to activities takes away from things I like to do. But if they really wanted to do them, I would be a bad mother for not indulging them, right? So I relented on my one activity per kid rule.

The initial excitement of something new quickly faded as the reality of schedules sank in for my girls. They had to miss out on playing with a friend here and there, and a few times friend fun had to end early to make it to an activity. My three girls are good friends with each other and generally all three are included in the fun because they use their imagination so much, going on adventures and secret missions together.
This is how I sometimes find them, all cuddled up together.

It became a battle to end their play at home to get ready and make it to an activity on time. But because we had made "the commitment", they had to go. I was teaching my girls about responsibility and follow through. You start something, you finish it. This became my mantra everyday when I had to deal with tears, pouting, screaming and procrastinating when it was time to get ready.

I began to dread the days we had to go somewhere for my girls, especially my middle daughter. I couldn't take the fights, and so once in a while, when we were running so behind because of the battles that we would be over ten minutes late, I relented and said that we weren't going. Immediately I felt like I had cursed them to a life of dropping out and failure because I had not made them finish what they started. But I also felt great relief at the end of the bad feelings, tightness in my chest and popping blood vessel in my forehead.
Gymnastics class - one loves it, one does not.

Over the Christmas holidays, when we had endless time to play, explore, make and do, when I noticed how free and happy my girls were, I began to reassess what I was doing. Did it really matter if they quit something? Would it make them "better people" if I forced them to continue with something that caused them angst? They have a lifetime to develop interests, skills and knowledge. They have a lifetime to learn about adult responsibility, but they are children now. I decided to let them quit all but one activity that they enjoy.

It feels good to simplify our lives. Sometimes it is important for me to listen to what my girls are telling me with their behaviour. I need to remember what makes us happy and stick to it.

I have since backtracked somewhat on my one activity rule because both older girls have begged me to let them take skating lessons again, on top of the one activity they chose. Never say never, right? There have been no battles getting ready so far, partly because I had a big talk with my girls about all of this and included them in the decision process. That and they know it ends in March, and I know that my own parenting "rules" can and should be broken when my kids need it. The longer I'm at this parenting gig the more I realize how little I know and how my kids and I are just figuring things out together as we go along. But simplifying things a little feels good and we all feel more relaxed and happy.

Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating simple living into their lives via new beginnings. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Clearing the Clutter!
  • Using Special Time to Simply Connect - Amber at Heart Wanderings begins to focus on simply connecting with each of her children for a few minutes of Special Time each day. A deeper connection and sense of joy, softening of emotional outbursts, and less sibling rivalry have resulted from this practice.
  • Redefining Simplicity - Living within our needs - Survivor from Surviving Mexico talks about how moving from a first-world country to a third world country has changed her family's perception of simplicity. Adapting to this new life has not been easy, but can be done with an attitude of gratitude.
  • Changes - Sustainable mom writes about how she is bringing back a beat to a rhythm that has been falling apart.
  • Listening to my Kids - Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs is seeking peace and freedom after over-scheduling her daughters.
  • Thankful to Begin Again - Mercedes @ Project Procastinot learns a lesson from her twins.
  • Changes for a New Year - Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children is concentrating on making small changes this year in an effort to make better habits.
  • Parenting Two: A Fresh Start - Joella at Fine and Fair embraces the transition as her family grows as a new beginning by being gentle with herself and realistic with her expectations.
  • Finding Balance - At Authentic Parenting, Laura looks at where she's gotten fighting depression and aspiring to a more harmonious life.

Friday, 15 February 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Friday, 8 February 2013

Communication is Key

Recently my oldest daughter, who is in grade three, came home from school with an assignment to explain and promote an environmentally friendly practice that she does. I don't usually get involved with her homework unless she asks me to help her or check over her work (I tried once and I now understand why my mother did not like to help me either). This time, however, I decided to step in because she had decided to make her poster about recycling. I explained to her that there are so many things that we do in our family for the environment and that I was pretty sure that everyone in her class would make a poster about recycling.

We talked about this blog and why I started it, which is basically her poster project on the internet. She knows that I write this blog and has read it over my shoulder a few times, but I don't think it has registered with her all that much.

I talked about some of the things that I'm proud of that I accomplished last year and I let her read my "highlight reel" post. I could see the light going on for her when she made the connection between the things we do day to day and how it is good for the environment. But the fact that she was unaware of all the things we do surprised me.

It made me realize that because my daughters are getting older I need to communicate with them more about what we do as a family and why we do it. It isn't enough to just do it. I need to involve my children so that they come to understand what we value, and hopefully value it themselves.

On top of the things we read about in my highlight reel post, I reminded her of the following:

  • We turn the heat down and wear hoodies, sweaters and socks when we are cold (ok, that's just me, no one else in my home seems to get cold like I do).

  • We had an energy assessment shortly after moving here (almost 3 years ago) to find ways to increase the energy efficiency of our house.

  • Even though we are now a two car family, our second car, the one my husband uses for work, is a hybrid vehicle, and we use that one as much as we can when we don't need to take all five of us out.

  • We now have a vegetable garden and are trying to grow our own food when we can.

  • We are trying to make our own food from scratch as much as possible to not only reduce packaging from the stores but also to reduce preservatives and less healthy ingredients and increase the amount of whole foods in our diet.

  • We try to reduce our garbage to less than one full bin each week by recycling as much as we can and by trying to buy items with little or no packaging. I think we can do much better on this one.

  • We compost all our organic food waste, either through our backyard compost bin for garden scraps and uncooked food waste or a weekly municipal pick up (table scraps, cooked waste, meat waste).

It is the last item on this list that got her creative juices flowing for her school project. She decided that she would take a picture of all the composting things we have and do and put them on her poster with captions. She was very proud of her project and I was pleased to find out that most of the kids in her class did posters about recycling - she was the only one who did compositing. 

Her poster included our kitchen counter composting containers (we need two because they fill up so quickly around here), the green bins we put out each week and the backyard compost container filled with beautiful new soil for our garden this coming spring.

So I am going to share my thinking aloud more with my girls and be more vocal about our family choices. Once again I am reminded about how important communication is when parenting.

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Pajamas, kitties and knitting - does it get any better?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A Fabulous Fundraiser

Just in time to start thinking about spring and the coming growing season, my youngest daughter's preschool is doing what I think is the best fundraiser idea ever. Ok, I may be a little biased because I have done a vegetable garden for the past few years. They are selling seed kits from West Coast Seeds! I love this for several reasons.

As I've already said, I love my vegetable garden and I am excited to learn more this year. The kits range from flowers to container gardening for people with limited space to heirloom varieties. Check out the tomato varieties below. Hmm, which ones to pick for my garden this year?

I also love West Coast Seeds. They are an ethical company involved in the community, they sell organic and heritage seeds (no GMO), and their staff is very helpful. I recently bought an indoor growing system and my entire family is watching the sprouts grow before our eyes (seriously, every time we look at the sprouts they are bigger!).

I especially love that  it is a fundraiser that encourages people to grow their own food and educates children about gardening and the environment.

If you are local and would like to purchase a seed kit, contact me or leave a comment here.

The seeds are sold in kits. Kits A - K are $15.00 and the Deluxe Kit is $34.95

A. Annual Favourites Collection: alyssum, jewel nasturiums, Flanders poppies, giant blue point zinnia, sensation cosmos, sparky marigold

B. Cut Flowers Collection: Pacific beauty calendula, red beauty zinnias, baby's breath, rainbow snapdragons, mixed cornflowers, multiflora sweet peas

C. Sunflower Collection: velvet queen, lemon queen, autumn beauty, peredovik, teddy bear, giantess

D. Perennial Flowers Collection: Veronica "blue bouquet", columbine, echinacea coneflowers, Iceland poppies, shasta daisy, verbena

E. Sweet Pea Collection: bijou, mammoth, matucana, high scent, old spice

F. Heirloom Vegetable Collection: dragon tongue bean, scarlet nantes carrot, red Russian kale, little marvel pea, Amish deer tongue lettuce, small sugar pumpkin

G. Gourmet Salad Collection: raddichio, lemon cucumber, super gourmet lettuce blend, scallions, mokum carrot, French breakfast radish

H. Baby Greens Collection: Bull's blood beets, komatsuna, red mustard, chicory, chervil, salad bowl lettuce

I. Herb Garden Collection: cilantro, parsley, basil, chives, dill, sage

J. Patio Vegetable Collection: valentino bean, patio cucumber, lettle gem lettuce, little marvel pea, gypsy pepper, tumbler tomato

K. Heirloom Tomato Collection: brandywine, gold nugget, bonny best, black krim, yellow pear, Italian paste

L. Top 10 Deluxe Collection: parsnip, eggplant, pepper, tomato, broccoli, rainbow swiss chard, carrot, West Coast market mix, zucchini, spinach

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Eco Jewelry Cleaning

After my second daughter was born I asked for a charm necklace with my girls' names and birth dates inscribed on them. The internet is chalk full of companies that can create beautiful personalized jewelry for women to commemorate motherhood and I succumbed. I love my necklace that now has three charms on it. I like to tell my girls that when I wear it I am keeping them close to my heart. But because I wear it everyday it can get scruffy looking.

I am very partial to silver jewelry and most of my earrings and necklaces are made of it, but a drawback is that it can tarnish easily when exposed to the humidity in the air because of oxidation.

I tend to forget to clean my jewelry until I am in a hurry getting ready to go out and I realize that my earrings are tarnished, so I put it away to clean at another time. Then I forget again until the next time. Lather rinse repeat.

Silver dips and pastes worked for me because they were quick and easy to do, but I knew that they contained toxic chemicals that smelled horrible. I have been working on detoxifying my home cleaning products and personal care products so I knew that I had to find a better way to make my silver shine again. I don't want to put something on my skin that has been cleaned in harsh chemicals.

It isn't hard to find non-toxic silver cleaner recipes on the internet but this is the one that I like to use.

Supplies for eco jewelry cleaning:

liquid dish soap (some recipes skip the soap)
aluminum foil (I save a piece of recycled foil for this purpose)


  1. Place aluminum foil in a bowl
  2. Pour a tablespoon of salt on top of the aluminum
  3. Pour a tablespoon of liquid dish soap on the salt
  4. Add 1/2 cup - 1 cup of water 
  5. Place silver jewelry on the aluminium and mixture. 
  6. Swish the jewelry around then leave for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the jewelry from the bowl, rinse in water and dry off.
  8. If my silver is particularly dirty I like to give it a quick shine it with a cloth.

That's it! No harsh chemicals, no gloves required.