Five design tricks to create simplicity in your home

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Even as  a young kid I was enamored with good design in people’s homes. My own room was a constant changing environment that mimicked what I saw on TV and in my friends’ homes. I had a pal in elementary school who lived in an amazing design-rich home. Her insanely hip mother owned an art gallery and their walls were a rotating display of giant colorful paintings. The square footage of the house was massive, but this woman did not feel compelled to fill it. There was negative space (probably so the art could “breathe” or something poetic like that) and everything was clean and white. I loved exploring the rooms during sleepovers, studying the giant paintings, admiring the fact that there was nothing to compete with them in the room.

This was the beginning of my love affair with simple home design–Scandinavian design in particular.

Clean palette. Lots of space. Unfussy furniture. Mix this with my paradoxical passion for color and you’ve got yourself quite a happy, clean environment!

I do not live in an all-white house and I probably could still afford to 86 some gear in our abode. Yet, I have figured out some design tricks to hep a home feel open, more fresh and inviting with a nod to some current design trends.

 

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1) Large art beats a collection of small pieces every time.

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When trying to simplify a room, go with bigger pieces. I think it has something to do with the eyes having one specific resting spot on a wall instead of having to dart your eyes all over the place to take it all in. When I visited the homes of my portrait clients, I always suggested an investment in one bigger piece instead of a hodge podge collection of smaller prints. Small prints are for bedside tables and albums. The statement piece should be loud and proud (be it a family portraitor an oil painting) and command your attention.

2) Create monochromatic rooms with wall paint and furniture & add colorful accessories to accent.

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If you suddenly decide yellow makes you feel queasy, you can pitch the yellow chevron pillowcovers without a huge financial loss. ‘Not so much with a couch! Also, you can edit accessories when your tired eyes need less color in view. You can change them out seasonally to match the mood of your days. I love white, but my husband fears it, so we compromised with a pale yellow. It’s calming and also cheerful in our dark Northwest winters. The colorful pillows and art I’ve got going on give it some personality. I change it out constantly (just like my childhood) and it’s easy because it doesn’t involve moving furniture or spending a lot of money.

3) Clear off those surfaces.

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Use a leafblower if you have to! A clear kitchen counter is as close as I get to nirvana these days. The mail lives in one little wooden bowl (not to be unleashed to other areas of the downstairs) and my whittled down kitchen utensil cannister enjoys its big open space on the island. I gave up decorative trinkets for Lent and never went back. Clear surfaces = serentiy. Believe it!

4) Create a furniture layout that invites conversation.

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I love doing this verses circiling up the seating to worship the idiot box (as the hub likes to call it). It does wonders for developing some quality family gathering, as well as free up some space because you’re not limited to TV watching angles with furniture placement. Better yet, nix the screen altogether–a feat I could personally do, but I fear the family may show up with picket signs.

5) Negative space: It’s a beautiful thing.

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Try not to subscribe to the typical room layouts…night stand/bed/night stand/foot-of-the-bed-settee/dresser chair/dresser/vanity….It’s your house. You can do whatever you want with your space. Don’t need a dresser because the closet is just enough space for you? Get rid of it! Voila’! Space for the eyes to rest. Don’t use your dining room? Sell the table and chairs and toss in a chaise and a bookcase–instant Library of Calm.

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I do little trial periods of hiding furniture pieces in the attic to see if we miss it. I’ve got quite the stash for our spring garage sale. Look me up if you’re in the area and are in need of a burlap ottoman. 🙂  Looking at this collection of sale-bound gear has motivated me to avoid purchasing decor “just because it’s lovely”. A minimalist home doesn’t have to consist of stark wood and two Eames chairs…although it is so lovely.

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You can take most appealing design ideas from this aesthetic and incorporate them into your own home. Just the subtraction of stuff can do wonders to simplify your space. It sure has for me.

Here’s to having homes that make us feel calm and happy!

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5 Ingredients for a Big, ExtraOrdinary life

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I found this ad as I was looking through a glossy at the dentist.

It was for a car. A big car.

According to the people at Suburban, BIG car = BIG life.

Hmmmm….this got me thinking of the definition of a big life. By America’s standards it may appear that big life means: A packed scheduled, huge home (maybe even a second home), many vehicles and lots of lots of stuff.

I choose to define a big life as an existence full of relationships, faith, good health, adventures, contentment, margins for down-time, and purpose within a career.

These are all parts that move the needle on my Happiness Barometer.

As a family we still have so far to go in the way of taking the big out of the material and putting more emphasis on my list above. That’s a true statement on the car ad: There is so much more to life, but of course I’m going in the opposite direction from the thinking of our friends at Suburban. So much more exists on the other side of making big purchases to fill up our big lives…according to one of my favorite minimalists and authors, You can buy happiness (and it’s cheap). The good news is you don’t have to pare down to 200 square feet of dwelling space or live out of a backpack to feel the thrill of a BIG LIFE.

I put the word ExtraOrdinary in my blog title because I’ve always felt the pull to live differently in this conventional world…or should I say conventional U.S., because I do feel people in other parts of the world seem to get it a lot more than we do. Stuff clouds our collective American view and creates the disconnect so many people complain about. I’m a proud U.S. citizen, no doubt about that, but I do wish as a country we could re-prioritize our lives to maximize inner & outer happiness. I believe that a Big ExtraOrdinary life comes from making intentional choices. Along the way I’ve identified a few that have made all the difference.

 

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1) Invest time in your marriage/relationship.

What’s that quote from H. Jackson Brown? “Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.” I tend to believe this. I was fortunate enough to get it right with husband-picking the first time around (I know lots of people figure it out later in life) and so much of the climate in our home is determined by how the hub and I navigate this vida loca. Over the last 18 years it’s been a team effort and I feel the reason it’s been a solid team is because we invest in date nights, vacations sans offspring, and the weekly check-in. When kids came on the scene, I craved time with him minus the crying and airborne peas and carrots.These days I yearn for peaceful couple time in the absence of teen drama. He’s my first choice every time when it comes to adventure partners….it was a joint decision to make this life ExtraOrdinary.

2) Choose work that fills you up.

It’s very hard to head in the direction of a Big, ExtraOrdinary life when you don’t want to get up and face the day. There are a lot of people out there who see the 30++ hours a week as a break in pursuing ExtraOrdinary-ness (if I can create a new word)..it’s a weekend thing. It can’t be! Big lives happen each any every day of the week. Yes, we have to do the laundry, go to the dentist and write checks to the cable company, BUT an unpleasant job that sucks the very humanity out of a you is always going to get in the way of living the life you know you are worthy of. There might be major financial sacrifice or a change of location in choosing work you love, but ExtraOrdinary is waiting and it will be worth it.

3) Put family before career.

It is a wonderful thing to love your job. I’m finally there in my 3rd grade classroom, but I’m very careful about creating boundaries between work and the clan at home. That old cliche’ about “it all goes by so fast” and “you’ll turn around and your kids will be all grown up”—both true. I’m looking at my high school-bound child #1 and can’t believe that in five short years two unused rooms will be collecting dust. These days, family adventure has never been so important. Luckily, child #2 is extremely skilled at getting us out in the world, whether it’s the park for a evening picnic or a weekend hike in the mountains. We are also intentional about dinners together at the table (with a napkin!) to catch up and make plans. The Airstream purchase manifested from our desire to travel as a family and explore the U.S. together.

4)  Recognize your talents and put them to use in everything you do.

Post 40th birthday, I finally stopped wishing for skills I didn’t have. I had confidence in the contributions I knew I could make in the world starting with my own house. I’m an extremely creative person with no left brain (luckily, I married a left-brainer—together we make a whole brain!) and if a project requires imagination, I’m your girl. It’s been so fun to create in every area of my life: our home, charity fundraisers, birthday parties, holiday gifts, Airstream interior…the list is long of the various things I’ve taken on, but I have to say there would be no ExtraOrdinary if I didn’t own the gifts I’ve been given and use them. Some of you—God bless ya—are left brained people who can organize, establish and regulate for yourselves and others. How amazing that we can make the world better by the specific gifts we’ve been given! And in turn, create an ExtraOrdinary life for ourselves.

5) Travel as much as you can to as many different places as you can.

I always come back from a trip amazed by how much is out there beyond my own little world. I love, love, love getting off a plane in a new city ready to explore. My 6’6″ spouse is not as willing to head to places like Australia (Melbourne, I need to visit you!), but I will get to the far ends of the earth at some point in my life. I did the Eurail thing after college by myself and I can honestly say it shaped me more than 4 years of college did. My AFS exchange experience in Tunisia in ’88 played a huge part in forming the person I was to become. My biggest dreams involve plane tickets & a small backpack and/or an Airstream and U.S. map. I have the same dreams for my girls because I know for a fact that it invites ExtraOrdinary in.

There are some great posts out there about being ExtraOrdinary. This one is great and of course, Courtney rocked this subject with clarity, as usual. I think it’s something we all want more of. Who wants to be conventional when you can squeeze every last ounce of amazing (and yes, I’m using it as a noun) out of your well-lived life.

What makes your life ExtraOrdinary, friends?

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The top 10 tips I’ve learned from minimalists

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I’m not going to covet other minimalists’ lives anymore.

I don’t travel the world with a single backpack.

I haven’t packed up my family to travel across the country in an RV for a year.

I am not a single woman with a futon, a suitcase and a laptop.

I didn’t choose 600 square feet of dwelling space with a hobby farm ‘round back.

YET, I adore reading about these amazing people and their even more intriguing journeys toward transformation. In perusing books and blogposts, these characters seem like old friends. We’re all rooting for them. Their triumphs and courageous leaps of faith provide the inspiration for our own stories. However, through all this story following, I have found there is not one formula for choosing a simple life…it is not a one-size-fits all t-shirt. No matter what our life looks like, I do believe each and every one of these intentional & devoted people can teach a lesson worth learning.

A kind of minimalism for the rest of us sort of thing.

 

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1) Clear surfaces and uncluttered spaces create calm in the soul.

Disorganization in my environment used to create brain chaos for me. I learned the how-to’s of de-cluttering from almost all of these experienced minimalists and formulated a day-by-day plan to clear out. What a huge difference this had made!

2) Unplug and partake in digital sabbaticals regularly.

I’ve blogged about this before, but I can’t say enough about what this practice has done for my sanity, my kids and my marriage. Here’s a great podcast about what it can do for you.

3) The habit of saying NO can vastly improve your life.

With each and every post I read on this topic from various bloggers, I gain courage and inspiration to say it loud (yet, politely) and often. No to commitments that aren’t passions…no to stuff from family members and friends…no to social situations that make me feel stressed or uncomfortable. This allows the yes’s in that bring mindfulness and happiness.

4) Be realistic about how much entertaining you do in your home.

I got rid of all of the doubles in my closets and cabinets. I found that my army-sized set of champagne glasses all had dust, except two. Party themed decorations are only items taking up real estate in needed cabinet space. I also found that if there happens to be a need for party gear, people are more than happy to lend it to friends.

5) Choose work that you love and your life will improve overall.

At the moment I am not self-employed like many of these simple living experts. I owned my own photography business for 13 years and found it wasn’t fitting my personality. I didn’t have the gift of separating the hustle of entrepreneurship from family life. I’m in awe of people who live on both of those planets successfully—-and even more impressed with people who can do it on the road! After making this realization that I didn’t like working for myself,  I decided to go back to teaching. ‘Turns out I adore inspiring 3rd graders—I’ve never been happier in a job. This change alone inspired a lot of my paring down (goodbye closets of equipment!) and simplifying (hello, weekends spent with family). I think the act of simplifying can help you be honest with what is and isn’t working in a career and give you the courage to take the leap required to make it right.

6) Put limits on spending when it comes to offspring.

Although the whine-o-saur-us is alive and well in my house, I do believe my girls will thank me later. They are responsible for the “extras” with their own allowance. I communicate a price I’m comfortable with when it comes to clothes shopping. If my teens want the Cadillac of jeans, they must pay the difference. We show them what our bills are and talk about how important a budget is and have managed to squelch “the gimmees” with service oriented experiences. Somehow the new Nike Free Runs don’t seem as alluring when there are visions of the destitute and neglected in one’s head.

7) A closet with 33 items really can make your morning (& your life) more efficient.

Who knew? Thank you, Courtney, for informing the masses of this little gem. When I first read about Project 333, I hemmed and hawed as I visually took in my overstuffed closet. I whittled it down in the course of a month. I just got real about what was actually being worn and I made up a fantasy 3 month Airstream itinerary and pulled out all the items I thought I could fit in our Twinkie’s small closet. With the items laid on the bed, I had to laugh because it consisted of all my favorites…my 20%-worn-80%-of-the-time clothes. Then I gave myself a “have courage” speech–it’s all going in a box, not the Goodwill pile, for crying out loud—and I stood back to admire the extra space.

8) Choose quality over quantity.

The juicer, cutting knife, running shoes, winter coat, purse and lipstick (among many other things) were condensed down to one quality purchase per category. Less stuff, but stuff that will last. Joshua Becker’s The Simple Joy of One  is a great post that I took to heart.

9) Food and exercise can be simplified for maximum health.

I let go of the the gym membership in lieu of my nifty efficient work-out space in the garage. All expensive “healthy snacks” (which are really just pre-packaged fare camouflaged in a Whole Food setting) were banished. We eat raw food–nuts, dried fruit, jerky, tons of veges & fruit–and it has really kept us well this year. As an elementary school teacher who’s been back in the classroom for one year, I’ve gotten one cold. I believe in green juice and I’m doing my best to help everyone in our home believe it too. Love The Minimalists take on diet and exercise.

10) Invest in experiences instead of things.

As a family we have made a decision to travel as much as we can. Whether it’s in our Airstream or by plane, I believe it’s important enough to require a separate travel savings account. Luxury cars and second homes were never going to enter the picture with our family—it has always been going places and doing things (that and good Thai food eating experiences). I like this Huffington Post article on the subject.

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What tips have brought you joy in your journey to simple? Which ones made the most difference?

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Who else fantasizes about living in a tiny house?

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I believe I’ve found it.

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…only available in Spain, of course.

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(The rest is here at JestsonGreen)

The perfect big-windowed simple house to plunk down in a field of sage brush. Light galore and rooms big enough to be alone. Perfection.

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Hellooooo…Laaaaa-raaaa….

You have two kids, two dogs, a busy husband and a lovely home in the country. How is this kind of small house fantasy even helpful at all?

I guess this is the practical part of this series.

I do a lot of daydreaming. My husband would tell you this. My kids would definitely agree that I dream out loud. Lately, though, I’ve been keeping the small house dream locked away deep inside. Honestly, I think it would freak out anyone related to me if they knew what I was thinking.

I get it.

It’s not practical.

We just built a barn, for crying out loud…we are not going anywhere (for now…in five years…who knows?). I realize this, yet my internet wandering rests with Kirsten Dirksen, who whets my appetite for small dwellings with style (thank you, Dan, for the link!). Tiny house books are creeping into my bookshelf, hiding behind cookbooks and giant photography anthologies. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I’m betting it has something to do with a desire for a drastic change during a time of steady progress into a simpler life.

I know the answer to my change-loving, wanderlust-prone heart’s questions:

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With prayers of gratitude, I scoop in all the contentment I can muster into the crevices so desire and wonder can’t fill them with not-right-now visions. I find that fantasizing and having an active imagination about the future really can co-exist with current happiness and contentment. Yet, I realize that it’s important to not let curiosity turn into longing. Longing is never good. It suggests that something is missing…and there might be, but it’s definitely not in the dwelling category in the life of my family. I’ve found that my small house fantasies increase when my life gets more hectic. Work commitments/kid taxi schedule/weekend plans = more time on the couch with Tiny House Swoon on the laptop.

So, for now I’ve decided that it’s okay to window shop where these teeny tiny abodes are concerned. It’s entertainment and also plants teeny tiny seeds of thought for the future.

Surf on!

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Why I never use the word BALANCE

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Balance has been a word that has rubber-balled it’s way through my life from the moment my kids came into this world. I’ve never been one to put complete focus and attention in one area. I am just shy of looking like a poodle on a unicycle juggling tennis balls most of the time. In my quest for simplicity, I have felt a little inadequate, guilty, and in some instances the F word crept in as well…

FAILURE.

Feeling like you’ve failed at some things is one thing, but the worry about screwing up the psychological development of your children can sit on your chest like a stack of parenting books. You know, the books that are hard to get to because you’re so busy teeter-tottering on a wobbly tightrope.

I know now that balance is an illusion.

To best serve my career and family I must choose a different word entirely. I heard the perfect replacement word recently on a podcast: Harmony. It resonated with me, so I looked it up.

Harmony: agreement; accord; harmonious relations: congruity.

My own definition: things are going so well that it feels like a million me’s get it all done with reasonable amounts of effort.

In the search for this new friend Harmony in one’s home (he is not under the couch cushions…I checked), I’m beginning to understand how to do it.

 

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1) What do I want?

2) What do you want?

Asking for what you want sometimes takes bravery, as in:

“Instead of going to a three hour long track meet this weekend, I’d really love to attend this writing workshop. Can you be our family representative on the field on Saturday?”

Or it could take less bravery and more innovation, as in:

“It seems like 10 years since we’ve had a grown-up conversation without teenage voices interjecting demands. Wanna go on a adults only get-away?”

Granted, question one is a lot harder to ask then question two, because question one benefits one person and in the other it’s a win/win. BUT that doesn’t make question one any less important. Women are so quick to squish their own demands when it comes to a full calendar of living in the car and fluffing the nest. That saying still rings true in my house: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

‘Tis true that your idea of harmony may not jive with your partner’s or your children’s grand pre-teen narcissistic ideas, but that’s where the question asking comes in. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! Of course, passive aggression can be a monster living under your staircase (He loiters at my dinner table sometimes). There might be emotion-stuffing, something I refer to as the Emotional Mute Syndrome, but take heart! If you ask the “What do you want to create harmony in our schedule and home?” as you smile sweetly, the answer might surprise you. When I ask this question of my girls, their expressions can look somewhere between complete shock or skepticism. When I asked my youngest what she wanted her Saturday to look like, she gaped at me as though I had poured spaghetti sauce on the floor and rolled around in it. I think kids are used to being told where to go, what to do and how it all is going to go down. Now, whether said Saturday resembled anything like what she envisioned is up for debate, but I did ask and got points for that. I really do try to cram in some 12-year-old friendly activities so that she feels listened to.That’s the goal:

All family members’ ideas matter, as well as his or her feelings about how things are going.

Voila’….Har-mon-ee.

Sometimes to recognize harmony, you have to have discord….like loud, boy-band, tone-deaf discord. We’ve had some “Hey, waaaaaiiiit a minute” moments when we have family meetings about the family climate.

There’s frustration.

There’s dissatisfaction.

There’s even a chance of someone committing the ultimate sin, walking away from the discussion.

Yet, there is always a coming back to home base. We figure out what’s working and what needs to change. Not everyone will be cheerfully doing a happy dance about things, but we do try to address all needs on the table. I like modeling that for my kids—it’s so important to show them that asking for what you want and listening to others’ wants should always trump throwing up your hands and hitting the road.

The self check-in is also a key to this Harmony Thing. I do this at least once a week…usually at 2:00 am when I wake with a nap jerk.

Is our schedule too full?

Are we getting enough alone time as a couple?

Is clutter creeping back into the house?

Are my kids acting stressed out or tired?

Have we eaten more than one meal at our dinner table as a family this week?

Do we flop into bed at night satisfied with our days?

I use that inner compass to find the Harmony North Star…it’s out there, I just need to adjust my sails.

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What questions do you ask yourself to readjust your own harmony sails?

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3 Ways for your family to Zag while the world Zigs

via Be Happy

It’s not that the 70′s were this picture-perfect time frame. Goodness knows we ate enough cheese doodles and watched enough horrible syndicated Brady Bunch to cloud our judgement and arteries (it was all so great, wasn’t it?). Yet, lately I seem to be old enough to reminisce about the “good old days” when we road our banana seat bikes until dark in the summer without fear of abduction (even though there probably was some risk), and ran through fields and climbed trees because we were shooed out of the house by our moms.

When someone called your house and you weren’t there, the phone rang and rang. The caller couldn’t find you anywhere in the world…you simply were unavailable and you didn’t have to have an excuse about why.

I miss those days.

Yet, the random reality is that I, just like so many of the we’re-so-connected-we’re-not-really-connecting generation, have a permanent crick in my neck from looking down at my devices, texting to everyone and their dog, checking the weather and pulling up the blog to see who’s commenting on my commentating.

Something is askew.

I’d like to make the crooked straight. I know that it will happen in phases, but I’m anxious to implement changes so that in my own little way I can put some of that memorable childhood back into my 21st century children. Three things need to be dealt with head on:

1) Digital Sabbaticals-

The hub and I have been talking about committing to an UnPlug Sunday plan where we avoid TV, cell phone games (the kids), blogging and pinning (me) and laptop work (him). There are a couple of really good books on this subject that can help in this process: This one is perfect for our upcoming Summer of Fun (yes, it has a title). 

Airstream Adventures will also require some unplugging en masse for maximum enjoyment. There’s too much fun to be had and too much sun to soak up that we’ve been missing for 9 months of rain here in the NW! To even forfeit one second of this fun to a glowing screen is a crime. Not to mention the fact that an absence of digital distraction can kickstart some great family conversations and memories. It’s amazing to read the expressions of your children when you’re conversing…we’ve decided to refuse to look at the tops of heads and we are all feeling the benefits.

2) Reduce team sports commitments-

Ah…The “parent of an athlete” thing.Those of you who are close to me know that I have some serious opinions about involving a child in every sport known to man, driving all over creation for every tournament with the intent that they will some day be the all-star who scores the giant scholarship. Do I sound jaded? Okay, to be fair, I really understand wanting to give a kid every advantage in succeeding, be it sports/academics/the arts/etc. and that there will be plenty of activities in their lives to accomplish this. What I have trouble with is lining up the daily/weekly schedule with multiple practices for multiple sports, choosing club sports over school sports to win the political game that is getting a child on a team. By setting limits in our home regarding sports, we’ve created margin for our weekends and evenings and my girls have invested more into the one they’ve chosen.

We have decided to heavily promote kids being kids in our house. 

3) Permanent changes in diet-

I’ve been stuffing my brain with documentaries and books about this and have been inspired to show my kids what I’ve learned. They are amazingly receptive and willingly join me on the couch for movies like Food, Inc. and Hungry for Change. They seemed to get it, which thrilled me to no end. My offspring will now suck down some green juice before school as long as it’s heavily laced with strawberries, of course. I was guilty of some spinach chunks last week and it’s been a battle getting them back in the saddle! There are more trips to grocery stores for organic produce and we put our heads together to decide what would be good choices for meals that would please everybody. The airpopper is always going here—replacing the array of salty crap-ola we used to have in the cabinet. They’ve always been fruit lovers, but the vege thing is creeping in as I use every culinary creative bone in my body (sadly, there aren’t many) to make squash and peppers more appealing. It has taken awhile, but my girls truly understand the danger in trans fat, fast food and a processed food-heavy diet. They do love their treats—I’m not a parent to deny them a doughnut or piece of cake, but it won’t be a Twinkie (another fun memory from my childhood!), if you get my drift.

The food thing, I’m finding, comes down to modeling. If I diligently fire up the smoothie blender each day, choose produce over chips on a weekend afternoons and avoid sugar, they are seeing me win the battle over poor food choices. It’s not a special thing mom’s doing to fit into her tankini on spring break (although that would be lovely). It’s habit and normal and hopefully they’ll want a piece of that.

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On child-rearing in this century:

I love this essay (originally found it in Downtown Chic by the my favorite design family, the Novogratz). It’s worth reading.

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Friends, what are you doing to Zag while the world Zigs? What is making your family life more simple and wonderful?

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