Thinking outside of the (to-go) box

For challenge 6 in One Small Step (the LüSa Organics sustainability challenge), we’re thinking out side the take-out box.


I’m looking at where to put those leftovers when you’re dining out. I think this is a timely tip for the holiday season and for everyday.

I put together a simple take-out kit that I store in my car, to grab whenever we need it that I thought you might be interest in.

Read the post here, then leave a comment letting me know your thoughts!

Tired, sore, happy


I think we’re finally figuring out how to do weekends around here.

Two parts work and one part play, we found a fine balance between hauling compost and playing frisbee over the past couple of days.

Weather like this will do that. Sunny and not too hot, after such a long winter we were all drawn outside, for as many hours as we could manage. For garden prep and sipping iced tea, hauling brush and riding bikes.

We did a ridiculous amount of yard work in the past three days, something that has been back-burnered since we moved here some 6 1/2 years ago. It’s never top priority, so in our world that means it simply never gets done. But we’re determined to reseed the “lawn” (more accurately the mud amoeba with a grass border), and rake away the hard-packed spruce cones and needles, branches, and dead leaves and give this yard a fresh start.

When not giving the back yard our all, we were rebooting our raised garden beds. We built them one year ago, but made some mistakes in our shooting-from-the-hip construction techniques. So this year they needed a do-over. Our original design was compost-over-strawbales. But the bales collapsed, dropping deep inside of our raised beds, and the compost was a bit too rich for some of our crops.

We set to work removing the contents of each bed, then layering limbs from our fallen boxelder in the bottom of each bed as a modified huglekultur bed. On top of that we layered chipped branches, the straw-compost mix from the emptied beds, and finally topped with a few inches of additional chipped trimmings.

This latter layer was inspired by the Back to Eden deep mulching method. We’re excited to give it a try for weed control! As usual, we’re winging it, so time will tell.


After gardening, Lupine and I set to work digging parsnips.

This invasive species is an escaped garden cultivar, and the leaves and stems contain a photo toxic compound that causes wicked, fluid-filled blisters to form on the skin if you come into contact with the plant on sunny day.

Despite their nasty above-ground tendencies, below ground they are ordinary (if rustic in appearance) parsnips! Delicious, nutritious, sweet root, suitable for sautéing, adding to soups and stews, or grating raw.

It was a rewarding wind down after a busy day.


And, at long last, we paused to celebrate spring this weekend. Yes, we already celebrated May Day (the mid point between spring and summer), but on account of first snow and then the stomach flu, we had delayed our spring celebration longer than was reasonable. So on Sunday we indulged in some treats, and our usual celebratory goodness.


On an evening bike ride, Lupine was distracted by the litter along the roadside. “Why would people do this?” she agonized.

Finally, she couldn’t bear it any longer. She pulled her bike off the road and leaned over to pick up a beer can. I got off my bike as well, and scooped up a second can. We placed them in her bike basket and rode on.

She stopped again and again and before we knew it she was scrambling up the road cut to pull take-out boxes, plastic bags, and beer bottles from the weeds. All of us joined in. (How could we resist?)

On the ride home, her basket was overflowing. There was so much litter heaped in her basket that plastic bottles and bags were flying out as she zipped down hills, and we were perpetually making U-turns to gather what we’d lost, amidst peals of laughter.

Back home—without a word—she set to work sorting it into the bags she had found to take in for recycling. I was reminded of the words of a friend who said, “The world is full of two kinds of people: takers and givers. We must decide which sort of person we choose to be.”

And perhaps this is how the world is saved. Through small, loving actions; through caring; through the belief that even one, small person can begin to change the world.

And just like that—through awareness, love, and action—the world became a more beautiful place. “That was so fun,” she said. “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”


And now–somehow–it’s Monday. Back to work, back to homeschooling, back to a slower pace as we heal our sore muscles in preparations for next weekend’s marathon!

Home sweet home

20180904-DSC_706420180901-DSC_6415-220180905-DSC_706820180907-DSC_709120180903-DSC_661520180903-DSC_678920180903-DSC_663220180903-DSC_677520180903-DSC_6556We made it! We’re settling in back home after our trip (1/4 way) around the lake. There were quite a few bumps along the road between here and there and back again, but sometimes that’s just how things go. No, we did’t make it all the way around. Yes, there were issues. But there are certainly greater problems we might have faced than car and camper troubles. Don’t you think?


Today we’re finding our familiar home grove (which involved drywall mud, a stock pot, einkorn flour, and a pressure canner, though not necessarily all at one time), as we watching the color slowly shift on the hill across the creek as autumn quietly announces its arrival.

And we’re savoring the simple pleasures of our own beds, our favorite view, and the rhythm of life at home. Since we returned home one week earlier than we planned, we’re digging in on some major projects here on that farm that have been waiting for years for completion. That’s a silver lining of coming home early!

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The floods, however, were as ruthless as we had heard.

The town our farm is devastated (again) as the photos below testify. It’s heartbreaking. Truly. We’re doing what we can to help, mostly in the form of donated soap, natural insect repellent, and other necessities from LüSa.

If you’d like to help, simply place an order of $25 or more and add a comment of “Flood relief:CLEAN”. For every $25 you spend on your own family’s needs, I’ll donate $10 or more of product to our community relief efforts.

DIY Organizational Planner

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I don't know about you, but I'm a paper planner person.

I've never mastered the calendar on my phone or computer, and find the pop-ups and pings frankly a little distracting. Plus, I spend enough time with a screen under my nose without having my calendar online as well.

Instead, I prefer the physical tangibility of a handwritten to-do list, calendar, and meal plan.

And so for the past few years (ever since I shamefully missed two appointments in one week, and all but singlehandedly paid for the construction of our new library with my late fees), I have annually purchased an organizational planner or a pretty blank book, in hopes of landing on (or creating) the perfect system.

This winter, after the double-whammy of a failed attempt at bullet journaling and a pre-printed planner that I was unable to love, I got online to find a better option. I searched the interwebs night after night for something that would fit my needs. The Holy Grail of Planners, if you will. 

People buy planners, I reasoned. People have planner needs. And honestly, my needs aren't really that weird (pre-printed monthly and weekly pages with all the blank paper a girl could dream of). So obviously, I reasoned, my needs should be met by something in a brick-and-mortar or online shop. Wouldn't ya think?

And yet…


In desperation, I gave up with my online search and drove to the nearest city. I proceeded to drag my children through more stores than I care to recall. Thrift stores. Office stores. Craft stores. Even a big box store. (Insert rapid heart rate and breathing here.)

Three towns and countless isles of pretty planners later, I had still found nothing that met my needs. 

Nothing, you guys. Zilch.

I swear I am not this high maintenance.

My choices boiled down to a blank bullet journal (something I wanted desperately to love, but just couldn't get on board with), or pre-printed planners with two pieces of blank paper thrown in at the back as an afterthought. Gah! Why was this so hard?! 

My criteria was simple and straightforward: I wanted:

  1. the convenience of pre-printed planner pages with
  2. the flexibility of a bullet journal.

I wanted speed and freedom; structure and flexibility. I wanted printed calendar sheets alongside copious amounts of blank paper for list-making, meal-planning, brainstorming, and more.


And so, in a moment of wild desperation, I took matters into my own hands. I bought a three ring binder, some page dividers, and grabbed a ream of blank paper and a three hole punch from my office.

Maybe I didn't need a pre-printed, pre-made planner after all.

I could put the whole thing together at home in an evening, I reasoned (I was right). And all of that blank paper that I had been dreaming of? Done.

Pre-printed calendars, task lists, and meal planning grids? Check. And if I don't love something I can change it, not set aside the whole planner and go looking for something new. 

It turns out the Holy Grail of Planners was mine all along.


The beauty, of course, is the ridiculous simplicity of it all. You're in control of every aspect of what goes in. Appearances, order of pages, quantity of blank paper – everything. (Cue angels singing.)

And unlike a bullet journal, where your straight edge, creative genius, rainbow of fine tip pens, and endless patience and free time create your calendar, in a three-ring system you can include pre-printed calendars, meal plan grids, habit trackers – anything your heart desires.

It's like cheating, minus the guilt.

Sure, it's a bit more work to put together than a pre-printed planner, but unlike a bullet journal, the time is minimal. Boom. I set mine up in an evening and can honestly say that it's my favorite planner yet. 

What you include is really up to you. I've included:

  • a weekly homeschooling checklist
  • family chore charts
  • work task lists
  • meal planning
  • and more

And if I find a section isn't being properly utilized, I can pop the binder open and rework it. It's like a dream come true, I tell you!


Ready to set up your own? You bet! 

Here is what you need to get started.

Everything you need for your planner can be purchases for $15 to $30, and that's if you go fancy and brand-new with everything. Mine ran me closer to $10 since I had everything but the actual binder and tabbed dividers on hand already. (A few afflinks follow.)

Step 1. Decide on size. 

Binders come in full or half-sheet sizes. Some have complex hole-punching requirements, with like 8,000 little snap rings, so I recommend going with a simple three-ring style to simplify your set-up and reduce your insanity.

I chose a full-sized binder because it's easier to print out and add pages without having to fiddle with cutting them down, (speed, remember?) and I already had an ordinary three-hole punch on hand. If you want a half-sized binder, just adapt the list below for appropriately sized supplies, and add a paper cutter while you're at it to make cutting all of your components easier and more accurate. 

The advantage of a half-size would be that I could fit it in my bag. You decide how much fiddling you're willing to do, and what works best for your needs. 


Step 2. Gather your supplies.

Look around your office or home to see if you already have some of these supplies on hand.

Three-ring binder: I found a pretty 100% recycled binder for under $5 at Target, but there are abundant choices available online. (These are cute, thought I can't tell if they are hardboard or plastic.) Better yet, use one you already have on hand. You could even get crafty and decoupage it by modifying my tutorial here.

Tabbed dividers: I bought these. They're under $2 and you can erase and retitle them as your heart desires. I prefer paper to plastic for all of the green reasons, but as a bonus find that they are cheaper, sturdier, and longer-lasting than their flimsy plastic counterparts. 


Three-hole punch: These are abundant at the second hand stores, or snag a new one if you need to. Though some can only handle a few sheets at a time, others can wrangle up to 20 sheets, like the one linked. 

Reinforcement stickers: If you're printing your calendar pages (or other heavily used pages) on regular paper they will rip. Guaranteed. Save yourself the heartache and add reinforcement stickers to the pages that you'll use for days or weeks on end. (Ask me how I know.)

Other optional supplies: a few page protectors and a grease pencil are nice for checking things off like daily tasks or chore charts. If you're really into removable sticky notes grab some of those, too, as they can work well with this system. I threw in some grid paper. I'm not sure why, but it's been fun to have around.

Step 3. Print your pages.

Here in lies the beauty of this system: what you include is completely up to you.

Work up an exercise log or a meditation log or a reading log. Add a meal plan or a shopping list or a place to track your library books.

What I have included has little bearing, as it's customized for my life. What do you need? Add that. (But copious, gluttonous amounts of blank paper are a must.)

Downloadable monthly calendar pages: I'm pretty smitten by the freebies that I found for my planner over on Scattered Squirrel. You can find the calendar pages that I used here but she has loads more, in both full and half-sheet sizes.

Downloadable weekly calendar pages: Again, Scattered Squirrel for the win. I'm trying a few different types to see which set-up I prefer.

Downloadable meal plan: This is my own that you're welcome to use! I've been using some variation of this for the past 9 years and I really love it. 

Download Meal-plan (revised)

Shopping List: This will possibly reveal a bit too much about the workings of my brain, but I have a specific way that I work up a shopping list, and I keep a few of these on hand too. For the coop (where we do all of our daily shopping), it's basically a big "+" in the center of a page. Then each quadrant contains one area of the store (produce, bulk, coolers, and isles).

Does that make sense? That way I don't get all the way to the back of the store and realize I forgot the lettuce and waste a lot of time running back and forth.

I have a similar one for Costco that's basically a super simplified map of the store: isles, coolers, paper goods, produce, gleaming boxes of Kerry Gold butter, etc. 

I hope that is helpful to at least one of you, and the rest of you don't know think that I'm a nutter. 


And that, my friends, is all there is to it. 

A completely-customized, infinitely-flexible, made-by-you-for-you planner system. 


Who's in?



Looking ahead

I don't remember the last time I made a New Year's resolution. They tend to last me all of twelve minutes before I'm busily making excuses, revising my resolution, delaying, or otherwise utterly failing at what I set out to do.

So for the past few years I've changed this tradition, and instead of a resolution I choose a word of phrase to guide the year. ("Simplicity", "Get Shit Done" and "Create Beauty" are three recent mottos that I remember.)

Throughout the seasons that follow I circle back again and again to this annual theme, and come December I find that consciously or subconsciously it truly did guide my year.

This year's motto over here is "Kon Marie All The Things". (afflink) I've already drawn up a calendar outlining which category we tackle when, beginning this weekend. I am one part terrified and one part ecstatic. (Those two together are usually a good sign.) I've been thinking and talking and writing about simplicity for as long as I can remember, yet I still feel like I've barely gained footing. This year it's time.

I found the post below from 2014 and thought I'd share it again. It feels timely, and perhaps it will inspire you to choose a theme for the coming year. More love? Be fierce? Soften? Share kindness? Anything goes. It's up to your heart alone.

And if you join me, I would love to hear what you select when you've chosen! 


What if you chose a single sentence to inspire you for the coming months?

No, not a resolution. (Because resolutions are always about what isn't working.)

A motto.

A mantra.

A sentence to capture who you are and where you're going.

A road map from here to there.

There will always things we want more of.

More kindness, more patience, more gratitude.

More presence, more safety, more love.

And things we want less of.

Less anger, less fear, less loneliness.

Less worry, less bickering, less struggle.

More of this, less of that.

So let's say yes to what we're wanting.

Because we decide.

Starting now.

One simple sentence: set your course. | Clean

It's as easy as choosing a single word, sentence, or phrase that speaks to your soul.


Love More, Worry Less;


I choose joy;


Today is Everything.

Or perhaps…

The better it gets the better it gets;


I am blessed;


I am enough.

Anything goes.

Andy only you decide.

One simple sentence: set your course. | Clean

So right now – choose your phrase.

And write it down.

Write it on a post-it note and tape it to your dashboard.

Paint it on a piece of wood and hang it above your bed.

Scribble it on a scrap of paper and hide it in your wallet.


But do it.

Right now.

And then?

Watch your life unfold.

One simple sentence can set your course.


What do you choose?



Creating space

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I've mentioned before that our house, by American standards, is unapologetically small. I remind myself often that the family that built this house raised five children here, and that was without indoor plumbing or the rooms that now serve as our kitchen, mudroom, and largest bedroom.

Still, I rarely show photos of it because it's cramped and messy and in a state of being perpetually lived in. There is no pause button on the real life that happens here. 

But living large in a small space means getting creative. 

When we put in our wood stove a couple of years ago we decided to place it (somewhat unconventionally) in the kitchen, since that's the room with the best view and the one where we spend most of our time. Soon the kitchen corner beside the wood stove was also home to a couple of cozy chairs, and our living room sat unused 99% of the time – serving only as the dumping ground for laundry awaiting folding.

But when you live in 1200 square feet, it's pretty silly to ignore the largest room in the house. 

So I got a wild hair just before our trip to Ireland to ditch the living room altogether. To get rid of our couch and extra chairs, and set a huge craft table in the middle of the room for sewing and making of every sort. My mom was underwhelmed with my idea, but we still had the comfy chairs by the fire, so I was steadfast.

Why have a space you don't use, I reasoned, when there's a space we desperately want and don't have room for?

I'm not much for rules.


We ran out of time before our trip, and by the time we returned home my vision had shifted. What if we simply flip-flopped the living room and dining area instead? Then we could keep our couch (albeit in the kitchen), have cozy seating for everyone around the wood stove, and our dining table could continue to serve for both crafting and family meals. 

It might be crazy to have a couch in the kitchen, but then again, maybe not. 

And when your furniture all comes from the thrift store, you can be a little less fretful about the potential of it being spattered by, say, flying maple syrup (hypothetically speaking, of course).

Pete and the kids were game, so on a whim we flipped the rooms. And in moments our former kitchen/dining room (real-life picture, because 1. you seem to like that, and 2. it's all I've got!) went from this:

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To this, and became the cosiest living space we've had in years.

It hasn't been this empty or clean since. I'll take that as a good sign.

And all without spending a nickel or driving across state lines for a run to Ikea (something I may have considered on more than one occasion).

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I mention this furniture flip today because of the happiest side-effect that this simple rearrange brought: we're together far more often than we were before.

By sticking with our small square footage, yet making room for people to spend time comfortably together, we created more space for family

We gather together to quietly (or not so quietly!) read or cook or knit or sew. We're drawn into the shared space more and more, something I'm hungering for as I watch my children grow up before my eyes. We're talking more. Laughing more. Connecting.

There are just four of us. We certainly don't need a bigger house – we just need one that lives like we do so we can enjoy being together now more than ever. 

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Oh, and the biggest room in the house, the giant laundry basket that has sat empty for nearly all of the five years we have lived here, the one we now call the dining-making-sewing room?

Today it's buzzing with constant energy as the kids (and adults) create, sew, play, learn, and linger here, together.

And if anyone tells you your dining room can't have a craft cabinet and a sewing machine as a part of the decor, send them my way for a tour. 


What else can I suggest except this: think outside the box, my friends. (In everything!)

And bigger isn't always better.

Indeed, the benefits of simple, small-house living are many. And by throwing out the rule book you can end up with a space that fits how your family lives, with room to enjoy one another and the things that you love.

I wouldn't trade this for a house twice the size. 


No need to apologize


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I've always tried to shoot straight with you about the myth that we as a culture have built of perfection. But I'll be honest – there are days I scroll through my Instagram feed and feel like I just don't measure up. There are photos I choose not to share (like the one of Lupine above) because they are imperfect; messy; vulnerably real.

And I must remind myself often to not buy into the myth. 

Though the pictures above doesn't quite capture the chaos all around me, trust me when I tell you that life here is messy. Last night at 10 PM the kids and I were still up – still making, still doing. This morning the aftermath of that late night craft-a-thon remains. (We'll get to that, right after breakfast.)

There is no depth of field short enough to blur out our messes. 

We have many boots and no where to store them, loads of hobbies and passions and an utter lack of shelves. We live messy. Full blown, gloves off messy.

And sure, I can make excuses about four crafty people homeschooling in a small house with abysmal storage, but that only feeds the belief that there's a picture-perfect standard we should all be striving for. And that belief feeds on our shame, insecurities, and the fear that we won't measure up. That if we have clutter in the corner we aren't good enough. 

But sisters, we need no excuses. We live here. Out loud, hands-on, life-learning live here. 

Life is messy. And despite our best efforts, sometimes it piles up. 

And that means there will be three baskets of laundry on the living room floor because today we said yes to baking bread and carving spoons instead of folding. There will be art supplies on the table and dishes in the sink, because this is where we learn. (And we'll wash them up before bedtime anyway, so why fuss?) There will be piles of library books on the floor beside the dust bunnies, because reading comes first. 

Yes, some of us were born with a tidy gene that others were passed over for. Some of us thrive only in order, while others gravitate toward chaos. And I'm here to tell you that all of those are valid. Not just the picture-perfect ones.

So welcome to our home!

We live here. It's messy. And there is no need to apologize.




You might also enjoy Cropping, and Sisterhood of the Messy House.







After four weeks away we returned home, just in time for October.

As we pulled into the embrace of these hills, though we were still an hour from home, Sage gave a long exhale and softly said, "Home." I found myself driving more and more slowly the further into these hills we traveled, drinking in the beauty and comfort that comes with returning after being gone for so long.

We were home.

And that's how it feels every time. No matter if we've been gone for a day, a week, or a month. A long exhale escapes our lips when we roll back into these hills. Because these hills are home. 

Perhaps it's true that coming home is one of the sweetest parts of travel. The opportunity to return with fresh eyes and abundant gratitude for what you had all along. Our house – thought still unfinished, still cluttered, still plain – was a near paradise, holding all of the familiar comforts we had missed while we were away. And just moments after unloading the car everyone scattered to opposite ends of the farm – to the workshop, the tree house, the orchard, the creek, to check in on what they missed most.

Oh, yes. We're home. 

And it feels so right.



Some minor curse words follow. A swear-free version can be found here.

Originally published in 2013.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

I am almost embarrassed to admit to you just how many peaches I brought home from that roadside stand on Friday.

Because if you are thinking a bushel or two would be a lot you would be right.

And then if I suggested three bushels or God forbid four, well that would teeter on the edge of bonkers.

Four bushels. Humph.

But then if I told you there were already two bushels in the freezer for winter smoothies and treats and four more came home, well, I suspect that my peach issue would cease to be charmingly eccentric and become full on crazy pants.

Because how on earth could we even eat this many peaches and peach-based things in a year?

I have no idea.

Can we talk about something else?

And while yes, I did spend the weekend making: peach leather, dried peach slices, peach ketchup, cardamon-brandied peach halves, canned peaches, spiced canned peaches, peach soda syrup, peach butter, peach jam, and ginger-cardamon peach jam (*gasp*), I really emerged with a singular thought to bring to you, my dear friends.

That thought is this: cropping.

Life is one big, juicy, sticky mess. And anyone who's life appears dialed in in every way is cropping.

Cropping out the dog hair or the back talk, the bounced checks or the broken heart.

Cropping out whatever isn't working.

Because something isn't working in all of our lives.

It's the nature of life. If you aren't screwing something up you aren't really living.

So the next time you leave your favorite blog or social media with a sigh and a heavy heart, convinced you are inadequate because your life just doesn't measure up, know that it's all bullshit.

You totally measure up.

It's just that everyone else is cropping.

Here. Let me demonstrate using pretty peaches in my kitchen. Because Lord knows I have plenty of peaches.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

When you see these peaches in my sink, all glistening and succulent in that vintage colander, you know that my life is perfect. Right? Right.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

But when I allow you to see what's happening in the other sink and across the back splash, well, let's just say we no longer have peachy perfection. Oh, no. Now we have a health hazard.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

Let's do another one because it's so much fun. Quaint, rustic jars of peaches on my old-school table. I know. It's like stepping back in time to your grandma's kitchen.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

Or maybe not. Because your grandma probably didn't have a broken window screen, a battery charger, a knitting basket, and an inexplicable pair of latex gloves (!) on her table. Ahem.

Among other things.

So seriously, sister. Stop beating yourself up.

And the next time you feel inadequate, crop that shit out of the frame and forget about it.

And then marvel at how damn beautiful what you've kept truly is.

Behold. The power of cropping. [Clean.]

P.S. I love you.