simple life

5 Ways to Simplify the Holidays

Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is already three days away. If you're like me, the holiday season snuck up on you. Here in Minnesota, we've had exceptionally warm weather (up until last Friday!), so it didn't quite feel like November. But alas, here we are. Days away from the kick-off of the holiday season. And the stress/spending/overconsumption that comes along with it.

I started this blog as a way to document and share my ideas for living a simpler life. As I've been thinking about impending holiday season, I've started to reconsider what I deem 'necessary' during this time. I came up with these 5 ways to simplify the holidays. If you're looking to simplify your holidays, but can't/don't want to implement them all, start with one. You may find your spirits a little more jolly because of it.


1) Forget the Holiday cards. 

This one is tough for me. Last year we sent out holiday cards for the first time (holiday + wedding thank you's!) and this year I was kind of looking forward to creating a card with a picture of our new puppy on it. I photographed him playing (or more like eating) a red santa hat, and even formatted the card online. But you know what I was thinking while creating it? That it didn't look as good as the professional photography cards that we will receive from a lot of our family and friends. And then you know what I thought? That. is. ridiculous. I haven't even sent/received any cards yet and I'm already comparing our non-existent card to others' non-existent cards. So, at that moment I decided to let the card idea go. Those who want to see a picture of our doggie can take a look on my Facebook or Instagram page (most everyone I would have sent to I'm connected with on those platforms) and the family who can't see him online will meet the little guy at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Also, I just saved us easily $100 by not sending cards. (That being said, I still love and welcome when other people send us cards, and proudly display all of our good looking family/friends when they do send!). Maybe in the future when we have children I'll want to send something, but for now, I'm saying no to holiday cards. 

2) Go easy on the alcohol. 

Now this is coming from someone who is currently pregnant (surprise!) so take it with a grain of salt. However, not being able to drink has made me realize how unnecessary a lot of my drinking was (especially during the holidays!). Now, I'm not saying you have to give up alcohol completely (what's the fun in that?!) but try putting some limits as to how much/when you drink this season (such as only having one drink at a party/out to dinner or choosing one or two parties that you will overindulge in, but that's it.) It's too easy to go on a eating/drinking/spending binge during the holiday season, so putting some restrictions around the boozing will likely leave your wallet and waistline smiling. 

3) Give up the gifts. 

*Gasp*. I can hear you all the way from here. This was easy for me, as my immediate family and I had given up gifts a long time ago (and even before that we bought/received pretty practical gifts - socks and shampoo anyone?). Don't get me wrong, I love receiving the unexpected gift (that I actually like!), but a lot of times the gifts I receive I don't need/use, and I'm thinking the gifts I give may be looked at the same. So what about gift cards or just asking what someone wants? Here's a novel idea. Just save your money to buy what you really want (or actually need!) and have that person do the same. Hang out with them, laugh with them, and let them know how much you value your time together. That is the greatest gift of all.

And if you're dying to give gifts or can't convince your family/friends to let it go, make a rule that gifts have to be handmade or locally made only, or do a fun white elephant exchange game instead (who doesn't like cleaning out their junk to give to the next person!?). 

4) Limit the decorations. 

Everywhere you turn these days, there are stands and shelves stocked with this year's decorations just waiting to be brought home. I'm guessing you have plenty of decorations from last year, but the pull of new, shiny decorations is hard to resist. My advice? Challenge yourself to not buy a single holiday decoration this year. Not one. You can make it through, I'm certain. We don't decorate much for the holidays except a little themed decoration above the cabinets in our kitchen, and a wreath on the front door. I'm not saying to not decorate if you love spicing up your home, but see if you can make do with what you have (or better yet, donate some of the decorations you don't like/use any more!). 

5) Do one less thing. 

Take a look at your calendar. Is there a party or get together you can say no to? I just looked at mine. Between now and the New Year, we've got three Thanksgiving celebrations, three Christmas celebrations, three birthday parties, one concert, one ugly sweater party, and a wedding. That doesn't include our respective work parties, or other random get-togethers we have planned. Today I had to decline an invite for a Friendsgiving I was looking forward to, but it fell on the same day as two birthday parties (and a play I'm attending earlier that day with a friend!). It may hurt to say no, but rushing from one party to the next on the brink of exhaustion doesn't make for a happy holiday season either. See if there is one thing you can cut out this holiday season and fully enjoy the things you do participate in.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
— everyone during the Great Depression, including my grandma who recited it often

Let's not lose sight of what's really important this holiday season. It's not the parties, the gifts, the drinks, or the food. It is about spending time with the people we love, practicing gratitude for what we already have, and giving a little extra to those who need it. 


The Easy Way to Start a Vegetable Garden (hint: just do it!)

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
— Lao Tzu

Early this spring, I decided that I wanted to start a vegetable garden. I had no prior experience with gardening, except the few herbs I have grown on the windowsill.

I didn't read any books on vegetable gardening, figure out what crops grow best together, study the pattern of sun in our backyard. Nope, I didn't do a lick of research. I just jumped right in! A lot of times, it's important to do your research before making a decision. However, sometimes you need to JUST.DO.IT. And that my friends, is exactly what I did. How did I do it? Read on...

Step 1) Determine where you are going to put your garden/dig it up

For us, there was a patch of flowers alongside the west side of our house that I dug up but left the pavers in. You could also put in a boxed garden, although you'd have to take the extra step to build the box. 

Step 2) Get some dirt/compost

After your dig up your garden patch, you may have to add some dirt. I recommend adding a few inches of compost (you can buy at a local garden/hardware store or maybe get free through your city/county) to bring added nutrients to your soil. 

Step 3) Buy your seeds/seedlings 

Rather than starting with seeds, I bought a few seedlings from the farmer's market and an urban garden store. Zucchini, yellow squash, strawberries, butternut squash, cauliflower, broccolini, onions, hot peppers, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, two types of kale, cucumbers and asparagus.

Step 4) Plant your seedlings (after the possibility of a frost disappears)

Again, not a lot of rhyme or reason to where I planted things. I ran out of room in my garden so decided to grow my zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers vertically in pots (it was a fail, as I forgot to punch out the drainage holes in the bottom, and completely flooded my plants - I also think you need to have large enough pots which I did not) and the butternut squash went in a different spot where we tore out an old fire pit. It is recommended that your plants that grow taller are not going to shadow your smaller plants, but again, I just read the directions of how far they should be spaced, grabbed a measuring tape, and went to work.

Step 5) Protect your plants

I put up a small fence around my garden to try and keep the rabbits out. Also - did you know that squirrels LOVE strawberry plants? I surely did not. We got about five strawberries out of the plants before the squirrels took over. Next year I will plan on covering the plants so the squirrels can't dig them up!

My very first strawberry!

My very first strawberry!

Step 5) Weed and water

In the early weeks, it's important to keep your garden weed-free and watered (I've heard of some people putting down mulch for weed protection, or newspaper on top of the grass works for boxed gardens). I made sure to swing out there every day or every other, to pick a few weeds, and give it a good water (5 minutes or so - depending on how much rain we had recently gotten). The weeding will really pile up if you aren't consistent!

My vegetable garden. In all its glory.

My vegetable garden. In all its glory.

Step 6) Reap what you sow, and then let the rest go

I had a TON of success with the broccolini (if you tip them over, the side shoots activate all summer long) kale and hot peppers (the asparagus is looking good for next year too!), but only got one cauliflower (out of 6 planted), zero sweet potatoes (that I can find), and the Brussels sprouts are struggling. The point? It's your first year. Enjoy what worked, and let go of what didn't! Also - Google is great for determining what to harvest when. :)

Kale and peppers and broccolini - oh my!

Kale and peppers and broccolini - oh my!

And that's how you start a vegetable garden. Until next time, I'll be trying to cool my mouth from all those hot peppers.

And next year, I'll be making a bigger garden. 

How to Give Up Your Gym Membership in 7 Easy Steps

I finally let go of my gym membership awhile back at LifeTime after months of underutilizing it.

My gym routine was usually pretty sporadic depending on the season. Fall = rarely going due to full-time work and high school soccer season (i.e. head coaching = little time for anything else!). Winter = rejoin and go few times/week. Spring = weather gets nicer = me wanting to be active outdoors. Summer = see Spring x 100, and put membership on hold for few months (until Winter returns!).

exercise should be an expression of what your body can do, not a punishment for how much you ate
— unknown

Now that I am consciously thinking about how to downsize/simplify, it was time to reconsider my exercise routine and the effect it had on my life. 

Don't get me wrong, I still love to workout and be active. The whole getting-ready-to-go-to-the-gym-workout-for-an-hour-come-home-and-shower (that rhymed!) was just not working for me. And quite honestly, this life should be working for YOU, whatever that might be. If you're a gym lover and it doesn't cramp other areas of your life, than by all means, keep doing what you're doing. 

If you're not loving it, here's how to give up your gym membership in 7 easy steps:

1) Quit your gym membership (sounds easy, right?!). I'll break it down for you: Walk into gym, tell front desk person you would like to quit your membership. Ta-dah! Now that was easy.

2) Do not (I repeat, DO NOT) feel guilty about quitting your gym membership. At some point this world existed without gyms, and I have to think we were much happier, less-stressed individuals at that time.

3) Find a different routine. What is going to work for you? For me, it's getting up a tad earlier to do workouts at home. I love throwing on a sports-bra (I usually keep my pajama shorts on), opening up the shades in our reading/workout room, and pressing play on my next scheduled workout. 

4) Find the right motivation. What is your motivation? I love the way I feel in the morning after getting a quick (sometimes it's only 5 minutes!) workout in. It can be yoga, jogging, biking, weight lifting, HIIT workouts, Pilates, stretching, the list goes on. Whatever it is, I know the rest of the day that I made time for myself and I don't feel stressed trying to fit in a workout after work/coaching/happy hour (no one wants to workout after drinking beer, am I right or am I right?). 

5) Streamline the logistics. As much as I'm a believer in small daily habits turning into great big things, I'm not about waking up at the same time every. single. day to workout or following other strict rules about my life. I just set my alarm a bit earlier than I'm going to get up for that day to make time, and then I get up and do my thing. It helps to have your workout of choice ready to go for the morning, that way, you've got zilch excuses. 

6) Find activity in everyday life. When I think back to some of the most "fit" times in my life, I wasn't pounding it away at the gym. Actually, it was after an ankle sprain that left me unable to run for awhile. I went to the gym every other day to do light weights and bike, and I walked to class 30 minutes one way each day. Now, I try to bike to errands if they are close enough (love my bike basket that I rigged up!), park at the back of the parking lot when possible, and try to walk when I can (break at work? quick after dinner stroll?). Oh, and take the stairs.

Bell bike basket I found for $20 at a thrift store + bungee cord for $4 = $24 errand running machine.

Bell bike basket I found for $20 at a thrift store + bungee cord for $4 = $24 errand running machine.

7) The most important step: Enjoy your life post-gym-membership. I'm sure it's freed up some time in your life to pursue other passions (or sleep more, which is totally ok too!). 

And that's how you give up your gym membership. Time for me to go workout! :)