Let’s say you arrive at a jobsite and you see something that no one wants to see: a floor that has peaks and valleys. This usually means that either the floor itself or […]
My big sister, Cait, and I have children that are only 16 months apart. And in parenting, and all things, I turn to her for advice and big-sisterly wisdom. Cait has taken my three-year-old nephew on more than 100 individual flights—for business and pleasure—and has learned a thing or two about the magic of packing lightly. Here’s Cait’s best advice:
About five years ago, before we had a child, my husband and I took a vacation with friends to Hawaii. It was New Year’s Eve when we departed, when my resolutions were fresh and the New York City winter was bearing down. The fact that I’d not yet recovered from a stressful year-end work project–and a longing for light dresses and bare arms–had put me in a lay-down-my-burdens mindset. Almost without meaning to, I packed lighter than I ever had before. Two dresses and a bathing suit, a pair of shorts and sneaks, a simple dopp kit: all went into a tiny, overnight duffel. On the plane, I tucked the whole thing under the seat, with room to spare. Seeking a light heart, I’d ended up choosing light packing, too. It was my first venture into minimalist travel.
It was also the first time I heard this phrase, though not the last: “That’s all you brought?” A well-meaning grandma-aged lady at the airport was half-admiring, half-scolding as I emerged toward the taxi line. “Just wait till you have kids,” she scoffed merrily—as strangers wielding advice so often do. “You’ll never be able to travel that light again.”
Consider the gauntlet thrown.
Now three years into parenting, having taken more than 100 individual flights with a child, I can assure you that light packing with kids is not only doable, it’s preferable. In three years’ worth of trips with our son, both close-to-home and long-haul, my husband and I have never checked a bag. It’s made our family travel far cheaper and more efficient than it would otherwise be. But it’s also made it more peaceful: an exercise in truly getting away.
Here’s how we do it. You can, too.
Whenever possible, avoid taking baby gear on trips. Sure, it’s enticing to think that the pack-n-play or the baby bouncer will magically soothe your child through jet lag or across the international date line, but the truth is that the headache of toting your cumbersome gear in taxis and through baggage claim just might outweigh the benefits said gear provides. Even if you’re not into co-sleeping or baby-wearing at home, you might want to try it out when you travel: the savings in cost and hassle is tremendous. And when you really need the consistency or convenience (or safety) of a portable crib or car seat at your destination, consider renting or borrowing. Most hotels offer free porta-cribs (or “infant cots”, internationally) for families; major cities always have lots of options for private baby gear rental (and they deliver!); car rental companies almost always offer a car-seat rental add-on for a nominal daily fee; and friends or family at your destination might also be able to lend extra or outgrown gear.
Gate-check like a pro.
If you do find yourself needing to bring a stroller or car seat, do not overlook the elegant simplicity of the gate-check. If you’re an infrequent family traveler, you may not realize that car seats and strollers can almost always be gate-checked at the end of the jetway, as opposed to dropped at check-in as under-plane baggage…and for no fee. We did this so often that Delta gave us a permanent, plastic gate check tag for our stroller. Just be sure to get to the departure desk a bit early to get a gate-check tag, and then board early, too. (Occasionally, crowded flights mean that even gate-checked baby gear gets checked all the way through to your destination, meaning you can’t just swoop it up as you debark.)
Experience local laundry customs.
I never did laundry while on vacation or on work trips before having a child; now I embrace it as part of the travel experience. No matter how much (or how little) you pack, the laws of family travel dictate that if you are traveling with a child, your one nice blouse will encounter spit up. Or you will sit on an entire bar of chocolate for the duration of an eight-hour flight. Or a full mug of coffee will be accidentally knocked on your lap at an airport eating establishment. (All purely hypothetical examples, of course.) And so: local laundry. Rather than packing for every possible catastrophe, just plan to do some wash. Most cities have cheap wash-n-folds that can launder a week’s worth of clothing for under $10. If you’re staying with relatives or at an AirBnB, laundering will be even cheaper. And no one died from a little hand-washing, if the need arises. Bonus: you might get a travel anecdote out of it. At the time, washing liquid poop out of a onesie in the public bathrooms at the Tower of London didn’t seem funny to me. Three years later? I can’t write this without laughing. Memories!
Embrace the backpack.
Ever seen a toddler near a rolling suitcase? If so, you know it’s an invitation to dawdle strenuously for as long as possible in the exact center of a public walkway. Those suckers were designed for flight attendants, not two-year-olds in thrall to mechanical engineering. In our family, we now use either two very compact travel backpacks, one for my husband and one for me (this one and this one, minus their water bladders) or, for shorter trips or visits requiring more, er, style, two zippable cross-body bags (this one and this one). If we’re staying somewhere for more than a week, we often each take both—backpack and crossbody—and still avoid checking any luggage, since one counts as a “personal item.” Note, too, that once your child is old enough, you can also saddle her with a mini-backpack of her own. (See also: adorable niece with pack in action.)
When Erin and I were kids, we didn’t do much air travel, but we often made several 10-hour car trips each year. With four of us kids crammed in a minivan, and without millennial conveniences like iPads and Kindles, we made do with singalongs, handmade lists of things to “I Spy” on the road; slim Mad Libs pads and sticker books; and the age-old standby of minimalist travel activities: hours-long bouts of play-fighting in the back seat. I try to adopt the same inventive spirit when traveling with my toddler: eschewing power-hungry devices and clunky crafts for imaginative and interactive games that take up no space at all. When in doubt, time travel back to an era (the ‘80s or the 1880s), when small, age-appropriate entertainments like nursery rhymes and modeling clay were all children had to while away the hours. It’ll serve you well not only on travel days, but on ordinary ones.
Ultimately, the magic of travel—why we do it in the first place—is not born of carrying, but of leaving behind. It’s not about recreating the world we live in at home, thing by thing, but in discovering a new world altogether, often because we’ve taken some comforting things out of the suitcase. (Erin has more to say on this subject in my very favorite essay in Simple Matters.) Sound too Pollyanna? Lest you think I’m breezing through family travel with rose-colored glasses, I’ll share this: I survived a 72-hour, cross-country Amtrak trip—just me and my two-and-a-half-year-old—using only a sheet of temporary tattoos, a sticker book, and generous use of a memory game that involves arranging sugar packets and other sundries on a tray table and then daring your toddler to Guess What I Took Away. Sometimes, it was hard. Other times, it was very hard. Once, I caught myself looking wistfully at an Amish family who’d armed their brood of six with a cache of 90s-era Game Boys. And yet, my child and I together experienced those crystal-clear travel moments that will stick with us forever, like climbing into our train-bed, cuddled like puppies, as the sun set over the mountains of Western Montana. I wouldn’t give that up for a thousand Game Boys.
Go minimalist, I say, and let travel transform you. Because isn’t that the point?
More Baby Proof, right this way, including lots more from Cait.
Here’s the great news: you don’t have to have embraced every tenet of minimalist living to decide to pack lightly while traveling. But if you do decide to pack lightly, you’ll likely end up with less hassle, less mess, and more fun. My sister Cait’s working on a little guest post about traveling lightly with a toddler, but in the meantime I thought it’d be nice to share a few of the bag options that we looked into when we decided to upgrade our luggage recently.
We’re hoping to do a bit of traveling this summer and with our upcoming trip to LA, we’ve been brainstorming an upgrade to the multiple duffel dance we’ve been doing for the past two years. I love those little duffels, but we’ve found we needed something a little bit more strategic, a little leaner, and a little easier to carry when traveling (especially when traveling with a kiddo).
I delved a bit into the world of travel gear blogs (Lord, almighty) to get some ideas for what’s best for lean travel. A warning: none of these options are the world’s sleekest. You’re not going to win awards for being the most fashionable traveler. Your bag might clash with your general sartorial vibe. But it will be durable and hardworking and sensible. (For readers who like their blog posts with a side of Anne of Green Gables references: Marilla would approve.)
Here’s what I was looking for:
+ Backpack straps: I recently decided to part with the enormous, bulky, Cheryl-Strayed-in-Wild-style trekking pack that I used for most of my twenties. The thing was a nightmare to pack neatly, too big to carry onto flights, and bulky to store with all of those flapping straps and clips. Most importantly, when it was full, I couldn’t really carry it. But! Backpacks are practical and a hard-cased, rolling suitcase is a non-option for tiny apartments and walking with a toddler (trust me on that last bit). Even more specific: I wanted to find an option with backpack straps that could be tucked away for travel (and storage).
+ Modest Size: You’ll fill the bag you have. You just will. So if you keep the bag itself a modest size and commit to only filling that bag, you’ll never overpack. Bonus: Smaller bags that fit carry-on limits mean never needing to worry about checking bags, which I avoid like the plague.
+ Easy Access: Nothing gets me flustered faster than trying to find something in a bottomless pit of a bag (just ask James!). I have almost literally no patience for rifling. I wanted a bag with a full zipper that allows the bag to open suitcase-style so I can gaze admiringly at my packing job and find that special pair of underwear I’m after in no time flat.
+ Compartments: The more the merrier. I like to keep my own things separate, separate, but if I’m also sharing my space with James and Faye, I want things to be even more compartmentalized.
Here’s what I liked best:
+ The Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 was a really tempting option. Naomi Davis did a nice post about her family’s longtime use of them and I was tempted by these no-nonsense, multiple compartment bags. There’s not a place nearby to go check them out in person, so I don’t have firsthand experience, but they come highly recommended and come with a lifetime guarantee. They have the easy access, carry-on size, and tuck-away backpack straps. They don’t have the full suitcase-style zipper that I really wanted.
+ The Patagonia MLC Headway just got a little bit of an overhaul, taking it out of dorky business traveler realm and planting it firmly into savvy traveling parent realm, with a little bit of vintage styling to boot. (It’s the bag we’ve decided on for now, so you know…just being very impartial here). It checks nearly everything on my list: compact, hide-able backpack straps, easy access, lots of compartments, lifetime guarantee. I’m even shocking myself and loving the brown and red bag pictured here. (#YOLO)
+ The L.L. Bean Quickload Travel Pack is the most Rick Steves-y of these packs. It’s the pack your dad might recommend (or mine), but before you scoff, it looks pretty awesome: there are lots of compartments, padded backpack straps that tuck away, wardrobe-style zipping, the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s currently backordered.
+ The Tortuga Travel Backpack was designed to include everything that I was hoping to find in one bag. It also has a few features the others lack: A waistband and super accessible side-pockets. It’s a little bulkier than when I wanted for myself, but a nice option for folks who plan to do a lot of walking with a heavy pack.
+The Osprey Porter 45 has a kind of cult following (along with just about every other Osprey bag). It’s a little bit less like a suitcase than I was hoping for personally, but it’s modestly sized enough to fit the bill for carry-on and minimalist packing.
And you? If you have a favorite pack to add to the list, please share!
I should start by saying that the zero in this post title is a little misleading. Less waste is probably more accurate but in the spirit of aspiration, I’ll stick with zero. I thought it might be nice to give a little progress report. Here are a few things that we’ve improved on and a few things that have tested my comfort level.
Our red pepper flakes were getting dangerously low. There were four black peppercorns left in the pepper grinder. Every time I had a craving for tacos or chili, I’d gnash my teeth and think about the empty jar of cumin. We risked bland food blues and I wanted to find a place closer to home to refill our spices. I went to our neighborhood spice shop on a quiet morning and strengthened my resolve to ask if I could get special treatment and the chance to have them fill my empty jars. The answer: Nope. Try, try again. The good news? Across the street there’s another little shop. The one with the cat in the window and the buckets of fermented foods and olives left on the floor. The shelves are stacked high with boxes that look they come from another decade in another century. The entire experience is like taking a step back in time. In the back of the shop, squeezed into a narrow space hardly big enough for me to fit in, there are jars of spices. Frisbees serve as the lids. I plunged a metal scoop into the jar of cumin. It was pungent enough to be encouraging. There were no red pepper flakes in the shop, but there were dried chilis and a young shop worker willing to grind them for me. “They’ll be more finely ground than you’re used to,” he warned. “I’ll grind them. If you want them, you take them.” I took them. And a scoop of fresh Aleppo pepper for good measure.
Tip: Bring same-sized jars for filling, then the folks behind the counter only have to weigh the container once to get the tare weight. Plus: a few thoughts on spice storage, right this way.
We eat a fair amount of tofu in our house and I’ve been feeling guilty about the plastic film that covers it. I stopped into a nearby green grocer recently and noticed a bin of fresh tofu they sell in little take-home plastic containers. “Can I buy it without the container?” “Yes,” says the woman behind the counter. “People come from all over for that tofu.” Sold.
Tip: When we get home we cover the tofu with fresh water to keep it fresh longer. But you can also freeze it!
We’re pretty regular bread eaters around our house—and we’re pretty picky about the bread we eat. In the zero waste game this is helpful because it cuts out most breads of the standard sliced-and-plastic-bagged variety. Still, before making a concerted effort, we’d get a loaf of bagged sourdough from the local grocery store on a fairly regular basis. We’ve since stopped (cold turkey), choosing instead a fresh baked loaf from our own oven or a slightly longer walk but a terrific loaf from a nearby bakery.
Tip: We keep the bread fresh by storing it cut side down and covered in a dish towel. I just invested in this bento bag to make for a slightly neater countertop storage solution.
I just made my very first batch, a small one to prevent too much milk waste if my skills needed improving. My analysis? Pretty dang good. More soonish.
Tip: I’m a yogurt-making newbie. So I’ll crowd-source the tips the for this one. Anyone had terrific luck?
Room for improvement:
Milk: Faye is a real guzzler these days. And so am I. Add in making our own yogurt (and pudding, ahem) and there’s a lot milk consumption going on in our house. Here’s the problem: the milk in the glass bottle at our grocery store costs exactly twice as much as the milk in the plastic jug. I swallow a lot of higher prices in the name of helping the environment—and maybe I should just get over this too—but I admit that I balk at the price. (For more milk bottling consternation, head here.)
Thoughts going forward:
There’s been a little bit of goose chasing and a little bit of serendipity in our quest for less waste. I went to three different neighborhood shops before I could find one that would let me fill my own bulk spice containers. It took me stopping into a different grocery store to realize they had a crate of unpackaged tofu for buying in bulk and then it took me returning later with my own container to bring it home. (It’s a little like an obstacle course—pretty fun if you embrace it with the right attitude.) Admittedly, in both of these cases, I had to get over my skepticism about cleanliness. In this country we’re used to fairly antiseptic food shopping. Regardless of what actually happens between kitchen or field or processing plant and shelf, neat packages and bright lights and plenty of plastic wrapped foods have us thinking that our foods are untainted. And food safety isn’t something that I want to mess with. One of my sisters once become seriously ill after eating tainted tempeh. And yet. You can’t be scared all the time. And so: Onward!
What about all of you? Any progress to report?
My sister once told me to make sure I smile during interviews, even if theyre not on camera. You can hear a smile in a voice, she said, even if you cant see it. And you know, I think the same is true of writing.
I had a different draft of this post written before the weekend. And when I reread it, instead of hearing a smile, I could hear a frown. The sense of exhaustion was palpable. Whatever battle with inertia or gloom or being hungry at 4:00 pm that I was facing when I wrote it, you couldread about it between the lines.
And as much as those feelings were true in that moment, I decided to tackle the post again. This time, with a smile.
Fayes asleep. A new weeks not yet begun.Im wearing raw honey smeared on my face which makes me look part shiny superhero and part gooey monster. The apartments about a million degrees because were on a Sunday night sourdough pizza kick and our steam radiator is still working overtime, bless her little heart. Ive got a list of things to do tomorrow thats about a mile long, and thank goodness. Nothing beats inertia like a good sprint in the opposite direction.
My point is:I got this. You do too.
Lets forge aheadthis week andtackle things one at a time. Lets distinguish sense from nonsense. Lets remember that even if were having a shit week, were not shit. Thats as simple as I can say it.
Sorry for swearing. Twice.PS.First installedon a wall in Zurich in 1991, this mural from artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss is currently being exhibited on the corner of Houston and Mott Streets in Manhattan. Its a nice to thing to stumble upon and an even nicer thing to return to. To learn more about the work, visit the Public Art Fund.
Many factors go into determining which hardwood floor to choose for a new project, including the species, board size, and type of finish. But another factor should be the wood grade. If you’re […]
The post What Are Wood Grades, and How Are They Determined? appeared first on City Floor Supply Blog.
Regarding the title: I had to. I’m sorry.
This is only partially make believe. (Thank god!) I’m headed to Southern California in a few weeks, and if I sound like I’m being very casual about it, trust, I am not.
I’m hoping the trip will include some much-needed sunshine, a little celebrating of Simple Matters, West-Coast style, and some pure desert magic. Mostly, I’m bonkers excited. Gawking at LA instagrams has become like a second, not-at-all lucrative job for me. I’m fully expecting to be cloaked in sunshine and bumping into palm trees left and right! I can practically taste the tacos! Faye-girl’s gonna get some time outside of a puffer coat! James is gonna make us all move to the beach! I’m gonna be high on serotonin! I can’t wait.
(DO NOT BURST MY BUBBLE)
Here are a few things for sporting on an imaginary afternoon in LA:
These sunglasses, because with a name like that, how could I not?
This jumpsuit, because it’s sleeveless and gauzy.
This scarf for a little color.
These huaraches, because…sandals.
This market bag for treasure hunting and other things.
As in my period. Of all the questions I get via email, the ones about my period are the ones that surprise me most. Not that they should. Most of the people who read this blog are women of menstruating age. Those are just the facts. For better or for worse, here’s my approach to managing my period in a way that feels good for the planet, and mostly, good for me.
When I entered middle school, my mom sent me off to school with a zipped cloth pouch full of period supplies for just in case. Unbeknowst to me, it would be years before this late-bloomer could put any of it to use, but I kept the pouch on the top shelf of my locker for years anyway. It was filled with panty liners and disposable pads, a plastic bag, and a clean pair of underwear. I also seem to remember an illicit dose of ibuprofen and quarters for calling my mom from the payphone.
Luckily for me, on the day my period first arrived, I was at home. My older sister, Cait, heroically tried to save me from the tyranny of the inch-thick disposable pad by sitting with me and a mirror on my bedroom floor, teaching me how to use a tampon. An hour later, when my cramps began to kick in, I figured the pain in my abdomen was a sign of Toxic Shock Syndrome and that I would soon perish. I swore off tampon use for the next year.
Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about managing my period.
Here are a few ideas for approaching feminine hygiene with a nod toward the environment.
I admit that I haven’t embraced going totally tampon-free, but I have committed to using applicator-free tampons. At the risk of getting graphic: It’s really not that hard to push a tampon a bit deeper in there, you know? (On the other hand: dealing with the cleaning et cetera of a product like a Diva Cup or Luna Cup while working out of the house feels like a little bit harder.) When I buy tampons, I look for organic brands that use 100% cotton instead of the chemical-filled cotton/rayon blend that traditional tampons often include. I’ve most easily been able to find NatraCare in local pharmacies, but Honest Company, Seventh Generation, and Organyc are other available options. (I’m waiting on Lola to introduce an applicator-free option to their product line. Fingers crossed!) Best part about applicator-free tampons? They take up 1/3 of the space in the cabinet!
I’m a new convert (and huge fan) of the period underwear companies that have been cropping up lately, like Thinx and Dear Kate. When I first mentioned them on this site, I received a few quips from folks who said that their version of period underwear were black cotton ones that had gone slightly raggedy. I get it. At first pass, it might sound like another company trying to sell women something to fix a problem that doesn’t need fixing. But in the case of these, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m an honest-to-goodness devotee. Since giving birth, my period flow has become a little more unpredictable than it was before. Where I’d never needed them before, I suddenly began to feel like I needed panty liners, just in case. And then–TMI, alert–I started soaking those too. I felt like a pubescent teenager, unsure of how to handle my new “friend,” which you’ll agree is the very worst euphemism for your period there is. Enter the period underwear. They never leak and they never make me feel like I’m sitting in my own blood. In fact, they’re entirely cute. (I bought this pair for starters. And then bought three more of these.) I wear them without a tampon at the beginning and end of my period and with one in the middle. They’ve hugely cut back on my tampon use and virtually eliminated accidental leaks. In serious love.
I’m not above taking a pill to help alleviate pain associated with menstrual cramping, but I also rely on two basic methods to manage my pain.
The heating pad: I have a rice-filled pad that was a godsend during the last months of my pregnancy and my biggest comfort when I have my period. (Hint: as long as it doesn’t have a metal zipper, you can fill any cotton bag with rice and microwave it to make your own. Thick, arborio rice (or a similar chubby rice) works best, I’ve found. If you don’t have a microwave, and if you’re prudent, you can put the bag on a pie plate and put it in a warm (and carefully watched) oven.
Walking: I used to be convinced the only way to feeling better when I was suffering from bad cramps was to fall asleep with a heating pad. But while I still swear by a heating pad, I usually use it while sitting upright working. Instead of putting myself to bed when I have cramps, I make myself get up. A walk–even a short one–does more to help me feel better than just about anything else.
What about you guys? Tried and true tips? Strong opinions? Disposable-free eco-champs out there?
The chief problem with a cold snap is needing to leave the house in search of chocolate should the ration be dwindling. We were stuck with unsweetened baking chocolate and little else this weekend. I had nearly resigned myself to crawling under the covers to moan and whimper when I remembered pudding and the neglected jar of corn starch in the back of my cabinet that I could use to make it.
I’m a fan of recipes with ingredient quantities that come in a neat row of even numbers. Rote memorization of simple desserts is a necessary skill life, if you ask me, and when you’re not dealing with too many eighths or quarters or combinations of the two, all the easier the skill is to master.
No dessert in the house? How about an easy chocolate pudding? Two tablespoons of cocoa, two tablespoons of corn starch, 2 tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, two cups of milk, four ounces of unsweetened chocolate, and two teaspoons of vanilla extract (or if you’re me: a very hearty glug, gone unmeasured). It’s easy enough to have memorized nearly as soon as you’ve made it once.
The only (mildly) time consuming part of making chocolate pudding is the stove-top mixing–something you have to do in the pudding from a box, too, mind you. So the bonus here is quality ingredients that you likely already have in the house, without any of the dyes, preservatives, or artificial flavors that hide out in the square little box.
Adapted from Edible Rhody.
Yields about 2 cups of pudding.
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (if you’re using bittersweet chocolate, I’d recommend slightly less, depending on your sweet tooth)
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 generous pinch salt
2 cups whole milk
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (or any kind you’d like, bearing in mind sweetness)
2 teaspoons (or one very hearty pour) vanilla extract (less if you don’t share my enthusiasm for vanilla extract)
treats enough for topping
Into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, mix together sugar, corn starch, cocoa powder and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking all the while. Whisk the mixture for two full minutes as the chocolate thickens. Ponder the strength of your forearms as you work. Remove from the heat and stir in chopped chocolate and vanilla extract (the chocolate should be chopped finely enough to melt easily into the mixture.) Pour the pudding into a large bowl (or several smaller ones) to set. (I used four of the smallest 3.1-ounce Duralex Picardie tumblers that we have and had just the right amount to leave room for toppings.) Chill in the refrigerator for two hours and top with a smattering of chopped nuts, granola, fruit, whipped cream, or any other decadent topping that suits your fancy. I used chopped roasted hazelnuts here
Note: We don’t buy plastic wrap in our house, but like most pudding recipes, the original suggests using plastic wrap to form a tight seal on the surface of the pudding to prevent a form from forming. I say, embrace the skin and cover any imperfections with your toppings.What about you? Easy desserts up your sleeves worth sharing?