Simplify: Five tips for a joyful, simple spring celebration

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Remember in Little House on the Prairie when Laura and Mary opened their stockings on Christmas morning?

They got a single peppermint and a pair of red mittens.

AND THEY WERE OVER THE MOON WITH JOY.

The first time I read that all that I could think was, “If my kids got a peppermint and red mittens for Christmas they would be crushed.”

Yet the further along in my parenting journey I travel, the more I realize how little it takes to bring joy and magic into my children’s lives. No, I’m not talking about single peppermint simplicity, but still reigning it in considerably from what is normal in our society.

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When my children were small I made and gave much more than I do today.

But I noticed along the way that few things hold meaning for long, and the less “stuff” I gave them more they appreciated, treasured, and loved what they had. 

So for the past several years we’ve kept our Spring baskets (along with all other celebrations) very simple.

And indeed, my kids have enjoyed our holidays more – not less – than they did before.

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What follows are a few ideas I think you will enjoy if you’re on a path toward more simplicity as well, yet worry that a simple celebration might fall flat with your children. (A few regular links follow, and couple of those are afflinks. That said, I always encourage you to shop locally whenever possible to support your local economy! Our communities depend upon it.)

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FIVE TIPS FOR A SIMPLE, JOYFUL SPRING CELEBRATION

1. LESS IS MORE

You don’t have to go overboard to have a wonderful holiday! Excess is overwhelming to children and adults alike. Cut back a little (or cut back a lot!) and see how it goes.

The photo below was from the first year I simplified spring baskets. The two of them received the items pictured above plus a few treats like dried fruit and organic jelly beans (so half of what is shown this per child).

Since then I’ve cut back even more. But the first year we simplified a candle, a crystal, a packet of seeds, and a small homemade toy was downright thrilling for my children.

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You’ll be surprised at how little it takes to bring joy.

2. CHOOSE CONSUMABLES

Consumables are anything that will be used up in a reasonable amount of time, leaving little or no clutter or waste behind. Some of our favorites include:

  • packets of herbal tea
  • healthy gum or mints (this option offers plastic-free packaging)
  • seed packets for the garden
  • lip balm
  • something for bath-time
  • colored pencils (we love these)
  • a candle

3. HEALTHY TREATS ARE JUST AS FUN!

Your baskets need not be stuffed with food coloring and corn syrup! Having a child with food sensitivities helped us find some great alternatives that benefit us all. Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Organic gummy bunnies or jelly beans (we buy them at our coop but more mainstream stores carry some, too, like Annie’s brand).
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • homemade date balls or purchased Lara Bars
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Single serving coconut water or almond milk
  • Lemon poppyseed paleo cookies

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4. GIVE EXPERIENCES

And if something non-consumable feels like a must, how about giving a thing that is really an experience in disguise?

  • A notebook or journal and pencil or pen
  • Herbal Adventures Book (our children’s herbal book, written just for kids and their families)
  • Quality garden tools or supplies – trowel, pots, and gloves
  • A wooden tree swing (we received this one from the maker nearly a decade ago and it’s still our #1 outdoor play thing!)
  • Bird feeder and birdseed and a field guide to local birds
  • Simple, seasonal toy with a long useful life (think wooden boat, kite, sidewalk chalk)
  • Craft supplies (fabric, embroidery floss and hoop; sketchbook and paints or pencils, etc.)
  • Nature exploration kit (compass, bug boxmagnifying glass, water bottle)
  • Silk dying supplies (white silks and a few packets of Kool-Aid) I share a how-to here.

5. ADD A NEW TRADITION

If you are worried that less getting might equal less joy, add a new tradition to your spring celebration.

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I described our spring traditions in this post years ago, and share with you our egg hunt custom and our beloved Wish Bunny (shown below). Find a tradition that fits your family’s beliefs, personalities, and likes. Perhaps you’ll add a special kitchen or craft project, a fancy meal, or an outdoor adventure with friends.

Less really is more when it comes to celebrations. Cut back slowly, and then enjoy as you watch simple magic unfold for your family.

More thoughts on simplifying with kids are found through the links below:

The toys are gone

What I need

10 simple ways to rock your parenting

101 toy-free gift ideas

 

What’s your favorite, simple holiday tradition?

 

Love,

Rachel

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Herbal Adventures is here

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A very special packaged arrived at the house this week.

An advance copy of my new family herbal book, Herbal Adventures!

With my daughter by my side, literally jumping up and down while I opened the envelope, we savored our first peek.

And it was every bit as thrilling as I thought it would be.

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My daughter and I curled up together on the couch, and slowly flipped through all 170-plus pages, drinking in the experience of holding our copy for the first time.

Our book! At last.

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For those of you who were waiting to pick up your own copy (or copies for gifts this holiday season), there is a wild and crazy sale running right now on Amazon. The book is just $15, but I’m not sure for how much longer. (If you pre-ordered already, don’t despair! Your price will drop to this one as well.)

You can find that deal right here.

If you’d prefer to pre-order your copy from your local bookshop (yay, you!) you can find one who carries it here by clicking on the red “I” icon next to US, or the appropriate link for your country if you’re not in the States.

Wishing you each Herbal Adventures of the most delightful sort.

10 favorite family read aloud books (ages 10 and up)

Though my kids are 10 and 16, we still read books aloud together each week. It’s a moment that I treasure as we start our homeschool day, or while they work on washing the lunch dishes, or before everyone heads off to their own books and beds.

Often it’s just my 10 year old and me, but the books that follow captivated my teen as well and we savored them–together.

As summer turns toward autumn, I wanted to encourage you to begin (or continue!) your own family read-aloud tradition by sharing a list of our favorite read-aloud books with you.

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Since one of my children has been sensitive to violent or suspenseful content, I shared
themes you may want to be aware of in the text that follows for families with a tenderheart of their own, or simply for your own awareness. For our family, these themes open doors for meaningful conversations and now that everyone is ready to handle them we don’t shy away.

Many of these books are laced with magic as well. While we love this, I understand it’s not a match for every family’s beliefs and values, so I mention it.

Check your library for these captivating titles, buy them at your local bookstore, or use the afflinked pictures and titles that follow! However you do it, make a habit of reading together as a family. I am certain it’s a choice you won’t regret.

Happy reading, friends.

Our 10 favorite family read aloud books

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

We read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon a few autumns ago and I remember it being the first children’s book that I truly fell in love with as an adult. The day we cracked it open we spread a blanket on the grass and read all day long, carrying our lunches out to the blanket and reading straight through until dinnertime.

It’s that captivating, for adults and children alike, and the subsequent books in the series (Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver) are as good as the first.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, kidnapping.

 Wildwood Chronciles

We picked up Wildwood on a whim at the library last winter and were hooked from the start (all of us)! We followed up with the sequels without even a pause, and enjoyed the three books so much we’re planning to start the series again soon. We love Wildwood. The characters, the child-heroes, the animals, the magic, everything.

There are some intense parts (especially  in the latter two books), however, so I was glad I waited until my youngest was ready.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, death.

The Girl who Drank the Moon

 

The night we started this book we thought it might be too much. It begins with a local legend of a witch who lives in the forest and eats children, and is well told (read: scary).

I stopped reading and checked in with my plot-sensitive kid. She wasn’t so sure. So we read the book flap and she decided she was ready to dig in. And how glad we all were! A beautiful book laced with deep magic. If your family isn’t plot sensitive, don’t read the book flap, though. There are major spoilers found there.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, death, bigotry.

The Inquisitor’s Tale

We fell in love with the main characters in this book from the very start. The girl, the boys, the dog… There is a copious amount blood and other unapologetic violence here, but it’s handled quite well. Themes of racism, sexism, and religious persecution make for excellent conversations after the book has been put away. A family favorite to be sure.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, death, racism, sexism, spiritual persecution.

The Goblin’s Puzzle

Our current read-aloud, I am as captivated as my 11 and 16 year olds. Some intense themes, but a wonderful read full of strong girls (and boys!) that save the day.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, death, slavery.

The Penderwicks

Books 1 through 3 are on our very short list of favorite books. (Book 4 takes place much later in the girl’s lives, so it was harder to get into but still an enjoyable read.) Though we read these books years ago, the characters are still discussed often in our home, almost like old friends. There is discussion of cancer and the loss of a parent.

Edited to add: a friend just emailed me to say that there is a 5th Penderwicks book that just came out this spring! Looks like our next read-aloud is scheduled!

Themes: cancer, death.

My Side of the Mountain

A friend picked up a copy of My Side of the Mountain at a thrift store for Sage when he was 8 or 9. We’re read it together several times since then, reveling in the story of a boy’s solitary life in the wilds. An inspiring and captivating tale that will make you want to run off to the hills.

Themes to be aware of: runaway.

The Harry Potter Series

I would be remiss to not mention everyone’s classic family read-aloud, the Harry Potter books. We have gotten as far as book 4 (when things start to get even more intense than in earlier books), and we’re taking a break now. My eldest has read them all, but book four and up are better suited for older or less sensitive kids (okay, and adults).

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence, death.

Chronicles of Narnia 

I would be remiss in not mentioning Narnia! Most of us read these as kids ourselves, and they’re every bit as captivating as adults, sharing them with our children. Reading the whole series (rather than just the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) puts Narnia into a greater context.

Themes to be aware of: magic, violence.

The Little House on the Prairie series

Another classic read-aloud series, Little House requires a mention as well. One of my own favorites from childhood, the books are still as captivating as they were back then.

Published in the 1930’s and 40’s, there is unapologetic racism peppered throughout these books that sparked meaningful conversations in our home about the time at which they were written and what life in colonized America might have been like for both First Nations peoples and white immigrants. Don’t miss the opportunity to discuss racism when reading this series.

Themes to be aware of: racism.

And what do you say we add an 11th: my own book, due out this fall!

Herbal Adventures

While a how-to book like Herbal Adventures might not be the first to come to mind as a read-aloud, I’ve written it to be just that! Each plant chapter begins with a first-person plant introduction, and each of these backyard herbs comes to life in their own words.

And since it was designed for parents and kids to explore together, the recipes, crafts, and projects included are the perfect transition from reading time into hands-on learning time–together.

 

What’s your family’s favorite read aloud? Share it in the comments below! 

Family read-aloud book list. Our favorite chapter books for ages 10 and up. #readaloud #familybooklist #chapterbooks

Easy, GIANT backyard bubbles

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Yesterday I found myself inexplicably edgy. Grumpy, jumpy, terse, and sour.

So I did what any reasonable person would do in this state.

I mixed up a batch of gigantic bubble juice, made some bubble wands with my kids, and got over myself.

I laughed. I played. I watched my kids laugh and play.

In short, I got a much needed attitude adjustment. Because with six to eight foot bubbles floating across my yard – well, I couldn’t stay crabby even if I wanted to.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

And it didn’t cost us a penny. Our supplies list was scavenged up between our basement and our workshop, our kitchen and our brush pile.

Insane, super-sized bubble fun.

And a cure for crabbiness no less.

We ended up making a dozen of the wands in the afternoon to take to our homeschooling potluck. And they were a hit! By the end of the night a full gallon of bubble juice was gone and I think everyone had as much fun as we did making bubbles.

I suggest you stop whatever you had planned for today and do this instead.

Especially if you’re grouchy. 

Here’s how.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

MAKE YOUR WAND

All you need are two sticks (any size), two screw eyes (any size), a washer or other smooth weight (any size), and some yarn (any kind). See how flexible this is?

You could replace the sticks with purchased dowels but I ask: why uses dowels when you have sticks? Because sticks are free. And they grow in your yard. (Or your neighbors yard…)

Cut two branches, trimming off any side branches or pokie bits. Shoot for around 12″ to 24″.

In one end of each branch attach a screw eye. (I pre-drilled my holes with a small drill bit to make this easier.)

Cut a length of kitchen twine or yarn (mine was cotton) approximately 6′ long and thread through your sticks and your washer. Tie with an overhand knot anywhere you like.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

MAKE SOME BUBBLES!

First, make your bubble juice.

I used this recipe. It was fantastic. My favorite recipe yet.

You can also use my more basic recipe if you don’t have some of her ingredients, like corn starch or glycerin.

(A note about dish soap: I have tried making bubbles with more natural dish soap to no avail. These babies are Dawn, all the way. We don’t use it on our dishes, but for bubbles we keep it on hand.)

Second, dip your string.

Hold the screw-eye and yarn ends of your two sticks together.

Completely submerge the yarn in the bubble juice. (The first dip is the fussiest.)

Lift the wand slowly from the juice, then separate the sticks to open the yarn loop.

Walk slowly backward into the wind and watch your bubbles soar!

You can encourage smaller, (thought still huge!) bubbles to break off and fly free by bringing the yarn loop back together to snip off a bubble here and there.

The bubble below floated clear over our house and was bigger than the biggest watermelon.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Note: if your bubble juice gets frothy on the top from use give it a few minutes to settle down. It works best without foam. Also, one wand in the juice at a time unless you want to spend your time untangling bubble wand strings.

And if you or your kids love to learn about how things work, check out this explanation of bubbles. It was fascinating to my kids.

Enjoy!

P.S. For younger kids the handmade bubble wand tutorial I wrote here is the best. So beautiful and fun.

 

Originally published on CLEAN in 2013.

Easy, GIANT backyard bubbles. A simple DIY! #summer #natural #parenting