a gift for a friend who has lost a loved one by Lauren DeMarco

Life and death and God and the moon and gravity are so abstract and complicated. No one has the answers, which is comforting, but also terrifying. I am still trying to figure out faith and spirit for myself but for now, the closest word I can come up with to describe how I see God is: “force”. Like light or energy or sound or gravity I feel this comfort that he/she/it is with me even though I don’t understand he/she/it, at all.

My friend just lost her mother, she had been sick for some time. I was hit really hard by the news of her passing because this friend had shared with me, over the last year or so, some of the struggles she was facing with her mother being sick. Death of a friend’s loved one can be a hard thing. I have listened to people’s lived experiences and have read that people feel isolated when they are going through a hard time like this because people in pain make other people uncomfortable. I am going to try to face her pain head on so she can feel the love! I wanted to give this friend a gift from the heart and I thought of two ideas.

Because of the abstract nature of death, and the miraculous nature of life I felt like I wanted to get something sensory that was small but captured something big. I narrowed it down to a prism which she could sit on the window sill at home. It is beautiful on it’s own but when the light hits it and refracts to make a rainbow it’s so magical. The hope is that she would be able to see the essence of someone so beautiful to her in the rainbow. I also considered a small chime that she could hang; a force as great as the wind and the unique sound are taken for granted but are so majestic when you connect them to this spiritual metaphor.

I decided to go with this prism for her. I plan on explaining my intention behind it, am expecting a nice cry, hug, and a moment of connection/love

an unedited brain dump--some thoughts on discipline and screen time by Lauren DeMarco

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I have been thinking about how "discipline", "punishments", "consequences", and "hierarchy" are all words or concepts that get tossed around when the topic of parenting comes up; I want to have more conversations about "connection", "learning together", "presence", "natural consequences to specific behaviors", and "growth" with other mothers/parents.

I don't believe in taking items/screen time away because I believe it puts those items or screens on a pedestal. I don't believe in time outs because I don't want to push her away when she is expressing her needs and put her in a corner. I don't believe in hitting because I want to be a model for my kids; if I hit them, they will think it's okay to put their hands on other people.

I am having trouble finding other women to talk to about these things. I would love to brainstorm ideas and share stories and connect with other moms during this season of my life but when I bring up these topics at play dates I feel the vibe that I "care too much", like I am thinking too much into things, like I am "extra". But is wanting to build a healthy, trusting relationship with my kids and helping them become the best and most authentic version of themselves not only the most important job I will ever have? I try really hard and care a lot.

I would like to talk about perspective with regards to my daughter's emotions, she can be very hyperbolic with her language and I want to help to better differentiate a big emotion from a smaller one so her reaction/behavior can be more appropriate. The word "drama" comes to mind. She can be so exaggerated with her language and it makes it hard to take her seriously. I know she is feeling things but I can also read her and see that she is putting on a little show at times. Its like she needs more attention but she is getting so much attention all of the time, I am not sure how much more she could possibly get. I have been thinking maybe hunger could play into some of her behaviors.

The word "tired" also comes to mind. I wonder if I need to start getting her ready for bed a little earlier. I do think she needs some winding down time after a long day so a little bit of screen time can be relaxing but I am not okay with her crying/throwing a tantrum when its time to turn the device off. I wouldn't want someone to turn a show off when I am in the middle of watching something so I let her finish but I have been thinking about putting a post-it on the Ipad or TV with the date and time on it if she cries/throws a tantrum when I tell her that time is up. She would be banned from the TV or screen for 10 hours.

How I would go about this:

I think I could say to her when its time to shut it off "i know you would like to keep watching TV because it can feel relaxing but too much screen time makes us forget all of our cool ideas. What else could you/we do now?" and if she starts to throw a fit I could say "screens can make us want more and more...mommy has to help you learn how much screen time is enough screen time, I am trying to help you learn. When you behave this way it is upsetting to me because I am trying to help you". If she continues the fit I would say "This activity is to help us relax not to get us upset. I think we may need to put a post it on this screen because we to be reminded that we need a break from it, do we need to put a post it on there?" and when she responds with an angry "NO!" I would ask again, "what else could you/we do right now instead?". At this point, if she keeps it going I would be quiet, let her finish her rage without giving her anymore attention over it. I would stay with her in case she wants to hug it out or apologize.

Once she comes down from a higher level to a moderate-low level I will talk to her and let her know that this time was her warning. I would remind her that she "gets some screen time almost every day and that fits hurt my feelings because we are in this together and I am trying to help her". Any future fits over turning the screen off would result in a post-it with the time and date on it. Knowing my daughter, it should only take a post-it or two to help her quit this behavior. Consistency and teamwork between my husband and I would be the trick with this, she knows he is a sucker (he would admit it) and we can both get lazy at times (I admit that, insert excuse here: after work all day I am tired myself).

Bottom line, its not okay when she acts like that and I really do believe this is one way to help her learn about boundaries so she can set them for herself in the future.

Another reminder: we have to model moderation for them as well. Monkey see, monkey do.

I have soooo many thoughts/ideas on this topic, I could go on and on…

Would love to hear your thoughts…

Getting a grip on my finances: my plan by Lauren DeMarco

I have said over and over “I hate money stuff” and this statement has been holding me back. I am finally feeling like the pain of this problem is worse than my fear of changing it so I am buckling down and tackling this beast!

Unlike the uphill battle of cleaning (because it’s just going to get back dirty again) and dieting (which I have totally given up because it’s the biggest cultural scam of life), money stuff can be handled once and for all! (YAY!) I know maintenance will follow this acute, aggressive effort to get into the driver seat of my financial situation but I am good at “obsessing” over something for a while and then once the obsession wears off, keeping a few, firm habits. My plan is to obsess over getting it all sorted out, being very strict with it, so that when the “high” wears off, I am left with a better understanding of situation and spending/saving habits.

Obviously everyone does these things differently but I like to read other people’s detailed plans to see what I can pull from them for myself. So that’s what I am going to do here, write out my plan. Keep in mind, I don’t know what I am doing exactly or how it will turn out but I invite you into the trenches with me as I try to figure it out…

Some context: I am married, been married 7 plus years. We had separate money before we got married and since we both hate dealing with money we just kept paying for stuff individually for a while, would communicate sometimes, not enough, and try to understand what the other was doing. Recently we had a discussion about joint expenses, personal budgets (for things like art supplies for me or sporty equiptment for him, not stuff we need but stuff we want), gifts, childcare, food, whatever. We came up with a plan of what bills I would pay for from my direct deposit and what bills he would pay for from his. Goal: neither of us is overspending on crap while the other is pinching pennies. He has some school loans to contribute to but we also have to think about who is the primary health insurance holder, random things like that…

Some more context: My parents and mother-in-law help us with child care and treat the children to various things that they want them to have like certain quality clothing items and special gifts. My parents paid for my college, I didn’t make a bank-breaking choice which helped but they also gave us a beautiful wedding. We are super, super grateful and recognize this privilege.

A little more context: We have made some tough choices over the last 10 years to get us to the place we are now. We pay a mortgage on our home but additionally, in order to advance our careers, and by being more ignorant than we should have been (learning as we go) we have accumulated a little (certainly not earth shattering amount but a nice chunk) of debt. We both work full time and pick up overtime as we can. We are under-buyers but do enjoy curating our home with prized possessions and treating ourselves/our kids once in a while to “wants”.

My plan

  1. I am writing out my debt number and my savings number on a monthly basis. I have a “GET TO WORKBOOK” planner and on each calendar page, at the beginning of each month, I want to update the numbers (debt and savings). Seeing the debt go down and the savings slowly accumulate over time will give me a lot of pride and motivation.

  2. I am setting a plan for how each deposit will be divided based on when my bills are due and how our life schedule is set up. For example: the first check of the month will go toward the electric bill, water bill, car insurance, and the minimum payment on each credit card. I will have X amount left over which will be divided out for weekly grocery trips, gas, our 1st Sunday family breakfast at our favorite local restaurant, and gifts (for birthday parties, etc). I have a 2nd check of the month, an overtime check, cash from one of my husband’s checks to put toward child care, and any other income I get from consigning the kids clothing or selling random artwork I make, which all get divided up intentionally as well.

  3. I will keep a daily “balance” and record an expenses on the notes in my phone (because its always with me) and update my paper planner from my phone. The only credit card I plan on using, very carefully and responsibly, is my target card because I get 5% off my purchase by using that card. I plan to only charge an amount that I can pay off within that same month.

  4. I have set specific dates on my calendar as “budget days” but also check in more frequently with my bank account to make sure I am not overspending or being reckless.

  5. I will use a pinterest board named “I want” for things I find online and would consider purchasing for our home, for myself, whatever. I want to use a third of my overtime money to buy things from this pin board so I feel like I can have things that I want sometimes. This makes me feel like I am giving to myself so I can then expect from myself when it’s time to be strict. I have my eye on a bedspread right now and I need a new bathing suit so I am on a quest for that!

I am excited to use our tax refund to make conscious, responsible choices for our family as well but since I have no idea how much money that will be I do not want to start thinking about it yet…

We have looked at every single expense and have considered how much we really value what we are paying for. For example: we have decided to cancel our cable because our daughter likes to re-watch movies and we can get her shows on DVD for free (or $1 for the week) from the library ($25 per year for membership)! I don’t watch TV much (maybe 2 hrs per week) and my husband has cut way back and has agreed that he would rather have the money. This is saving us about $100 per month, so worth it.

I have been thinking of ways to use my skills and time to save money as well… I plan on making or taking my time to find beautifully curated antique wedding presents and baby presents to go along with a smaller amount of money for a few friends this year. I feel like this adds a personal touch, cuts down on cost, and makes it more fun for me as the giver.

I am motivated to tackle this for a few reasons. 1) I want to set a good example for my kids, a top motivator for most of my behaviors. 2) The mental clarity I feel in setting this plan is very relieving. 3) I am also unsure if I want to have a 3rd baby; my husband’s number 1 concern is finances. If I/we can chip away at and improve our money stuff, we can use our feelings and desires a little more clearly to make the right choice for our family when the time comes!

Lazy Weekend Mornings by Lauren DeMarco

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I never want to forget these lazy weekend mornings. I can see us running out of the house to get to some sports game or event on the weekends in the near future, so I am enjoying the ease of this season of our lives.

I have been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not I want to have a third baby. I am a little more into the idea than my husband, at this point, but its not a “hard no” from either of us so… you never know. We’ll see what the future holds, in time, but for now, this feels good.

My thoughts on the question "should kids read silly books?" by Lauren DeMarco

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We took the kids to see a little local performance of Junie B. Jones at the library and got talking about the Junie B series, and other silly books like Captain Underpants. Should we let our kids read these things? The language is often improper and the themes a little gross at times; they are certainly not my beloved Charlotte’s Web but I loved Junie B. as a kid…

I think that kids should read whatever they are interested in. I think that if they are bright enough to read and understand the text that they will be able to recognize the errors as such. My theory is that this type of writing is a good example of poetic license and can help them learn to be more daring and creative in their own writing.

I want reading fiction to be fun for my children. I want my children to be curious and use non-fiction books as resources as they grow up. I want my children to read about other people lived experiences through their memoirs to help them become empathetic adults. All of these dreams start with fostering a love of reading!

Louis is 4 months old! by Lauren DeMarco

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We’ve made it through the first third of our first year together!

He loves it when his sissy plays rough with him, he loves when we change his clothes, and he loves getting his hands washed! His smile just melts you into a puddle.

We love you so much, Cubby and are so excited to have a front row seat while you grow up!

My ideas on guiding a little one through a challenging project by Lauren DeMarco

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Helping/guiding/mentoring my daughter through multi-step projects or projects which are a little advanced for her skill set has been a work in progress. I have thought about this a lot and try to practice what I preach. Nowhere near perfect, of course, but here are some of my ideas about this…

  1. I always consider what she is developmentally capable of; her fine motor skills, her attention span, and her ability to follow the step-by-step instructions with help/direction are my main considerations. This is important because it helps me with my own patience and expectations. I want to know her limits so I can push them, just a touch. This is how I believe I am helping her grow.

  2. I try to gauge her level of interest at different phases of the project. For example, she will be highly motivated in the beginning because I am paying her full attention and she is excited about the supplies. She will put some effort in, maybe run into a few problems, get through them, and then mentally check out after a few minutes. I tend to continue to model the skill for her as long as she wants to continue to observe me but stop if she physically gets up and walks away. I am sure to check back in on the project later with her, letting her watch if she wants or contribute. I try really hard not to abandon things completely, (again, why #1 is important) she could be developmentally only capable of spending 10 minutes on the type of task at hand but the project could take 30 minutes in total. Would just take 3 sittings instead of one; careful not to confuse expired attention capability with lack of interest.

  3. Troubleshoot out loud as you go; my theory is that this will help her learn the language of problem solving. It also normalizes and provides multiple examples of failures/missteps/mistakes. We push through them together, survive most of them, and learn when quitting is the best choice.

  4. When Chi observes something and then expresses it out loud I try very hard to pause and then come out with the most helpful response. She often observes when my technique is more neat or accurate/idyllic and will say “your’s is better”. I take a moment and say “Hmm, yes my stitches (lets say we are sewing) are more even, I have been practicing for a long time. But see how your stitches are still holding the two pieces of felt together? That means your stitches are doing their job. And they will be more neat and even the more you practice”. I believe that if I say “no, your’s are better than mine” or “no, your’s are just as neat” I am losing her trust. She can see with her own two eyes that my stitches are neater. If she doesn’t trust me she will give up sooner. She needs to keep going, witness her own progress, and talk nicely to herself while she creates to build her own confidence. Which brings me to #5.

  5. I try to model positive self talk throughout the process of making. I will say things like “Wow, my stitches are coming out nice and even like I wanted them to” or “oops, I made a mistake there. Oh well, I can fix it because I am a good problem solver.” She doesn’t find this to be strange and she can really take away some great habits for her future crafting self!

I struggle with grit and longevity as a multi-passionate adult, I enjoy trying to help my kids combat some of these challenges as they develop.

Everything the Light Touches, a metaphor by Lauren DeMarco

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You know that scene from the Lion King when Mufasa shows Simba his future kingdom? There is “everything the light touches”, but then there are those “dark shadowy places”.

I think of this scene as a metaphor, when I look back at my childhood, I don’t remember all of the small details, it’s more of a glowing joy over the whole thing, with just a few “dark shadowy places” representing what I considered harder times. I think part of my job as a parent is to do my best to make their childhood mostly glowing with the fewest “dark shadowy places” as possible.

When we got home last night from this little festival, I morphed into the i’ve-had-a-long-week-at-work troll, was selfish and irritable and impatient. I lost a few nice hours with my babies because I couldn’t fully morph back. And when it’s over I get sad and scared and mad. I don’t want these times to collect and become “dark shadowy places” that they remember. But also, I can only do my best. I can apologize to them when that happens, it’s good for them to see me as a human who makes mistakes.

We wake up, God willing, and get to try again the next day.

When you look back on your own childhood, do you think those “dark shadowy” spots came from these types of things? Am I crazy for processing things this way?

Working Mother Truth--First day back to work by Lauren DeMarco

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How is this for some truth:

I 100% need to work because raising children costs dollars. I can’t live in a safe town AND have my husband home on holidays AND shop at Target for Christmas decorations to make our home feel more magical AND have health insurance AND go to DisneyWorld once every couple years AND buy shit at the craft store to make homemade birthday gifts with my children for their friend’s birthdays if I don’t have dollars.

My children do not need a mother who is impatient with them because she is so exhausted from resisting that which she can not control and that which gives her the dollars, every weekday, for 8 hours, times eternity. Seriously.

And I earned this job. By making tough choices and real sacrifices. And now, I can barely accept, let alone embrace this role as a nurse because I am arrogant enough to think that my presence alone is enough for my children? Ego check, Lauren, just breathing air in the same room as your child because it hurts too much to be away from them is not enough. They need to be taught about sacrifice by example because it’s a part of life that we cannot hide behind these tiny squares. Every single thing in life costs something else. Every woman who stays home with their children is sacrificing something painful to do so.

As much as I want to believe it’s not my choice, I am consciously deciding to sacrifice 40 hours away to make real dollars and to secure a pension for our future because in my personal case I am privileged enough to have my own, healthy, also amazing example of a woman for children, mother to care for my kids during the day.

Accepting and embracing my “though-is-doesn’t-feel-like-much-of-a-choice” painful choice has been deep down in my psyche making me feel like I am pulling a sliding a scale away from being a quality mother but just the opposite. Accepting and embracing my choices shows my kids how to accept, embrace, & OWN their choices, no matter how others may perceive them.

I will need to come up with a little, 1 sentence mantra to remember this truth during the hours away from them, when the pain feels too sharp. I choose to give that energy them not to the pain

Reflecting on 2018, looking forward to 2019! by Lauren DeMarco

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Woohoo!! 2018 has been amazing!!! We have grown as a family, in one very literal way, and many other ways over the year!

We continue to use words like creativity, curiosity, kindness, gratitude, grace, and integrity as guiding values; we are always working on acceptance, discipline, focus, and presence but these are more challenging.

I like to take the time at the close of a year to celebrate the wins!

  • Our baby boy was successfully carried and brought into the world this year. He gave us a few scares but with the support of everyone involved, the DeMarco family is now a party of 4!

  • Luciana has made wild progress in her reading efforts, has maintained many beautiful little friendships which have serious longevity potential, and she has been practicing her favorite things: creative movement and drawing/writing. We are super proud of her and ourselves in helping her to become a smart, sensitive, and very cool little human!

  • Frank landed “the job” we have been hoping/praying on for way too many years!! Huge!

  • Many new skills, recipes, and projects were started, completed, consumed, and used!

  • Major household scale progress was made in our efforts to reduce plastic and waste! We even made sure there was no single-use plastic at Luciana’s birthday party, harder than it sounds! See more about her party here and our new habits here.

  • We had some fun adventures to D.C., Disney, Sesame Place, and beach week!

  • We had many, many playdates, built some rituals into our weeks, and made new friends; we each put a lot of effort into our relationships this year!

  • Important traditions were kept up with and new ones established.

  • We also did our share of purging, recycling, thrifting, consigning, and curating to make our home for functional and beautiful!

Coming up in 2019…

We are excited to send Luciana off to Kindergarten, celebrate love at 3 awesome weddings, have a front row seat to many “firsts” for Bear including his christening and first birthday! We plan to do a lot of reading and creating with the kids, pay off some debt we have acquired in some recent transitions of our own, and support our other family members with transitions they will be going through this year! I would love to do a round of pottery in the summer and take the kids on some local trips, maybe Hershey Park and the Crayola factory!!

Life is good!

Update: I have completed my concrete 19 for 2019 list, have set some goals to monitor monthly, wrote out a theme to focus on and have put together a work schedule. My workday schedule is specific and boring so I will keep that one to myself but here are the others!

Theme: Collect Little Moments of Joy
Focusing on recognizing and sometimes writing down little joyful moments of the day as I spot them instead of trying to balance out the day with good/bad moments, experiences, or behaviors and torturing myself about some sort of weird average. We’ll see if this “re-frame” helps me with my work on acceptance.

19 for 2019:

1. Once per month date night for 1st quarter (hoping we can stick to it for the year but the experimental first 3 months are the first step)
2. Pay off plan: 1. Save $1,500 2. Start with smallest debt and pay any extra to it. Hit goal of paying off $5000 of debt. Work on clearing all cards (a few recent transitions have caused us to build up some debt like my school nurse certificate, my husband going to electrician school, etc. but we are in a good spot now to start really clearing things up! So exciting!)
3. 4 or 6 week pottery session in August
4. Invest in some new scrubs
5. Make a few more wooden spoons
6. Try to make own wood butter
7. Make beeswax candles
8. Louis’ christening
9. Homemade wedding and baby shower presents
10. Ask to take Chi to first day of Kindergarten ( want to ask my boss if I can go into work late in order to take Chi to her first day of Kindergarten. May be the same as my first day of work but its really important to me and I want to ask for the things I want. )
11. Buy bathing suit and rash guard
12. Buy the perfect dresses for the 3 weddings
13. Stained glass class
14. Mentor a sewing machine newbie
15. Curtains for living room area
16. Peace of wood for live music
17. Hershey park and Kalahari trip
18. Tomatoes, peppers, peas, and herbs on porch
19. Front garden bed with hydrangeas

Habits:

1. Bathrooms Wednesday (things to help me do it when I don’t want to: buy new cleaning tools, say “Only takes 30 minutes, doing it makes you feel way better than not doing it, take pride in your beautiful home, what else would you be doing?”, bring baby seat in while I do it so I don’t feel like I am missing so much time with Cub, do both bathrooms at the same time, make it easy by putting the supplies in a caddy to bring to both rooms, pair with buying a new song)
2. Log off instagram after notifications and favorites in morning and evening. Plus 1.5 hr alarm
3. Veggies at every dinner (try my best)
4. First Sunday breakfast out with Frank and the kids at our favorite spot (work it into the budget)
5. Towels laundry in before grocery store and when cleaning bathrooms.
6. Play dates monthly
7. Budget check Monday mornings at work
8. Blog post weekly, use Instagram as reference
9. Choose daily highlight in morning during breakfast
10. Morning journaling in notes instead of social media

Using my GET TO WORKBOOK to keep my plans in order. I use the blank section on the bottom of the left monthly calendar page to write the habits and the bottom of the right monthly calendar page to write down a reflection at the end of the month. I will make adjustments as needed. This strategy of monitoring helps me!

Blanket Stitched Felt Alphabet by Lauren DeMarco

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Chi is learning how to read and write right now, so exciting!!!! We have come up with some fun games to help her learn her high frequency words and practice her letter sounds.

I saw another mom on instagram make felted wool letters and thought “I could do something similar with some supplies I already have/love to use.” I used sheets of felt and embroidery floss to make a full alphabet to use with Chi, and eventually, our new son, Louie (I call him “Bear”, he is soooo cute!), to help her build words!

I loved how they were coming out and wrote up a tutorial about the project but then realized Purl Soho posted a very similar tutorial for a very similar project. Since they are pro’s and since they have links to their fancy felts and everything already, I figured I would attach their tutorial HERE instead of mine…. HOWEVER, I like the hand drawn letters I made better than the sharper font they provide (just a matter of personal preference) so I will attach a FREE printable HERE, in case you like them better too! (On my template, the dotted lines on the letters represent the spaces you should leave open until the end so you can stuff them with fluff)

A few other differences between my project and Purl Soho: I used a blanket stitch where they used a whip stitch (you can google both to see videos and choose for yourself; I think the blanket stitch is prettier and more sturdy so that’s what I did). I also used DMC embroidery floss instead of thread to make for a more heirloom quality final product.

Some variations/ideas: Putting jingle bells inside would be fun (you could make just a single letter (initial) with a jingle bell inside as a rattle for a baby gift). Another fun idea would be to embroider some pretty designs on the felt before sewing the two pieces together (I think I am going to make our friend’s daughter’s name for her as a Christmas present, I plan to embroider flowers on them to match her nursery and put bells inside each one). You could also either use them for a garland, just stitch through the backs and hang!

How we will use them: Chi can build her high frequency words with them, practice word families, consonant clusters, and match them to items around the house that start with that letter.

Other: I plan on sewing a small drawstring bag with some scrap fabric to keep them in. I plan on spot cleaning them if they get dirty!

Send me some pictures if you make them or a variation! Tag me @laurenspired !!

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl by Lauren DeMarco

A breakfast idea! Sweet but also full of protein...

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I am not a food blogger but when I find/concoct something interesting and yummy, I like to share. At a local coffee shop I like to order their quinoa breakfast bowl but don't as much like paying for it. So when I have extra cooked quinoa in the fridge I make one similar at home with whatever fruit is in season and it comes out just as good!

First, just warm up about a half cup of cooked quinoa in a bowl. Top with banana and whatever fruit you like/have, I used grapes and peaches this time. Pour in a few drips of milk and some honey. Sprinkle shaved coconut, almonds, cinnamon and a pinch of salt on top! Enjoy.

Dried foraged flower art by Lauren DeMarco

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We had been waiting so so patiently for spring. Winter is the longest season in New Jersey, and though it does have it's own "ups" and though we try to enjoy the "hygge", if you will, it gets old after a while. Needless to say we were pretty desperate for spring and all that comes with it. Even these pretty little weeds were getting us excited. So we decided to celebrate them.

We didn't necessarily want to buy a fancy press for one small project so we made one with some things we already had (a bucket for foraging weeds/flowers, 2 small pieces of smooth wood, 2 sheets of watercolor paper, and 3 bricks)

We grabbed our bucket, put on some shoes, and went out to forage whatever we could find that was finally growing from the thawing ground. The Forsythias are the earliest bloomers so we snagged a branch from one of those bushes. We found some little wild violets, clover, dandelion, and some other weeds to try and press.

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We brought them into the house, cut up some watercolor paper, found 2 pieces of pine that I was using for some other project recently, and brought a few bricks up and into the house from under the back deck. We carefully placed the blooms between the paper and pine like a sandwich (pine, paper, blooms, paper, pine). We placed them on the table and laid the 3 bricks on top of the sandwich.

 

Two weeks later, we lifted the bricks, opened the sandwich and revealed the "perfectly" dried flowers!

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Once we had these pretty blooms, we decided to showcase them in an old frame we had been holding onto. We adhered our favorite flowers and stems onto white paper with a touch of Elmer's glue on the back and placed them into the frame.

The outcome is simple and pretty but also nostalgic and personal. We like how it looks in our kitchen!

You can see us in action in my story highlights on instagram under "earth day crafts".

Straw Free Letter by Lauren DeMarco

I recently learned a scary, shocking, and deeply sickening fact: Americans use 500 million straws every day! Wow. I knew it was terrible but I had no idea it was this terrible.

My family has been declining straws at restaurants for a bit now and I have been spreading the message to other people I know but I have been feeling like I can do more. I want to reach out to some local restaurants, asking them to take some initiative in this movement so I decided to streamline the process for myself and then share what I have come up with.

I have created a letter and basic table note to hand out to some local restaurants asking for their help with this movement.

It's easy to shake our heads and be disappointed in how broken the world can feel but a little education and action can really make a huge impact.

Read through the letter and if you feel inclined, I hope that you edit (fill in your name), print, and drop them off to your favorite restaurants and coffee shops, I think giving it to a manager directly and having a conversation would cause the greatest impact but again, any effort counts.

Here is the letter! (in order to edit: open the link, download as a word document, enable editing)

Feel free to email me at laurenspired@gmail.com with any questions about this!

Click here to see what other "waste less" efforts we have been taking!

Waste less update!! by Lauren DeMarco

At the end of March I wrote about an action item I would take to reduce waste, recycle plastic bags! Well, I wanted to update everyone that not only have I been doing that religiously and have gotten my household on board, but I have gotten a little obsessed (as I do) with reducing as much waste as possible!

You might say "I know all of this", I said that about a lot of this stuff, but wasn't taking as much actual action as I felt I needed to. TAKE 1 ACTION today, I wish I started sooner.

I wanted to share a few things I have done! I spent well under $100 on some helpful supplies! None of this is sponsored, just for fun and for the cause!

1. 2 average and 1 large BAGGU shopping bags to keep in my purse for target trips or whatever other kind of casual shopping! They are soooo cute and I feel great whipping them out! I like to think my single action would maybe make the person behind the counter think about their plastic intake for a sec and consider their choices as well! They have baby sizes too. I spent $34 on these 3 plus maybe $5 shipping. If you can find them locally, do that! They are running an awesome earth day sale right now too with code MOTHEREARTH!!

2. Beeswraps! These are so cool! I have been using for my snacks and cheese! I got the pack of 3 mediums! I spent nothing on these because I traded with a friend who has a store for some handmade hairbows I make. Good deal! But if you buy the set I have, they retail at $18. They also have many patterns and options! Another earth day sale with code: EARTHDAY18

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Id like to try to make my own sometime too! You can google "how to make reusable food wraps" to find many tutorials!

3. 4 oz mason jars. I got mine at target. I have been buying yogurt, applesauce, and pudding in 16 oz containers and making my own single servings for snacks and lunches. Carrots, apples, cheese cubes, etc. are great in these. Ball brand makes these in USA too! Individually packed stuff causes so much more waste and costs more. These jars are like $9 for 12 jars, you could prob find them even cheaper here or there.

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4. Mesh produce bags. $5 at target for 4 big, 1 small. I keep them in my reusable grocery bags in my car every week. I'm sorry, but these are very worth the investment. No great excuse not to use these. I have used them for apples, zucchini, broccoli, and grapes (in our store the grapes are sold in a large quantity in plastic, I took half the grapes from the bag and put them into my mesh bag last time, worked great) so far. I love showing Chi how to think outside of the box to be responsible. These are made from polyester so there is probably an even better choice but I wanted something that the grocer could see the stickers through.

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6. Paper snack bags. These have been helpful for those few times I feel I need to use something more bag-like or if you have a treat you want to share. I sent Chi to school with popcorn in one of these, folded the top, and sealed with a piece of washi tape. I took a second to write a note on it for the teacher to try to send it home in lunch so I could refill again the next day. 1 lasted all week and it was great! These are a little pricier ($3.99 for box of 48) so it makes you a little more mindful to conserve. And you can compost them when you are done!!!

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7. Linen napkin and silverware in lunches. The same one can pretty much last all week unless something particularly gross happens. I have some in my shop that are handmade with my artwork but you can find them all over the place! They last super long and are an easy swap.

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A few more things/ideas:

-When we do have to use ziplocs, or plastic bags of any kind, we reuse them until they can't be reused anymore and then put them into the plastic recycle bin at ShopRite (or a store near you).
-We decline straws at restaurants (decline when you order because sometimes they bring the drink with the straw already striped and in the glass)
-We have been more mindful about paper towels; we are using dishtowels for most counter wiping, etc.
-We own Hydroflasks for our water. Frank and I have 40 oz and Chi has 12 oz kids. They are everything! Order right from their website or from Dicks, good deals on both sites right now.
-We request books to the library, pick up, borrow, and return. Way more cost effective, saves paper and shipping from amazon.
-Take plastic pots, flats, etc. from garden centers/nurseries back to them after you place them in your garden. They will reuse them!
-We compost what we can and put some food out for the squirrels like stale bread or leftover pasta keeping the trash bags from filling up faster than necessary.
-Buy eggs in paper and milk in glass if at all possible. The eggs are available in my store in cardboard cartons but the milk is more than double the cost in glass. We can't afford that right now so we try to use the plastic jugs for gardening or water play and recycle when we are done.
-We have changed to a concentrated, very Eco-conscious soap brand called Dr. Bronner's and LOVE this choice. Read about their company and you will never go back to anything else! There are recipes right on the bottle for varied uses. I got mine at Target. Saves bottles in addition to the soap itself being healthier for the body, home, and environment. US company that seems to really care about their employees and our planet.
-Next challenge is figuring out how to get take out or leftovers home with less waste, thinking of carrying a stainless container in my purse. This one takes things to another level of unconventional but dear God, Styrofoam makes me want to cry.
 

Again, some of this you have heard before, but be honest with yourself, are you taking action on any of these things? If you are, AWESOME and thank you! If not, consider taking even just 1 action to contribute. There are so many ways that we can at least help with this mess and inspire others in the process!!

20 laurenspirational words by Lauren DeMarco

Some minutes are chosen for me and are not in my control. I know I need to sleep about 8 hours to do life well. I know I need to work about 40 hours per week to pay for life. I know I need to drive here and there. I know I need to give some of my free time to serve loved one's needs.

But some minutes are mine. Sometimes I know when I will have them, and other times they are surprises. Sometimes I can plan for them and sometimes I am free to spend them instinctually.

When my minutes come, I want to describe them using some of the following words:

1. alive
2. natural
3. simple
4. full of light (and its contrast, shadow)
5. quiet
6. effort-full (and its contrast, effortless)
7. authentic/honest
8. lovingly
9. joyful
10. sustainable
11. purposeful
12. handmade
13. curious
14. wabi-sabi (perfectly imperfect)
15. nostalgic
16. enriched
17. playful
18. orderly (and its contrast, messy)
19. experimental
20. unique

If some minutes are spent jumping into a cool pool in the summer, coming up from the water to make eye contact with my daughter who is laughing joyfully at my body mechanics, this is good living.

If some minutes are spent inside my grandparent's home of 50 years, immaculately curated to their colonial decor preferences, chatting with Pop Pop about the garden, while Mom Mom's and my homemade collaborative peach pie bakes, this is good living.

Wearing a hoodie on the beach with my sister and sipping warm green tea, cooking dinner while my husband and Chi Chi color at the counter, drive to Sunset Beach with my parents for a traditional summer solstice picnic, 10 minutes on the couch reading, or a walk through the garden center greenhouse on the way home from work. Minutes interwoven with one or many of the above words.

These words are the paints I use to color my minutes. anyone else like to name themes of their lives and feel proud/happy when you make time for them? just me?

ps. very little guilt for the mindless scrolling, pinning, or re-watching of gilmore girls episodes for the (no exagerration) 14th time, but beware of numbing and coping. I want to live my life, not numb through it.

Super convienient earth day action step by Lauren DeMarco

I like holidays to celebrate and remember what's important to me. I saw on my calendar that Earth Day is coming up on April 22. My wheels started turning...

My husband and I were reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in this article on CNN. We have known about this garbage patch for a while but this article with updates reminded us that it is not going away. We whined about it, shook our heads, and rolled our eyes. We mentioned a few ways that other people and big corporations who we pretend are not made up of people at all, are making this problem worse instead of bringing up any solutions for our home. I hate doing that shit. I hate talking about how things are broken instead of taking any little bit of action I can to make it better. 

I took 3 minutes and was honest with myself about the biggest plastic problem in my own home and decided that Shop Rite brand sandwich bags are one of our biggest convenience issues that I want to try to overcome. Every little bit counts right?! So I did some research online and found this website.

I learned that right at the entrance to my grocery store (where I go every Sunday morning) there is a drop off where you can recycle all kinds of plastic bags. I thought I could only put the yellow grocery bags in there, which I rarely use, so I have never taken advantage of this resource. See image below of all the types of bags/films you can put in there:

Image from plasticfilmrecycling.org

Image from plasticfilmrecycling.org

I thought about how I can make recycling these things just as easy as putting organic stuff in my compost bin (which is 2nd nature now). I created a little challenge for myself and invite you to join me for 30 days. (at which point I can re-evaluate the system and adjust for the long term change, if needed).

Here is what I am going to start with:
1. Minimize my use of sandwich bags (and reuse them when I really do need them) by using glass jars, especially in Chi Chi's lunch box, because prevention and reusing beats recycling all together. (may need to buy a set of these, preferably at a local store to save on shipping cost and packaging).
2. Place a canvas tote on a hook in the kitchen (not unattractive to look at, easy to grab with grocery list on the way out the door to the store).
3. Put anything that fits into one of the categories above into the tote throughout the week.
4. Bring the tote to the grocery store and place the waste in the plastic bag/film recycle bin as I enter the store. Make sure your grocery store has one of these bins: here.

A few other little things I do: reusable bags for groceries, decline straws at restaurants, bring silverware to wash and reuse in lunch boxes, pack washcloths instead of paper napkins in lunch boxes. I would love to improve more and more over time!

*I also found this cool website called Terracycle and applied to their free program for Clif bar package recycling since my husband eats them very frequently. You can see what other free programs they offer or other programs that you might be ready to invest in.

And for fun, a cute pic of Chi the compost we have been using for about a year and a half!

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Charlotte's Web Spring Equinox Playdate/Dinner Party by Lauren DeMarco

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Wilbur is a spring pig so every year, on the Spring Equinox I start to read E.B. White's Charlotte's Web to Chi Chi. I always get super excited about it and this year the excitement really rubbed off on her so we decided about a month in advance to invite a couple with their 2 kids over after school for a Templeton-style smorgasbord and Charlotte's Web themed play. They agreed and we set the date!

I printed up some coloring pages for the kids to start while I finished cooking and started the movie (the original 1973 version, of course).

I printed up some coloring pages for the kids to start while I finished cooking and started the movie (the original 1973 version, of course).

The weekend before, I shopped for some steaks, chicken drumsticks, hot dogs, and zucchini to grill and put together some orzo salad with fresh basil, corn, tomatoes, and feta, and some Annie's Farm-themed Mac and Cheese! We also grabbed 3 pigs at IKEA for the kids, planned some activities, and asked the other family to bring dessert.

The weekend before, I shopped for some steaks, chicken drumsticks, hot dogs, and zucchini to grill and put together some orzo salad with fresh basil, corn, tomatoes, and feta, and some Annie's Farm-themed Mac and Cheese! We also grabbed 3 pigs at IKEA for the kids, planned some activities, and asked the other family to bring dessert.

Chi Chi and I drew out a web to tape up to the wall and cut out some spiders for "Pin Charlotte on the Web" which was a major hit! They didn't care who won, they were cheering each other on, and they kept pulling the spiders off to try over and over. It was perfect to occupy them while the grown-ups cleaned up.

Chi Chi and I drew out a web to tape up to the wall and cut out some spiders for "Pin Charlotte on the Web" which was a major hit! They didn't care who won, they were cheering each other on, and they kept pulling the spiders off to try over and over. It was perfect to occupy them while the grown-ups cleaned up.

We wrapped up the party with some little brownies topped with spring sprinkles and some fresh raspberries!

We wrapped up the party with some little brownies topped with spring sprinkles and some fresh raspberries!

The kids played, we enjoyed our meals which were really yummy, and we chatted about our upcoming plans for the warmer seasons forthcoming!

After her friends left and she finished her bath, I started the first chapter of the book. Chi found her baby bottle and started feeding her new plush Wilbur in bed while I read. She insisted on sleeping with him and the bottle in case he woke up hungry in the night and she needed to feed him again!

It was a perfect way to ring in the new season! Funny and ironic note: since we live in NJ and it doesn't start to feel like spring until May-ish, we actually got a snow day the following day to sleep in and relax! Couldn't have been better!

Reflecting on 2017, looking forward to 2018! by Lauren DeMarco

2017 has been a lovely year. We, as a family, have been healthy and safe and we have maintained our lives with grace and gratitude.

We have been in the "everything is okay" space rather than the "it will be okay soon" space, which I try to appreciate as much as possible. I am always in search of the balance between the "are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? (Mary Oliver)" idea and the "surrender and make the best of the things you cannot control" concept; in order to stay sane and "happy".

Overall, life is good. *Special thanks to tea, candles, cozy socks, blankies, and the beach.

And although it doesn't feel like it day-to-day, when I reflect back on the year, I have done some really cool stuff and grown a lot.

My top 10 favorite accomplishments of the year:

Creative:
1.  Learned to throw and hand-build many different vessels from clay and porcelain; discovered by "ladies" design throughout this creative process.
2. Taught myself how to use my Canon Rebel on the manual setting and have developed a photography style.
3. Completed a large portion of the 100 day project in April, my garden fence mural came out of dedication to this project as well as some beautiful sun prints and some natural dying.
4. Perfected my banana cake recipe, have recently replaced half of the chocolate chips with butterscotch chips and this cake it everything, if I do say so myself.

Other:
5. Completed my school nurse certification. (I had been working with an emergency certificate)
6. Started composting and was dedicated to my garden throughout Spring, Summer, and Fall. Learned a lot about different plants, processes, and the seasons.
7. Have made it through some strong efforts and big disappointments with career opportunities in our household, proud of my strong marriage.
8. Have gained some clarity and grown to be more honest with myself about money.
9. Have strengthened my political stance through educating myself about both sides of many issues. I have been using any platform I can to speak out/vote/etc.

and most importantly:
10. I have modeled for, cared for, and guided my daughter, Luciana, through another year. I am proud of her and proud of myself for being the best Mom I can be. Cheesy, but so real.

I am super excited about 2018 and have some ideas...

I would love to have another baby this year! AHH! Trying is in our control, the outcome is not...we'll see...
Some other goals: to build a tea pot and more cool pottery, to continue to make stuff and update my Etsy shop (more consistency is a goal with this), to celebrate our (mine and Frank's) 10 year anniversary (not 10 years married but 10 years as a couple) with friends who have been on the journey with us, to encourage Luciana in the beginning of her "learning to read" efforts, to pay off a credit card that we used to pay for some life stuff on during a transition time, to continue making my home more personalized and special, to be present and joyful when visiting with my parents on our weekly dates, to maintain a regular walking schedule and improve my intuitive eating practice, to start and maintain a kickass cut flower garden, to visit with and enjoy my grandparents in their beautiful home, to organize sister adventures at least quarterly, and so much more!!!!

Handmade Christmas. Ideas and Resources. by Lauren DeMarco

I love to have some handmade decorations and/or experiences around the holiday. Here are some ideas and resources!

Dried Orange Slice Garland:
I followed this tutorial from Homesong and had lovely results. See the finished product above.

Paper Snowflakes:
I used these directions and these templates from Martha Stewart!

Christmas Sugar Cookies:
We were invited to decorate cookies at a friends house this year and used this kit. I like to make my own too, using this easy recipe with some cookie cutters . These have been on my list, wouldn't they be so dang cute with little Santa hats painted on with icing??!

Painted Wood Ornaments:
We bought wooden stars, similar to these and let Chi paint them with acrylic paints. I let her use her own creativity, very hands-off, and they came out great. She wrote "Love, Luciana" on the backs and gave them to friends. Nice little added topper for family gifts too.

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Some other ideas I would really like to do this year or just wanted to share:

-Rolled and/or poured beeswax candles
-Cinnamon Salt Dough Ornaments
-Gingerbread Houses (keeping it super commercial because time is limited yet Chi really enjoys doing these)
-Cranberry Garland for trees outside, for the birds. Might try to make this a Christmas Eve morning tradition.
-Air Dry Clay Plant pressed ornaments
-Fresh Wreath, I really like this one. I bought my grandparents a fresh wreath for Christmas last year, they got it in time to hang over the mantle for Christmas eve dinner. I am hoping to make one this year to keep the tradition going.


Happy making!