Friday, March 27, 2020

Our Year of Buying Nothing: The Quarantine Edition

Living just outside Seattle, Washington, our community buckled down early due to the novel Coronavirus. We've now been homebound for several weeks. While others around us were lining up early outside stores to buy all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we found our own rhythm at home, relearning ways of using less and still buying nothing. (Click here to read more about our decision to buy nothing for one year.)

Groceries

How are we getting by without going to the store? I wrote an article years ago, You Don't Have to go to the Store, during a time when we also didn't go grocery shopping at all. In it I describe how we got by without needing to shop. Some things have changed since I wrote the article; most notably we don't have a farm/garden anymore, so buying fresh veggies is a must. We now have a weekly produce delivery service, Freggies, which delivers a good variety of high quality fresh fruits & veggies. We also have our weekly dairy & egg delivery, using Smith Brothers local dairy delivery service. If you live in their delivery area, here is a referral code, which will save you $20 off your first order. Wherever you live, it's worth looking into your local farmer or producer delivery options. Many businesses that didn't use to deliver are now providing that option, as a means of staying in business during the quarantine.

We are also making use of our own food storage, taking stock of our freezer and pantry, and making the best use of the items we've been stocking away. As my son said this morning over canned peaches on our pancakes, you know it's the apocalypse when we start eating canned food. I maintain a food inventory spreadsheet, with different tabs for freezer, fridge, cabinets, and pantry, where I itemize our foods on hand. It's great for meal planning. I normally check it before going shopping, to make sure I don't overbuy something I already have in the pantry or freezer. I try to update it after getting groceries, or when I use something up. It's a good reminder of how much we already (or still) have. As the weeks go by, our diet is getting different from the usual (we are out of meat, for example) but because of my spreadsheet I know we won't go hungry anytime soon.

Meals

Separate from groceries but along the same lines, I'm preparing all our meals from scratch, using items from our freezer, pantry, and produce delivery. Like you I'm sure, I've been reading a ton about how coronavirus is transmitted, and what activities are safe. Lots of people are ordering from local restaurants, which is a wonderful way of supporting struggling businesses right now. However, every time you bring something into your home that someone else touched or potentially sneezed or coughed on, you have to disinfect it or risk spreading the virus. I just don't think I'm ready to enjoy a meal that comes with that kind of potential. Maybe after a few more weeks, when I'm desperate to eat something other than lentils, we'll re-explore that idea... For now, I'm having fun being creative with what we already have. Make it a game: What can we make today that the kids won't hate?

Toilet Paper

I'm not sure there has ever been such a storm on toilet paper. At least in our area, every store that carries TP has had lines outside before they open, and is sold out very soon after the mobs enter. Stores are now setting limits on how much toilet paper each customer can buy, and they are still selling out every day.

I normally buy toilet paper at Costco, and one of their giant packs lasts us a good part of the year. However, since we are all home constantly now, I knew we'd be going through it about twice as fast as usual, so I've taken measures to reduce use: I have switched back to using cloth for pee. I keep a wash cloth on the back of each toilet, and refold as necessary before tossing it in the laundry. As the only lady in the house, and one who drinks a lot of tea, this measure is likely to vastly reduce our family's TP use. You can also use smaller cloths, and toss them into a small bucket or bin after each use, for later washing. We did this for years, back when my kids were in cloth diapers, and just washed the wipes along with the diapers. I made them out of small squares of old flannel baby blankets, hand stitched around the edges to prevent fraying. Pee cloths can be thrown right in with the normal laundry.

I may yet have to venture out to a store to get more toilet paper, depending on how long this quarantine lasts, but for now I'm happy to avoid the additional risk of an airborne virus. With online toilet paper costing as much as $2 per roll, I'd also like to avoid getting price-gauged if possible.

Sanitizer

Use soap instead. Soap kills viruses effectively. We wash hands every time we come home from anywhere that we have touched anything others might have touched. I keep lotion at every sink and in my purse, so it's easy to apply after every hand washing. It's important to keep your skin from drying out and cracking, a common affliction during the arid winter months but especially now with all the increased washing. Dry, cracked skin is open to infection and feels yucky besides.

If you still need hand sanitizer, you can make your own using alcohol and aloe vera gel. The CDC recommends a 70% alcohol solution. When we were still coming and going from our house daily, we would wipe down our phones and keys each time we came home with alcohol wipes. You can simply apply rubbing alcohol to a cloth to make your own wipes, but this would be harmful to bare skin if you do it frequently.

Now that we are home nearly constantly, there is much less to worry about sanitizing. On our daily walks, we just don't touch anything except occasionally the mail. I process the mail right after bringing it inside, and then wash my hands. You can of course toss most of it in the outdoor recycle bin instead of bringing it inside at all. And then wash your hands.

Entertainment

This is a very real need, with so many kids suddenly out of school, and adults out of work. Many people resort to buying stuff out of boredom. It's easy to desire the novelty of new items to fill our time and space, but our family is still committed to a year of buying nothing (as I've said, this doesn't include food & TP). So how are we keeping ourselves sane, fulfilled, and busy during the weeks and potentially months stuck at home?

  • I make a list of things for us to do each day. This includes all activities we do as a family, chores each kid needs to do, and meals I plan to make. I also write the day of the week at the top of the list, or else I would have no idea.
  • Daily family activities include card and board games, walks around the neighborhood, exercise time, reading aloud with my younger son, and asking each other trivia questions. 
  • Homeschooling, for our kids, includes the above activities, as well as alternating between two hours of online learning (we use Khan Academy) and workbook time, or two hours of video games.
  • My older son and his friends have managed to organize online D&D games, as well as other games that can be played via video chat. He does this for two hours at a time, three days a week. It's helped him to feel connected to his peers during this socially isolating time. While he meets with his friends online, my younger son and I often work on an art project together.
  • Netflix, Hulu, DVDs, etc. Every evening after dinner we've been watching episodes of The Office together, or other funny shows (last night was Netflix's Pandemic, but I personally recommend generally ending the day with something a little more uplifting). I can't bear the idea of "binge-watching" anything, so we always limit the amount of episodes to 2-3, depending on length of the episodes. After watching shows, we end screen time and read books until bedtime.
  • Between episodes, we always do "family exercise time". Using a timer, we take turns choosing an exercise to do for one minute. We do this for two full rounds, then two minutes of stretching, for a total of around 10 minutes. It's quick but challenging, and there's always a nice variety this way.

Wellness

We've found a nice balance of spending time together but also giving each other space. It can be easy to get on each other's nerves when cooped up together endlessly. Be patient, keep it light, see the good in people and be forgiving.

I wake up every morning and meditate for a comfortable 15 minutes. A regular practice keeps me from catastrophizing, or making mountains out of molehills. We also meditate as a family every evening before bed, for just 5 minutes. It's just a nice time to sit together, breath and relax. Here is my article on meditation basics, the how & why.

Get outside every single day. Don't let a day pass when you have been inside all day, unless you are bedridden. I struggled with insomnia for years, and one of the keys to better sleep was a long morning walk; daylight, fresh air, and exercise all help to regulate our circadian rhythms. Also, being cooped up can make you feel crazy. Getting outside will remind you that your world is still all there, you have space, and best of all: it's springtime! Enjoy the animals, the birds singing and the squirrels acting crazy, the flowers starting to cover the trees, and animals generally getting bolder as they meet with less human interference.

Keep your immune system strong by doing the following:

  • Limit sugar, which has a hazardous effect on immune function.
  • Supplement with vitamins C & D, and Zinc lozenges, which all help prevent respiratory illness.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Try to turn the lights out at 10, and allow enough time in a darkened room to wake up naturally in the morning.
  • Move your body daily. The immune system requires muscular movement for optimal circulation of lymphatic fluids. Sitting around all day is not good for anyone.

Find comfort in your people, pets, or your online community. My cat has been such a blessing through this. He is always there for us, always happy to love and be loved, so soft and warm. He doesn't care that the world as we know it may have ended, as long as we still have some kibble.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Easy Grain Free Sandwich Bread


This striking loaf is incredibly easy to whip up in the blender, and if you use a base of sunflower seeds, your bread ends up a marvelous dark green color. Impress your family & friends!

The green is a natural chemical reaction between the sunflower seeds & baking soda, and absolutely safe. The batter looks like normal bread dough, but as it bakes it changes color. You can use other nuts; cashews & almonds will provide a normal colored loaf, if that's what you're after. I like sunflower seeds because the green is fun, plus they're much cheaper. And isn't there enough brown bread in the world? On to the recipe!

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There is no prep. Simply place the following in the blender:

8 eggs
1/2 c milk of any kind, unsweetened
1.5 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
450 g sunflower seeds or other nuts (2.5-3 cups)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt

Blend into a smooth, thick batter. Then add 7 Tbsp coconut flour. This may become a little too thick for the blender to handle, as bread dough should. You can transfer it to a mixer for this last step, or just stir it by hand. No kneading required, just mix the flour in thoroughly.

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Bake at 325, in an oiled standard bread loaf pan, for at least an hour. I have also divided the batter between two loaf pans. This will bake more quickly, but give shorter loafs/smaller slices. Either way works; you do you. Just pay attention towards the end of baking. You can do a toothpick test to see if the center is baked.

Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, and store any leftovers in the fridge.


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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Our Year of Buying Nothing: The First Month

At the very end of December 2019, I made the last minute decision to enact this resolution: to make no purchases for the entire year. Of course, we'll still buy food & toilet paper; we'll still go to the occasional restaurant, and if necessary we'll buy replacement items if something essential breaks. This decision followed on the heels of a string of random purchases I made during November & December, more than my usual. We spent not only money on these items, but time in installing and learning how to use them, moving things around so they had a proper place in the house, and storing associated paperwork and processing the packaging. While I don't regret these purchases, I have seen how dangerously easy it is to get into shopping online sales; one click and something new and exciting is on its way to your door. I feel our family is pretty well taken care of materially and should be fine for some time. I'm excited to see how long we can go without buying anything more.

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We are a family of four (plus this lovely cat) with one full-time earner and myself, a mostly stay at home parent who is just transitioning to working more regular hours. I've been able to be home with my kids their whole lives, an honor I don't take for granted. In addition to raising & educating the kids, being the stay at home parent has also meant that I have more time to make our meals from scratch, as well as finding other ways of being frugal through the years (which you can read about in my previous articles). Many years ago, I started a Buy Nothing Facebook group in our community, and it took off like wildfire. This group, and the others like it that have since sprung up, is an amazing resource for neighbors to gift all kinds of things to each other. I love being able to offer up anything we find we no longer want or need to the group. Anytime I want to buy something, I ask first in my gifting group to see if I can find a similar item that a neighbor no longer has need of.

This resource in no small part enables me to go most of the time without buying anything. Last year, the only clothing items I bought for my kids were two pairs of jeans for my older son who had shot up like a weed, new shoes for my kids & partner, and new slippers for myself. Oh, and for Christmas I bought my partner a sweet new flannel shirt. For all our other clothes, our needs were more than met by the offerings in our neighborhood groups. In addition, because I personally love clothes and getting together with friends, twice a year for the past 5 years I have hosted trading parties, where everyone can bring their nicer castoff clothes to give away and come home with bags of new things to try for free.

So, here we are nearing the end of the first month, and while my hasty resolution has presented no real hardship, there have been a few challenges. For example, I have a Christmas cactus that has been in a horribly ugly plastic pot ever since two naughty kittens knocked it off a windowsill and it's original beautiful ceramic pot broke. I've looked for a replacement pot for years on my Buy Nothing group, and even at yard sales, but they never seem to be big enough. Suddenly, a few days into the new year, I felt I *must* get a real pot for my otherwise lovely plant. I think the constraint of not allowing myself to buy something made this desire for a replacement pot feel suddenly urgent. However, I just reminded myself that, as it's been doing fine in its plastic pot for so long, it can surely go another year without any horrible repercussions.

Another challenge was not buying my cat a scratching post. He transitioned to an indoor-only cat a year or so ago, and since then has found lots of places around the house to scratch up, some approved by us (doormats) and some we would much rather him not (the nice wool carpet and the door frames). He doesn't have a real scratching post, and it occurred to me recently, after seeing an ad for a cute cactus shaped cat tree/scratching post, that this would be just the thing. I went so far as to click on the ad, and ever since then my Facebook feed has been inundated with ads for cat-related items. Of course, as all pet parents must, I want the best for my kitty so if something would be good for him or useful, I can often justify the expense. Fortunately my partner is very practical and reasonable, and by running purchases by him I have often saved myself the regret of being stuck with an unhappy selection. Also, we visited his family earlier this month and they told me how easy it is to make your own scratching post, with some twine and wood. I have not pursued this, but knowing I can make something myself is often enough for me to not want to buy it.

I look forward to future challenges. I'm sure I'll be faced with more difficult decisions than those that have presented themselves to date. Perhaps my son will grow another two inches and we won't be able to find any decent pants for him from our gifting groups. Perhaps something that seems quite essential will break and we'll have to decide how necessary its replacement is. I'll try to keep track of these challenges as they come up, and document here how I deal with them. In future posts I'll also speak to how this resolution affects us as a family, whether it becomes a hardship at all or if we notice positive effects beyond the obvious of saving money, reducing clutter, and reducing waste.

Update: Click here for my article on buying nothing through the Coronavirus quarantine.

We buy many of our bulk foods from Azure Standard, a natural foods distributor. Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!
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Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Easiest Instant Pot Yogurt You'll Ever Make

A Life Unprocessed

Straining yogurt is a hassle. It's a messy, extra step that people use to get a nice, thick yogurt. But you don't need to do it! With this simple technique, you don't have to. My yogurt is always thick, delicious, and really hassle free. By the way, I have made yogurt without a kitchen thermometer, but it's much easier to be sure you are doing it correctly with this tool, so you might want to pick one up or borrow one from a neighbor before you get started. Also, you'll need a pressure cooker with a yogurt function, and the metal steamer insert that comes with it.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk (or three cans of coconut milk, blended smooth)
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin or collagen powder (this helps to ensure thickness without straining!)
  • 1 tsp yogurt, saved from a previous batch (if storebought, make sure it has active cultures) You can save your yogurt starter in small jars in the freezer and then thaw before using, or just scrape the jar from your previous batch in the fridge.

Whisk milk with gelatin or collagen powder together in your instant pot liner. Set instant pot on "Yogurt" and hit adjust, if needed, until screen says "boil". Cover with lid and when it has reached 180 degrees it should notify you. Here is where I use my thermometer to double check that it has reached 180 degrees. If it hasn't, simply set your IP to saute for a minute or two, and whisk to keep the milk from sticking to the pan, until it measures 180. This step will improve the texture of the finished yogurt.

Next step is to remove the liner from the IP, and place it in a sinkfull of cold water to cool the mixture. You can add some ice to the sink to speed this process. (Make sure water & ice don't get into your milk pot.) Whisk the milk and check the temperature; it is safe to add the starter once it reaches 110 degrees. The best way to add the starter is to first whisk about a half cup of the cooled milk mixture with your starter in a small bowl or jar, and then incorporate that into the pot.

Finally, you are ready to jar up your yogurt mixture. Culturing yogurt in directly in jars, rather than in the pot and then transferring it later, helps it to firm up properly. Make sure your jars will fit into the instant pot with a steamer tray in the bottom. You can use four pint jars, or one half gallon jar if you IP is large enough. Place lids on the jars; it will not get hot, so plastic lids are OK. Wash out your pot, add 1 cup of water to the bottom, and place jars on the steamer insert. With the IP on Yogurt function, hit adjust as needed until it displays "8:00". Your yogurt will be ready in 8 hours!

A note on timing: Because it takes 8 hours, it's best to either start your yogurt in the evening, so it can be finished in the morning, or start the process in the morning and let it culture all day. Your yogurt will last a couple weeks in the fridge. I think you'll find it's so good, and really so easy, that you never need to buy it again.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Grain Free Sugar Cookies With Buttercream Frosting


This fantastic, easy recipe will impress your family & friends. Anyone who thinks of gluten free cookies as being a dry and punishing experience will disabuse themselves of that notion after their first bite. These coconut flour based cookies are rich and buttery, and so delicious. The frosting is equally rich, and a perfect adornment. Both are quick to whip up, and not at all fussy.

Sugar Cookies:

  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 c) softened to room temp
  • 1 cup sugar (I used a xylitol/natural sugar blend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 c coconut flour (4.25 oz or 128 g, if you have a scale and want to be more exact)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 2 tb arrowroot starch, plus more for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter & sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and salt and beat together well.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, stir baking powder into the coconut flour to combine. Pour into batter and mix well. Let sit for 5 minutes so the coconut flour can absorb the liquid. Add starch and mix again to knead dough for 30 seconds. If it is sticky or too moist, add more starch, up to 4 tb total.


Dust counter with starch and press or roll dough to 1/4" thick. Cut into desired shapes and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, until they reach your desired shade of golden. We found them to be delicious whether baked to a dark golden brown (shown at bottom of article) or a light gold (at top).


Let cookies harden for a few minutes before removing from the cookie sheet. Cool completely before frosting. I like to place them on a cutting board in the fridge, so they're chilled and ready for frosting in about 10 minutes.

Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 stick of softened butter (1/2 c)
  • 1.5 c powdered sugar
  • 1.5 tb cream (from the top of can of coconut milk, or heavy cream)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1/2 packet of Color Kitchen plant based food coloring, if desired

Beat butter in mixer until smooth. Slowly stir in powdered sugar, then mix on medium until mixture holds together. Add cream, vanilla, salt, and color if using, and increase speed until everything is well mixed, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Frost cookies, then store them in the fridge. Any leftover frosting can be stored in the fridge for up to a week; just bring to room temperature before using.


Enjoy!


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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

(Gluten Free) Pasta with Marinara in the Instant Pot



A Life Unprocessed



Cooking pasta in the Instant Pot is simple and rewarding, provided you use the right amount of liquid, and the right type of noodles. While you can definitely cook actual spaghetti in a pressure cooker, it has more of a tendency to clump together and remain crunchy than corkscrew fusilli. Fusilli noodles are a fun, helical shape, easier to fork than spaghetti, and hold onto the sauce better as well. We love the gluten free quinoa and brown rice fusilli that we've been using for years. It has more fiber & protein than traditional pasta, and I personally can't tell the difference in taste. 

Here's how to make pasta with marinara in an Instant Pot. This recipe is for a standard 6 quart model, but if you have an 8 quart pot, you can double the recipe. We generally use ground beef, but found that ground lamb makes a delicious variation. You can also easily make this a vegetarian meal by omitting the meat. 

  • 1 lb ground meat, if using
  • 1 diced onion
  • 20 oz fusili noodles
  • 24 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 c broth or water
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 t paprika
  • 2 tb Italian herbs (I use a blend of oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1 tb sea salt

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Saute meat and onions in the IP until brown. Saute onions in a little oil, if you are not using meat. I like to slide my Instant Pot under my stove's vent when I'm sauteing, as long as the surface of my stove isn't hot.

Once onions are soft and meat browned, add noodles and then everything else. Try to cover noodles with sauce and broth, but if a few stick out that's OK. Cover, then set to manual for 4 minutes. Let it release pressure naturally (NPR). Once you can open the lid, give the pot a good stir to incorporate the meat, onions, and spices.

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Serve and enjoy! I love to eat this sprinkled with fresh parmesean, or my homemade sauerkraut, and gomasio seasoning.

We purchase our wonderful noodles and organic tomato sauce directly from Azure Standard, a natural foods distributor. Below are affiliate links for Amazon. Any purchase made through the links helps to support our family, without any additional cost to you. Thanks in advance!

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Friday, February 16, 2018

How I Finally Got to Sleep: Ending Insomnia Naturally

A Life Unprocessed

For years I struggled with insomnia: waking each night around 2 a.m., tossing and turning, and finally just getting up. I learned to nap during the day if I could squeeze one in, but I was sleep deprived in a chronic, dangerous way. Sleep deprivation can lead to all kinds of health problems, and mental & emotional issues as well. I was very aware of these risks, having read nearly every article and book out there on how to sleep. Teaching myself to sleep right became kind of an obsession; I made spreadsheets of all the things I was supposed to do each day in order to sleep better. I kept track of every little thing, so I would know what worked and what made it worse. The only problem was that nothing ever seemed to work; it only got worse.

After three years of this, I happened upon an article about how people who define themselves as having insomnia made their sleep problems worse. And not only that, but they felt worse the next day even when they got as much sleep as people who don't think of themselves as having sleep issues. I realized that the problem for a lot of us, for me in particular, could be in my mind. I had so much stress built up around bedtime, that I often felt a little panicked if I wasn't in bed by 10 p.m.- that golden hour for getting perfect sleep. I had tried every natural sleep product my friends recommended over the years, and even a couple of unnatural, over the counter ones recommended by my doctors. I had done a sleep study: hooked up to wires and tubes and stuck all over with goo. It felt like the worst night of sleep in my life, but afterwards I was told that I didn't have sleep apnea. I came very close to getting surgery on my deviated septum, believing at the time that this was what was keeping me up. I canceled that surgery at the last minute, panicked that it would only make things worse.

Insomnia and sleep problems are incredibly common. Once I started posting about my sleep issues on Facebook, I realized how widespread the problem is. I started an insomnia support group, so I could learn from what worked for others. I shared the article linked to above with that group, and one member admitted that it was so important to her not to define herself as an insomniac anymore, that she almost hadn't joined my group. She hadn't had sleep issues in years, ever since she let the label of insomnia go. Another member took issue with the idea that her sleep problems, which she felt had a physical cause, were all in her head. Definitely, there are different causes of sleep issues; for many of us it begins with the birth of our first child. We can start out with one cause, and then the problem becomes chronic along the way, as the original cause is replaced by anxiety around sleep. We need to make sure we change the things we can in our lives to create better sleep hygiene, but we need to also do what we can to give our minds a break from stress around sleep.

Sleep is essential. Along with eating right and exercise, sleep is one of the three pillars of health. It should come naturally, it should come easily, and I was so frustrated that it constantly seemed beyond my grasp, no matter how much I tried to do things "right". I did learn some little tricks along the way, from all my sleep books & articles. I found that it's important to take the right steps for sleep hygiene, but also to remove the stress around sleep.

Here's what finally worked:

  • Brief Meditation Morning and night, for 5-10 minutes. I find that it's a nice beginning and end to each day, and 5 minutes is much easier to squeeze in than the standard 20 minutes that is usually recommended. Occasionally I can't fit it in during a busy morning, so I'll do my morning meditation in the afternoon. I don't stress about it. Meditation has too many proven benefits to ignore.
  • Journaling In order to reduce nighttime stress levels, it's helpful to write about anything troubling us, before laying down to sleep. Anytime I have something bothering me at bedtime, I write about it, including all my fears and any possible solutions. Getting my worries down on paper lets my mind off the hook, so it can go on to do the important work of sleep. As a nightly habit, I also write down three unique things that I'm thankful for; one thing I'm proud of; and one thing I'm excited about. This is a good habit to help focus on the positive; whether it helps with sleep or not I can't say. Sleep problems are commonly caused by, or exacerbated by, depression, so anything we can do to lighten up should help.
  • Earplugs This was a hard one to get used to at first, as I disliked the feeling of pressure inside my ears. But after a few nights with earplugs, I barely noticed them. And, wonderfully, I no longer woke to every outside noise. Now, when I put my earplugs in, I feel l am in a cozy little cocoon where nothing can bother me. If you are caring for infants, it's probably best to leave out the earplugs for now.
  • Blackout Blinds It's important to get your bedroom as dark as you can make it when you sleep. Cover or remove anything that has an LED light at night. Remove night lights from bedrooms, and keep them in common areas and bathrooms instead. Our neighbors keep a light shining all night, so we pull our blinds down all the way. The darkness should be so complete that you cannot see your hand in front of your face.
  • Caffeine Moratorium Don't worry, it's not off limits. For me, anytime I drink coffee or black tea after noon, I'm risking being wide awake in the middle of the night. So I have the hard stuff in the morning, and stick to green tea or herbal blends later on. I have a nightly cup of herbal tea at bedtime, but I feel it's more a cozy ritual and less about the specific herbs I drink being helpful for sleep. These days I'm drinking catnip tea before bed.
  • Screen Ban I cheat on this one, because I do read books on my phone before bed, using the Kindle app. But after tucking in the kids, I no longer scroll through social media. Our only TV is in the den, far away from bedrooms. Blue light from LCD screens has been shown to reduce sleep quality, so we use a free app (Twilight for Android, f.lux for Apple) that automatically filters out the blue light after the sun goes down. I also turn my phone on airplane mode, to make sure my sleep isn't interrupted at night by little incoming messages. This also to reduces my temptation to check Facebook after hours. With airplane mode on, all I can do is read my book in peace; it's kind of perfect.
  • Drink in Moderation Or, don't drink at all if you like. Definitely, the more you drink, the more degraded your quality of sleep will be. It's best to have just one or two drinks, and to have them earlier rather than right before bed, so the alcohol gets metabolized before sleep onset. Yes, wine can make you feel sleepy and even help in falling asleep; however quality of sleep can be hindered by alcohol. I find that I can fall asleep easily after a couple of drinks, but then I'll pop awake around 4 a.m., regretting that last glass of wine. Also watch things like sulfites, additives, and weird mixers. We try to enjoy our booze with the least chemicals and sugar possible. My favorite mixed drink is a vodka or tequila with soda water. It's so light and easy to drink, and doesn't leave you feeling sick. I've had good luck with sulfite free red wine as well.
  • No Pets At least, no pets in the bedroom at night. I am too sensitive to every little movement, every meow (even with earplugs) and cats are nocturnal. We set up our attached garage as our cat's nighttime apartment, so we can all get better sleep.

Here's what might help with sleep; I don't know for sure but I do it anyway:

  • Exercise Daily Forget three times a week: exercise every day. Bodies were meant to be used, not to sit. We spend so much of both our work and our leisure sitting; we really need to consciously move when we can. The only people exempt from this are people with very physically demanding jobs, like construction workers or landscapers- but if this describes you, you might find yoga helpful for countering repetitive motions and minimizing work related stresses. For others, start where you can. Commit to a gentle walk and a few stretches every day. Do more if you are able. I like the idea of breaking a sweat every day, though I can't always make that happen. In order to keep our bodies working properly as we age, we must use them all we can. 
  • Eat Well Avoid things you know bother your tummy; don't eat too much; don't eat too close to bedtime (leave at least a 3 hour window between dinner & sleep). Eat nutritious, whole foods, made from scratch with natural ingredients whenever possible. Don't beat yourself up for the occasional junk or treat; what matters is what you do most of the time. 
  • Daylight At night we want deep darkness for proper melatonin production; in the morning, getting outside for some exposure to natural daylight will help balance waking hormones for a new day. A quick walk around the block is pretty easy to fit into our morning routine, and has the added value of moving the body. You could also have your coffee out on your porch. Getting outside soon after waking up is ideal, but it doesn't have to be a big undertaking. I recently bought our family umbrellas so the interminable Pacific Northwest rain won't keep us from our daily walks. Even on heavily overcast days, the natural light outdoors will trigger hormone production and help regulate sleep cycles.
  • Bedtime One central tenet of sleep hygiene is going to bed at the same time every night, and getting up 8 hours later every morning (or more, since it can take a bit to fall asleep). Most of us produce sleep initiating hormones at around 10 p.m., so that's the ideal time for lights out. I do pretty much follow this, but I no longer get bent out of shape if we are still tucking the kids in at 10:30. What matters is that we have an enjoyable, relaxing evening. 

    Further Reading (Affiliate link):

    • Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success This book, by Shawn Stevenson of The Model Health Show, is laid out clearly with a different section for each strategy to encourage better sleep. Stevenson explains the science behind each idea, with a down to earth, modern voice. I tried nearly all of his suggestions (I skipped the silver sheets and grounded bedding!) and because of these tips I really did start to sleep better. I recommend you check it out to see if he has ideas for things that might work for you that I didn't include here. Not everything felt like it helped me, but it might be just what you need. He really sums up current sleep science in such a thorough way that I found every book I've read on sleep since this one to be redundant.

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    Wednesday, January 31, 2018

    Peanut Butter & Yogurt Dip

    This easy to make dip is a crowd pleaser. Feel free to use any nut butter you like, but peanut butter is definitely my kids' favorite. It's amazing as a dip for apples, as you can see, but it's also a delicious topping for pancakes & waffles. Use your imagination and let me know what other creative uses you come up with for this versatile dip.

    A Life Unprocessed

    It's pretty good for you too; although this time I made it with some corn syrup that had been sitting around in my cabinet for a hundred years, I would normally make it with raw honey. You can use whatever sweetener you feel good about. I used chunky peanut butter; creamy nut butter will yield a slightly more uniformly smooth product.

    A Life Unprocessed

    Recipe:

    • 1 c cream cheese
    • 1 c plain yogurt
    • 1 c peanut butter
    • 1/2 c honey or syrup

    Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Taste, and add more sweetener if desired. This time, I made it with "light corn syrup" which doesn't seem to be as sweet as honey, so I ended up adding more. Powdered sweeteners will work as well; feel free to use whatever you have.

    I used goat milk yogurt but any kind of yogurt will be fine. If you are using sweetened yogurt, you won't need as much honey.

    A Life Unprocessed

    It keeps for at least a week in the fridge. This makes a fairly large batch, so you can always halve the recipe if you don't want so much. Or, make the full recipe and then freeze some for later.

    Enjoy!
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