Friday, August 5, 2016

Freedom with Less

Where was I during July?  We moved...I had some medical stuff and eventually surgery...and we moved!!!  Did I mention we moved...again?  We got the notice mid-June that we *might* have to move, then our landlord told us it was for sure so we set out to find a new home.

This would be our fourth move in 14 months.  I was done!

At the time, we were living int 3700+ square feet.  It was easy to feel like we had space because our stuff did not fill it up.  However, we wanted to move closer into the city, and in the heart of South-Central Austin, that means living in less than 2,000 square feet.  Doable for sure, but not what we were used to.  I was nervous to give up all our space.  However, we had no choice so we decided to take this chance at moving to see if we could somehow swing a house we loved in our most desired, super-cute, funky Austin neighborhood.

We found this amazing, modern, small remodel in that same favorite neighborhood and decided to rent it.  The only thing holding me back was that it was 1630-ish square feet.  Less than HALF the size of our current home (granted our current home was too big, even for the 5 of us crazies).

So I did the math and thought, let's do this!  Let's cut everything by 50%!  Cut our clothes, dishes, furniture, cars....get rid of half of it.  The only thing was that we had about 2 weeks, I ended up in the hospital during that period, and we didn't know if we could make it.  David, though, was so excited at the possibility to have less stuff that he joined me in my enthusiasm for decluttering and did a ton of work!  He is also a Sensory Challenged Parent who apparently was oppressed by all our stuff.

Thankfully I didn't have my surgery until after we arrived and had a week our new home.  While I wouldn't wish surgery on anyone, it was a blessing of sorts to not have to make a lot of decisions about what we kept.  I gave my husband free reign over all the attic clutter (25++ boxes) and he narrowed them down to 5 boxes of keepsakes, mostly pictures.  He did all the goodwill runs, he did all the deciding, and honestly I thought I would hate giving up that control but it was a relief.  My inner pack-rat was screaming, "What if we need something later...What if something gets given away that I can make money off of.....What if something important to me gets lost??!!"

But my true self looooooved it!  And I truly remember only a handful of things in those 5-6 SUV full loads to goodwill.  No regrets.

So we did it.  With the help of friends we went down a ton square feet and possessions, but have gained a great walkable neighborhood, bike-able distance to David's work, a cute home that is our style, and Freedom with Less.

I've talked about how less and decluttering help me with my Sensory Challenges as well as my Kids, but I fully acknowledge that to make this jump to 50% less I had to be pushed.  Minimalism, for me, has been something I've been skirting around for a long time, something that seemed like it would bring me joy and freedom, but scary all the same.

But I jumped off the cliff (...or was pushed ;) and was set Free.  

Here are just a small bit of the many blessings Minimizing has brought me:

  • I'm more productive.  I realize that I dreaded running an errand or doing work because I couldn't find anything I needed!  Mail run?...I don't remember where that blasted letter is I'm supposed to run to the mail boxes?!  School shopping?...I can't find that list the teacher sent home OR the school supplies I hoarded away in the Fall.  I mean, I could eventually find those things, but the process of finding them caused me so much stress and frustration.
  • I feel soooo much calmer.  Look at all that negative space in that area above.  I still have decor and my style, but so much less of it makes for some soothing negative space.  Does that area get filled with kiddos doing karate kicks?  Sure ;)  But negative space can be calming to the eyes and the mind and I have found that I crave it!
  • My house is actually clean.  Do you know how many times I cleaned 3700+ square feet by myself?  Twice I cleaned the whole house at one time.  Yes, that's twice in seven months!  I might have had the energy to clean a room here and there, but four bathrooms and all those bedrooms and all the hardwoods...overwhelms me right now to think about it.  We have lived here just a couple short weeks and I cleaned the whole house by myself yesterday and I wasn't winded afterwards :)  So much time saved cleaning everything!

What about you?  Have you recently minimized and felt like it gave you more mental/physical/emotional/some other kind of freedom?

And guess what???!!!!  I, along with a lifetime friend, have started a Podcast on Minimalism, Living Intentionally, and Freedom with Less!  We're two moms and if this whole minimalism thing interests you and you don't know where to start, give us a listen.  You can find us over at The Practical Minimalists site or in IG @thepracticalminimalists <3

Looking forward to sharing more with you about how we live with less and the joy that has come along with that!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Allergen Friendly Austin, Texas

This is the second in a series of allergen-friendly spots in different U.S. cities.  Whether it's GF/CF, Vegan, Nut-free, there are some spots to love in some of America's great cities.  Check out Allergen Friendly New York City here.

Keep Austin Weird...and gluten-free ;)

Austin is Home
Austin, Texas is our current home, and perhaps, it's the best city in the world for our dietary lifestyle.  I absolutely love it here and you can find all sorts of local spots catering to different needs.  If you're on Instagram, you can search hashtags like #austinvegan and find thousands of vegan-friendly places and pics!

To my surprise, gluten-free dining out here has been a total dream!  I have dozens of places I love, but for now I will share my tops.  Maybe this post will become an "Allergen Friendly Austin 1.0".
Enjoying a book at Thai Fresh along with a Yummy Almond Milk Latte with a GF/ Vegan Carrot Whoopie Pie!

My Top Absolute Favorite Restaurant of All Time: Thai Fresh

I came to Austin only once before we moved here for good.  It was two years ago, and somehow I magically found this place.  I immediately called David and said, "What city on earth has a farm-to-table gluten-free Thai restaurant combined with a gluten-free, vegan friendly bakery, ice cream shop, and coffee house??  We are moving here someday."  I was joking, but as soon as we knew we were moving, I knew our first eat out adventure would be Thai Fresh.  The kids love the rich ice cream (I mean they have gluten-free/vegan waffle cones!!) and I love the charm.  And hat's off to Thai Fresh for recently trying something new to bridge the wage gap between the front and back of the house.  You can either sit down like a nice restaurant or grab something to go from the coffee/ice cream/ pastry area, but no need to tip as their food is priced to eliminate that.  They take care of their employees and it shows in the food and the service!
I recommend the Pad Thai with grass-fed beef or chicken, the drunken noodles, the coconut soup (all are gluten and dairy free), the gf/df/ef cinnamon roll bread, and most of the ice cream flavors (coconut base, not a tree nut), in a gf/df/ef waffle cone of course ;)

Burger Joints

Whether the chain-types like In-and-Out, or local chains like P.Terry's, Austin has some good burger options.  Our two favorite ones, however, are:
  • Hat Creek, gluten-free buns are available and they also have paleo-friendly chicken nuggets for the kids (egg-free too!).  These restaurants (several throughout Austin) all have a fun playground for the kids.  This place is one of our top meet-up spots!
  • Wholly Cow offers grass-fed burgers with GF buns and is super yum.  It's also in a convenience store so you can get some local kombucha and some yummy local snacks while you wait for your burger!
  • Salt Lick BBQ- not a burger joint, but a meat-lovers delight!  All their BBQ sauces are gluten free- and if you don't get the bread with your meal (or dessert) your whole meal will be gluten free!  We usually eat outside and get the family style combo meal, which is all you can eat!  This was Braylen's face when we told him we were getting a giant plate of meat ;)  This boy loves meat!
Outdoors at Salt Lick Driftwood

Vegan and Gluten Free Austin

There are several places that offer Vegan/ GF goods from restaurants to bakeries.  Since we mainly eat GF/CF and some of us are egg-free, we love these types of places in Austin.  Better Bites Bakery is a bit outside the city but their items are sold in Whole Foods stores and local places.  Their bakery is worth a visit if you are in town.  I got all the kid's birthday cakes from them.  They are also nut-free (and top 8 free!) too so that works for our two with almond allergies!
Braylen's Birthday cake with Better-Bites Mostess Cupcakes!
And our favorite vegan restaurant is Counter Culture.  I highly recommend the BBQ Cauliflower pizza and the Mac-N-Cheeze.  This place has comfort food and raw, vegan dishes.  I like the raw pad Thai and David likes the more comfort dishes.  They also have really good dessert specials and juices and teas.
BBQ Cali Pizza with Raw Pad Thai at Counter Culture patio

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stuff and Space

Our Hope St. Home with Dream by Ashley Woodson Bailey 
If you know me, you would never think to call me "A Minimalist".  Because I'm so not.

I am the person who always takes home leftovers just in case, even though 79% of the time I forget about them.
I usually have at least 4 beverages scattered throughout the house at any given time: 1 tea mug, a large glass of water, a non-water drink, and the water I get when I can't find the first water.
My kids artwork is kept far too long because someday I might want to frame it (yes, I've even already taken a picture of it with my phone).
I have several projects going around the same time.  Always.
I still have notes from high school best friends and old boyfriends.  (yes, I am 33 and I have been married for 10 years!)
Our Hope St. Kitchen I designed with the help of good 'ole IKEA and a custom ETSY shop

So, I never thought I would fit into this Minimalist Paradigm.  In fact, I like keeping things just in case.  Every six months to a year, I actually can dig around and happen to find that one random item, like a single hole puncher or the tiny screw driver for the tiny toy batteries, and think, "Aha!  I knew I kept this for a reason."  And every six months or so I'm trying to find that hard-to-find random item and I can't (it's not anywhere!) so I go out and buy it instead- adding to all the stuff.

But lately, I've been feeling that something has changed within me...something is not the same...

I've talked a bit about my sensory challenges.  I talk a lot with moms and online about sensory issues/ sensitivities/ sensory rich activities for input/ etc.  We parents deal with all the sensory stuff too, just like our kids do.  One of my main issues is visual clutter, and that is why this post is filled with lovely simple photos of my spaces I have created in all our many homes to try to deal with the rest of the clutter in the home that oppressed me.
An inherited couch and smattering of other items we have inherited and bought in our Memphis Home.  The other side of this pictured room had a stack of boxes, I think :)
We have just found out some interesting news that we will have to move....again.  Our third move in 14 months, our family's fourth home in 14 months!!  Each move over the last year has been on-to-the-next-better thing.  I have loved all of our homes, but we accumulated So. Much. Stuff along the way.

When my mother passed away in 2013, we inherited all of her things.  Many items were my childhood things that she kept because she was a woman who kept things.  It was sweet to see what all she had kept and cherished of mine and other friends and family through the years.  Growing up, I thought that was what you were supposed to do: keep all the things.  All the reminders of the wedding showers for that friend of the family, all the party favors from birthdays, all the art projects, all the christmas cards, all the pictures, all the memories...right?  (Right about now I'm picturing my sister-in-law, Sarah [world class at only keeping the essentials], cringing!)
I'm wondering if memories can be stored, though, in my head.  I'm wondering if it might be time to let go of the last of the things I have been holding on to of my mother's things.  And if I'm being completely honest, the 15-20 boxes of her and my childhood things--I truly have no clue what is in them unless I go into the attic to find out!  If I can't remember what is in them, can't I let them go?!

When we moved to Memphis, we bought our home fully furnished.  We moved from 1600 square feet to 3300 square feet and we thought we needed things to fill the space.  Our previous homeowner had nice things, so we kept many of those things.  When we decided to move to Austin, though, we pared down a bit because we wanted to fit it all in one moving truck to save money.  We sold some and thought we were in a good spot with the amount of stuff we possessed.  

Our Austin home is 3700 square feet.  I thought when we got to Austin with just one truck's worth of stuff and even more space, we would feel even more at peace and relaxed...We had this great, aesthetically pleasing home, wouldn't we all be happiest here?

What happened was that we filled this home up in 6 short months with too much for my brain.  Half of it looks like the picture below, and half of it looks like a lot of places for tiny piles of clutter to hide.  Too many dishes (I own four different sets), too many craft supplies (and too many stickers to get stuck in my vacuum), too many stacks of paper (oh elementary school, you fill my life with way too much paper things).
The home we are leaving behind in a few short weeks on our next adventure!
We asked the kids what house they liked best (out of the three we have lived in the past year).  I thought they were going to say the one we are in now.  They didn't have to think and said, "The Hope St. house".  The 1600 square foot home in Marietta, GA, our smallest one so far.  I think they felt cozy there, they felt secure.  It was small, but we didn't have all the stuff we have now.  

Here in 3700 square feet they tend to just stick to the kitchen or their bedrooms anyways!  But the kitchen and the bedrooms are always so very crowded and cluttered with things, tiny things.  They don't even have very much in the way of toy sets, but after each playtime their rooms are so filled with trinket clutter, like they need to fill all the space with something.  It almost seems like more space invites them to fill it with something...too much space is unsettling and needs to be inhabited?  I gave away seven dress up purses for this very reason, always being filled with nicknacks, tiny things....sticky things.  We keep donating the kids' stuff and they keep finding more and more things to fill the space!

So what if it's not about just less stuff but more space, but what if it's about less stuff and LESS space?

These are the questions I'm pondering.  If you have downsized or headed towards minimalism in any form, I would love to hear from you!
Can mental clarity be better gained with less space?  The freedom from all the things?
What if less stuff means more mental space no matter the square feet?
What if the kids had less space AND less stuff to deal with?  Would that be better for their tiny burdened brains and my big burdened one?  
Less space and less stuff.  We don't know where we will be end of July, but we are thinking it might be somewhere with less of everything!  I'll keep you posted :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Allergen Friendly New York City

In honor of Summer, I've decided to start a little series on great allergen-friendly spots in the cities we have lived in or visited. If you are a family who deals with food allergens and traveling to New York, Atlanta, Austin, Memphis, Nashville or San Diego this summer...this series is for you! Will post links as I add cities!

Allergen Friendly NEW YORK, NY

If I'm being honest, this city was not in my top 10 to visit, but when it came time that I needed some serious one-on-one time with my oldest, we took a trip here as it was her most coveted spot to see in all America.  She was not disappointed, and I ended up falling a little bit in love with NY City's charm.

New York is full of great places that offer dairy/egg-free, vegan, gluten free's easy to find places here to accommodate your dietary needs; however, finding them can be a bit challenging!  Here's a good starting point for your visit <3

Gluten-Free Bakeries

Erin McKenna's Bakery
This lovely little spot is also Vegan, Soy-free, and Refined Sugar-free as well.  So. Many. Different. Yummy baked goods!!  We enjoyed the oregano bagel with vegan butter- this was my fav, and I instagram-ed it.  But you also don't want to miss the apple churros, donuts, and cupcake options, which we also partook in.  It's a small storefront, but look for the cute teal and pink retro stuff in the window and you won't miss it.  We took the subway to Delancey St station, got out and walked two blocks West on Broome St.  There is also a little park in the median if you keep going a block and a half West on Broome.  We enjoyed our treats there and people watched.
Alisa in front of Erin McKenna's Bakery

Tu-Lu's Gluten Free Bakery
This place is not all-vegan, so there are some GF options that contain dairy or eggs, but we had super yummy Pumpkin loaf that was GF/CF, and had the best GF/Vegan glazed donuts here!  We actually ate two donuts each because they were so light and fluffy and we needed extra walking around energy ;)  Didn't take a picture here, but the vibe was sort of the same as Erin McKenna's- cute pink and white small store front on E 11th St near 4th Ave.  There wasn't a subway stop super close by, but we enjoyed seeing more of this area of the city.  There were some older, beautiful churches near here for a sight-seeing detour.
Hu Kitchen for Paleo Baked Goods
This place was where we split an amazing paleo meal.  Highly recommend the wild meatloaf and any of the veggie sides!  Also the chicken quinoa soup was amazing here.  We also had the best paleo (so naturally gluten and dairy free! but so many of their baked goods are also nut free here, which is refreshing for a paleo place and Alisa cannot have almonds!) carrot cake and pudding here.  Their paleo-friendly baked good and dessert section was extensive!

Gluten-Free Asian Food

We tried a couple places, but if you are staying in Midtown or near Central Park, Lili's 57 was super good!  They had a decent choice of sushi, Thai food, and traditional Chinese food.  We had dairy-free bubble tea and I enjoyed great GF drunken noodles from their GF specific menu.  Request one when you go in. The meal was light and not too heavy, but we definitely could have just shared one Bubble Tea as those were kind of on the sweet side.

Chelsea Market

This place had a ton of restaurants inside, plus super fun shopping, so this is a must!  Also, it's near The High Line, which we enjoyed touring despite the crowds on a Sat afternoon.  We at at Los Tacos No.1 and had some amazing tacos on corn tortillas.  (FYI: they don't do cheese on tacos, but the guacamole here does have dairy so we didn't get that, but they do have a sign warning you so we knew not to order it)

Rockin' Raw Restaurant

This place was a total last minute decision.  We has just seen Wicked and were going to stop somewhere close, but Alisa was really in the mood for a milk-shake and this place has 10 different vegan milkshake options!  So we headed downtown to this elegant place.  It only seats 22 people, but it's such a hidden gem!  Everything is gluten-free, soy-free, organic, vegan, and veggie packed!  They have a huge list of raw desserts and AMAZING jambalaya (it is warmed a bit).  Also would highly recommend the Buffalo Mushroom Poppers.  The vegan milks and milkshakes have a choice of almond or coconut bases, so if you can't do nuts, you can still get dessert or enjoy some hot chocolate.
Our waitress was the sweetest.  Only one server per shift so expect to sit and relax a bit!

Best Burger In New York!

Bareburger is an all Organic burger joint and has several locations in NYC.  We loved the decor inside too- super fun portraits of humans with farm animal heads and muted pastels.  I heart muted pastels ;)  Bareburger has plenty of options for healthy low-sugar drinks, gluten-free buns, and collard wraps for bun-less.  They have everything clearly marked on their extensive menu.  If we go back to NYC soon, I will definitely visit a Bareburger!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What is is like to be a Sensory-Challenged Parent?

It's so much easier to talk about the things our children deal with, right?  I can tell you about my kids' sensory areas; I know what restaurants to avoid because they can't handle the loudness or the smells; I know what gets them dis-regulated and I know what kinds of activities they seek out to regulate themselves because I watch them, observe and study them to help them the best I can.

But me?  What about Mom's sensory processing issues?  What gets me dis-regulated?

A few years ago, instead of just making it from one loud play date to the next messy craft time, I decided to take a look at my sensory profile and see what kinds of things I'm sensitive to.  I knew I didn't like certain things, but I didn't exactly know why.  One day, I took a Sensory Profile test at a training I went to, and it was eye opening!

If you were to do a search for "sensory processing 'anything'" you would find thousands of results for sites about children, but few for what adults go through.  Guess what?  We all have sensitivities, a Sensory Profile, so to speak.  We all have a small level to a large problem of some sensory stuff going on with ourselves.

I'm going to share with you some of things about me and my "Sensory Profile" as a parent...know that you are not alone if things bother you, if you can't deal, or if your environment makes you feel a little twitchy sometimes :)

Must Have Quiet...or Quiet-er

How do you handle crowds, loud restaurants, or concerts?  How about if several noises are going off at once- a car alarm, a dog barking, the timer on the oven, several people talking all while the TV is on.  If this sounds like your worst nightmare, then you are like me, a mom who is a bit auditory defensive.
My three children all love to sing.  They are precious when they sing all sorts of made up songs and have that cute falsetto thing that kids do when they are trying to sing pretty.  My heart loves it; however, my poor ears cannot take it.  At all.  My Mia will say to her brother this exact phrase...often, "Bubs, you know that hurts mom's ears and makes her feel crazy!"  That sweet Bubs cannot handle going more than a few minutes without an outburst of sound, singing, or nonsense noises for his own sensory reasons.  Oh my ears, though, when he does that, it feels like 100 needles stabbing me in my eardrum!  My head gets stuffy, my shoulders tense and I just want to escape.

How does this affect my Mom-Behavior?  I want to Shut. It. Down.  I want to do whatever it takes to make the noises stop.  I will try to parent the loudness out of them.  But, of course, that doesn't work...again, their own sensory issues are at play.  Sometimes my head hurts just trying to police all of them trying to talk to me at once.  I know they all need me; I know they all need attention.  But sometimes it feels like juggling too many spike-covered balls at once and I cannot deal.

Instead of trying to get better at the juggling, which I spent many days striving to do, I simply get what I need by stepping away.  I have also been known to plug my own ears with my fingers and steal my kids noise-reducing ear muffs! (It's not always mature, but it gets the job done.  Sometimes gives us all a good laugh!)

Need to Eliminate All The Clutter!

There is a reason that I spend thirty minutes deciding on the right hotel when going on vacation.  I don't do a lot of patterns, too many bright colors, and I cannot relax in a sea of floral prints.  I used to think I was too picky about aesthetics.  Then I realized, when I took the sensory profile, that I scored high for visual plane and vestibular sensitivities.

Now, for me, the whiter, the more peaceful; the simpler the better!  I finally get to live in a home where it's mostly light neutrals, muted accents, and spacious enough that our small amount of stuff makes it seem like clutter cannot happen.  But with three small people, and if I'm being honest, some messy adults :), papers are here, there, and everywhere, pencil shavings, wrappers, clothes in every room!, everyone's stuff all up on our bed, just so many little tiny things all over the place!!  I handle it well until I don't; then I go a bit cray cray.

When the house feels like it's closing in on me and I get overwhelmed by the clutter, it can hurt right behind my eyes and I have to go to a happy place when my kids bring home and unload their back packs full of papers and miscellaneous sticky things.  I don't do heights and I don't do over-loaded visual planes.  My ideal Instagram feed is a bunch of white squares with neutral things on them...sometimes just scrolling through IG gives me that pressure behind my eyes.  I love seeing peoples' stories and lovely pictures, but after a while it's too much visually.  I still use my finger every now and then when I read too.  Yes, I am 33.  These can be signs of a visual sensitivity- not visual impairment, like needing glasses- but a sensitivity with processing what you see.  The vestibular and propreoceptive senses, the ones that senses where you are in space and in motion, play into this as I sometimes feel like my cluttered home is an obstacle course I am bound to fail.. and many times do.

So when there are tiny things everywhere, like crumbs, or small pieces of paper (don't get me started on messy crafts with pipe cleaner bits and paint cups everywhere!), my brain kind of freaks out.  It's the most satisfying thing to vacuum for me.  I do it almost every day.  I may not do laundry but once a month, but I will vacuum!  Clutter for me, isn't just an annoyance, it hurts!  If I absolutely have to get work done I will throw a white blanket over four loads of un-put-away laundry on the couch so it's less visually stimulating!  If there are a lot of kid things in the floor I will shove them all in one pile so it feels like I can move around.  I have found ways to limit how this distracts me.

If the visual planes in my life are clear, bright, and un-cluttered, then my Mom-Behavior is great!  But my kids know that there are times when we all have to clean All The Things, and they are sort of used to it now.  We have made it a routine for the last few months to do this on Fridays before we have some sort of Shabbat and celebrate a Day of Rest on Saturday.  They still complain a bit, but they also now know that I'm a more pleasant Mom when it all gets clean and clear!

How about you?  Do you think you might have any sensory issues as a parent?  The Sensory Profile is a Clinical Assessment so there is nothing comparable available online.  However, I suggest reading Carol Kranowitz "The Out of Sync Child" link in my Resource Page under Sensory Ideas.  It has helpful questionnaires used for children, but also you can see for yourself some things you may have done as a child or put the questions into more adult terms. 

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