Finding Peace While Seeking Simplicity

looking at the trees in paris

There have been a rash of articles lately about the pressure on parents, particularly mothers. I won’t rehash their arguments (or whether I agree), but I do feel they have some fair points. Which got me thinking, “is this simplifying thing just another way for mothers compete?” And then I thought how silly that sounded because that would be the exact opposite of simplifying. And then again, I remembered we are all human.

Here’s the thing. Simplifying should not something else to worry about. Simplifying, at its best, is a solution to other problems … not a source of panic or guilt or obsession on its own.

No good deed goes unpunished, and anything can be criticized or made into a competition. For me, and I hope for you, simplifying won’t be seen as one more task to complete but rather a new way of viewing things. Stepping back. Taking a deep breath. Focusing on the things most important to us. And letting go of the rest.

Wishing everyone a peaceful, simple holiday season and a very happy new year.

Photo from traveling a few summers ago.

Getting Organized With … Ann Evans of Cypress Floral Design

Arranging flowers is one of my favorite aspects of entertaining at home, but there are many occasions when it is more appropriate to call in the pros. Lucky for Jacksonville, we have Ann Evans, owner of Cypress Floral Design. Ann is a beautiful person inside and out, and her flowers are equally stunning. I’ve worked with her on both personal and professional levels many times and she never fails to delight. In addition to designing numerous weddings throughout the South, Ann has created the floral designs for the Cummer Ball and the Art & Antiques Show. Knowing many people will be pulling out their vases during the next few weeks, I asked Ann to share her best organizing tips with us. Here she is:

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Ann with a selection of her vase collection

What are the few, key vases everyone should own?
I’ll start with the vases you should not own and then suggest ones that you should.  There are a few factors  that go into choosing a great vase. The most important  is whether or not it can be easily cleaned! If the mouth of a vase is the size of a quarter and the vase is over 12″ tall, it is almost impossible to clean. Additionally, I prefer translucent or opaque vessels over clear ones because the water typically turns before the flowers. Also make sure the vessel is water-tight—you don’t want any leaky vases. To answer your question, besides water-tight translucent or opaque vessels,  I think everyone should own a set of really beautiful silver mint julep cups. They are versatile and can be dotted around the house or placed collectively on a dining room table mixed with votive candles. They are traditional and classic, but they take on the life of whatever flowers you put in them—from soft hydrangeas with mixed greenery to edgier deep red roses. Same vessel, different look.

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shallow cabinets, perfect for storage vases

Do you have any tips for storing these delicate, sometimes bulky items?
You know that saying “if you can’t see it, it isn’t there”?—well, that’s how I feel about vase storage. I store my vases so that I can see nearly all of them at a glance. Some are stacked together with felt in between them for protection, but I know they are there. I also have a lot of stainless steel wire racks. I often suggest clients put these racks in their garages or utility closets for storing vases (as well as many other items). It is amazing how much they hold and everything remains visible. Another idea is to have a carpenter shorten the depth of a cabinet by putting a wood panel inside—this makes for shallow shelves and allows easy access to vases. Then you can put valuable or seasonal items behind the panel and out of the way.

In terms of vases or floral supplies, what do you see too much of in people’s home?
I see too many unused vases! If you never use it, take it to goodwill, recycle it or have a garage sale.

Are there any tools that really make life easier for you that we should consider using?
I just bought a pair of Corona snippers at Philips Garden Store and I love them! They are really tough and sharp but not bulky. They cut everything from woody hydrangea stems to soft tulips. I highly recommend them.

Ann Evans - floral 2a bridal bouquet by Ann Evans

How do you stay organized before really big events?
Lists! I have checklists for every event. Always typed and printed. I have terrible handwriting and creating lists on my phone or iPad doesn’t seem real to me. I list every piece and part of every floral creation and tablescape I design. Then I check off every supply and each completed design.

Ann Evans - floral 1table and flowers by Ann Evans

What are some simple tips for keeping more fresh flowers around the house?
Call me! Ha :) I love designing flowers for people whether it be on occasion or each week—but I completely understand if you see some beautiful blooms at the grocery store and want to brighten up your home. Go for it! Flowers are such a treat. Just be sure to give the stems a fresh cut and put them in water immediately.

A Simple Addition for Cold Nights

woolino sleep sack

Colder nights mean layering up at our house. Even with the heat blasting, our daughter’s nursery is still cold at night. Wanting to keep her in natural fibers (sorry, fleece!), it took some researching to find the right solution. I discovered the Woolino Four Season Sleep Bag and so far we are loving it.

I finally landed on this particular sleep sack for a few reasons:
– 100% natural Australian merino wool inner lining and GOTS certified organic cotton outer (the wool was key).
– No flame retardants (because this is sleep-ware, many companies still put flame retardant chemicals on their sleep sacks.)
– Machine washable (It washes well. I hung it to dry.)
– Easy to snap on. It also has a zipper for nighttime diaper changes.
– The material is extremely soft and comfortable—far softer than I expected.
– Certainly least important, but there are several nice colors to choose from (we got the beige, shown above).

I started by purchasing the 2-4 year size since our daughter is just shy of two years and taller for her age. However, it was comically large. I exchanged it for the 2 months-2 years size and it is perfect, with room to grow (although it might be far too long for a two month old). I imagine by the time she outgrows it, she will be old enough to have blankets in bed.

On really cold nights, we dress her in two sets of long cotton pjs, two pairs of socks plus this sleep sack and never hear a peep.

My Evening Skin Care Routine

I’ve talked before about my morning skin care routine, so I thought I’d share the products I use in the evening. Before buying any products, I always research it on EWG’s Skin Deep database to be sure it is completely non-toxic (I try to only buy products rated 0-2, which is the least toxic).

This probably looks like a lot of work, but I spend less than 4-5 minutes doing all of this. For me, it is a nightly ritual where I get to slow down, take care of myself, and prepare for bed, so I enjoy making this small extra effort. This is the order I do things:

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1. Beautycounter Routine Cream Cleanser. This gentle face wash really removes make up while soothing my skin. I love it because it doesn’t burn my eyes when I wash off my eye make up. It also moisturizes as it cleans, which I love for my dry skin. The subtle scent is really nice, too. I often use it in conjunction with my Clarisonic Mia (11.), which is a cult favorite for good reason! (EWG 2)

2. Beautycounter Rosewater Uplifting Spray. I love using toner as part of my routine. It helps prep the skin so it better absorbs any additional products applied. The subtle rose scent is a bonus. (EWG 1)

3. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. It might seem funny to include toothpaste in a skin care routine, but I find it is vital to let products soak in before moving on to the next, so I use this time to brush my teeth. It makes the whole routine more efficient. (EWG 1)

4. Aura Cacia Organic Tea Tree Oil. If I have any blemishes, I apply a tiny bit of tea tree oil at this point. Just add a few drops to a q-tip and apply where needed. Fluctuating hormones of pregnancy get me every time! (EWG 1)

5. Countertime Radiance Firming Complex. I’m a major fan of this serum. It fights fine lines and discoloration, and I have definitely seen an improvement in both areas. My skin is more “glow-y” as someone told me—super nice to hear after a long night with a sick baby! To me, the best part about it is that it is still non-toxic. All of the other serums I have come across that are effective contain harsh ingredients, which I am not willing to use (especially while pregnant and/or breastfeeding). And a little bit goes a long way with this stuff. Definitely my favorite item out of everything. (EWG 2)

6. Countertime Vibrant Eye Perfector. I’ve loved this eye cream for a while. For someone who has dark circles with or without sleep, I really appreciate a product that solves that for me while still being safe. A must for me. (EWG 1)

7. Glide Floss. Next up I floss my teeth while the serum and eye cream absorb. I tried using Tom’s floss but it felt like flossing with shoelaces—it was just too thick. So I am not sure Glide floss is the purest out there, but it does a great job. I can’t go to sleep without flossing.

8. Acure Organics Argan Oil. I use argan oil in place of a moisturizer. It has almost no scent, goes on smoothly and absorbs quickly. This goes on once the serum has soaked in. In really cold months, I use a heavier night cream, but for now this works. (EWG 0)

9. Raw Organic Shea Butter. I use this for my lips and it moisturizes throughout the night. It is hard when you first get it out of the jar, so you’ll have to rub it in to soften it. It only takes a moment, and it has been incredible for my lips. It is also great for hands and cuticles. (EWG 0)

10. California Baby Organic Body Oil. I often take showers at night, and if so, I apply this baby oil after. I find it moisturizes more intensely than lotion alone. (EWG 1) (This isn’t the exact body oil I use, but the one I am finishing up is discontinued, and I will be buying this brand when I need a new bottle).

Many of the products here are from Beautycounter, a brand I have been passionate about for a long time. With a mission focused on extreme safety, Beautycounter’s products are not only effective, but they are completely non-toxic. After using and raving about this brand for many months, I decided to become a consultant. I am very proud to be working with Beautycounter and sharing their message that all products on the marketplace should be safe. I used every product listed here before becoming a consultant (except for the Rosewater), so I can tell you without bias how effective each of these are. In fact, it is only because I thought the products were so incredible that I got involved on an official level. If you’d like to learn more about why I love it so much, please don’t hesitate to ask.

This routine of course evolves through the seasons and as my skin changes, but for now, this is what works for me. My top priority is to use the safest products on the market that also get the job done, and I feel like I’ve finally found those very things.

24 Hours With … Maia James from Gimme The Good Stuff

With so many resources available for non-toxic living, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Add to that the panic-stricken feelings the subject can induce, and avoiding the topic altogether might feel more appealing. Maia James, founder of Gimme The Good Stuff, somehow balances deep knowledge in non-toxic living while also being totally realistic, reasonable and personable—a rare combination! Her web site is full of well-researched and well-reasoned recommendations—it is definitely worth a look (I was really surprised about some things I learned from her). As a Huffington Post writer and celebrity consultant, Maia devotes her career to helping people, particularly mothers, reduce toxins in their lives. Maia lives with her family in New York, and this is her 24 Hours.

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Do you work inside or outside of the home? If outside of the home, what are your hours? I work inside my home, in an office in my apartment.

What is your childcare/schooling situation? My older son is in kindergarten all day, and so I work during the younger one’s nap, after they both go to bed, and then a couple of mornings a week I have a babysitter here to play with my 15-month-old while I work.  All other times, I try to just be a mom for the boys, and not be multi-tasking with my iphone in one hand, trying to surreptitiously check email while reading Curious George. I sort of pull this off, but not always as well as I would like.

What is breakfast, lunch and dinner like in your family? Pretty chaotic. My one-year-old only wants to eat with a fork, so it’s always a huge mess. Breakfast is usually oatmeal with chia seeds and maple syrup, or French toast which we make with sprouted bread.  Lunch is often leftovers from dinner, but I admit to doing a fair amount of whole-wheat mac and cheese with broccoli thrown in! My husband often makes dinner (lucky me)—often either salmon or chicken, with a vegetable and a grain, like quinoa, brown rice, or kamut, which the kids like with butter and tamari. We make pizzas on premade crusts when we feel lazy, or sometimes a pasta with shrimp or veggies. I don’t eat meat, but my boys do, so sometimes I’ll make homemade tofu burgers and my husband will make grassfed beef burgers for himself and the kids.

Do you meal plan or wing it? Do you like that? A little of each. I sort of plan in the morning, so that during the afternoon I can start prepping dinner a bit…but I definitely don’t lay out the week’s meals every Sunday. I wish I could be that organized!

What is the most challenging part of your day? The stretch in the late afternoon to early evening when I’m waiting for my husband to come home can feel really long, and I know it’ll only be worse this winter! My husband now knows that if he stops on his way home—be it for a 6-pack or toilet paper—he may have his head ripped off for daring to be delayed even 5 extra minutes!!

What is the easiest part of your day? When the kids are finally in bed and I sit on the couch and do work while my husband lets me monopolize the TV with terrible shows like The Bachelor.

In terms of running a house with a family, what do you feel like you have figured out? [Long long pause]. I think I’ve figured out how to prepare meals with two kids underfoot pretty well. Sometimes that means letting the baby bang on pots at my feet, sometimes I’m holding him in one arm while I stir and Felix is playing on the ipad.

Does anything still stump you? Most things! I still can’t believe it when I visit people with kids and their homes are spotless and perfectly organized. I just don’t have a good handle on this yet. I feel like I walk around cleaning and picking up ALL day, yet the place always is a mess.

How do you take care of yourself and recharge? As I mentioned, every night I get a little recharge by putting my feet up, watching something mindless on TV, and drinking either a Kombucha, a good IPA beer, or a glass or wine. I actually find working on my business relaxing because I so rarely get dedicated time completely to myself!.

If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it? I would love to have one solid hour of time just devoted to snuggling or being silly with my kids, without feeling like I need to be doing anything else at all.

Any other tips you’d like to share? Get a handheld vacuum cleaner! Somehow it took me 5 years to do so, and it’s changed my life.

What does a usual 24 hours look like in your house? The kids are up at around 6:30 a.m. and my husband leaves for work really early—the boys and I have a little lazy time in our jammies, reading books or snuggling, and by 7:00 we are up eating breakfast, then getting dressed, brushing teeth, cleaning up, packing lunch, and out the door at 8:20 to walk my older son to school. From 8:45 to noon I either have a babysitter and I work or I take the baby to the park/a music class/to see a friend. Then we eat lunch and I put him down for a nap, and then I nearly sprint to my computer to catch up on the piles of work that are always waiting for me! Wolfie wakes up at around 2:30, at which point we have to leave immediately to pick up his brother. We often run an errand after this—grocery store or other shopping—or sometimes I take my older son for a playdate. We get home by 4:00 or so and I start dinner by 4:45 so the kids can eat at 5:30, which is usually around the time my husband gets home. After that it’s the standard bath-cleanup-stories-bedtime routine, with the goal that the kids are both sleeping by 7:15! I try to get myself in bed by 9:30 since I always read for at least an hour before going to sleep (mostly The New York Times on my phone but ideally a bit of fiction, too!).

Keeping It Simple: Uniforms

1-everlane
from everlane, a favorite store. their 2014 fall/winter line just launched—don’t miss it.

Having a smaller wardrobe, I tend to wear the same things over and over. More or less a uniform, you could say. With two young children, it just accidentally evolved this way to make my life easier. Little thought input, maximum looking good/feeling good output.

Preston often talks about a “runaround uniform” and I love that idea. A go-to look for those days where you don’t necessarily need to look extremely professional but still presentable. A perfect solution especially for stay-at-home moms.

Another way to view this is “worst case scenario” dressing. Meaning, your go-to uniform will work no matter where you go (work, errands, appointments, park) and how you feel (exhausted, bloated, rushed). A big part of this is finding and choosing clothes that fit. Once you’ve landed on those core pieces that always feel right, just keep wearing them! Invest in a few pairs of the same perfect pants, the right tops and the amazingly comfortable shoes. No need to reinvent the wheel each morning.

Variety is not the key here. Sounds boring or strange? That’s okay. You won’t care because your mornings just got a heck of a lot easier. And no one else will care either—I promise.

Everyone’s uniform will look different and of course change from season to season. I don’t aspire to be extremely fashionable—just to feel comfortable and look good enough with the ultimate goal of keeping things simple.

Are your clothes making your mornings easier or more complicated? How could you simplify? More tips for decluttering clothes here and here.

Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em

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Part of pursuing a simpler life is recognizing when I’ve gotten in over my head. Even though I really try to avoid a jammed schedule, sometimes it is hard to say no to things—especially when those things are all fun.

We host an annual party that we look forward to all year. It includes around 60-70 people (many under the age of 4!) packed into our tiny house, and we still manage to have a blast. We were gearing up for this year’s party (invitations sent! supplies purchased!) when we realized it just wasn’t going to work. Multiple days of travel for both of us, work commitments, family commitments, birthdays, other parties and other fun things all coinciding within the same two weeks. What were we thinking?? Well, we weren’t.

One night, while still working at 11pm, I knew it was too much. Something had to give. We looked at everything, and canceling the party was the obvious solution. Major bummer. But our stress level went way down immediately.

Have you ever said no to something you really, really wanted to do? Hard, right? But it was a very valuable lesson for us: if something is a priority, make it a priority. Next year, we will.