Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Goodbye To Morgan the Elf

I haven't been a blogger this year, but it's been nagging at me lately to get back to it. Then, tonight, we had some events take place that I really wished I could blog about, because I love when people are transparent and honest, and share their learning experiences with others. No one's perfect; why pretend to be? So I guess I'll just jump in and be the first to be transparent, and also get back to blogging! ;)

A couple of weeks ago, we started the tradition of the Elf on the Shelf. It seemed innocent and fun, and in some ways it was. Except that in years past, we have never done Santa. We've kept Christmas focused on Christ's birth, without distraction, and my kids were taught that Santa is a "fun thing people pretend at Christmas."

For some reason this year, as the Christmas season approached, my kids insisted Santa was real. And seeing all of the fun Elf on the Shelf ideas on Pinterest, I caved on my convictions and went with it. I didn't discourage Santa, and an elf arrived, courtesy of a friend.

Well, my prayer is and always will be that the Lord will nudge me if I'm stepping out of line, and a conviction is a conviction, even if you try to reason your way out of it. The elf and Santa can be harmless, but for me, they felt wrong.

He nudged me. Actually, He practically tore my heart in two with a simple confession from a 5 year old. One morning, after waking to look for the elf, she said, "Mom...I really love the elf. I love her more than God. I used to wake up and think about God and how much I love Him, but now I think about the elf!"


Convictions are convictions, even if the matter seems harmless and innocent, and "everyone else is doing it."

So tonight I sat my kids down and told them that the elf is pretend, along with Santa. God is real. Jesus is real. The Holy Spirit is real. And I don't ever want my kids to question those truths or feel if lied about Santa, maybe I'm lying about God. There were tears, both theirs and mine. And Aimee is mad, because she enjoyed being in on a secret. But they've shed their tears, Amerie has asked tons of questions, and we're moving on. We're moving on with our eyes focused on Christ this season, not on compromised convictions, and talking about His birth, and the reason He came as a baby so long ago - to save us from our sins.

And one more thing, that I just realized as I was writing. :) Since the presents under our tree won't be *from Santa,* I can openly give credit where it's due and use it as one more way to praise God and teach my kids about His blessings. Santa didn't provide those gifts, and for the most part, neither did I. I had less than $100 to spend on my 4 kids, the two sweet babies I baby-sit, and wrapping paper and tape. And that's after conserving gas and waiting to buy shampoo. :) But there will be many gifts under our tree this year, and they came through the generosity of others, who were used by the Lord to bless us. I am so very grateful, and humbled. I have to admit, too, that watching God provide in special, surprising ways is so much better than if my finances always allowed me to buy whatever I wanted!

To those who provided, thank you!! So much. And to those who enjoyed my album of Elf on the Shelf pics on Facebook, my apologies. Our elf is retiring. I guess you'll have to be satisfied with mobile uploads of my cute kids. ;)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some natural moisturizers, and an attempt to find my natural hair color...

I have a little confession to make, although some of you already know this about me...

I like to dye my hair.  : )  It's fun, it can be cheap, and I've been doing it on and off for the past 10 or so years.

But in an effort to switch to natural alternatives this year, I need to stop this little hobby of mine.  The only problem I have is that I don't really know what my natural color is anymore.  Is it light brown?  With a little red?  No red?  I've been adding red to it for a little while, but I think it's actually a light brown, now that I've had four children.  So...this weekend I dyed it light brown.  And I really like it.  It's not much different than what I had, but I've always leaned towards reds and blondes, so this is kind of fun.  I'm sure it will lighten up as I wash it, and my Burt's Bee's shampoo I bought will have to wait for a little while before I'm comfortable using it again.  I'm afraid it would leave my hair a funky color for some reason...

On a side note, I asked my girls if they noticed a difference in my hair color when they were getting ready for bed last night.  The younger two said it looked the same, but Aimee said she noticed a slight difference.  When Amerie heard this, she said, "Come here.  Let me smell it."

sniff sniff

"Yep," she said.  "It's smells darker to me!"

My kids are weirdos.  : )

This weekend I also filled a jar with coconut oil to try as a moisturizer.  The kids and I used it before and i liked it, but Michigan winters are hard on skin, and ours tends to be dry already.  I have a slight memory of it not being enough.  We'll see.  I used it last night as a face moisturizer.  It's not greasy, and we buy virgin coconut oil, so it smells just like coconuts.  : )  My only problem is that I've been addicted to the Mary Kay Timewise collection since they debuted it almost 10 years ago.  It's going to be really, really hard for me to find a replacement.  : (  Plus, I have finicky skin that's dry and breaks out easily.  So switching skincare is frustrating and scary.  Here's what I've tried so far, and my opinions...

Unprocessed (extra virgin) coconut oil - Makes a good moisturizer, and doesn't upset my skin.  Might not be moisturizing enough for winter, but it would definitely be perfect for summer.  I've been using it as is, but this week I'll be adding beeswax and making it into an actual lotion.  It might be more moisturizing with the beeswax.

Grapeseed oil - I believe what I have is processed, because it doesn't say other wise.  I used this on myself and the kids and it was perfect for the younger two, who don't suffer from eczema.  Aimee refuses to use anything until she has a rash from her dry skin (will she ever learn??), so she won't agree to be a guinea pig.  Andrew didn't mind it, but still had itchy skin.  Me too, and it wasn't enough to keep my face from drying out.  Would be good for the summer, though.  Or for normal skin.  And it's an oil, so give it time to absorb.  : )

Raw shea butter - I LOVED this, because it is so moisturizing.  It goes on thick, and you have to melt it in your hand before applying.  But it's amazing.  I had two problems with it, though.  One, my face broke out BAD.  So it's a no-go for that.  And two, it has an interesting smell, since it's completely unprocessed.  I didn't mind it, but my girls hated it.  They don't even like it on my hands.  So I'm at a loss with what to do with my giant tub of it.  I might try using it on my hands during the day, and see if the smell dissipates, because this is some serious moisturizing and I really don't want to give it up.  I've come to accept that winter means my hands are cracked and in pain, but I would be a very happy girl if that could change.  More on this later.  : )

I also purchased Burt's Bee's shampoo and conditioner a few weeks ago.  Like I said before, I won't be using it on my hair just yet.  I'll be finishing up my Tresseme.  But my opinion of their Super Shiny Shampoo and conditioner...I liked it.  Once I got passed the fact that it's the stuff that's bad for you that makes shampoo so wonderful.  It's hard to lather at first, since it doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulfate.  At first, I just used more.  But then I realized you just have to give it more effort to suds, and then it works just fine.  I'm not crazy about the smell as it lathers, but once my hair is drying, it has a nice citrus-y smell that I liked.

(Sidenote - About sodium lauryl sulfate.  It's one item I'm doing my best to eliminate from our lives.  Looking into the claims about it's safety, there are just as many saying it's okay, as there are that it's unsafe. But here's my opinion on the subject, and this goes with all of the chemicals and compounds I'm eliminating this year...if there is a reasonable alternative to a product that may or may not be unsafe, why not choose the alternative?  Maybe my shampoo won't suds as nicely or my clothes won't be quite as fluffy and soft as Downy gets them.  But if I can prevent even one cancer diagnosis in my family someday down the road, these little changes I'm making right now are 100 % worth it.  And that is my motivation.)

I also made some homemade deodorant yesterday, using this recipe.  I'm using it at home, around the house, until I know how well it works.  : )  But from what I read, if your body and your gut are healthy, you shouldn't need strong deodorants because it's the toxins in your body that cause you stink to begin with.  Interesting theory, that makes sense to me.  We'll see how it goes.  It was easy to make, with one part arrowroot powder (you can also use cornstarch, but I had arrowroot in the fridge) and one part baking soda.  After you combine the two, add enough coconut oil to make it the consistency of conventional deodorant.  You can store in an old deodorant container, but I put mine in a jelly jar for now.  I've used this formula before and it worked fine, but I was eating a lot of junk foods at the time.  It might work better this time around.

That's all the changes I've made so far.  I'm still trying them out and seeing how they work long term, and how well my kids like them.  In the end, I won't make a change my kids will hate unless I feel it's completely necessary.  My long-term hope is that they will make these same decisions when they are adults, and if they grow up hating the products I made them use, they will be completely turned off to the idea of using natural alternatives themselves.  So I'm prepared for much trial and error!

That's all I've got for now.  : )  Have a super Monday!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ball Canning Jars

We had a pretty exciting day around here!!

Okay, well...I had a pretty exciting day!  The kids, to be honest, rolled their eyes at me.   : ) 

But that's okay, because I'm still really excited!!!

I posted on Facebook that I would willingly take any canning jars that were being unused in a basement some where.  I've really wanted to try some new recipes, like homemade sauerkraut, dill pickles, kefir, etc.  But I don't have any jars leftover when I finish up a batch of chicken stock.  And at this moment in time, I can't get myself to justify a purchase of a couple dozen Ball jars.  So I thought about my former mother-in-law, who used to store up jars and jars of applesauce every year (after picking them from the tree themselves, of course!)  : )  Aimee has told me that she doesn't make as much applesauce now, as she did when her kids were younger.  It made me wonder how many others have jars sitting around that at one time were in frequent use, but in the past few years have sat empty.  So I thought, "Hmmm...it can't hurt to ask!" 

I'm so glad I did!!  A friend of a friend sent me a private message and told me she had over 4 dozen jars of various sizes, if I wanted to come get them.  : )  OF COURSE!!!  The kids were super excited about a car ride in the middle of the day, and I was envisioning all of things I would use them for.  : D

I came right home and ran them all through the dishwasher, so I could store them clean and ready to use.  Here's Lexi with them on the table, so they can dry thoroughly before I put the lids back on.

Of course, setting a 3 year old in front of a bunch of clean empty jars is not the best idea.  I heard several times, "I touched that one, Mommy.  Oops...I touched that one, too."  Silly girl.

I was really glad that the jars were different sizes, too.  The quart sizes are perfect for chicken stock, kefir, fermented veges (i.e. sauerkraut), etc.  And the pint and jelly jars will not only be used for the homemade toiletries I'm making to replace our commercial ones (I will be posting recipes later, as I make and try different recipes).  But...

We use them as drinking glasses!!  The little jelly jars are great for the younger kids, and the pints are perfect for the older kids and adults.  Plus, they're not only a great alternative to plastic, but they don't shatter when they're accidentally dropped on the floor.  Perfect!!

So a big thanks goes out to Lisa L. for the jars!!!  I'll be posting in the next week or so about some diet changes the kids (but mostly I) will be making, along with what's going in the jars.  : )  I'm so giddy about it all!!

I should add, too, that the first thing each of my parents said when they saw the jars was, "What are you going to use all those for??"  And second, "Where ya gonna store 'em?"  Hahaha.  I'm still working the details of that last one out...  : )

Have a good weekend!! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Awana and the 23rd Psalm

It's official...the kids LOVE Awana.  :)

This was our second week of attending, and both Amerie and Aimee flew through their starter booklets and have earned their vests and Awana books.  Aimee memorized her entire workbook in one night when they told her she could do it all at once if she wanted!!  It had 7-8 "checkpoints," and she had memorized the first two checkpoint verses and questions for her second night.  We thought it would take her 3-4 weeks to make it through the book, but my girlie did it all in one night. I'm so proud of her!!!!

I signed up for a Wednesday night class, too.  The Wednesday night classes run in 4-week sessions, and the next one starts next week.  The class is about the 23rd Psalm and "truly knowing the joy and peace of living under the care of the Good Shepherd."   This is something I am coming to know, yet still struggle with every day.  When I list out all of the ways the Lord has provided for the kids and I, I am amazed.  And humbled.  And very, very grateful.  And yet I still struggle with worry over our needs.  My biggest worry right now is over the coming summer, and then the purchase of whatever we may need for next school year.  If this coming summer is like last summer, I will have no income from mid-June through August.  And that's assuming I will be watching the same kids next year that I am now (if they're not in school...)  I hope I will be, mostly because my heart loves them a lot.  :)  But I've learned that things change and you can't assume the future is certain.

So...that leaves me worrying, but trying to trust.  And trying to save money to get us through summer, but it's really hard when you earn exactly enough for your expenses.

Ever been there??  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  :)

So when I saw the class description, I thought to myself, "Wow.  That's perfect for my life right now..."  I need to trust Him more.  He's not going to leave our needs unmet, and I know He will provide.  And I need to give up that part of me that likes to plan everything out and know what the future will bring, because He's really working on that with me!!!  It's not always for me to figure out.  I need to be obedient and responsible, and He will provide what the kids and I need. 

As for our "new church"...I'm still on the fence about where we're at.  I've had an emotional week, so that could have contributed to my lack of excitement over where we're attending.  I also had a brief conversation with one of those "you're not a member of our church.  You're an outsider," kind of people.  I know that every church has those kinds of people, and I'm certainly not going to judge the entire church by the behavior of one individual.  Everyone else I have met has been incredibly kind and helpful (it's a big church, and on Wednesdays I have 5 kids to corral around a building I'm not yet familiar with.  I've definitely needed help a few times!!)  But I would like to go on record right now as saying that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Warren Woods.  Jon Nich completely spoils us with Worship.  I doubt I'll ever find a church with Worship music like he provides us with.  And I look forward to hearing Pastor Tim or Pastor David preach on Sunday mornings.  The sermon I heard this past Sunday was "okay."  I'm sure I need to give it a few more weeks.  I also miss the friendliness at the Woods.  It's big enough to have lots going on, but not so big that you walk in the door and feel "lost."  I'm sure part of that is because I've attended for 30 years and know a lot of faces, but I've heard many new attenders say that the "warm, welcome" feeling they got when they walked through the door is what made them stay.  And it's true.

So this week...I'm loving Wednesdays for the kids.  I'm sure I'll enjoy my class, too.  But I'm really missing Warren Woods Sunday morning services.  :(

Who knows?  Maybe I was led to this new church just to satisfy my curiosity.  I've never been to another church, and this one has interested me for awhile.  You have to leave what you know to see what you're missing, or to learn that you weren't missing anything at all.  Right?  :)

It's still in prayer.  We will see where the Lord directs my steps.  But as far as Awana...my kids are hooked!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 "Resolves" and wool dryer balls

Sweet Saturday.  Sweet, sweet Saturday.  And coffee.  Ahhhh...

And sleep coma.  Do you ever get those?  Tuesday-Friday I'm typically up by 5:30, so I've come to cherish my Saturday mornings.  My kiddos wake me at about 8:00, and I flip on cartoons for them so I can cuddle with them and slowly wake up.  By 9:00 we head downstairs for breakfast.  I love my Saturday mornings.  :)

But I also carry that groggy, "I just got way more sleep than I normally do" feeling.  And that's where coffee comes into the picture!!

I'm actually looking forward to today.  The kids and I are putting away clean laundry, cleaning up the play room, and I have my Thursday cleaning still to get done (one of the kiddos I watch, Ms. Laney, was sick this week and I had the privilege of holding her and neglecting my to-do list without a lot of guilt.  If I put her down, she would cry.  So as hard as it was, I held her and we played peek-a-boo and baby games and I stored up Laney kisses to get me until next Tuesday.  My life is rough sometimes...)  :) 

So today I'm cleaning, and if I am feeling adventurous, I might head out in the snow to Joan Fabrics for some wool yarn.  I found these really neat wool dryer balls at the cloth diaper store.

Wool dryer balls are supposed to reduce static, soften clothes, and reduce the amount of time your clothes spend in the dryer, since the wool absorbs the moisture from your clothing.  PLUS, I can add a few drops of essential oils to them and add a light scent to our clothing.  One of my "resolves" for 2012 is to spend the year switching out our regular products for natural ones.  As we use up what we have, I'll replace it with something either homemade or store-bought that's "natural."  In my head, I have my list of what makes a product "natural," but I think anyone can agree that replacing Downy fabric softener and Up & Up dryer sheets for several balls of wool is a step in that direction.  :)

Wool dryer balls are around $10 a piece, and it's recommended that you use at least 3 of them for regular loads of laundry.  I always run large loads, so I'm thinking 5 of them would be perfect.  But I choked at the idea of spend $50 on them, no matter how much they saved our laundry from excess tumbling and heat, and our skin from whatever is in modern fabric softener and dryer sheets.

So I Googled "wool dryer ball tutorial" and found this one.  It looks super easy, and the cost of the wool yarn is much less than the cost of premade dryer balls.  : D  I'll update later with any noticeable changes in static, the softness of our clothes, etc.

My other "resolve" for this new year is to get better about planning out our meals, right down to breakfasts and snacks.  There are so many food items i don't buy, because I'm trying hard to eliminate processed foods from our diet.  But it makes those moments when the kids say, "Mom, I'm hungry," so frustrating!!  I wish I could grab a Poptart or a pack of peanut butter crackers and go back to what I was doing, but I've stopped buying most of that stuff (step 1).  Step 2, that I need to get better about, is always having alternatives on hand for them.  I think they're a little tired of yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, and fruit.  So I need to start switching it up.  As I get better, I'll be sharing some of my ideas on here.  :)  I've found that they love fresh veges dipped in hummus, so I'll have that on the menu.  I'm still brainstorming some more snack ideas.  Any suggestions are welcome!!

That's it for now.  I hope everyone has a relaxing, joyful Saturday!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

First post of the year. :)

I keep thinking, "I need to update my blog.  It's been awhile."

But then I think, "What should I write about?  Do I spell out all the changes in our lives, or let them unfold as I resume regular posts?"

I'm going mostly with the latter thought, because it's much easier.  And more interesting.  :)
But I will say a few things...

1.  I have become quite the blog reader lately.  I downloaded an RSS feed app on my phone, and I follow about 15 different blogs regularly.  It's definitely shown me what topics interest me the most, and which topics make for a dull read.  I love, love, love recipes and food facts.  When I grow up (ha ha), I want to study nutritional therapy.  It's SO INTERESTING to me!  But for now, I'm an amateur.  An amateur that reads everything I can on the subject.  :)

2.  I feel like my "crazy, overwhelmed" phase is finally passing.  It was tough for a little while, but I think we've figured out a good routine.  And my "laid-back" nature is maturing to a level that recognizes the need to do things now, because our schedule doesn't always allow a "later."  A good example of this is housework and laundry...it's so tempting to take it easy on Thursdays, because my kids are gone at their dad's and he does that day's schoolwork with them.  But if I spend the earlier part of the day (when the sweetie pies i babysit are at my house) working on the laundry, and then once they leave (when I'm super tempted to do absolutely nothing for a little bit) get my weekly deep cleaning done, it makes the rest of the week run so much smoother.  I have been so bad about this lately, but no more. 

I've also gotten much better about going to bed by 9:00, which does wonders for the next day.  I thought it would allow me to give up coffee in the morning, since I drink it with way too much creamer.  But alas, I need that "kick-start" to my day, especially when I'm up at 5:30.  :)

3.  The kids and I have switched churches.  I don't know yet if this is an "official" switch, as Aimee has made it clear she wants to come back to Warren Woods sometimes to see her friends, but we've definitely switched on Wednesdays.  The kids have joined AWANA and they LOVE IT!!!  I wish I would have found AWANA earlier!   I liked the first Sunday I attended, too, and the people seem super nice.  But I've spent almost 30 years at Warren Woods Church of the Nazarene.  The idea of switching is really scary for the "shy, quiet type."  I'm keeping it in prayer and not letting fear or nervousness control my decisions.  ;-)  And for those of you at Warren Woods who may be wondering why I would consider leaving, I may post more in a future blog post, but I will say that I love Warren Woods and I am not leaving because of a problem.  It's a stirring I've had in my heart for a little while, but never considered because I'm so at home at there.  But when you get a Holy Spirit stirring, you have to pray about it and follow it, even if you don't understand it or like it at first.  :)  And so far...I like the new church and I feel like I was led directly to it, not just led away from the Woods.

That's a brief overview of some things in our lives.  I'm looking forward to posting regular blog posts again!