Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade!

Yes, it took me nearly 20 minutes to come up with the blog title. Yes I am an absolute nerd. :) You love me anyway, admit it.

I make a lot of my own household/beauty products and I often have folks ask me for recipes. So this blog series is a little self-serving. I'd love to have all my stuff together in one place so that when people ask, I can just email them the link instead of scrambling all over the house to find all my recipes!

I don't like all the unnecessary chemicals we add to products. And they have had the opposite effect of what's advertised: thanks to all those "great" antibacterial products, now we have MRSA.  Our nation is plagued by a million health problems, thanks to the additives and crazy sodium-levels in our foods, and we continue to put chemicals that we know cause cancer into cleaning products, beauty products, and our food. Awesome. The American Academy of Pediatrics finally admitted all children under two should be eating organic fruits & veggies. We're hurting ourselves and putting our heads in the sand about why.

I also don't like how many of our big companies make their profits off of abusing or oppressing others, both domestically and internationally. I absolutely don't want to give them my money if I know about abuses in the system ESPECIALLY if the companies are aware of the abuses and are doing NOTHING about it. Ugh.

All that being said, we are a small-budget family. My husband's a pastor and has a part-time job and I have a part-time job in order for us to be able to pay for our simple life. We don't have the budget for extravagant purchases and I have to be choosy about how I buy organic, because as much as I would love to do all my grocery shopping at EarthFare, we simply cannot afford it.

But here's what happens: making your own cleaning products is a bazillion times cheaper than buying it. Even if you are a coupon queen. So that loosens my budget to buy the more expensive fair-trade or organic items. It evens out, which is very helpful! And honestly, I pray that God will show my heart how to spend our resources. I would rather buy fair-trade coffee or chocolate so that I'm not participating in slavery than get a new shirt. That is the honest truth. God will change your heart to make it more like his if you ask him to.

So here's the Cassell way to be part of the Homemade Fair-Trade Parade!  This will be a series of posts, but we'll start with the basics:

1. All-purpose cleaner. 
I do not use any chemical cleaners in my house (okay, confession: sometimes I use Lysol wipes in the bathroom, especially when someone's been puking. It's my dirty little secret. Don't tell anyone, okay?)

I use a vinegar-based cleaner. When I first switched to it, I really noticed the vinegar smell. I don't anymore. In fact, now I can't even hardly walk down the cleaning supply aisle at the grocery store without getting a headache because the chemical-cleaner smells have gotten so offensive to me!

Here's my tried & true recipe:
Spray bottle
1/2 cup lemon-vinegar (I throw a bunch of lemon peels into a giant mason jar filled with vinegar. After two weeks, it's lemon-vinegar and the harsh vinegar scent is gone!)
2 Tbl Borax (buy a box in the laundry-detergent aisle)
Drops of essential oil of your choosing (I use tea tree & lavender - 10 drops each)
Hot water
I put my vinegar in a measuring cup and add the borax to it and swish it around a bit, then pour it into my spray bottle.  Then I fill the bottle the rest of the way with hot water and add the essential oils. If I feel like it, I add lemon juice.
Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. It takes less time to make it than it does to walk down the cleaning aisle in the grocery store.
Plus, it is SUPER cheap and I can wipe down all the surfaces in my kitchen without worrying that I'm leaving dangerous chemicals behind that will end up in our food! If I'm cleaning up raw chicken or something, I make sure to use a cloth that's been soaked in super-hot water.

2. Glass Cleaner.
It's just a mix of half hot water, half vinegar in a spray bottle (I keep a small one marked "Glass cleaner" so I don't get it confused with my all-purpose). That is IT! I use a lint-free cloth to wipe and I get streak-free shine every time.
I've also used this recipe:  I really love her website. She has tons of great homemade recipes!

And this really happened: just before our home study, my mother-in-law offered to wash my windows for me.  I handed her some Windex that I had left over from before I started making my own stuff. She got to cleaning...and I had to ask her to stop! I couldn't handle the chemical smell that was taking over my house! Headache city!  And I couldn't believe that I used to use that stuff all the time! Ugh - it's just awful!

3. Laundry Detergent
That "clean smell" they put in? It's not good for you. It puts chemicals in your clothes so that you get to walk around all day breathing them in. No thanks. Clean smells like NOTHING. That's how you know it's clean.

I've made my own laundry detergent for years, but I just recently switched the way I make it. It's the pretty much the same recipe only I keep it in this condensed, easier (I think) version! Here is the link:
The only difference is that she calls for 1 cup each of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda and Borax. I use a cup and a half of each, since that's what my old recipe used. I might try just a cup next time and see.

My laundry gets CLEAN, folks. It has no smell. If you really want the smell, you can buy some wool dryer balls and use essential oil to scent them. That will give your clothes a light scent. I don't do it only because I feel like I spend enough time doing laundry and don't want to take the extra 10 seconds it would take to scent my dryer balls. ha!

Here's the other thing: now I can barely stand the overpowering smell of regular laundry detergent! If one of my kids' friends happens to leave an article of clothing at my house, I am always shocked at the smell and how strong it is! I thought I would be so sad to lose my beloved Tide smell. Now I can't stand it!

3. Floor-Mopping Solution
I don't use this recipe much anymore because I got a steam mop. Now I either just steam-mop plain or spray the floor with my all-purpose cleaner first.  But here's what I used to make for use with my regular mop. My recipe is adapted from the one in Gorgeously Green by Sophie Uliano, which is a GREAT book, although she is much more high-maintenance than I am. I changed her recipe a tiny bit.
Here's my version:
Fill a bucket with really hot water. Add a squirt of Dawn soap, 2 Tbl Borax (she says use 1/2 cup baking soda, but it left a film on my wood floors), and 20 drops of tea tree and lavender essential oils.
This is a good heavy-duty cleaner for cleaning baseboards and stuff, too.

4. Foaming Hand Soap
I make my kids wash their hands ALL THE TIME. And foaming soap is a great way to make sure they get their hands clean but we don't go through TONS of hand-soap.  But...holy cow is foaming hand-soap expensive! It makes me laugh when I see it at the store! I bought a nice glass foamer at Bed Bath & Beyond (with my 20% off coupon, thankyouverymuch) and all I do is fill it between 1/4 and 1/3 full with Dr. Bronners Castille soap. I fill it the rest of the way with warm water. Swirl it around and you're done! And Dr. Bronners comes in lots of different smells. Right now I've been using the peppermint kind. It's fabulous! I buy a big ole half-gallon from and have it delivered straight to my house. It doesn't get any better than that, friends. Fancy foam soap for a fraction of the price. And it's fair-trade to boot.

Now you've gotten your house all spic & span without the use of harmful chemicals! Congrats!

Have a recipe to share? Share away! If I get a bunch (or just some really good ones), I'll post them!
Up next:  Beauty Products!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Big Boy Bed!

Is this really happening? We just arranged the boys' room so that Amani can sleep in the bottom bunk... in a big boy bed!  Oh my stars... this just can't be so!

This is my third go-round of transitioning a child from a crib to a bed. And I have the same emotions every time. Excited for my child... I love seeing them get all excited about a new milestone. But sad at the same time. It is hard for me to let go of the baby days. Especially hard with my third child, since we missed more than his entire first year of baby days.

I imagine we'll take the transition as slowly as necessary for Amani. I still treat transitions more carefully with him, since he's only been home a little over a year and I want all changes to be as positive as possible for him.

That being said, we've been talking about the big boy bed ever since the night I found him hanging over the edge of his crib, clinging for dear life!  I seriously have no idea how he got himself into the position he was in. If it weren't so dangerous, I'd have him reenact it so I could take a picture! :) Maybe I can get Riley to do it for me later.

So the bed is set up but the crib's still there in case he decides he'd rather sleep there instead. Amani sleeps with EVERYTHING he owns. He's like a baby hoarder. Seriously. In addition to his two special lovies (who go with us everywhere), he had probably 10 stuffed animals, three blankets, some little pillows, and a slipper in his crib when we set up his bed. And we took out each item together and decided if it could go on the shelf or if it had to go in his new bed. Only the slipper didn't make it onto the big boy bed. :)

I'm no expert, but I think giving him as much control as possible during these transition times is important. I did it with my first two and it helped them immensely and they didn't have any attachment issues. I think we'll weather this "storm" of change quite well, actually.

And that is a wonderful feeling. So different from our first year "storm" of changes.

As I watch him undertake this next challenge, my heart saddens a little bit.  I mourn the time I didn't get to be with him, all the milestones I missed. If his birthday is correct (which I'm 99% certain it's not, but that's another story), there were 413 days of his life when our family was not there. Every time he hits a milestone, those 413 days hit me in the stomach. I am reminded of how much I missed. And as soon as I think about how much I missed, I think about his birth mother and how certain I am that she would love to see how well he's doing now. I grieve for her, this mother who is missing milestones too.

But I get to choose. I can focus on those things (and I'll admit, sometimes I do) AND I can rejoice that not only do I get to celebrate the rest of his milestones with him, but that he's doing so amazingly well. I am so grateful for the days he has been with us!! Grateful for the journey; for how much God has taught me about love.

And just as a side note, I've been rejoicing a lot around here over adoption in general. Before we left our old church, I had prayed and prayed that God would touch people's hearts to adopt. And (I thought) nothing happened. I just got an email and there are now three or four families that are adopting at our old church! I am so excited! There will be more children in forever families! It's hard for me not to just go ahead & start the process again, but I really want to give Amani some more time to firmly plant himself in the family before I shake things up again! :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Restorative Discipline

I love parenting. I love talking about it with my friends, sharing our joys and our struggles. I am a proud member of what my husband calls "The Mom Network."  I have a whole bunch of mama-friends and we really are there for each other. Some of them I talk to almost every day, some live far away, some live here, but I know I can go to them for advice or encouragement (or commiseration after a mom-fail).

I also read a lot of adoption-attachment stuff. And while we tend to be "attachment style parents" anyway, I've learned that many of the strategies that are great for adopted kiddos are great for bio kiddos too.

So that means I love Karyn Purvis. She's an expert on attachment and adoption. And there's a comment she made once in a video that has really stuck with me. She said that when God disciplines us, when he shows us something in our lives that he wants us to change, we end up feeling closer to God when it's all said and done.  And that's how discipline with our children should be: they should feel closer to us as a result of our disciplining them.

Hmmm... do my kids feel closer to me when I snap at them and send them to their rooms? Do they feel closer to me (or each other) when I force an "I'm sorry" and a hug out of them?  Do they feel closer to me when I yell at them? I imagine not.

So we started the "do-over." For example, instead of being sent to their rooms for back-talk, I say to them, "Wow. We don't speak that way to each other. Do you need a do-over?" And they always say yes and correct the behavior.  And often I get a hug in response.

And we've started using Restorative Discipline  My kids bicker. I mean b-i-c-k-e-r.  Some days they could probably win some kind of award for it.  Especially my sweet middle child. She is a first-class button-pusher, that one. If it's ever an Olympic sport, she's got it in the bag.

I often yell sternly send them to their rooms for fighting with one another.  And I've been hearing about Restorative Discipline for a long time now and one day I just decided to try it. My oldest two were making each other miserable.  So I pulled each one aside and explained that they have been not been treating each other the way I expect our family to treat one another. And I gave them each a few minutes to think about what he/she could do to make the other one feel better.  Riley decided to make sweet tea for Allyn (I had never actually let her have her own glass but I decided my health-food-neurosis could be shelved for this one. I'll give you a moment to be proud of me...).  And Allyn decided to draw Riley a card.  So while she drew, he and I brewed up some sweet tea.  And it was all smiles and rainbows for the rest of the day.  Okay maybe not the entire day, but they really did get smiley and they got along better for the next few hours.

And we've been continuing to do this. My button-pusher-daughter was making her brother crazy the other day. I wanted to yell at her and send her to her room. But I resisted and pulled her aside and we talked about it. She decided that since her favorite drink is mint hot-chocolate, she would make him one.  We worked together to make him a yummy drink and I waited for her to be upset that she wasn't getting one too. She barely mentioned it. And it really did make my oldest feel better. And peace was restored to my home.

I've noticed that the strategies that keep peace and calm in my household take more work on my part. It's easier to yell; it's easier to send them to their rooms. But those are punishments, not discipline, and they don't get me the results I want. I don't get the "place of love and laughter" that my heart wants to create in our home.  But with gentler discipline, I do. And I get better behavioral results, too.  Time outs turn into more time outs. Do-overs actually start to go away because my kids are practicing the correct behavior instead of being punished for the wrong one. Restorative discipline is helping them learn how to right their wrongs.

So as a member of The Mom Network, I would be remiss in not sharing our recent success with a new strategy!  I'm really thrilled with how well it works. And since I'm a newbie at it, I'd love if anyone out there wants to share some more examples!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shiny Happy People

It's been awhile since I've blogged regularly. Sorry about that. So let me re-introduce myself to y'all:

Hi, I'm Kirstin. I have three kids (6, 4, and 2) and I usually stay home with them. I have a part-time job at a local hospital where I work four 12-hour shifts every month and I love my job. I also volunteer every week with StreetWatch, an outreach ministry to the unsheltered homeless folks in my city. I love that too. I spend time every week in my oldest child's classroom to help out. Oh, and I'm honored and blessed to be part of a church plant called missio dei: gso.  In between, my days are filled with laundry and dance classes, sports practice of some kind, homework, cooking dinner, carpool, playing on the playground, "Quidditch" games in the front yard (we love us some Harry Potter), coloring projects, sewing, and did I mention laundry?

Sounds like I have it all together, right? Excuse me while I laugh quietly to myself. It really only looks good on paper (screen?).

Let me tell you something else about me: I am fiercely independent and full of pride. Those things might sound like okay qualities, but they really aren't.  And in the first year after we brought Amani home, I struggled. I mean s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e-d.  And because I'm so independent and so prideful, I didn't reach out. I kept up the blog, I kept up appearances. And I withdrew steadily from my friends and family under the guise of "busyness" or "adoption issues."

I didn't do this on purpose, but I created a beautifully crafted mask to show the world. It showed some flaws, just enough to make me seem genuine. On the rare occasions that I did check in with friends, I focused on them, steadily steering any conversation away from me, with the exception of a few topics where my mask allowed the tiniest bit of vulnerability. And even those close to me thought I had it together.

So as I struggled with attachment to my sweet youngest child, I found myself falling into misery. I lost my way; I fought to get out of bed in the morning and barely made it through my waking hours. I wasn't the mom I wanted to be; I wasn't the wife I wanted to be. I wasn't the ME I wanted to be.

So that's the real reason behind my not-blogging. As soon as I recognized what was going on, I got some help. And while I was needing to focus on getting healthy again, I just didn't really have any words for the blog. Since I don't want to blog unless I have something to say, I just left this space alone for awhile.

But you know what didn't change for me that whole time? Even in the moments when I was trying to do it all myself, I know my Savior was holding me up. While I was failing miserably yet still telling him, "I got this," he was standing behind me, cushioning my fall. Because Jesus doesn't need me to be perfect. He doesn't need me to have it all together. In fact, when I say "yes" to what he has for me, it's so often those flaws that end up  being useful. My weakness is made perfect in his strength.

One of the things we are really striving to do with missio dei, our church plant, is to create authentic community. We want to be a place of rest, a place where we can share our joys, our struggles, and our insecurities.  We want to break the cycle of hypocrisy often found in church when certain sins are highlighted and others conveniently ignored. American churches seem to be full of shiny happy people dressed nicely and smiling prettily.  Missio dei wants to be a community of people humbled by our own brokenness, freely accepting the grace and mercy that Jesus offers us. And we want to exist to serve our city - to make Greensboro a better place to live because of how we serve those who live here.

And my heart desperately wants to belong to a community of faith where people feel free to wrestle honestly with the gospel.  But guess what? I am not good at it myself.  I want others to feel comfortable talking about things that are difficult for them yet I'm not brave enough myself to do it.  I wanted to be the shiny happy person who helps others through their rough stuff.

So I thank Jesus for this season of humility. For the reminder that I am not perfect; that I truly don't have it all together.  And that's okay. I'm not shiny, I'm not always happy. But I do have joy that abounds beyond all understanding.

And I have a God who still wants to use me, even with all my brokenness. He can use you, too. My prayer is that this post might reach someone who is where I was about 6 months ago. May the God of peace flood your heart and heal your hurts as he has mine.