Sunday, March 31, 2013

"I have NOTHING to wear!"

Have you ever found yourself staring at your closet, thinking "I have NOTHING to wear!".  Sadly, I have. I've looked at my full-full closet and declared it empty, even knowing that there are people who truly have just a few articles of clothing to wear. sad.

Some friends of mine and I are participating in Dress for Change week starting tomorrow! It's not too late to join me!

Here's the nitty gritty:
This is the senior project of a girl in high school. For every woman who registers, she will make a pillowcase dress and donate it to Little Dresses for Africa, an organization that donates dresses to girls who truly have very little to wear.
Participants donate $5 and agree to wear only one dress for the week of April 1-7.

I'm excited about this week. It's a way I can cultivate a spirit of gratitude in my own life as well as raising awareness about poverty world-wide. And, uh, I'm supposed to be learning something about accessorizing in the meantime (something tells me I will look like I'm wearing the same dress all week, but you never know!)

So from tomorrow through next Sunday, here's what I will be wearing:

Well, or this :

While the point of the whole project is to realize just how MUCH I have, I did order a little black dress from They are an organization that works to get women out of the sex trade in Nepal. Dresses are sewn by women who have been rescued from the sex trade there in Nepal and proceeds go towards helping rescue more women. I thought that was a GREAT reason to buy a new dress.

BUT... if you know me, you know I am awesome awful at technology. So when my new little black dress arrived, I was surprised to find a new little lavender dress instead. I clicked the wrong button! But I love love love the dress, so I'm just gonna keep it.  But I still wanted to blog about it so y'all will go check out Elegantees! They are wonderful!

I resisted the temptation to buy another dress and instead made my own! I have way more fabric than I should just sitting in my sewing room. And I had two pretty big pieces of knit just sitting around, waiting for me to do something with them. So I made two (pretty similar) dresses. I think the black one's going to be easier to wear for a whole week, but help me out!

Which one should I wear??? The black one is shorter, so I can probably wear jeans under it one day as if it's a long top and it has a gathered waistline.  The camel-colored one is longer, I put the pockets in a better spot, and it has box pleats in the front & back.

So cast your vote..... NOW! :)

Friday, March 29, 2013


I'm a mess.

At the heart of it all, I am selfish, prideful and vain. I screw up constantly: I lose my patience with my kids, I lose my patience with my spouse. I let busy-ness take over my life to the point that I find myself lost in the shuffle. I lie sometimes.

I have skeletons in my closet that would love to claim me. I have some seriously big past mistakes. I have some seriously big present mistakes too, actually.

I have good ideas and do "good things" and then I want credit and praise and recognition for them. So much for selflessness.

But today, Christians recognize the day Jesus died on the cross. He was perfect. He wasn't a mess. He loved people and he made no mistakes. He never lied, he never messed up.

And, knowing that it was MY punishment, my well-deserved punishment, Jesus volunteered for my cross. He took all of the wrath of God that was intended for me. Every bit of it that I have earned with my selfishness, my vanity, my pridefulness. I am so far from perfect and yet the one who was perfect bore my punishment. He took on my shame and left me free.

That leaves me speechless. And tearful. And grateful.

And it's given as a gift. No strings attached. There is nothing I can do to earn Jesus' approval or his love. It is given freely. He already died on the cross. It's done. I am forgiven, even before I make the mistake.

This, my friends, is the heart of my life. I don't follow Jesus for any reason other than this: He has done more for me than I could ever imagine. He has made it so that I can have a relationship with God. I'm too broken, too messy, to interact with the Holy, Perfect, Creator of the Universe.  So Jesus steps in and God sees me through Him. Because of Jesus, God sees me as holy and blameless. I can stand before him without fear.

It doesn't mean I have life figured out. It doesn't mean I'm done making mistakes. But I've given my heart to God and he's slowly, sometimes painfully, re-shaping it to look more like his.

Beauty from ashes. I am so grateful.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why there are no math symbols on my Facebook profile.

Yesterday, equal signs on a red background started popping up on many of my friends' facebook statuses. Not all, but a good many of them.

But I didn't change mine. Here's the thing about Facebook. In my little humble opinion, it's not a good place for political statements.  There is no space for civil discourse, no opportunity for real conversation. There is no body language, no tone of voice in a facebook status or a private message.

Because of this, I feared that putting up an equal sign would "brand" me.  That people wouldn't understand where my heart lies on this issue.  There are people in my life that I fear would no longer feel the same way about me if I were to change my profile picture.  I totally admit that this makes me a bit of a coward - I worried too much about what some people would think if I put it up.

However, although I don't get body language and tone of voice in my blog, I do get more words. So I thought I'd post about it instead.

Our Supreme Court is considering whether gay couples should have same right to marry and receive the same benefits as straight couples. In short, I think they absolutely should.

But it goes further than that. I am a Christian. I love Jesus more than anything else on the planet. I believe the Bible is true.  I am still wrestling with what the Bible says about whether God blesses gay marriage. I know that's a wimpy stance to take, but it is the honest truth. (I blogged about this here.) But regardless, I know that it is not MY place to judge. I'm not wrestling with what the Bible says about that one - that is quite clear.  And I believe God grants enough grace to cover all of us - I firmly believe gay people can be Christians. And he loves all of us, gay and straight, Christian and not.

And I think gay couples have the right to marry.

Because here's the thing. The Bible does make it clear that marriage is a covenant between two individuals and God.  If Christians are going to say gay people can't get married because it's a religious, sacred institution, then we also have to say that two Atheists can't get married, or two Hindus, or Muslims. That's a very slippery slope, my friends.

Here's what I think should happen: I would love for the government to take their paws off of marriage. I believe it is a sacred, important, covenant we make before God. I don't want the government to have anything to do with what it is or how we define it.  I think we ALL should get Civil Unions from the government. All of us. With the same rights and benefits for all. That's as far as the government should be involved as far as I'm concerned. I do not want the government involved in my faith. Not even a tiny bit.

And then those of us (gay and straight) who want to make a covenant of faith with God through marriage can do so through our places of worship. Churches (and other places of faith) should make their own decisions about whether they will or won't perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples. Some will, some won't. That is okay.

But I don't actually think that's going to happen. Our culture has already changed the definition of marriage. So, based on what marriage means now (two people who love each other who want to spend their lives together), I absolutely support gay couples' right to marry.

But I don't like the "us" versus "them" mentality of all of this. This quote from Jen Hatmaker sums it up for me:
Not every Christian who believes in 'traditional marriage' is full of hate. 
Not every Christian who supports the civil rights of gay folks is a Bible-rejecting defector. 
Not every gay man wears glitter and drag in Pride Parades. 

We are not caricatures. We are people, and life is nuanced. Until we stop assigning stereotypes to each other and do the hard work of actually getting to know one another as friends, or at least human beings, we are going to sabotage every good, productive possibility in front of us.

As a Christian, I am called to love, to stand for justice, to fight oppression, to be a peacemaker. I am to serve all those around me in the same way Jesus did, whether they think like me, believe like me, or even like me.  

So while I still won't change my facebook profile picture to a math symbol, I do stand with those who want civil rights for gay couples. But I would love for ALL of us to open our minds a bit and try to understand one another a little better. If you stand against gay marriage, you are not my enemy, nor am I yours.

I'm in danger of saying I want us all to hold hands and sing "kumbaya."  But I kinda do. Let's stop stereotyping and reach out to one another. We are all sharing the same human experience.

And that should count for something.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Best Chore Chart Strategy Ever

I decided it was finally time to assign real chores to my kids. They've always known we expect them to help out around the house. They know their rooms have to be straightened before we have a movie night, they know they have to set the table and clear it, they know they have to unpack their backpacks after school and hang them with their coats. You know, usual stuff.

But there are so many other things around the house that I know they can do (my oldest two are four & six) and it would help me out IMMENSELY if they started to do them.

So I've instituted two things at once: The Chore Chart and the Energy Drain. And it has been so crazy-awesome that I just had to share it with other moms. Really. That awesome. I promise.

Our Chore Chart looks like this:
I made this mostly based on plans I found here. But mine is a magnetic white board instead of buying sheet metal. I thought it'd be easier. :)
It's hard to see, but I listed extra chores I want the kids to do - not the things I expect them to do as part of our family.

Here's our list:
Water Plants
Fold Washcloths/Hand Towels
Sort Socks
Dust/Wipe Down Surfaces
Clean Baseboards
Empty bathroom trash cans
Wipe down door handles/light switches
Unload silverware from dishwasher
Steam Mop
Wash windows
Make own lunch
Clean room (this is different from straighten your room... it means REALLY clean)
Make bed (up for debate - should this be something that's just expected?)
Clean up basement (again... REALLY clean; straightening it is expected)
Wipe down Fridge/Trash Can
Wipe down kitchen chairs
Feed the cat
Wipe kitchen cabinets

Each chore is a magnet. Every week the kids pick two things they want to do. I get to pick one. Once they've finished the chore, they get to move it from "to do" to "done." Riley loves this so much he stops mid-chore to move it to the line in between.

I also did a little bit of advanced prep work. I made some wet dust cloths ahead of time and keep them in a giant mason jar (dust-cloth recipe here). They smell fabulous and it's easy for me to hand the kids a prepared rag when they want to do a chore (the goal here is to keep this from being more work for me!). They are super easy to make and once we run out, I can VERY quickly make a mess of new ones.

And, since Riley is currently working to buy Skylanders Giants from me (I scored an amazing deal on Craigslist), the kids are earning money. I'd rather they earn extra Wii time, extra books read to them at night, extra play time outside, etc. So we'll probably re-visit that once he earns enough for Skylander. But it's become a team effort - Allyn decided she wanted to earn money too and gives him part of her allowance every week 'cause she says she wants to play Skylander too! Plus we've been talking with them about tithing so they've made their little tithes each week.

They get a dollar if they do all three chores. They can choose to do MORE for 25 cents per chore after that. (Mom fail confession: I got a little overexcited one day and might have suggested to my oldest that I'd give him a quarter if I overheard him saying sir/ma'am to a grown-up who wasn't me. oops. He hasn't brought it up, so I'm hoping he'll forget!)

And, OH MY STARS.... this is the best thing I've ever done!  My baseboards are clean, my house has stayed dusted, the plants aren't dying of thirst before I get to them! My fridge gets wiped regularly and the trash cans are emptied before they overflow (clearly I'm not a homemaking queen). Y'all, seriously, the last time I cleaned my baseboards was for our homestudy...I'll let you do the math.

The other thing I've started to do is the Energy Drain! This is a restorative discipline technique from Love & Logic. They have some great parenting strategies.  I hadn't been doing the Energy Drain because I hadn't taken the time to figure out easy chores the kids could do! But now I have a board full of them!

Here's how it works:
When my kids do ANYTHING that sucks the life out of me... you know, putting dirty clothes on the floor NEXT TO the hamper, bickering, putting clean clothes in the hamper instead of putting them away, not cleaning up the play-dough, you know the stuff.  When they do something like that, I come to them all tired. I explain to them what it was they did or failed to do but I do it as if I can't stay awake. Or I put my head down mid-way through as if I'm exhausted (this is really quite fun).  Then I say, _______ really sucked a lot of energy out of me. What do you think you need to do to put it back? Something that I'd need to exert energy to do later.  And, since they're now really familiar with all the chores, they usually suggest something off the chore list. If they can't come up with anything, I'll give them a suggestion.

Once it's done, I act all energized again, give them big hugs & kisses and exclaim over how much energy I have since they did that for me.

It works so well I almost hope they mess up.  Allyn put her dirty clothes next to her hamper today and I got all my chair rails dusted. Yippee!

Of course, energy drain chores don't count towards their regular chore list and they don't earn anything extra for them. So those are the best kind!

Anyway, we've been at this for three weeks now. I thought the novelty would wear off really quickly, and I know it may still, but so far it has been working wonders!

Want to make your own? Here's a jpg of all my chores with circles you can cut out. They are perfectly sized to be mod-podged onto wooden circles, like these I ordered from etsy.  Just be sure you print it out at 100% so the circles stay the right size!
Right click and select "save image as"
Have a Silhouette or Cricut? I can email you a version you can cut out with your machine!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dear Woman with the Needle:

Dear Woman with the Needle,

You were just doing your job today. You don't know the path my child and I have taken to get to you - you don't know about his two surgeries, you don't know about the trauma of international adoption, about how hard it was for him to leave everything familiar, even if it was an orphanage, and come to live with a family in the US. You don't know that earlier, in the waiting room, his big sister sat with worried eyes, asking if this meant he had to have surgery again. She brought a special bunny hoping it would help her baby brother not cry.

You just had the piece of paper with the orders to draw blood. You didn't have to, but you listened. You listened as I told you about his adoption, about his surgeries, about how desperately we want to minimize traumatic experiences for him. You listened as I told you about the last time we sat in front of a Woman with a Needle. How she didn't listen. How my baby screamed in his father's arms and how she made a choice in spite of his dad's questioning that resulted in more pain for my child and not-enough blood drawn anyway. How, because of the traumatic experience my precious child had at the end of her needle, we have waited almost an entire year before trying again, delaying some important medical care. You even listened as I asked if you could use his non-thumb-sucking hand so he could suck his thumb if he needed.

And today, you drew my son's blood and he shed no tears. A whimper and an "ouch ouch!" then he sucked his thumb (that you allowed him to have access to) and it was all done.  I told you you were my hero and I think you didn't know what to do with that. You were just doing your job today. But you listened.

And I am so grateful.

   Mom of the Child in Your Chair

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade: Part III CHALLENGE: One week, one dress, five dollars.

Welcome to the Homemade Fair-Trade Parade! Missed the first posts? Find them here:
The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade, Part I - Cleaning Products

The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade, Part II - Beauty Products

Okay folks, I have a challenge for you.

Have you ever stood in front of your closet and said "I have nothing to wear!"? I know I have. I'm really not all that fashion savvy. I don't buy new clothes hardly ever and by the time I adopt a new trend, you can be certain it's already on its way out. But I admit I have had moments when I looked at my FULL closet and said in frustration, "I have NOTHING to wear."'

And that's pathetic. I have been blessed to travel to quite a few places in on this beautiful planet of ours. And while I have certainly celebrated the beauty, I have also seen, first-hand, what poverty looks like. I have been to orphanages in the Republic of Georgia where children had only a threadbare shirt and pair of ripped shorts to wear day after day. I have held children in Swaziland who wore the same shirt (shirt ONLY) every day with no shoes.  I have met regular everyday teenagers in Ethiopia who treat their school uniforms with such respect and care, as it is the only thing they have to wear to school and without it, they would not be allowed to attend. I know there are children in my city who don't have winter coats.

And I have the arrogance to complain about having nothing to wear.

So when I heard about a high school girl who is doing "Dress for Change" as her senior project, I knew I would be all-in. I'm hoping you'll want to join me.

Here's the deal: register HERE and commit to wearing just ONE black dress for the week of April 1-7.  For each woman who participates, Sheyanne will make a pillowcase dress and send it to Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit that has already provided 1.5 million dresses for girls throughout Africa. And, you know, leave me a comment 'cause they make me smile. :)

Are you willing to make a small sacrifice to make a difference in the life of a child? And what a great opportunity to cultivate gratitude in your own life.

I'll be taking pictures and blogging about my week. If you blog/facebook/tweet, do that!

One week, one dress, five dollars. And a little more joy on our planet.
Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Interruption

Funny... this post is a little interruption in the Homemade Fair-Trade Parade, but it was really a little interruption in our life too!

Life has been moving along at a pretty good clip. All three kids have been doing well. We reached the "magic" one-year mark of Amani being home and he's really doing great. I could have kissed our attachment therapist.

And then he fell down the stairs.

I think when you adopt you just can't wait for things to be right in your family again. You yearn for the time when everyone knows how and where they fit.  When you add a child to a family, it's like taking a delicately balanced mobile and giving it a whack.  Everything bounces around but eventually settles down again. Adding a child to the family by adoption is like giving that mobile a whack with a baseball bat. Things do settle down but the bouncing seems a little more chaotic and it takes longer to slow down.

And Amani's been doing so well. The transition from orphanage in Ethiopia to family in North Carolina was not an easy one for him. I saw him suffer. I suffered along with him. Our family has gone through turmoil as a result of our adoption. I don't mean this in a negative way - this  just what adoption looks like. It's messy. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. And that's okay. It's worth it. Amani is hands-down worth every bit of that mess.

But I hated to see him struggle. I knew he would eventually understand how glorious it is to be part of a family who loves you, but HE couldn't see that. All he knew was that life had very suddenly gotten very scary. And, for him, food became a giant issue. He wanted to eat his way into comfort - he freaked out at the end of meals; he couldn't be in a place where food was out on tables or where other kids were having a snack. But all that was long behind us. He's been just like a regular 'ole normal two year-old these days (temper tantrums and all... heh).

So yeah... then he fell down the stairs.

We had Bible study at our house and it was the regular chaos of everyone arriving. He loves it, usually. He stands by the door and jumps up and down as everyone gets here. And we'd taken the baby gate down at the top of the stairs ages ago. He can manage up and down by himself just fine but he has one rule - he has to have a grown up with him when he does it - you know, just in case. And he is really good about getting someone when he wants to go downstairs.  But not that day. Little Man decided he was going downstairs on his own. I didn't see it happen - but one of our friends saw him and tried to catch him but down he went.

And it scared the daylights out of me. Not because he was physically hurt (he was okay - a swollen lip and a little bit of a bloody nose), but because he reverted back to how he'd been when he'd only been home a few months. I snuggled him and got him calmed down and sat him at the table to eat (we all eat dinner together as part of Bible study). He finished his food and FLIPPED out. I haven't seen him do that in months. My heart sank.

He also went through a mother-rejection period for awhile after he came home. It's probably the hardest thing I've been through in my life. And that night, he wasn't all that keen on it being me who was comforting him. Fearing the worst, I looked at Rob with tears in my eyes, wondering if my heart could take going through another couple weeks when my son wanted nothing to do with me.

But I kept him close. We snuggled our way through another bowl of chili (again... thank you, attachment therapist) and I kept him on my lap for the rest of the night.  He asked to go downstairs with the rest of the kids but I kept him with me. I didn't want him to have a big dose of independence after falling and having a meltdown. I don't want him to remember how to pull himself together on his own. I want him to seek comfort from us.

And when I asked him if he wanted me to lay down with him as I put him to bed, he said "no." I froze. And, thankfully, I remembered the words of one of my wonderful adoptive mama friends, Sharla. She told me that when her daughter first came home, she spent a lot of time saying, "this is what Mommies do..." as she did things that were, well, Mommy-ish.  I'm so thankful that her words popped into my head. I turned to him and said, "Yes. Mommy's going to come snuggle with you because that's what Mommies do."
And we did.

And my sweet boy was good-as-new the next morning. I had worried for nothing, but it was a reminder that we are not out of the woods yet.

Adoption is hard. It is so messy. And just because he's been home 17 months now it doesn't mean we have it all figured out. But I am so thankful at how quickly he bounced back from that interruption.

And I'm pretty sure he won't try those stairs on his own again for awhile! :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade! Part II: Beauty products

Welcome to the Homemade Fair-Trade Parade! Missed the first post? Find it here:
The Homemade Fair-Trade Parade, Part I

Before I mention beauty products, I thought I'd give a quick mention to dishwasher detergent. I didn't post a recipe for that. I used to make my own but I wasn't happy with the results. There are recipes out there that call for using citric acid and I'm planning to try that sometime. If you're interested, just don't bother with any of the ones that don't use citric acid - they don't work! Or at least they didn't for me!

We're on to beauty products.

I won't put products that contain harmful chemicals on my kids' skin. Our skin is our body's largest organ and anything we put on it soaks right in! Parabens are preservatives, BHT, BHA and sodium laureth sulfate may be linked to cancer, and "fragrances" can trigger asthma AND help make breast cancer cells grow! There's a whole lot of toxic stuff that's regularly found in beauty products. Now, I don't just believe everything I read on the internet. I've been trying to do my research, from peer-reviewed articles in legitimate journals. For example, here is one study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, in case you feel like being all science-y and reading some big words. (PS. the trick I learned in grad school is to read the very beginning and the very end).

In fact, the US doesn't really have great regulations when it comes to cosmetics and beauty products. The FDA has a very hands-off attitude towards the cosmetics industry and allows it to be mostly self-regulatory. What does that mean? It means we cannot assume that something is safe just because a company is allowed to sell it because they pretty much make up their own rules. Isn't that crazy? Well, not all that crazy. I think a lot of how our system is set up is to make sure folks make money first, then worry about safety later. That's the cynic in me talking, though.

The only reason that junk is in beauty products is so that the companies can make more money when their product can stay on the shelf longer, foam up better, look creamier or smell nicer. There are ZERO health benefits to you in that equation. In fact, that extra stuff is what is harmful. Many of those extra ingredients may cause cancer or have been found to be disruptive to your system. Parabens were found in breast tumors. Yuck. We avoid that stuff.

Toxic-free products are pretty easy to find, but are also pretty expensive! But if you want to buy instead of make your own, the Environmental Working Group has a cool little printout to help you find safer products:
Play around on the site - they have some good resources on there! You can enter the name of any product and it will list the ingredients for you and tell you the risk.

 BUT... here's my wonderful, rich, lovely lotion recipe. I use it on the whole fam, especially Amani, who needs lotion pretty much daily. I wrote it out for y'all, but I got it from here. I checked the ingredients and there is nothing harmful. Yay!

Homemade Lotion
(from here)
1 cup coconut oil (which with I am obsessed. I cook with it, we use it to pop the world's best popcorn, AND you can buy a big ole giant organic tub of it at Costco. Life is so good, isn't it?)
1 tsp vitamin E oil (found with the vitamins in the vitamin section)
*you can add a few drops of essential oil if you want. I just love the yummy coconut smell and feel no need to make it any different!

If you have a stand mixer, put it all in and use the whisk attachment, not the beater. Or use the whisk attachment for your hand mixer.  Whisk it up until it's light and creamy and wonderful and store it in an airtight container. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. And this will last you FOREVER. Seriously. I use the tiniest amounts. It feels a little oily for about 30 seconds, then soaks in quickly after that. I've even been using the tiniest bit on my face (not every day) and it hasn't made me break out. And I've used it to help remove eye-makeup.  Although I will admit that every time I put it on me or the kids I have a sudden craving for popcorn. :)

Homemade Shampoo
This is my newest addition to my recipe bank. I've only just made it and been using it this week. I was really really surprised at what a good lather I got! I used peppermint Castille soap because that's what I have right now. It gave the shampoo an awesome wake-me-up quality. I did get a little in my eye, which stung. But I don't know if it was the peppermint that made it sting or the soap. I'm not sure I'll use it on the kids for that reason. In the recipe online, she mentions using a cider-vinegar rinse. I may start using that too, because I do still need to use my old conditioner with my new homemade shampoo.
Here's where I got my recipe:

Her recipe calls for coconut milk. It is silly to buy this when you can make your own easily and for SO MUCH less!
Here you go:
I doubled the recipe and kept a mason jar of coconut milk in the fridge. The kids & I made the vanilla honey drink as a special treat. A-mazing. I put it in smoothies for them too. They even liked it plain, which was doubly-awesome because I told them it was a super-special treat. I love when they think something healthy is a super special treat!

There are no research studies that prove any of these chemicals CAUSE cancer or other disorders. The EWG website leans heavily on the "danger of toxins" side of things and has been accused of overstating the risk.  But for me, there's enough out there that I'm not willing to risk it. I've heard folks say "people have done fill-in-the-blank for years and we're all still fine." But the thing is, we're not all still fine. Cancer rates increased a lot from 1975-1992. And rates have more or less stabilized since (which means they're not going down). And the CDC lists these reasons for general increases in new cancer cases: exposure to harmful substances in the environment or changes in clinical practice that result in more detection. It lists this reason for decreases: decreased exposure to harmful substances.
Hmmmm... I'll stick with the chemical-free stuff, thanks. If I'm wrong, there are no long-term hazards to avoiding chemicals. If I'm right, we could be avoiding cancer, tumors, and endocrine disruptions. Win-win.

Have a beauty-product recipe to share? Let us in on your secret!!
Up next? Fair-trade items!