Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Series Roundup; Sunny Weather

Just wanted to poke my head in to say hello, and let you know that I am still working on my Living Chemical Free series!

Part 1 is a bit of an overview and a discussion on going "No 'Poo". Yes, that is a real term, and No, I don't like using those words.

Part 2 is all about the wondrous substance that is Baking Soda. Or Bicarbinate of Soda. Or Bicarb. Or sodium hydrogen carbonate, if we're going to be technical.

Part 3 has a recipe for homemade deodorant. A friend recently wondered aloud if my husband's long working hours coincided with my use of homemade deodorant. Ha, ha, ha! Everyone's body chemistry is different, but this works better than the store-bought stuff! (so no, his overtime has nothing to do with it...)

Part 4 shows how to make your own laundry soap with just two ingredients - boiling water and soap nuts. I love how the clothes come out clean, but not smelling strongly of any perfumes.

========================================

We've been busy enjoying the sunny weather, while it still lasts.

Lounging in the grass

Eating a picnic


Sliding, sliding, sliding

Making "flower chains" (as opposed to the traditional daisy chain)

Reading library books in the shade


Friday, 25 May 2012

Five Things for Friday: Why Yes, I Still Sew Sometimes


I am blog-hopping with Women in the Scriptures again!

-1-

Linus Quilts

Although I still enjoy quilting, I haven't been doing much of it. I'd like to blame my laziness on the kids and home education and my husband's work schedule, but to be perfectly honest it's just a lack of interest. That old scanner personality type rearing its ugly head again! (As an aside, someone recently trotted out the maxim, "Jack of all trades, Master of none" as if it was a bad thing. I thought it sounded like an interesting life choice!)

But I am changing that stance and starting to make quilts for a charity called Project Linus UK. It is an amazing charity that depends on various people to make quilts of all sizes for sick or endangered children (ie, teenage mothers and their babies in social care). They distribute quilts to the babies in NICU, kids recovering from cancer or undergoing treatment; the list goes on.

What an amazing organisation!

My church is doing a big charity day in June, and one of the projects is to simply sew quilts all day long. I am so excited! I have already started on one quilt top, but it needs finishing off. I must get cracking on it, because I want to have at least one completed quilt to take with me to the event. 

Toddlers are good helpers...

-2-

Recent Skirts

Back at the beginning of May, Heather at Women in the Scriptures issued a challenge: Wear a dress of skirt every day for the month of May. I had been thinking of wearing more skirts recently, but not exactly for the reasons listed in the official rules....

I pretty much hate wearing jeans these days. Trousers are just about passable, but anything with even a small amount of spandex in the fabric (a lot of jeans are 97% cotton and 3% spandex or similar) tend to fit GREAT straight out of the wash, but by the end of the day they are constantly slipping down.

Very annoying.

As a result of my frustration, I started wearing skirts more frequently. They don't slip and fall the way jeans do, and as long as they are long enough, they are just as comfortable and easy to throw on as any pair of jeans or trousers.

I talked about this skirt last week, but here it is again. I got the pattern here:


This skirt has a shirred waist (oh how I despise shirring, although the end result is cute) and awesome pockets. The fabric was an eBay cheapie, but I think it's polyester. It is double sided, with the back half a much darker grey (there is also a lighter grey stripe running throughout). I bound the edges of the pockets with the back half of the fabric and turned the hem UP to get dark grey at the bottom of the skirt, too. The waist is too big, a result of my terrible math skills or measuring skills or the very narrow elastic I decided to use in the waist. Probably all 3, really. The skirt hits below the knee and is very comfy, if worryingly close to being pulled straight off when my toddler tugs on it.

Next up is my Sound of Music skirt:



I don't have a tutorial to link to, because I basically copied a skirt I already owned that was a bunch of rectangles and triangles sewn together. (I also mentioned this last week) I had the brilliant idea of turning the fabric the opposite direction for the triangles, which in my head sounded AWESOME but in practice just looks kinda "Meh."

The reason I call it my Sound of Music skirt is that I'm pretty sure the fabric I used is either curtain material or couch covering. I won't be wearing this one to church, is all I'm saying.

And finally, I am planning on making this sort of skirt, with this tablecloth:


Literally all I have to do is whack off the right amount of fabric for the waist and sew elastic on. The tablecloth is already a perfect circle, and the scalloped edges are hemmed in white thread. Perfect!

I will soon be wearing nothing but clothes made out of household items. Maybe this dress next?

-3-

Wearing a Sheet


I also made a dress! I know, I said I wasn't interested in dresses because they aren't breastfeeding friendly (I have to hoik this one up from the hem to get the job done) but when I saw this pattern, I couldn't resist trying. It looks so breezy and floaty and summery! Pretty pretty!

I bought a vintage flat sheet off eBay, and my husband was less than enthusiastic.

Him: "You're going to wear a sheet?"

Me: "Yes, husband. It is the done thing on many blogs."

Him: "??"

Me: "You don't think it's cute?"

Him: "I think you look like you're wearing a sheet, but it's your choice...."

Here is the finished product:


Perhaps I'm blinkered, but I don't think it looks terribly like a sheet. I mean, perhaps it has a sheet-ish quality to it, but nothing the screams "now my kids have nothing to sleep on tonight". 

There were plenty of hiccups on the way to making this dress. Firstly, the bodice didn't fit over my bust (a common theme in my life, sigh), so I had to add more fabric at the last minute:


The bonus of working with a sheet as your fabric is that the edges are hemmed. So that additional piece between the crossover was just sewn in place with no extra work involved. Sweet!

Unfortunately, the pockets weren't so easy to fix:


My hand doesn't actually fit inside them! Sheesh. Why didn't I test that before sewing the dress?! I shall have to unpick a lot of seams to fix that, so I haven't done it yet. I need to, though, because pockets in a dress are Required.

There is plenty to like about the dress, though. It is looooong. I love that it hits the tops of my feet!


I made the sleeves a bit longer than the pattern required, which makes it more comfortable for me to wear. I also didn't shirr the waist (blech!) but it definitely needs a little something around the waistline, so I think I'll get some contrasting fabric and make a shirred belt thingie. Shirring a loop of fabric will be a lot easier than shirring a lined dress.

I could also do with the waist of the dress being a bit looser. It's very fitted, which is fine (it's not uncomfortably tight or anything) but not my preference overall.

I will definitely try to make another one, with a different sheet! Hopefully I can use the adjustments I made as I went along with this dress to alter the second one without any hiccups at all. We'll see how that goes.

-4-

Kindle Case


If I can make something, I'd rather do that than buy it. It's usually cheaper that way, and I can make it just how I want it.

So, when I got a Kindle for my birthday, I set about looking for a nice case. They cost half as much as the Kindle itself! Okay, not really, but a quarter of the cost, easily.

No thanks!

So I dug out some old leather that I bought last year when I wanted to make shoes for my baby (I never got around to it) and the leather hole-puncher device, some semi-matching fleece and thick blue thread.

Ta-da!

The triangles of leather keep the Kindle in place

The shorter side is folded first; it also has a "button" on the edge

Folded, ready for buttoning

My leather "button" and loop system. The button is just a
small strip of  leather wound around itself to make a ball

A closeup of the edge stiching

Not as neat as I would like, but punching those holes out was killer!

-5-

Sewing a Hexagon Quilt


I'm still sewing those hexies, from time to time! Here are some flowers that recently grew:





Oh, little scrappy hexagon flowers sure do make me happy, but this one with the doe in the middle is just the cutest. Isn't she sweet?


I have plenty more hexies to sew together....


...and thanks to a friend, I have even more scrappy material to work with! Hurray! 


This hexagon quilt is going to take an age to complete, but it is such a great project to bring with me when we are out and about. If the kids want to go to the park, I can sit on a nearby bench and sew a flower or two while they play. Perfect!

Whew, this has been a picture-heavy post. Have a great weekend!


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Living Chemical Free, Part 4: Making Laundry Soap

This is the fourth part of my Living Chemical Free series.

For Part 1 on life without shampoo, click here.
For Part 2 with more information about the wondrous substance known as baking soda, click here.
Part 3 is all about making your own deodorant, here.

Making Laundry Soap with Soap Nuts


More dirty clothes? No problem!











I have been interested in making my own laundry soap for many years, but all of the recipes I found online included Borax. The EU banned borax about a decade ago, because it apparently can be used in making homemade bombs.

Who would be interested in making bombs when they could make laundry soap, right? Sometimes these lawmakers just don't understand people....

When I came across soap nuts, I was intrigued. There were several different ways to use the nuts, from throwing them in the wash with your clothes to making your own washing liquid by boiling down the nuts in water for about 20 minutes, then straining and bottling.

I had doubts about both methods.

Firstly, if the soap nuts are in the wash with the clothes, won't they lose their effectiveness faster because they are exposed to the rinse cycle? And do the soap nuts leave a residue on the clothes because they are always giving off a bit of saponins in the water?

Secondly, with the boil-and-bottle method, the fact is that soap nuts are organic and can go mouldy over time. What if I don't go through it fast enough and my entire batch goes bad? Admittedly, given the fact that I have four children under the age of 10 and I was up until recently doing a load of cloth nappies every two days, I probably would never have a bottle of liquid soapnuts hanging around long enough for it to go mouldy, but it was a concern nonetheless.

But then! I happened across an idea for canning the liquid. And it was super easy!

I save my old jam jars and mayo jars, so I had a variety of sizes. I guesstimated that for every 4 soap nuts, I would need 1 cup of water.

I filled my jars to their capacity with the soap nuts and boiling water. I then carefully screwed the lids on tightly, and put them all into my big canning pot.

I put the pot on the heat, and waited for it to boil. Once the jars were all in the boiling bath for at least 30 minutes, and I was satisfied that they were sealed, I removed them from the hot water to let them cool.

They are now sitting in my cupboard above the washing machine waiting their turn to be opened! Because I am only going through one medium-sized to smallish jar at a time, there is little chance of the soap going off before I can get through it.

But does it work?

The water in the jar MUST be opaque. If I shake my jar(s), bubbles form at the top. The soap nuts are hanging out at the bottom, and when I pour out the liquid I try not to let them escape. I suppose I could strain it, but that seems like too much work to me!

How much do I use for a load? I normally use a 1/4 cup. I just keep the measuring cup in the cupboard with the jars of soap and if I have a load that is especially dirty or full, I add an extra splash or two. There isn't much science to it, really. It's only soap.

I paid £2.50 for a bag of soap nuts, and I didn't even use them all in my batch of jars. I would estimate that I have about 50 washes so far, and with the left over soap nuts, perhaps another 20 to go. 

That's not bad! My clothes have all come out smelling clean, but obviously not scented. The dirt is coming out, but anything with major staining still needs to be pre-treated. (I don't have a chemical-free alternative for stain treatment, but I'd bet baking soda would do it!)

I have washed dirty nappies with this, as well as all sorts of stinky towels and clothes from a potty training toddler. They smelled great afterwards, so if that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will!

Soap nuts are an economical and earth-friendly alternative to regular laundry soap, but if you aren't willing to make the change, consider using a good deal less laundry soap than the manufacturer recommends on the box. I've read in many places that the amounts listed are inflated just to keep you buying their products. Try a load with half the amount of powder you normally use. You might be surprised!

Next week, we'll have a little chat about brushing my teeth with a stick (aka Miswak), washing my face with oil (eeeewww! Right? Maybe.), and possibly even making your own sunscreen. Party time!



Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Living Chemical Free, Part 3: Home-made Deodorant

Part 1, all about a shampoo-less existence, is here.

Part 2, with other uses of the awesome chemical that is known as baking soda, bicarbonate of soda, or simply bicarb, is here.

Home-made Deodorant

This is not what my medicine cabinet looks like.











There are a ton of recipes out there for making your own deodorant. A TON. It is confusing and a little bit intimidating to come across recipes that call for weird stuff like shea butter, beeswax, cosmetic clay, or ylang-ylang essential oils.

I do not keep that sort of thing just lying around in my house. Maybe you do! I don't know! But I don't even know what half that stuff is, up there.

Anyway, my theory is that if I'm going to buy special ingredients to make this deodorant, then I want to be able to use those ingredients in other things.

So this is my favourite home made deodorant recipe:

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder (or cornstarch, of which I have in my kitchen regularly)
5 Tbs coconut oil (this is a more rare ingredient, I think, but more on this later)
optional essential oils (I've never bothered, but don't let that stop you)

Okay, so what about the coconut oil? Who keeps that around the house, right? I never did before I started making my own deodorant. But now I love the stuff and I'll tell you why: it is multi-functional, just like the baking soda and arrowroot powder/cornstarch.

I use coconut oil on my daughter's eczema, minor skin rashes, as a face moisturiser, in frying and baking, nappy rash cream, the list goes on and on. (An easy way to get a good use out of it for such things is to pour the warm oil into ice cube trays and when it's cooled, just pop them out into handy little chunks. I then keep them in the fridge for easy access.)

If I am going to devote money, time and space to an item, I want to wring as much usefulness out of it as I possibly can.

So now that I am a dedicated coconut oil user, I always have a bottle in the house. It is just too useful!

Interestingly, coconut oil is a solid at room temperature. I have to keep it next to the boiler in my kitchen in order to get any use out of it when I need it. Sometimes that doesn't even work, like when the boiler hasn't been on for a while, so I have to boil some water and stick the glass oil bottle in there. The coconut oil soon melts, so even if it was solid a moment before, I can get a few tablespoons out of it without much of a wait.

Back to the deodorant recipe!

Making sure that the coconut oil is melted first, I just mix everything together in a bowl, and form the deodorant into a ball/sphere/lump. I then wrap it in a plastic food bag and keep it in the fridge! I find that if it's in the bathroom, the heat from the shower and the hot water tank melts it too easily and it's very difficult to rub on. But in the fridge, it's a nice firm lump that melts into my skin rather quickly.

As an experiment (I like those, in case you hadn't noticed!), I added some dried lavender buds to my last deodorant mixture. I was worried that my armpits would crunch as I walked around, but that hasn't been the case. I don't know if I smell like lavender, but it makes life that little bit more interesting. I probably won't bother again with future batches, but it works just fine.

One word of warning: Avoid using the deodorant directly after shaving! I made this mistake a few times, and hoo-boy! Does that sting!! I'm not sure why, I think it's the baking soda; if you want to wait a while, you might want to just use coconut oil on its own to moisturise the skin. It is also antimicrobial, so you might even get away with using it as deodorant on its own for the day!

So does it actually work? 


I love it!!

Before I started making my own deodorant, I was using two different kinds each day and still not happy with my smelliness by the end of the day. Now I can apply the home made stuff in the morning, rush around after my kids all day, do a bit of exercise, and still smell neutral by the end of the day.

In fact, and I don't know if this has anything to do with avoiding soap altogether or if there is a cumulative effect of using the home made deodorant or anything, but I don't always need deodorant at all! Sometimes I forget to use it and I still smell okay at the end of the day. At least, nobody in my house complains and if there was something to complain about, they would speak up in short order.

I'm especially excited for my kids to use this.


My oldest child is 9 and is right on the cusp of puberty. Some of my friends have children that are ever-so-slightly older than my daughter and those kids are using deodorant. I really like the idea of my children using something that is completely non-toxic and that works so well! Whenever they run out, we can just whip up a new batch, specially formulated with their personal scent preference, even.

I don't know how economical it is, unfortunately. Coconut oil is, admittedly, a bit of a luxury item unless you live near a foreign foods market. However, I justify the cost with the fact that it is just so versatile, and that my home made deodorant is vastly more effective than the store-bought variety. It only has three ingredients, two of which are cheap-as-chips and one of which is more expensive. I'm happy with that compromise!

Next up in my Living Chemical Free series is making my own laundry soap. It only has two ingredients!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Living Chemical Free, Part 2: Baking Soda, Nature's Jack-of-all-Trades

Part 1 is here, wherein I discuss my adventures (and misadventures!) with using baking soda instead of shampoo, and vinegar as conditioner.

Baking Soda as a General Cleanser


This is not the Soda you are looking for.















So today, I'm going to talk about using baking soda (bicarbonate of soda, for you non-American English speakers out there) as a cleansing agent in other areas of life besides a shampoo substitute.

In the shower, I use it in place of soap about 50% of the time. It sounds totally weird, but I find it works better than shower gel or soap, and I like the clean-but-not-smelling-like-fake-flowers-or-something smell that I come out with.

I keep a little container of baking soda in the bathroom, and when I'm showering I just sprinkle some into the palm of my hand and make a paste.

This doesn't work for my hair, because we have hard water and baking soda won't dissolve in hard water, but I  am basically just using it as a mild scrub. I've even used it on my face, with no adverse effects.

I find that the baking soda paste gets rid of B.O. better than the strong smelling shower gels that my hubby prefers! Weird or what?

It makes my showering time go by faster, too, because I always used to compulsively rinse, rinse, rinse in case I left soap on my skin somewhere. I don't know why that bothers me so much, but it does.

Anyway! Aside from showering and TMI, I also like to use baking soda in general household cleaning. I've used it in scrubbing toilets, shower tiles, and my laminate wood floors. I also used to use it as a pre-wash for my daughter's nappies, with vinegar in the fabric softener section and normal laundry detergent in the regular wash section.

It is a gentle cleanser that is not only effective but CHEAP. On eBay I paid about £12.50, including shipping, for my 5kg bag of baking soda, which works out to less than a penny for a tablespoon of the stuff. In fact, I bought my bag so long ago that it isn't even in my archived eBay purchases. I hopefully won't need to buy any more for several more months.

I really love stuff that has many functions. I could have various bottles of different single-purpose items scattered around the house and in locked or high-up cupboards because the chemicals are dangerous and musn't be touched by small children, OR I could have one item, that doesn't taste nice at all (ask me how I know!) but isn't even toxic (unless we're talking huge doses), and use it for a million things that I don't even know off the top of my head.

Uses of Baking Soda That I Just Googled Right Now:


  • Put out grease fires
  • Fridge deodoriser (although many of us knew that one already! I grew up with the ubiquitous box of Arm & Hammer in the fridge)
  • Wash out thermos containers to get rid of the stale smell
  • Polish silverware with dry baking soda and a damp cloth
  • Let a burnt pan soak with a layer of baking soda on the bottom
  • Put 4 Tbs of baking soda in your drains, rinsed down with boiling water, to keep them clear
  • Put 2 Tbs in baby's bathwater to ease a bum rash
  • Use a paste of baking soda and water to ease a sunburn
  • Add to your soaking dried beans to help them soften
  • Wipe down your car windows with it to help repel rain (although I would test this somewhere first just in case it scratches the glass???)

And there's loads more! Very cool stuff, this baking soda. I'm glad to have it around.

It also makes a fantastic ingredient for homemade deodorant. But that is for Part 3.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Living Chemical Free, Part 1: Living Without Shampoo

I don't use shampoo anymore.

I don't use much soap, either.

I make my own deodorant.

I also make my own laundry soap.

I have no strong feelings about these changes, really.

Oh sure, it's nice to not have to buy bottles of shampoo each month, and I like being self sufficient and making my own stuff, but I think I started out doing these things just because they sounded interesting, and I've found that they actually work. Huh.

So the key ingredient in most of these changes in my daily ablutions is Baking Soda. Or, if you are in England, Bicarbonate of Soda. I don't know why the name is different across the pond, but for simplicity's sake, I'll call it B.S. Ha! No, not really. That would be rude. I'll call it baking soda, because that's what they call it in my homeland and it's easier for me to remember that name.

Living Without Shampoo


Not like baking soda at all.













Anyway... baking soda instead of shampoo. I read a lot about it, and tried different methods: mixing it into a paste in my hand and scrubbing it into dry hair and washing it out; scrubbing the paste into wet hair and washing it out; sprinkling it in like talcum powder and brushing it through; dissolving 1 Tbs into 1 cup of water and using it like shampoo.

Nothing doing. I went from slightly greasy to hideous after about 2 weeks. Seriously, there is no way to clearly describe the nastiness that resulted from this experiment at first. The blogs and websites talk about a "settling in period" but nobody mentioned that my hair would be greasy from the roots to the tips, but ALSO be static-y! How?

I don't know.


Here's what I found out: Baking soda will not dissolve in hard water. Therefore, it won't actually do much in washing the ol' noggin.

Ding ding ding! We have super hard water, and that was my problem right there. Some people suggested using distilled water but that seemed like far too much effort.

In desperation, I researched a little more and about 5 minutes before I ran screaming for my shampoo bottle, I found a comment on a blog post about using BOILING water to dissolve the baking soda. I thought that sounded promising, so I combined a ratio of 1 Tbs baking soda with 1 cup boiling water and went to work.

Wait, back up. Be aware that when you combine baking soda with boiling hot water that it reacts rather similarly to baking soda combined with vinegar. As in, it bubbles over. Do not touch your container (which is, I hope, heat proof) whilst pouring the water. Learn from me and my mistakes, please!

Okay, so you have your container of cooled baking soda mixture -- because who would pour freshly boiled water on their head, right? -- and you are ready to wash your hair.

Now what?

Well, on that first fateful day of washing my hair properly with baking soda, our shower wasn't working. I was kneeling in the bath, wetting my hair with a cup or something, and then poured a bit of the mixture on the crown of my head. I started scrubbing, and it actually sudsed up a bit! It was amazing!

I got all of the nasty build up of grease that had been accumulating for the past 2 weeks completely out of my hair. It wasn't a perfect job, because of the bath situation, but it was near enough to having my old shampoo'd hair back. I could have danced for joy.

That was a month and a half ago, and I haven't used any shampoo since.

But I'll be honest: my hair isn't the same as it would be with a fancy shampoo and conditioner treatment. It feels clean, and it smells nice (more on that in a minute), but it doesn't have that slick, shimmery quality that it would if I was using store bought chemical concoctions.

I'm mostly ok with this. Some days I don't get my hair washed as well as others, and I feel a little annoyed, but I'm willing to concede that I might still be in the settling in period, and I might just need to fiddle around with my baking soda ratios.

I've also found that if I make my mixture ahead of time and let it cool completely before I get around to using it, some of the baking soda sinks to the bottom and it just doesn't work as well. So unfortunately, there is a bit more faffing around before I can take a shower.

But all in all, I like it.

So that's the cleaning side of things, but what about the conditioning? Easy. I just use vinegar.

Many places on the web tell you to use apple cider vinegar, with the same ratio as the baking soda (1 Tbs vinegar to 1 cup water).

I don't have apple cider vinegar, but I do have a bunch of the clear stuff, so I just poured that in a glass bottle (same ratio as above) and added some spices to even out the smell. Right now I have a handful of cloves, a cinnamon stick and a dollop of vanilla brewing away in there. After I've washed my hair, I sprinkle the spiced, watered-down vinegar on my hair (mostly on the ends) and let it sit while I wash everywhere else. Once it's rinsed out and dry, there is no vinegar smell but I do smell rather spicy! It's quite nice.

I rather enjoy living a bit independent of large retailers like this. I just buy a 5kg bag of baking soda off eBay and use it for all sorts of things. It's even food grade, so I can use it in actual baking, too. Handy or what?

So what about the soap and deodorant thing? This post is long enough so I'll get to those later....

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Five things for Friday: It's Still Friday Somewhere....

-1-

Everywhere, Bananas....

Friends of ours left the country for good (sniffle) earlier this week, and bequeathed upon us most of their condiments and other things from their fridge. They also gave me about 5lbs of bananas! I'm not entirely sure why they bought so much fruit in the weeks before they were moving overseas, but there they were: slightly brown, very fragrant, and needing to be used quickly.

We've had banana bread, banana cake, banana & pumpkin cake (as an experiment... not bad) and the rest have been peeled and frozen for future banana emergencies. 

This, times 50
I am planning on making banana ice cream when it gets hot enough. Eventually. At some point. Ah, English weather.

-2-

Speaking of Weather

Two months ago, we had a week of amazing weather. Sunshine, bright blue skies with minimal clouds, and very warm. Now? Not so much! It's nearing the end of May and I still need to put the heating on now and then. 

Complaining about the weather is a national past-time. This morning there is no rain, but it is very wet and clearly rained all night.

My kids are especially disappointed today because we were planning on going to a car boot sale and selling some of our stuff. Yesterday they didn't get many customers, and I told them they could try again at the car boot. (For those of you thinking, "???", a car boot sale is sort of like a garage sale only everyone drives their stuff to a big field and uses the boot - trunk - of their car to display items. You normally pay £5 for a pitch) I tried to explain the false economy of paying £5 for the privilege of not making any sales, but they weren't in the mood to understand very gracefully. It's been an intense morning.

But we'll go to one soon! It's bound to get warm eventually, at some point this summer, at least. Right?!

Every. Single. Day.

-3-

Making Clothes

I've decided to start making my own clothes. The cost of clothing is prohibitive in many stores (at least according to me!) and most of it is low quality (only meant to last for one season of use) and doesn't fit me right. 

I'm starting with something easy, like skirts. I've already made this skirt, which wasn't difficult and the pockets are just fantastic. I also am copying a skirt that I already own and making a new one in different fabric. It's going to be swishy and pretty and I am putting in the same style of pockets as in the first skirt, because pockets are Very Useful. I have plans to make a pencil skirt next, but that will require a bit more effort, and possibly sewing darts and a zipper. Gulp! Elastic waistbands are waaay easier.

What I need more than anything, though, is tops. That is the reason I started sewing my own clothes in the first place, but I'm kind of nervous about starting. It's so much more complicated than a circular piece of fabric with elastic. But I have to try! My clothing selection is incredibly limited at the moment.

Not always so easy.

-4-

Addiction

For a few years now, I have told people in a jokey sort of way that I am addicted to sugar. I gave it up completely before I got pregnant with my youngest (so about 3 years ago now) but fell back into the habit - or the sweet, cloying grip of sugar as I often describe it to myself.

Some of the common symptoms of addiction are:
  • Tolerance - the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect
  • Withdrawal happens when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms, which are often the opposite of the effects of the addictive behavior
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Social, occupational or recreational activities becoming more focused around the addiction, and important social and occupational roles being jeopardized
  • The person becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior

If I read through that list with my experiences of eating sugar in mind, I can nod my head YES to every single one.
Tolerance? Check - I was always having to up my intake of junk in order to get the same level of satisfaction.
Withdrawal? Check - I would get headaches, dizziness, mood swings, etc when I went too long without the stuff.
Difficulty cutting down? Check - there is no "consuming in moderation" for me. If I indulge, it is like opening the floodgates to devouring sugar-laden foods at every opportunity.
Focus on the addiction at social activities? Check - I couldn't enjoy myself at a function with food unless I was eating something sugary.
Preoccupation with the addiction? Check - If I was afforded a rare opportunity to be alone in the day, I would always plan on a sugar binge to go with that alone time. I would often plan for it many days in advance.

It is embarrassing to admit all this, but it's true. I've had to cut sugar out of my diet almost entirely. I say almost, because it is still there, lurking in jarred sauces or tinned foods. I am slowly making the change over to sugar free everything, but breakfast is a stumbling block for me... I need to re-think what makes a good breakfast entirely. Re-heated leftovers are a good alternative right now. (I am also avoiding sugar substitutes)

I've decided that if I consider my sugar addiction a life-long issue, and not a temporary change, I will be happier and healthier in the long run. Not only physically healthier, but mentally healthier. All that time and head space I was giving over to planning my next sugar fix can actually be put to much better use. I am breaking free from the chains that bound me, and it is a wonderful feeling. So what if I can't have a piece of cake with everyone else? Who cares if I was the only one drinking fruit tea instead of ordering dessert at the restaurant? I am satisfied with my food choices now, which is worth more than any temporary satisfaction a sugary "treat" could give me.

I need to write more about this another time, because the science behind sugar is rather frightening. I really think it should be re-classified as a toxin.

Looks innocent, doesn't it?

-5-

Pets

We rent. I have four kids. We don't do pets in our family. The kids would love to have a dog or cat, but even if we had permission from the landlords, I don't think I could bring myself to add a critter to our family. They are a lot of work, and my motto is "I clean up enough poo as it is, thankyouverymuch."

But we do have a little tank of sea monkeys. They are kind of cool and a little bit gross. The kids will ask why their tails are suddenly really long... yep, that's their poo. But I don't have to clean it, (see above) so it's okay with me.

The tank has been going for about 4 weeks now, and the adults are mating. Their eggs have hatched, so we have the next generation of brine shrimp on their way to adulthood. Hopefully they'll make it! The kids love watching them, but I keep the tank out of their reach most of the time. 

I had a sea monkey tank once, as a teenager. My friend didn't know what it was and turned it upside-down trying to figure it out. Splash went my monkeys! Poor little things. I am very protective of my current brood. It will be interesting to watch their little lives unfold over time. 

But they are kind of gross to look at close up. Did you know the adults have three eyes? Ew.

There should be three eyes, just to be accurate.
This Five things for Friday link-up is brought to you by Women in the Scriptures. Have a great weekend!

Friday, 18 May 2012

What do your kids DO all day?

I started home educating my kids about 18 months ago. At first it was out of necessity; we were moving to a new town and I wasn't sure which school they would attend. But as the thought kept rolling around in my brain for longer and longer, I realised this was the right path for our family and my husband and I dove right in. The kids haven't been to school since.

At first I started planning lessons. I bought a ton of amazing books and curricula, and tried to plan out our schedule for the week every Sunday night.

That didn't last long.

My kids are a headstrong crowd. They are determined to learn things, but in their own way and their own time. This means that I'll be sitting at the computer at 10pm with my nine year old, researching hieroglyphics. It means we have amazing discussions about the different types of plankton in the sea whilst eating dinner. We essentially just live our lives and pursue our interests as and when. This results in my kids coming out with all sorts of random facts at the dinner table, and my five year old having the vocabulary of a ten year old (sometimes!).

Any attempts to force learning on them fails in an exploding fashion. Just the other day, I tried to teach my daughter a bit of grammar and the difference between "your" and "you're". She point-blank refused to learn it. She listened, but she told me that she wouldn't let it "get into [her] head." Well then. In my infinite wisdom, I carried on lecturing, which led to a bit of paper ripping, pencil throwing, and plenty of foot stomping and door slamming. Yeah.

But today, the three older ones are absorbed in setting up a shop in our driveway. They have gone through their things, decided what they wanted to sell, priced everything out, set up a table and chairs out front, and have a money box and paper. Bless their cotton socks - we don't get much foot traffic past our house, but it's a sunny day and they are happily busy with their project. I hope they get a sale!

Each day is different. I love it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How I Write a Talk

It's not always easy to stand up here
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of the (several) distinguishing characteristics of my church is that we have a lay ministry. Our Bishop works for a living, and in fact one member of the congregation is his boss! Funny.

We have a system whereby members of the congregation take it in turns to speak on a Sunday. The topics are assigned by the Bishop, and a time limit is usually set (often 15 minutes).

Writing a talk can be tricky. In a large ward (congregation), a person may not have the chance to speak more than once a year, if that. I have spoken three times in the past five years. My husband even less! He hasn't given a talk in two years, at least. I believe that records are kept as to who has spoken last, but we've moved house recently so any sort of recorded speaking assignment history is scrubbed out for us.

When I'm first given an assignment, I try to read up on the topic as much as possible. Often I am given a Conference talk to work from; my recent talk assignment was by Elder O. Vincent Haleck, entitled "Having the Vision to Do."

I read the talk several times, printed out a copy and underlined key points I wanted to bring out. I read it through a day later, taking notes of different thoughts that came to mind as I read. These initial thoughts didn't necessarily make it into my final draft, but they gave me a beginning.

I like to structure my talks into sections that flow from one point to the next. In general, a 15 minute talk would have about four different sections, with about 1 type-written page each (using a 14 point font for my own words and a 12 point font for any large quotations). I also have a short intro, usually containing my own personal thoughts and a large quotation from the source material, and a conclusion that reiterates the different points brought up and another quotation from the source material.

It is important to me to keep my quotes pertinent to the topic section, varied from different speakers and sources (such as the teacher's manuals or Daughters in my Kingdom), and to use plenty of scripture references. I use personal anecdotes sparingly, and use my own words to tie all of my quotes and scriptures together.

I am not a professional speaker, but I have a bit of experience acting and teaching, and I think there are similar elements in each presentation. I try to speak with emphasis (and often underline or highlight words in my printed copy of the talk) and come prepared with a tissue if I get the case of the weepies while I speak.

This recent talk didn't come together until the day before I presented it. I didn't have any time to memorise my words, so I couldn't look up at my audience as often as I would like. As a listener, I appreciate being able to see the eyes of the person speaking! I want to see their facial expressions and that is hard to do if they are reading directly off a page.

It goes without saying that preparing a talk should be accompanied with a lot of prayer and humility. I say humility because I had a personal agenda in mind when I started writing this talk, and it was like hitting my head against a brick wall! Every time I wanted to write MY  perspective, MY plans, my brain wouldn't cooperate. Once I backed off and let the Spirit guide the direction for the talk, everything slotted into place.

Many people prefer to "wing it" when they give talks. I simply can't do things that way. I am not a great orator without the written word in front of me as a guide. This is what works best for me, and I hope it gives you a little bit of help the next time you have to speak in front of a group of people.

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Here are two other blog posts that discuss preparing a talk:
Diapers and Divinity
A Latter-day Voice

Monday, 14 May 2012

How Do We Gain The Vision Necessary To Do Those Things That Will Bring Us Closer To The Saviour?

(This post is very religious in nature - specifically my religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - but is my opinion only and is not indicative of official doctrine of the Church.)

Yesterday I gave a talk in church. It was like pulling teeth to get this talk together, so I was glad it was well received! Several people told me they enjoyed it afterwards; not a necessary reaction to a talk, but a nice one.

I wanted to share it here, because there was a lot of good stuff I found and thought it might be interesting or helpful to others. I also want to talk about how I structure my talks, and why it works well for me. I'll save that post for tomorrow!

(This is an uber long blog post; it took me about 15 minutes to read aloud.)

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As we journey through this life, we are often surrounded by voices that try to convince us of our lack of ability. We are tempted to look around at other people and compare our weaknesses to their strengths, and are convinced that we will always come up short.

But this is not how the Saviour sees us. He knows our true potential, our Godly heritage and our divine worth. Elder O. Vincent Haleck of the Seventy said:
The Savior saw more in those humble fishermen whom He called to follow Him than they initially saw in themselves; He saw a vision of who they could become. He knew of their goodness and potential, and He acted to call them. They were not experienced at first, but as they followed, they saw His example, felt His teachings, and became His disciples. 

How can we, like the Saviour, see a vision of who we can become? How can we look around us, and instead of comparing, contrasting, belittling or begrudging, see our own and everyone else's goodness and potential? Like the disciples of old, in spite of our relative inexperience, we can gain a knowledge of the Saviours love by following His example, incorporating His teachings into our lives, and exercising faith.

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SEE OURSELVES AS THE SAVIOUR SEES US

I am a child of God
And so my needs are great
Help me to understand His words
Before it grows too late

This principle of our divine heritage is taught to the smallest child and the wisest adult. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul taught us another facet of this doctrine:
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

We are children of God. Our bodies are His temples. We can become like Him one day. This is a foundational tenet of our faith, and one that transcends our mortal existence with such majesty and beauty that it almost defies description and understanding.

Third President of the Church, John Taylor, did a great job of explaining our full potential.

What is [man]? He had his being in the eternal worlds; he existed before he came here. He is not only the son of man, but he is the son of God also. He is a God in embryo, and possesses within him a spark of that eternal flame which was struck from the blaze of God’s eternal fire in the eternal world, and is placed here upon the earth that he may possess true intelligence, true light, true knowledge,—that he may know himself—that he may know God—that he may know something about what he was before he came here—that he may know something about what he is destined to enjoy in the eternal worlds.

All human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.

One of my favourite General Conference talks this past April was by Elder Holland. In it, he warns us to flee from the sin of envy - of not comparing our lot to someone else's, but trusting in the Lord to see our true potential and worth.

When we see ourselves (and others) as the Saviour sees us, our capacity to love and serve is infinitely expanded. We not only catch the vision of our potential, but we ACT upon that potential and thus grow into the person the Lord sees within us.

To paraphrase Sheri L Dew, a counsellor in the General Relief Society Presidency several years ago, "Am I the person I think I am, the person I want to be? More importantly, am I the person the Saviour needs me to be?"

So what do we do to act upon our potential and grow into the person the Saviour needs us to be?

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OBEY COMMANDMENTS AND ACT UPON PROMPTINGS

The church website has a great section entitled "Study by Topic". Under the section labelled Holy Ghost, I found this definition:

Through the power of the Holy Ghost, we are sanctified as we repent, receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, and remain true to our covenants.

3 Nephi 27:20 says, "Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day."

Spotless. Faultless. Perfect. Is this even possible? Not without the Atonement. Not without Christ, and His teachings.

However, it is often worthwhile delving into the meaning of words, and their origins. The term "perfect" was translated from the Greek word "teleios." This means "complete" and is derived from the word "telos" which means "end." Russell M Nelson explained, "the word does not imply 'freedom from error'; it implies 'achieving a distant objective.'"

I am heartened by this perspective. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all I must do, I feel as if I can cope with achieving a distant objective, piece by piece, little by little.

Acting upon the promptings of the Holy Ghost is key. As a busy mother of four young children, I often struggle to be consistent with my scripture study. I recently made a renewed commitment to feast upon the words of Christ, but in the end I think I bit off more than I could chew! I bought special study journals, and began by delving into deep study every night after the kids went to bed. It was wonderful, enlightening, interesting, and completely unsustainable at this point in my life. I wanted to carry on, but I simply could not manage an hour each evening devoted to scripture study. My responsibilities weighed heavy on my heart, and my expectations loomed in front of me, like an impossible mountain. As I prayed about this situation, I was reminded that I just needed to read my scriptures. I did not need to become a scriptorian overnight, all I had to do was read. This may seem completely obvious, but I have a knack for not being able to see the forest for the trees. The Spirit enlightened my mind and answered my question.

In order for us to have a deeper understanding of the Saviour's vision of us, we need to exercise our faith, obey the commandments and ACT upon any promptings we receive. How do we do this? Any missionary or primary child could remind us of the 4th Article of Faith:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

I would also add that we need that mighty change of heart - that doesn't happen overnight - and to endure to the end.

I am a list maker. It makes sense of the jumble in my brain and helps to create order out of chaos! One way I've found to seek out promptings of the Spirit: (Fasting can strengthen our resolve and draw us closer to the Spirit as we seek it.)

1. Search and Study: scriptures, general conference, talks, testimonies, lessons, keeping a church journal to record the teachings
2. Have a goal or question in mind
3. Ponder the messages received; allow them to inspire you
4. Act upon your inspiriation - do it promptly. Don't delay.

John 14:26 teaches us about following the promptings of the Spirit:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Elder Haleck said,

This is the same Holy Ghost who can empower and motivate us to do the things that the Savior and our modern-day prophets and apostles teach.
As we put into action the teachings of our leaders, we gain a deeper understanding of our Savior’s vision for us. Throughout this conference we have received inspired counsel from prophets and apostles. Study their teachings and ponder them in your hearts while seeking the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to help you catch a vision of these teachings in your life. With that vision, exercise your faith in acting upon their counsel.
Search and study the scriptures with a mind to receiving further light and knowledge of their message to you. Ponder them in your heart and allow them to inspire you. Then act on your inspiration.

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MISSIONARY WORK

President Monson said,

We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness.... We are the Lord's hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.

In October 1936, George Albert Smith said,

Our eternal happiness will be in proportion to the way that we devote ourselves to helping others.

My parents joined the Church before they met and were married. I was baptised at age 8. All my life, I've been taught about missionary work. I have been encouraged to share the gospel with anyone I came into contact with. I served a 6-week mini mission when I was 19 years old. As newlyweds, my husband and I served as ward mission leader and ward missionary. I always thought I understood what member missionary work meant, but recently I found that my idea of it was quite limited in scope. Spencer W Kimball's quote made me stop and think:

The cultivation of Christlike qualities is a demanding and relentless task - it is not for the seasonal worker or for those who will not stretch themselves, again and again.

If I truly want to do the things that will bring me closer to the Saviour, I won't necessarily have a comfortable existence!

Service in all its forms - from a purchase of the Big Issue, to a Stake-wide Helping Hands day, to Visiting and Home Teaching, Family Home Evening (regardless of our family size, age and composition) - can all impact a person's life more deeply than we may ever realise.

Once, many years ago when I only had two tiny children, my toddler was having a very loud tantrum in Tesco. Perhaps it was the stress of the moment, but it seemed like her screams echoed especially loudly that day! In the midst of my attempts to calm her, a woman came up to me, touched my shoulder and said, "You are doing a wonderful job." And then she walked away.

The service that stranger bestowed upon me not only bouyed me up in that moment, but helped me resolve to always uplift others whenever I can. The power of kindness can have effects that last a lifetime.

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

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EXERCISE FAITH

I return to the words of Elder Haleck:

How do we, amidst the challenges of our lives, gain the vision necessary to do those things that will bring us closer to the Savior? Speaking of vision, the book of Proverbs teaches this truth: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If we are to prosper rather than perish, we must gain a vision of ourselves as the Savior sees us.

Charity is defined as the pure love of Christ. If we are to emulate the Saviour to become like Him, Charity towards all is the way forward.

But let's be honest here; we all have challenges in our lives. Time is limited, as are resources. How do we lift others amdist our own trials?

The scriptures are full of examples of charity, as are many General Conference talks. Today, I would like to share a story from Daughters in my Kingdom:

Hedwig Biereichel, a sister in East Germany, provided food for starving Russian prisoners of war, even though she and her family could have been imprisoned or shot for such an act of charity.26 Years later, she was interviewed about her experiences, as were several others who had endured similar trials during World War II. At the end of each interview, the interviewer asked, “How did you keep a testimony during all these trials?” The interviewer summarized all the responses she received with this statement: “I didn’t keep a testimony through those times—the testimony kept me.”

Sister Biereichel's simple testimony of the power of exercising faith is a powerful witness of how any of us can overcome the hard things in our lives.

Elder Haleck explains:

When we study the life of our Savior and His teachings, we see Him amongst the people teaching, praying, lifting, and healing. When we emulate Him and do the things we see Him do, we begin to see a vision of who we can become. You will be blessed with insight through the help of the Holy Ghost to do more good. Changes will begin to come, and you will bring a different order to your life that will bless you and your family. During His ministry among the Nephites, the Savior asked, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” He replied, “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). We need His help to become like Him, and He has shown us the way: “Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened”

Alma gives us an excellent formula for how to live, in Alma 7:23-24

23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
 24 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.
Losing ourselves in the service of others brings us closer to Christ. We will be filled with His love for our brothers and sisters and consequently we will then see ourselves as the Saviour sees us.

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IN CLOSING

I love Elder Halecks final words in his General Conference address:

I bear you my witness of the Savior and His desire for us to return to Him. To do that, we must have the faith to do—to follow Him and become like Him. Throughout various times of our lives, He holds out His hand and invites us:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29–30).
Just as the Savior saw great potential in His early disciples, He also sees the same in us. Let us see ourselves as the Savior sees us. I pray that we will have that vision with the faith and courage to do

Exercising faith in the Lord, serving others through missionary work of all types, acting on promptings of the Holy Ghost and obeying the commandments will give us the vision of great potential that the Saviour sees in us.

As I look back on the incidents in my life, I know this to be true.

I, too, pray that we all can catch the vision of the Saviour's love for us. Let us press forward with courage, love and hope.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sleep

It is 4.34 am, and I am awake. I fell asleep putting the baby to bed (again) and am now sitting in the dark, listening to the birds sing and the rain fall.

As tired as I will feel in an hour or so, I love being awake at this time of day. The sky slowly brightens, the world is still quiet, and my family is at peace. I am alone.

Soon, someone will wake up. The baby will stir, and feel that I am not there. The older ones will be woken by the perpetual hunger of constant growth spurts, and begin their day of constant grazing. The sun will shine through the windows, and the day will truly begin.

I will need to go back to bed soon, before I grow anxious about my lack of sleep. But now, in the peace and the stillness, I am content.