Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Montessori?

Some of you might be wondering what this Montessori thing is all about and why I mention it now and then in my posts...

Let me first just say: I'm no expert. There, it's out!  If I'm an expert at anything, it is at not being an expert.  In everything.  ;)

For years I worked at a school that used the Montessori method for their preschool.  I was amazed and impressed by everything that I saw.  But it wasn't until my sister stayed with us for a summer while attending a training program to obtain her Montessori credential that I really fell in love.  She would come home so excited and would share with me bits that she learned throughout the day.  The little bit I learned from her helped me to understand the development of a child and thus be a better parent.

That summer, I really knew Montessori was for me when I hesitated as my then 10-month-old son squished his banana with his hands a smeared it all over his high-chair tray.  The neat-freak in me wanted to take it away, but then I remembered my sister talking about how babies learn sensorially.  It dawned on me that he had never seen, touched, eaten, smelled, or squished a banana before.  It was amazing.  And it was beautiful to watch his eyes concentrate and process the matter in front of him.  Here he was, too young for me to have a conversation with him and yet I could see his brain processing right in front of my eyes.  It was like I was given a window in to see how his brain was working.  It was incredible.

Then, after he had tested it in just about every way imaginable for a little man in a high-chair, he ate it.  Without me telling him anything, he figured out that bananas were for eating.

The mom in me wants to sentimentally tell you how I would have missed that incredible moment with my son if I hadn't known better.  However, the intellect in me confirms that babies are born with the ability to learn and to seek the purpose in everything.  And that's what I love about Montessori and why I want to have a Montessori-inspired environment in my home.  In short, I want to encourage and not stifle their innate desire to learn and seek truth.  As I've mentioned in my previous post, when children figure things out on their own, they thrive.  They don't need us to tell them they did a good job.

To me, the Montessori method is the humble method.  We help orchestrate, but otherwise we stay out of the way.

It's learning without limits.  We put up the fence (order), but then teach them to fly (creativity).

Is my home entirely Montessori?  No.  But my home is, and continues to transition to what I call, "Montessori inspired".  I have full knowledge that I won't be able to do everything perfectly or by the book, but I will do my best.

If you have time, this is a great video to watch about Montessori:

Montessori Madness

Here is a good explanation of Montessori:

What is Montessori?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Budget Wedding

Wedding Season is upon us, and I'm feeling it quite strongly this year as one of my beloved little sisters is getting married next month!  So, between that and one of my friends (thank you, Faith!) telling me to post on this subject, I thought I'd share a couple of the ways we saved some money on our big day.
Photo credit for ALL photos on this post:
Geoff White

I am a firm believer that weddings do not have to cost a fortune.  Yes, they will cost a pretty penny if you want something extravagant, but you don't necessarily have to take out a loan or choose between a wedding and a down-payment on a house.

When my husband and I got engaged we were really shocked that, in order to have the typical "Martha Stewart" wedding that was so prevalent in our current society, we'd have to spend over $50k.  Not only that, but we were going to have to scale back our guest list to accommodate all the small venues.  Large ones were hard to find and some were dark and dingy and were still out of our price range.  It was insane.

We quickly realized that this was not an option.  I had to go though a period of grieving for my "dream" wedding, since I refused to go into debt.  After that, I was amazed at what we could accomplish with our budget, and what is incredible is that I got my dream wedding!!!  You just have to a) think outside the box and b) spend the money only when it is something important to you.

So, if you are getting married sometime soon and want some tips, this is where you start.

1. Decide on your budget.  Make it real, people.  ;)  In other words, don't count on an outpouring of resources that are risky.  If they do come through, great, but it's much easier to adjust for additional money than try to cut corners when you realize that "Auntie May" is never going to send you $1,000 like the one she gave your sister Sally 5 years ago when she got married.

2. Make a list of the things you do not want to compromise.  For us, that was the location of the ceremony, the ceremony itself (we had the full choir, trumpet and timpani - it felt like we were royalty!!), being able to invite all our family and friends (we had over 360 people at our wedding), and an AMAZING photographer.

Photo credit: Geoff White
3.  Eliminate the unnecessary.  For us, the things we completely eliminated were party favors, assigned seating (it saved on money AND time), a professional wedding videographer, an engagement session (we had my brother take some pictures), an expensive reception venue, catered food, etc.

4. Decide where you want to spend the remaining money in your budget on the items you have left.

I know it sounds nice in theory, but you might be wondering what exactly we did to implement our savings.  Concretely, here are some of the big items that allowed us to adhere to our budget:

Reception Location
Photo credit: Geoff White
Disposable china-like plates and
silverware and "like linen" napkins.
We viewed many, many, many halls, ballrooms, etc., until we finally thought outside the box.  We asked the church if we could use their gym, which was actually a beautiful building.  It had never been used for a wedding before and included the kitchen, bathrooms, tables, chairs, etc.  We were able to get the hall a day early without paying an additional fee and set it up the morning of the rehearsal.

Our family helped set up the reception site, put out the food, and cleared everything out.  Because of their help (and me buying almost everything as disposable for the wedding reception - I know, I know, SOOOO not earth-friendly!!), I didn't have to pay caterers and that was a HUGE savings.

Food for the reception included Costco croissant sandwiches (that family members picked up and brought to the reception site the morning of), loads and loads of strawberries and cherries, pita chips, hummus, wine and soft drinks. That's it.  We kept it simple but had plenty.  And we had so many leftovers that it fed all my in-town family members for days and days.  And days.  ;)

Photo credit: Geoff White
One of the bridesmaids bouquets that we made.
I knew flowers were going to be expensive, but GOSH!  They really charge you an arm and a leg.  I decided to contact the florist for our local Costco and was able to order bulk flowers from them.  We picked them up the day before and then made all the bouquets/boutonnieres the morning of the wedding (my lovely bridesmaids took turns making the bouquets while the others were having their hair done).  I did a test run a couple months before so I had all the supplies ready to go and we knew what we were doing.  But just to be extra-safe I did get MY bouquet and my husband's boutonniere professionally made.  However, I have done some event planning in the past so I knew that I could tell the florist how much I could pay and then ask what size bouquet I could get with my choice of flowers (in my case, roses and lilies).  Just my husband and my flowers cost more than all the other flowers for my bridesmaids combined.  Crazy.

A couple months after I got engaged, Costco had these beautiful hurricane lamps that came in a set of 3.  One box was less than HALF the price of the simplest centerpiece at all the local florists.  My parents were angels and let us store the 40 boxes in their garage until the wedding.  We used them, then sold them on craigslist after.  In the end, the cost of centerpieces were about $10/table.

Photo credit: Geoff White
Our hurricane lamp centerpieces that saved
us lots of $$$!  :)  Craigslist is awesome...

Photo credit: Geoff White
Our beautiful cake, compliments of our
good friend Bobby Cookies

Utilizing Talent
Instead of just buying things that I thought I needed, I started thinking about people who might want to make things for me or help out.  For example, the pillow for the ring bearer was handmade by my sister-in-law.  My co-worker lent me the shoes she wore in her wedding.  Our friend is a pastry chef (Bobby Cookies) and made our INCREDIBLE main wedding cake (we purchased additional sheet cakes from Costco).  My sisters (bridesmaids) did all the bridesmaids hair.  Our friend videotaped our wedding.  AND, this is the coolest: the techies in my family set up a live stream of my wedding on the internet so that my brother, who was in the military and couldn't get the leave to come to my wedding, could watch it!!!  Isn't that amazing?!!!

Photo credit: Geoff White
The same wedding cake topper
that my parents used at their wedding in 1966.

All the little things that add up
Photo credit: Geoff White
- I knew that real tablecloths would look the best, so we spent the money to rent them but then skipped the chair covers and napkins.  Instead, I ordered "like linen" napkins in bulk online and then spent many an evening after work folding them while watching movies.  It was so much fun!  I really enjoyed every aspect of planning my wedding.  I kept them in a big plastic tub until the day we set up the reception site, then, voila!!! 370 folded napkins ready to go!  No last minute craziness for me, thank you!
- My parents saved the cake topper from their wedding 40+ years before, so we not only saved money by re-using it, but also thought it was really cool.
- We were going to use my husbands sensible car to drive away in, but last-minute someone lent us a crazy-cool mustang!  As my two-year-old would say, "Oh yeah, BABY!"

I really could go on and on about this, but really, if you are in the boat of planning your wedding, just remember that it's YOURs, it does not belong to Martha Stewart, Vogue, or Sunset Magazine.  The most fun I've EVER had at any wedding was mine.  Sure, marrying the man of my dreams might have had something to do with it ;), but it really was a blast.  So don't forget to enjoy the planning, and try to arrange it so that you can just have a blast that day.  It only lasts a day.

But thankfully for me, it didn't end there.  The best part is enjoying every day after with my best friend.  And that's really what it's all about.  :)

Photo credit: Geoff White

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Salad Sans the Lettuce

So... The other day I refused to make the trek to the grocery store just for lettuce - since that was the only thing I needed - so I served our salad with everything but! It was delish!

As a matter of fact, I liked it so much that I made it for my lunch the next day and topped it with two hard boiled eggs. A great power-lunch for anyone, but especially breast-feeding moms like me! I love the diversity of color, textures and nutrients.

What I LOVE about this salad is that it keeps in the fridge beautifully and makes a great lunch to pack for yourself or hubby for work (even prepping it the night before).

Here's to thinking outside the box! :)

Below is what I've had in mine, but the possibilities are ENDLESS:

(Everything chopped)
Sweet peppers
Cherry tomatoes
Brussel Sprouts
Bleu cheese
Olive oil & Balsamic drizzled on top
(Last night I added Zucchini, wasn't bad!)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Toxic Cocktail Party

That's how I feel the state of the earth is in right now... A big toxic cocktail party.  No matter how hard you try to control your exposure, you find that there are more and more things you've that are around you, exposing you to harsh chemicals and toxins.  It's everywhere.  From our baby shampoo, to the food we eat, to even the receipts we given at ANY store (they are loaded with BPAs - like 150x the BPA's in canned goods).

It's daunting.

Recently, I realized that the mineral makeup I wear is almost as toxic as the liquid foundations found at the store.  It might actually be worse, based on some studies I've read.  Really?!!!


What is a person to do?

If you are like me and believe that there is a God who watches out for you, you pray!  

And, no, I'm not joking.  

The early Christian blessed their food (in addition to thanking God for their food - they are not one in the same) because they feared being poisoned and had faith that the prayer would make them immune.  This was especially true during the Dark Ages when poisoning was the preferred method of taking someone out.  

Maybe you will call it naivety or innocence on my part, but I truly believe that this is the only thing left to do, once you have done all you can.

I will still strive to be a steward of God's creation with my body, my children, my home, and the earth, but after that I must pray and ask God to do the rest.

(Deep Breath)

Now I feel much better!  :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Homemade Laundry Detergent

After about 2 months of using homemade laundry detergent I can safely say that I will never go back!  I LOVE this stuff!  My clothes have never smelled more fresh or clean.  It's amazing.

I hesitated for a while because I thought that it would be too time consuming or beyond my scope of ability.  But trust me, if I can do this, you can.  It only took me about 15-20 minutes to prepare, once I had all the ingredients.

I'm including a picture of what I used so that I can prove to you that there IS such a thing as WASHING SODA.  It is NOT the same as Baking Soda!!  The hardest thing about making my own laundry detergent was convincing the local Walmart employee that there was such a thing.  It was pretty funny because after going to a couple stores that told me they had it only to find out that it was "out of stock" when I got there, I finally started calling around and having them check the shelves.  When I called the Walmart I ended up purchasing it from, they told me I meant Baking Soda.  I said, no, I need WASHING SODA to make soap.  They said, "Oh... yeah, we have a 5lb bag of Baking Soda right here!" and I responded, "No, I need WASHING SODA."  Finally, I had to instruct the guy from the cleaning department to check next to their Borax to see if it was there.  Three minutes later the employee got on the phone.  "Um, yeah.  We have Washing Soda.  Lots of it."  Glory Hallelujah!!  So, moral of the story: remember that WASHING SODA is next to the Borax in the store!  ;)

Here is a link to the recipe I used: Homemade LIQUID Laundry Detergent Recipe
(See bottom of page for EASY PEASY Laundry Detergent Powder!)

The ingredients I actually used:

Washing Soda: 

I spent under $3 for a 55oz. box (this may change depending on time/location).  Buying this online is much more expensive because of the weight.  Usually available at grocery stores, Target/Walmart, etc., but I'd recommend calling first before driving all over Kingdom Come.  ;)


I spent under $4 for a 76oz. box (this may change depending on time/location).  Buying this online is also more expensive because of the weight.  This tends to be easier to buy than Washing Soda.  Available at almost all grocery stores, home improvement stores, and Target/Walmart.

All-Natural Soap: 

I purchased Dr. Bronner's "Citrus Orange" scented soap and LOVE it.  It leaves my clothes spelling fresh and clean without being artificially overpowering.  It has down-to-earth, simple ingredients that we would use if we made the soap ourselves (I'm not brave enough to do that yet without instruction from someone who has done it before!!).  Unfortunately, since I purchased it on Amazon the price has gone up, but I did see that some Target's and local health food stores sell it for about $4.50/bar.  More expensive than your typical soap, but you are only using 1/3 of it for 2 gallons of laundry detergent!  It is SO much cheaper than buying all-natural laundry detergent.

8/16/2013 UPDATE:  I've recently started using laundry-grade soap from Olivia's Natural Handmade Soap, and it is working beautifully.  The soap I received from her was unscented, so I added a bit of lemon essential oil and now every time I do laundry it reminds me of lemon curd (which reminds me of my beautiful trip to Ireland when I was 17 and had lovely Lemon Curd Pancakes at one of the B&Bs we stayed at in Killarney... ok, as I was writing this I couldn't resist and actually found the place we stayed online - ah, still looks beautiful and even though it was over 10 years ago I can taste the pancakes like it was yesterday!  Take a peak and dream with me: Crystal Springs B&B).  :)  :)  :)

Filtered Water: 

Technically, this is not something that you need, but I find it to make all the difference in what I make.  I am lucky enough to have an RO (Reverse Osmosis) system in my kitchen, so I make everything with purified water (chicken stock, laundry detergent, etc.).  There is a lot of junk that is left in the water when it gets to our tap, so the more purified it is the better.  You can also buy purified water from your local grocery store.  It's usually under $1/gallon.

What you will need, in addition to ingredients:

Big Stock Pot: 

You probably already have one - it just needs to hold at least 2 1/2 gallons.

2 Gallon Bucket with Lid: 

I bought mine at Home Depot and it is reusable.  Make sure to grab the lid when you buy it!  They stack the buckets and usually have the lids next to them, so if you don't grab it you will be in big trouble!  ;)

Detergent Dispenser: 

I washed the container I had from my last all-natural laundry detergent that I had purchased.  Remove the label and just mark it with a permanent marker.  I also wrote on it how many pumps equal 1 load of laundry in case I forgot or I was lucky enough to have someone else do the laundry for me!  :)

Hand Mixer: 

This is not mentioned on the recipe but was VITAL for making homemade laundry soap.  Due to the lack of chemicals to keep the soap smooth and have a perfect consistency, I found that after allowing the soap to set 24 hours I needed to use my hand mixer to smooth it out, as well as between refills in my dispenser. Using a hand mixer before refilling the dispenser took care of most of the clumping, though there are usually a few clumps that gather at the bottom of the pump but it has never caused a clog.

Another Option - Making Laundry Detergent Powder: 
This is EASY-PEASY but more expensive than making the liquid version.  Just combine 1 bar soap (finely grated), 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Washing Soda.  Use 1 tablespoon per load.  No, that is not a type: 1 tablespoon. 

That's it!  So cheap and easy and I will never go back to store-bought laundry soap.  Have fun and tell me what you think!

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that the recipes listed above are only all-natural if you use an all-natural soap.  If you use the typical bar soaps like Ivory, Dove, etc., they are not environmental friendly or chemical free.