infinity scarf.

This was going to be a very hip, Pinterest-y post about my first crocheted infinity scarf. But real life is funnier.

me: Hey Amie, want to do a fashion show and let me take pictures of you?

Amie: Ok sure!

me: You have to wear what I say.

Amie: No way. I want to wear my flower girl dress and sparkle shoes.

me: No, I want you to wear your blue dress and tights and boots and your new scarf.

Amie: No. That won’t look good.

me: Yes it will. I know about fashion too you know.

Amie: Not as much as I do

Silence.

me: Will you do it for a piece of chocolate?

Amie: How many pieces?

me: Three

Amie: Ok, I’ll do it.

Judah: Will you accept a dinosaur fashion show for chocolate?

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pinterest.

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I’ve had a Pinterest account for over a year now but I could just never get into it. Pinterest seemed to me like one more temptation to waste my time.

While it definitely can be that, I’ve had several friends urge me to use it as a way to get organized. And lately I’ve been asking for and dispensing lots of recipes and homeschooling advice, so I’ve begun to realize how nice it would be to have one place to keep all of that information.

I adore researching topics that interest me (natural house cleaning, food, homeschooling, etc.), but sometimes I don’t do a good job of documenting the helpful research and have trouble going back to find things I want. Before I just used “bookmark” tabs on my laptop if I wanted to remember a website or recipe or searched back through my emails, and while that works okay it’s kept me feeling a bit scattered and not really helpful for sharing information with other people.

So. I spent this week working on my Pinterest page. It’s actually been so much fun and I really do feel way more organized. Some new boards I created include: “gluten free baking”, “tried and true dinners,” “kindergarten curriculum,” “favorite cookbooks.”

For those who have asked, I pinned instructions for how I wash my hair without shampoo to my “health and beauty board.” My all-time favorite board has to be “recipes to try” though, and I plan to pick one recipe a week from that board for my meal planning. The other meals can come from “tried and true dinners.” Meal planning is one of my least favorite parts of the week (how is it that after almost ten years of cooking on my own I still have absolutely no idea what to make for dinner?). So hopefully this will give me some inspiration for 2014.

If you’re on Pinterest, find me (Julie Gentino) so we can swap ideas!



no more shampoo.

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As a result of countless allergist appointments this past year, I’ve been on a mission to reduce/eliminate chemical products from our home.  My allergist makes a big deal about this and says she’s seen lots of success from patients who follow her advice and start using natural products, from everything to household cleaners to make-up to toiletries to laundry detergent.

It only took me a couple of grocery store trips buying “green,” natural products to realize I needed to find an alternative if I wanted to spare our family budget, so I began to research homemade solutions.  This opened up a new and fascinating world to me.  I had no idea how many household products you can make yourself with very simple ingredients like vinegar or baking soda or water.  I had no idea how empowering and addictive it would be to take control of these areas of my home.

It’s been a fun experience and, while I think a lot of different factors are involved, this has been the most allergy-free year of my whole life.  So I’m motivated to keep at it.

I started out last year with a natural shampoo recommended by my doctor (it was very disconcerting to read “formaldehyde-free” on the bottle), but like I said it was pretty pricey.  In my research I kept coming across people who decided to stop using commercial shampoo because of the amount of chemicals the scalp can absorb.   Tsh Oxenreider wrote about it in the book I keep bugging you about, Organized Simplicity.  Then my mother-in-law loaned me the book, No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products, and I was further by this idea of going “shampoo-free.”

My final step was to check in with my friend that cuts my hair.  She works at an upscale salon downtown so I was embarrassed to even broach the subject of using something homemade to clean my hair, but right away she responded, “Girl, you should totally do it.  Using commercial shampoo — even the nice stuff — is basically like putting Ajax on your hair.”

She introduced me to a coworker who had been shampoo-free for a year, has gorgeous long wavy brown hair and told me she washes her hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar once a week.  That was it.  I decided to take the leap.

We traveled so much this past winter that I marked my start date (or I guess my stop date) for April first.  I learned that your hair takes a good month to transition to life without shampoo and that it can be pretty oily and limp in the meantime (fun, right?).

So I started and it was a little rough going at first.  It not only took my hair time to adjust, but after a life of wanting squeaky-clean hair, it took me time to adjust to the feel of it not being freshly washed.  Here’s a blog post about what I use as a cleaner (I also use her homemade face wash recipe), but the basic idea is that you combine baking soda with water in a squirt bottle and squirt it  onto your scalp, working it into the roots and down to the ends of your hair, then rinse.  You condition with a combination of water and apple cider vinegar.  My hair tends toward the oily side, so I only condition once a week or so.

I have used hair gel or mousse for forever because my hair is curly/wavy, so I researched a natural alternative and came up with pure Aloe gel.  I get a big bottle from Whole Foods for $9.99 and the just finished the first one so it lasted nearly four months.

It took my hair closer to six weeks to transition to the new routine (it was just about the time I thought, “I really cannot do this anymore . . .”), but once it did, it returned to its normal state.  Only it was better.  Because I’ve always had to wash my hair daily, without fail, or it gets very oily.  Supposedly our hair wasn’t made to be washed every day, and what shampoo does is strip the scalp of its natural oils and make it produce even more oil and need to be washed more often (very clever move by shampoo companies if you ask me).

Now I can easily go 2-3 days in between washing, and from what I’ve heard, I can keep extending the time if I want.  However, it’s difficult for me not to wash my hair every time I go running, so I doubt I’ll make it to a week between washing.

It’s been almost four months now, and I’m very pleased with the result.  My hair has completely adjusted and feels normal.  I will say that I’d hoped my hair would look Pantene-ad smooth and shiny (although now I know it’s chemicals that make it look that way), and that hasn’t happened.  I don’t think going shampoo-free has improved the appearance or styling of my hair (still definitely gets frizzy in the humidity), but I do think it feels much healthier.

I really can’t see a reason to ever go back to using shampoo, in fact, I don’t even think about it anymore.  I’ve traveled several times now with the new routine and it worked great — I just take along a little box of baking soda to mix up a new solution as needed.

This may sound strange, but another benefit of my experiment is that it’s made me exponentially more laid back about my hair in general.  It was funny — from time to time through my six-week transition period I’d ask a couple honest friends and my husband to tell me how awful my hair looked, and, get this: they hadn’t even noticed.

The whole experience taught me an important lesson: No one is really interested in my hair.  I may be obsessing over a bad hair day and chances are no one ever thinks about it.  And so I feel very free at this point in my life to have average hair and expend my energy worrying about other things.



roman shades: the process.

Soon after we decided to buy our house, I began thinking about living room window treatments (yes, I’m weird like that).

Here are my three favorite websites for home design ideas:

Young House Love 
Apartment Therapy
Houzz

I’ve spent way too much time on all of those blogs in the past months, but it’s been so fun.

I love curtains, but just wasn’t feeling them for our new living room.  The windows are big and the walls on either side of our picture window so narrow that I felt curtains would look bulky and cover up too much of the window.  You might remember the faux-wood plantation blinds on the big window, and then there were bamboo blinds on the far window:

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Blinds are probably the best choice for privacy, but I’m not a big fan of them in the living room.  I do like the look of bamboo blinds, but after talking with a couple friends I decided that since our furniture is mostly wood and neutral in color and our floors are wood it would be best to add some color to the windows.

Ruling out curtains and blinds basically left me with the option of a shade of some sort.  I wanted something casual.  I wanted something relatively unobtrusive so that the windows are the main feature, and I also like to get as much light in the daytime as possible (basically, if I could just leave my living room windows uncovered I would).

My mom sewed Roman shades (also known as Roman blinds) years and years ago for the house I grew up in, and I liked the idea.  Lots of Houzz and Pinterest photos later, I decided that’s what I wanted for our living room.

So after a consultation with my Mom who was ready take the plunge with me (translation: she was the mastermind behind the whole thing), we went to Hobby Lobby to look at fabric and get an idea of the cost.

This fabric caught my eye right away and it was a good price at $8.99/yard:

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We placed an order for the fabric and then took measurements, and I went back later to make my purchases.  My mom showed up a week ago Saturday with her awesome vintage sewing machine that belonged to my grandma and we got to work.

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This was my first big sewing experience, and I can tell I’ve reached a new phase of life because it was a project I actually enjoyed (for years I’ve been completely anti-interested in sewing). The measuring and cutting part was the most stressful because I’m so not a math and numbers person.  But my mom did great and gave lots of encouragement.  We more or less followed this tutorial, making some tweaks along the way.

I’ve had some friends mention that you can find tutorials for no-sew Roman shades and Roman shades that make with mini-blind parts.  I think those ideas are great, but I specifically wanted to use my shades for privacy in the evenings, so our process was a bit more complex.  But if you like the look without needing them lined or needing to lower your shades, here’s a great tutorial.

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We spent about five hours working that first Saturday, made some mistakes, learned some things, then my mom came over three evenings after work the next week.  She went out of town on Friday for a week so that left me with, gulp, finishing the project alone.

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She set me up for success those by leaving great instructions.  The last big piece this weekend was hand-sewing all the rings on the back of the shades.  I did those Saturday night while hanging out with David and Danny, then most of Sunday afternoon.  I felt very, very domestic.  Actually the sewing was my favorite part of the project.  I found it soothing.

My dad cut the wood pieces and supplied me with eye hooks for mounting.  Here’s how the back of the shades look when they were ready to hang:

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David helped me staple the fabric to the wood, take down the old blinds, and hang the shades.  It felt so great to get those broken, dusty blinds off the windows

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And . . . the end result:

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We’re very happy with the way they turned out.  You can’t really see but the cords are just stretched and wrapped around the window pulls.  I looked at Lowe’s for a hook to mount on the upper inside of the window, but no luck so far.  I’m going to try Hobby Lobby next and will be sure to photograph the finished product.

I guessed this project would cost $100 and it ended up being $130.00 after all was said and done (okay probably $135 after I find those hooks) and included: 8 yards fabric, 8 yards lining, plastic rings, cord, thread, metal dowels for the bottom, and L brackets (wood and eye hooks were free, I also used my parent’s staple gun).  I have less than a yard of fabric left over and probably two yards of liner fabric.

We spent 15 hours of labor (about half of that was two of us working together and the other half either just my mom or just me).  It’s funny, I feel like if we started the project again right now we could do it so much faster and more efficiently.  But isn’t that always the way it goes?

I used to have the mindset, “Why make something when you can buy it for the same price?”, and believe me, I still love Ikea as much as the next person, but as I get older I also love the idea of creating some of the things in my world rather just consuming.  I love that my window treatments have a story and that they’re one-of-a-kind.

In short, it was time and money well spent, and yes, I’d do it again!



the one about moving.

Well, it’s been just over a week since our move, and I feel like there’s no time like the present to write a Moving Post.  As in: here’s my advice about moving (but hopefully it’s also a moving post).  I don’t have a lot of experience in many areas of life.  But one area I do have experience in is moving.

We’ve now officially lived in ten houses in nine years of marriage.  We’ve also, as you know, moved to a different continent.  So yep, I’ve got some experience.

Mostly I’m writing this blog post because I’m entertaining the fantasy that It’s going to be so long before we move again that I’ll to forget everything I’ve ever learned.  And when that time comes, I’m going to need a refresher.  So here goes:

1. Moving is stressful.  Really, really stressful.  You can be Super Organized, you can Have a Plan, you can have Lots of Help, and in the end you will still have moments surrounding your move when you will want to scream (or perhaps when you will actually scream).

I decided that more than anything else in life, moving brings out my worst self.  Even after the fact.  I told a friend the other night (after first confessing that I blew up at my husband this week. in front of our kids) that I think I spent so much time psyching myself up, telling myself this is a good move, that we’re Buying A House!  That in the long run it’s going to reduce the stress in our lives so much, that I refused to face the fact that it’s still just really hard.  Especially for someone like me, who struggles with change.

So even last week, when I was supposed to be perfectly happy in my new house, I found myself emotional and exhausted and snippy.  This doesn’t excuse my attitude.  I’m not a victim to moving or to any other season of life.  But it’s something to remember.  Something to keep me running to Jesus and repenting often and asking the people in my life to pray for me.

2.  It helps to be organized.  While all of the above is true, while moving is just hard, period, being organized around the time of your move sure does save a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  I’m big fan of Tsh Oxenreider’s books: Organized Simplicity and One Bite at a Time (which are companion books), and I’ve been more or less following her home organization tips for two years now.

For that reason, this is the easiest move we’ve made.  Oxenreider’s point is that keeping your home simplified and organized isn’t drudgery; rather it actually frees you up to live and enjoy your life more.  Her books are so inspiring because they help you see why it’s important to “keep house,” then they help you to do it.  I’m here to tell you that her philosophy really works.

Every few months I do a big organize/purge of every closet in our home.  I last did it this winter, and when we began house-hunting this spring was especially motivated to stay organized.  Over the months I’ve been steadily getting rid of things we don’t use.

And we’re doing our best to keep spending habits at a minimum, to stop and ask questions before making purchases, so that we don’t immediately replace those things with more stuff.  I also try to make sure there’s a place in our house for everything, so that when we clean up we’re not just adding to piles or shoving things under beds.  This is a daily battle, but I’ve noticed significant progress.

I didn’t really start packing until the week of the move.  Looking around our rental at one point, David said to me, “Wait.  Do you think we’ve finally reached a point in our life where we actually use all of the stuff we have!?”  Of course that’s not completely true.  We still have boxes in the attic filled with Christmas decorations, clothes the kids will grow into, old yearbooks and my journals from middle school and family heirlooms we want to use or pass on.  But, other than those things, we’ve streamlined most of our home and try to only fill our closets with things we use regularly (see Organized Simplicity for great advice on how to do this).  It’s so liberating.

I don’t want to write this at all to say, “Oh look at us, we’ve got this simple living thing down.”  No way.  There’s always more to learn.  But I do write it to say: it’s possible to change, to start a new direction, to make progress.

3.  If you have children, pack while they’re sleeping or away from home.  If moving is stressful for grown-ups, it’s really stressful for kids.  Judah and Amie were thrilled about our new house, asked me to make a paper ring countdown to Moving Day, and made lots of plans for their new bedroom, but it was still nearly impossible for me to get anything done when they were awake and nearby.

It’s like a switch turns on inside kids in the month or so surrounding the move that says, “I need Mommy.  Every second.  She cannot occupy herself with anything that doesn’t directly involve me. I’ll shrivel up and die!”  I get that.  I’m not saying it necessarily makes me a patient and attentive mother all the time, but I do get it.  Stress levels are high and their whole world is being rocked and there’s so much that’s unknown (there were even a couple times this month when Judah or Amie needed to clarify that we weren’t moving back to South Asia).

So because of that: we tried (read: didn’t always succeed) to work on packing and moving when they were in bed or out of the house.  We tried to regularly fill them in on how many days until the move and what’s going to happen today/tomorrow.  Finally, if the kids were especially crazy/misbehaving, I took it as a cue to drop everything for a few hours and just do something fun with them.

4.  Accept help.  I’m not good at this.  I’m getting better though.  Four people offered to help babysit Judah and Amie so I could pack and I actually took two of them up on it.  Friends and family offered to help paint and help on moving day, and we took them up on it.  A friend took me out for celebratory Mexican food and two hours of girl time on Tuesday.  And one sweet couple from church brought us dinner this week.  Help is great.

I will say here: If you do accept help, respect yourself and the person who has given up their time to serve you by being organized.  If they watch your kids for two hours, make a plan beforehand and use that time well.  If friends come to load boxes on Moving Day, make sure there are packed boxes for them to load.  Or at least that there’s a plan for them to quickly pack those boxes.  There’s nothing worse than wasting everyone’s time during a move, that just adds to the stress rather than easing it.

Conversely, if someone in your life is moving, offer to help them.  In my experience it’s best to be very specific about your offer.  Instead of saying, “Can I help you?” say, “I want to help you!  What day can I do ______?”  My favorite offers of help include: babysitting kids, bringing a meal (either before or after the move), helping with painting/Moving Day, cleaning the new house, or cleaning the old house.

5.  Mark your boxes carefully and prioritize with unpacking.  For each room of the house, have at least one box marked “Necessities” or things you need that very first night (these are the boxes that will sit empty until the morning of Moving Day because you’re using all of their contents).

Our top two priorities during every move are: the kids’ bedroom and the kitchen.  I make sure to have Judah and Amie’s room more or less set up (beds made, some toys out, all boxes and clutter removed) when they first walk in the house.  That way they immediately see something familiar.

We do the kitchen next because it’s maddening to be searching around for cups and silverware in the stress of moving day.  I can’t tell you how comforting it was last Saturday to move all morning, then sit down to a homemade lunch of scrambled egg and goat cheese tacos rather than fast food.  And then, after naps, to get up and brew a pot of decaf coffee and just sit for thirty minutes with favorite mugs and enjoy our place before getting back to work.

Next we work on the bathroom and boxes of necessities for each room.  As you could see from our photos, I also made a priority of unpacking our books, simply because I was itching to get as many extra boxes as possible out of the house.  Oh my goodness.  We have way too many books.  Yes, that’s an area we could stand to simplify.

Finally, to end Moving Day (or weekend, or whatever), we choose one “junk room” (for us it’s our office/guest room/homeschooling room), and stuff every extra suitcase and box and pile of junk inside.  We close the door.  And we determine to take our time with the rest, one box at a time.

This helps us to right away begin to enjoy and live in our new space, rather than sitting down to watch a movie and staring a wall-size stack of boxes.  Talk about stressful.

You could debate that this is unnecessary, but I also pull out a few “decorational” pieces that very first day: lamps, framed photos, throw pillows, baskets, and arrange them on free surfaces.  Even if they won’t stay there, it helps make the place feel like home.  I used to be similarly compulsive about hanging pictures, but have since become way more laid back in that area.  Better to live in the space awhile and decide exactly where we want things before putting holes in walls.

6.  A sense of humor is vital.  Especially when it comes to your own mistakes.  For example, my Moving-Pro self may or may not have completely forgotten to follow up with my application to the water company last week, which may or may not have resulted in our water getting turned off on Monday (while David was out of town), a semi-frantic 4:15 trip downtown to Columbia Water, and our household being without water for nearly twenty-four hours.  There’s nothing like asking your new next-door neighbors for a bucket of water to flush the toilet in order to break the ice.

Oh, how it helped to send David a text alerting him to our “situation” and have him laugh and say, “No problem, babe!”

I guess this is where we come full circle.  Yes, you should be organized, yes, you should accept help and have a plan, yes, it’s gonna by stressful.  And so, make sure to keep things light-hearted as much as possible, and to remember, “This too shall pass.”  It really will pass.

And because of that, I tried to tell myself every day, “My attitude and the way I treat the people around me matters way, way more than what I do or don’t get done today.”

It’s been a crazy couple of months.  But so, so worth it!





microgreens.

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A guest post by David . . .

I had a sudden urge to plant something edible this past weekend.  With a few conditions.  We don’t have any sunny yard space to speak of and really don’t want to put too much fuss into our rental.  And we’re on a budget, want quick results, and would like for our kids to join in.

Enter microgreens.

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Microgreens are not their own species.  Yes, I asked our local feed store if they carried “microgreen seeds.”  In my defense, he said, “No, we don’t, but we should.”  Actually, microgreens are simply the very young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs harvested 5-14 days after planting.  So a radish or cabbage or kale crop grown for a week and clipped at its base is a microgreen.  These differ from sprouts in that they are still planted in soil and receive sunlight.

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Microgreens have enticed fine cuisine patrons as flavorful touches and colorful garnishes for years.  But they are gaining popularity among the proletariat for their rich taste and new research suggesting denser nutrient content than their adult counterparts.

So I went to a neighbor’s home to bum a few bags of seeds and a twenty-minute crash course on what to do.  Then I swung by a hardware store for plastic trays and potting soil.

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The process is painfully simple.  Amie, Judah, and I lined up five trays on the front lawn and filled them half full with potting soil.  Then Judah sprayed Amie with the water bottle.  Then I yelled at Judah.  Then Amie stained her new stretch pants with soil.  Tears were shed, amends were made, daddy cooled down.

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I cut out a piece of cardboard to gently flatten the soil.  Then we sprinkled each tray with a different seed – two kinds of radishes, a mesclun sweet salad mix, kale, sunflower, and mustard broad leaf.  I gently pressed the cardboard down again to set the seeds into the soil.  We crumpled soil on top and watered them well.  Then we set the five trays up in front of a sunny window in my office.

Within four days, the first triumphant microgreens were ready to clip at the base, rinse, and scatter liberally on a fresh salad.  You can’t get fresher, nutritious greens.  We cut them when we need them to juice, snack on them, and put them on salads, pizza, or pita with Julie’s homemade hummus.  We’ve even taken to dicing them up and sneaking them in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids.

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For our frugal readers, the savings is killer.  A four-ounce bag of microgreens runs $4 at the Farmers Market. Compare that to a one-time cost of trays (you can use empty spinach plastic containers), organic potting soil that will last a few trays’ worth (we’re still waiting on our backyard compost to ripen), and bulk organic seeds that can be as little as fifty cents an ounce.  Altogether, fresh, organic, homegrown microgreen harvests will run you pennies per ounce.

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We are a week in and have already eaten through and replanted a couple of trays now.  I think our greens are here to stay.

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wooden wine stoppers.

My dad has been at work in his wood shop making some gorgeous wine stoppers, so I had to post a few photos.  He’s beginning to sell them, and I think they’d make fantastic host or wedding gifts . . . or any occasion, for that matter!

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