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11/28/13 Today’s Advice to My Beautiful Daughters: It’s ok to cry.

For most of my life, I have tried not to cry.

Somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that crying was a sign of weakness or manipulation and the idea of “don’t’ ever let ‘em see you sweat” took on a broader meaning.  I thought I needed to choke it back, push it down, stifle it so that everyone could see that I was strong.  When I was 15, I stopped eating because emotion has to be dealt with.  If I couldn’t cry, something had to give.  And it gave.  I lost weight until my mom was frantic.  And then slowly, I recovered enough from the emotions that plagued me and I got back to normal, without having to spend time in an eating disorder clinic.  My “strength” took a toll.

As I have gotten older, I have turned into a total sap. I can cry at just about anything, happy or sad.  I have shed more tears over internet videos than I ever have for myself, my own pain, my own joys and sorrows.  Crying for others highs and lows is so much easier than crying for me.

When I cry, I cry alone…in hotel rooms or when everyone is gone, or in the dark when everyone is asleep.  I still can’t release with others, even though I can release for others.  Every once in a while, I cry in church, and hope nobody notices.

Even though I know that tears are healing, I think I will always struggle to embrace them. This is not a good thing.

So for you and for me…it’s ok to cry.  It. Is. Ok. To. Cry.

There are times when the enormity of a place, a moment, a time will overwhelm you.   Whatever emotion that brings is healthy and good.  It often will reveal your humanity, your compassionate heart, your love.  When you cry for others, you love.  When you cry in front of others, you allow them to love.

This week, I visited the 9/11 Memorial with 120 high school students.  One of those students was overcome with the enormity of the place.  She cried.  Her tears revealed her compassionate soul, her care for the world that was forever changed when she was just 4 years old.  She cried for people she had never met, and all that grieved because of  that day.  And as her friends tried to distract her and cheer her with hugs and words that would make her smile, I thought to myself, “Cry.” In her tears on that day, I saw her heart in a new way and I saw her friends have the opportunity to love her and it was good. Her tears revealed her humanity and the humanity of those who care about her.

Sometimes it takes a kid to teach us something.  In this case, it reminded me that the thing I have spent a lifetime stifling is the thing that heals, that shows love, that is good.

It is ok to cry.  With your help, I will try to remember that.

9/11Memorial

What’s with all the Pioneer Woman stuff anyway?

Lately, I have been getting  a lot of questions about all the stuff I have been posting pictures of…soap and canned goods, etc.  The questions range from “are you becoming a hoarder?”  to “where are you going to put all that?” to “where does the motivation come from?”  So I decided to try to answer all the questions as best I can.  But it will be a bit of a journey.  For those who really want to know, read on.  To those of you who just want to taunt me with hoarder comments, stop reading because this post will surely ruin all your fun.  🙂

For the record, the philosophy that has spurned my recent activity is not new.  Up to this point, I haven’t been making things that were pretty (like soap and beautiful canned goods) so I didn’t take pictures that made people ask me questions.  I also don’t like to preach at people, so I haven’t necessarily talked about the changes I have made over time.  I The process has been gradual and recently, become a lifestyle choice as well as a hobby.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I bought a book called, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber.  It was written by a doctor who was given a cancer diagnosis that by all rights should have claimed his life.  Through lots of research, he discovered some lifestyle things that he believed reduced the risk and spread of cancer by making the body less habitable to cancer cells.  He eventually died of his cancer in 2011, after nearly 20 years.  I like to think that his research and lifestyle changes gave him many of those 20 years. More about his life, theories and death can be found here and in other articles online.

During the same time period, my mom’s doctors (both her surgeon and oncologist) said that they only consume organic dairy because of all the added hormones in regular dairy.  Since my mom’s cancer was fed by estrogen, and our food products are from animals that have been fed an excess of estrogen to make them grow bigger, I took note.    That year, I gave myself a challenge of creating an organic Thanksgiving meal.  Every single ingredient I used (down to the pumpkin pie spice) was organic.  It was expensive, but a fun challenge (20 lb organic turkeys cost about  $100 in case you are interested). Since then, all our milk, eggs and butter are organic.  I buy organic cheese when I can but unfortunately, we eat a lot of cheese and organic cheese is very expensive and not that easy to come by.  We also buy organic grass fed beef (grass fed, rather than grain or corn fed beef has HUGE health benefits, as documented in the book and literature out there). We order from a farmer in Ohio who butchers and ships twice per year. Check out VanBuren’s Farm here  (you won’t be disappointed).

At around the same time, Mark’s daughter had some health issues that were amplified by chemicals or preservatives in food.  Before she had surgery to correct her issues, she had to go on an organic vegan diet.  This is probably what started my diligent label reading.  It made me very aware of how much of our food (especially the canned foods) has extra chemicals and preservatives in it.  I started to take the attitude that if I couldn’t pronounce it, I shouldn’t eat it.  Any prepared food with a long ingredient list is usually put back on the shelf.  This doesn’t mean that I have no processed food around, or that I don’t eat stuff at parties or restaurants.  I still love me some Cheetos and I’m pretty sure there is nothing in those that comes from nature.  But I am more diligent overall.

Fast forward…a little over a year ago, a friend of mine started posted things about diet changes she had made for her family.  We started communicating about it in private messages.  The changes she made were MAJOR and felt overwhelming to me, but she encouraged me to start small.  Rather than tomato products in cans, I should can my own (among other things).  Since I already mdke my own sauce, and I have canned in the past, I decided I could do that.  Since organic fresh produce is not widely available here, I contacted a local farmer about their spraying practices.  I liked what they said (only spot treatment, and only when necessary) so bought some tomatoes.  I spent a couple of weekends making and canning sauce made from their tomatoes and basil from the farmer’s market.   I loved doing it and loved that I had sauce for the year already made.

Last fall, I made another major change and gave up all soda.  For years, I drank Diet Coke every day and didn’t think I would ever give it up.  The more I saw about the evils of Diet Soda and artificial sweeteners, the more I became convinced that I needed to give it up.  We got a Sodastream Soda maker and I made the switch to carbonated water about a year ago.  I still like fizz and this has satisfied that craving.  Every once in a while, I think I want some Coke or something and will take a sip.  All that does is prove that I have lost the taste for it.  I can’t stand the sweetness and will hopefully never drink it again.

I really don’t know what got me so interested in making my own cleaning products.  Maybe it was Pinterest and all the things I was seeing about homemade laundry detergent and other cleaning products.  I know that I absolutely HATE the smell of bleach, do not like chemicals on the surfaces in my kitchen (if it isn’t safe to eat, why would I want it on my counter that will touch food)?  Truly “green” cleaning products are expensive so I decided to give it a whirl.  I did lots of research, bought some essential oils and the other ingredients that I didn’t already have (mostly lots of vinegar and a giant box of baking soda) and made a batch of cleaning products.  With the exception of the dishwasher soap (which I still can’t make work), I absolutely LOVED every product that I made, The smells were divine and they worked better than anything I have ever tried.  They are gentle on my hands and I don’t have to smell bleach.  I am hooked and will never go back.  Not only is this stuff super simple and fast to make, but it is  also incredibly inexpensive to make. I will save a ton of money over time.  It is also safe.  If it comes in contact with my food, I know that there would be no harm in consuming it.  After all, the primary ingredients come from my kitchen pantry. My favorite homemade products (and instructions) can be found here, here, here, here and here.  If you want to check out my “Going Natural” Pinterest board to see what other things I’d like to try, it can be found here.

Supplies

Products

Soap CollageAs I read more about cleaning products,  I saw many posts about hand made soap.  I researched this for a LONG time.  I read tons of stuff on the internet, bought books and finally got the courage to try it.  I ordered lye from a soapmaking supplier and made my first batch of hand made cold processed lye soap in May of this year.  The soap is amazing.  It is also a little like chemistry, which makes it really fascinating to me.  This is a hobby as much as anything because it is fun to research the properties of oils, how they change soap, different botanicals and their benefits, etc.  I never thought I would branch out on this little hobby, but I have started making lip balm, lotion and will be trying my hand at other beauty products this year.  My goal is to eliminate or replace as many of my commercial products as I can.  I no longer use commercially made shampoo or conditioner (instead use a handmade shampoo bar and apple cider vinegar rinse), facial cleanser (replaced with a facial bar with detoxifying clays), body wash (replaced with handmade body soaps), deodorant (this one surprised even me!!) and am in the process of replacing all my commercially made lotions.  By the end of this year, I hope to be using my own facial moisturizer, foundation, powder, blush, and sunscreen.  I also want to find replacements for other hair products (like hairspray) but haven’t even started that research yet.  The soap is not a money saver.  I have spent quite a bit of money on the oils and supplies that I use.  I use organic sustainable oils, which are not cheap. Each bar of soap costs nearly $2 to make.  However, many of the ingredients are also used in other products which ARE inexpensive to make.  (For example, the lip balm I make is very similar to Burt’s Bees, which cost $3.99 per tube.  Including the tubes, mine probably costs about $0.50 or less to make.  I haven’t figured the true costs yet …but it is cheap by comparison.)

canning collageThe last shift (and the one that has received the most attention) is canning.  This is what you need to know.  This is not new for me.  I was raised on home canned products.  My parents had a huge garden when I was little, and they had a limited budget.  My mom canned over 350 jars of produce every year and this is what we ate all winter.  She baked all our bread (Saturdays were bread making days) and baked everything from scratch.  We never had commercially made desserts or artificial anything in our house.  I thought I was deprived because my mom never bought Twinkies.  Now, I see how lucky I was.  When I was young, I did not have chemicals in my food.  Nobody talked about organic, but that is exactly what we had, because it was grown by us or farmer friends, or was picked off fruit trees in my grandparent’s yard.  We didn’t drink Kool-Aid and Coke was a once a week treat (one small glass out of a shared bottle).  When I was in my early 20’s, I did some canning and preserving but over time, gave it up.  I have taken it up again and I feel like I am preparing the foods of my childhood.  We don’t have  big garden so we buy from the local farmer or farmer’s market.  I do this because it is DELICIOUS (I dare you to find a canned peach that tastes as good as the ones I canned), and because I enjoy it.  The work is tiring but cathartic.  I love being in the kitchen and I love making good nutritious food for my family.  It combines my love for cooking with the part of me that cares for my loved ones through food.  I know exactly what ingredients are going into everything I make and know that what I am making is healthy.  At the suggestion of Cindy Bench of Bench’s Farms, I have started a canning diary so I know exactly how much produce results in how many jars of finished product.  I will make note of when I run out so I know how much more or less to can next year.

As many of you know, I am less than two years away from being an empty nester.  I NEED to have hobbies people!!  The things I am doing are fun.  They combine the things that I love and have resulted in a hobby that is useful.  I am not interested in selling or starting a business.  I just want to make products for me and my family to use that will have benefits to our health, skin and bodies and will reduce the use of chemicals in our home and food.

That is the story.  As you can see, this has been an evolution for me.  You could say that it started 5 years ago, or you could make the argument that it started 42 years ago in my mother’s garden and kitchen.  I will try not to push my philosophy on others, but will be glad to post pictures of the wonderful things I make and answer questions from anyone who is interested in starting to do any of the things that I love.  If you want to make changes, start small.  No change is too little.

I believe that my health is a gift and that it is my responsibility to protect that gift as best I can.

04/09/13 Today’s Advice to My Beautiful Daughters: Live Another Day

Today’s advice is a re-blog from Ellie in Ireland.  She shared the story of a young man of 16 who is in his last months of life.  He is spending some of that time with an important message about the gift of life, specifically to those who give in to despair and take their own life.

Live another day.  What a great message.  Thanks Ellie!

But if you were 16 years old and knew you only had months to live, what would you do with your time?  Would you rush out and live it up as much as possible? Would you travel, go bungee jumping, go to concerts, parties and gigs with your friends?  What would you do? (click the link to read more and to see this young man’s interview)

Live Another Day.

4/2/13: Today’s Advice to My Beautiful Daughters: Facebook is NOT real life

I gave up Facebook for Lent. I felt that I needed to do this because in the months leading up to Lent, Facebook had taken on a new dimension for me. I found that I was spending hours reading every article, watching every video and reacting to every divisive thing that I saw. Facebook debates were quickly becoming vicious, and even the “safe” ones, the ones among friends and like-minded people seemed to result in misunderstanding and hurt feelings. They certainly resulted in frustration for me. I was checking constantly…from my computer to my phone, regardless of where I was. I needed to know the latest thing that someone had posted on the last topic that had upset me. It just wasn’t healthy.

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, my daughter sang in church. She read Scripture aloud and I was moved to tears. I took a few pictures and videos and decided to end on a high note, a few days before Lent actually started. I posted those pictures and a video and signed off. In order to avoid temptation or the possibility of clicking on it by habit, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I soon realized how much of a reflex it had become for me to type Facebook in my computer browser or go to that app.

It turns out that I really didn’t miss it. The stress of dealing with all the drama was gone. I was still aware of it because even though I wasn’t on, occasionally, I would hear about a Facebook “battle” and I could feel the wobbly feeling in my stomach that I had become so familiar with as the “someone is wrong on the internet” button was pushed. What a relief that I didn’t have to go fight that battle, that I COULDN’T go fight that battle.

What did I learn from all this? During my Facebook fast, I learned that not only has Facebook become a stressor for me, but it had also become a crutch. I realized that there were people that I interact with on Facebook and although I may run into them at a school function or something, I had absolutely no other way to get in touch with them. I didn’t have their email or a phone number. HOW ARE THEY GOING TO FIND ME TO GET ME MY GIRL SCOUT COOKIES??? (Facebook fast crisis #1: true story). There isn’t necessarily anything bad with using Facebook as the primary mode of getting in touch with someone, but the result was an unwanted DEPENDENCY on it. (Dependency on technology could be a whole post by itself).

What I really learned didn’t become apparent until Easter afternoon when I logged in again for the first time. It took me 30 minutes just to get through the news feed updates for about 1 day. I clicked on an article that someone had posted on some political or religious topic (can’t even remember what it was) and after reading a couple of sentences, I realized that if I let it, Facebook could suck my life away. Before I was done with that first login, an hour had passed…an hour I had intended to use for something else, an hour that was gone forever. What had I gained in that hour? I got to see some cute Easter pictures, which was nice. I got to get caught up on all the nice birthday wishes that people had left me. But other than that…I gained nothing. I didn’t get smarter. I didn’t become a better person, wife or mother. I didn’t learn anything new about the hot topics of the day that I hadn’t already heard by spending a few minutes listening to the news. The cute cartoons and shared pictures didn’t give me new insight into people or myself. All that happened is that I donated another hour of my life to Facebook. Dependency is the Facebook game. And Facebook is winning.

I realized then that the personal interactions I had over Lent with people far superseded anything I could get from Facebook. I learned that in order for people to feel “safe” discussing a highly charged topic on Facebook, a closed group was important. And closed groups tend to attract people who think similarly, and although valuable and interesting in some ways, also tend to create a group think atmosphere that ends up being more about my ego than a personal interaction would be.

I learned that you cannot possibly get to know someone by what they post on Facebook. We present a different persona to the “public” world than we present in our daily interactions with people. Life is glossed over and reduced to the latest accomplishment of our children, the latest vacation picture or what I had for lunch. The things that are really important to me, that really matter…my STORY can only be known from spending time with me. That time can be virtual, but it isn’t Facebook. Before you get upset, I’m not saying that the things we put on Facebook don’t matter, because when I see a picture of someone’s child and it makes me smile, that is good. It just isn’t real life. It isn’t the same as being in the same room as that child and hearing the giggle first hand and being a person that they KNOW.

At one point during the 40 day hiatus, Mark and I were talking about this and he said that Facebook is evil, and he wasn’t jesting. At first I thought that seemed over the top…but it made me think. Is it really good? Is it good that I have too easily replaced personal interaction with a computer screen? Have I judged someone or jumped to a conclusion or reduced someone to being not much more than the latest political/social stance they have taken? Have I let Facebook replace personhood with snippets of a life that may not even be real? Unfortunately, the answer to all of those questions is yes. I have done all of those things. I have done them because I confused Facebook with real life and it just isn’t so.

I am not giving up Facebook altogether, because at the end of the day, I enjoy those pictures of people’s kids, and seeing what my distant cousins are up to, and seeing what kinds of quirky posts my beautiful goofy daughters put out there. I like sharing ideas about my latest project (natural cleaning products) and Facebook is a convenient forum to do that. I like being informed about school activities and parent groups and other organizations that use Facebook pages as another avenue of communication. I like having another place for my blog to live (after all, MAYBE I’m going to start using it again). But I am limiting what shows up on my news feed. I am not going to be watching videos and reading controversial articles and digging into whatever stance my friends may be FOR or AGAINST. I’ll leave those things for real conversation. At this point, I’m not re-installing the app on my phone. I can still access Facebook through the browser on my phone when I want to, but it is just inconvenient enough, less easy to navigate that I will be more deliberate about it. I am not going to turn my email notifications back on. I just don’t need THAT much notifying and I certainly don’t need any more reason to spend more time.

Please remember that what gets posted on social media is not the whole of you, and it also isn’t the whole of anyone else. It is just a snippet, a glimpse, a piece. Real life is more than that.

12/21/12: Today’s advice to my beautiful daughters ~ Don’t let your expectations steal your Joy

As seen in the posts of the past few days (here and here and here), this is one of those lessons that I had to learn the hard way…and then some.

And although I am still learning and struggling, today, I have a greater sense of understanding about how our expectations about where we SHOULD be, how we SHOULD feel, how the world SHOULD line up for us gets in the way of where we are.

Joy is not happiness.

Joy is the peace that comes from the knowledge that we are where we are supposed to be. In this moment.  Now.  Even if we don’t like it.  Joy is the deep knowledge of God’s grace.  Joy is finding the opportunity in the place where your hope and fear and happiness and pain intersect.  It sets aside what we want and what we expect and makes space for who we are meant to be.

Your opportunity in the place you are right now is not a mistake.  It might not feel good or comfortable, but it is not a mistake.  The real opportunity for you, the real joy, comes from how you respond to where you are, and is born from the acceptance that everything that has led you to this place and has prepared you.  It has prepared you to be exactly who you are right now.  The pain has prepared your heart for compassion.  The challenges have prepared you to overcome.  The loneliness has prepared you to reach out.  The roadblocks have prepared you to persevere.

Life is full of a mixture of pain and happiness, loneliness and contentment, peace and turmoil.  God uses all of those things to make you the person that He wants you to be.

Your expectations can make you miss it.  If you are too busy looking for what you want, what you expect, what you think you deserve, you may just miss the JOY that comes from the now, from this place, from the reality that combines all that you have been with all that you can be,  if you can just stop expecting and start accepting.  The you that is unencumbered by all the pressure of expectations is so much greater than the you who might miss it all.

Grace.  Joy.  You.

Don’t let your expectations steal any of them.

I hate Christmas????

On Saturday, when my family was finally decorating our tree, I couldn’t shake the questions that I asked at the end of my last post.  I even found myself thinking, “I hate Christmas” at the very moment when I was in the middle of stringing the lights.  Immediately, I started to think about what that meant and I realized something.  I realized that it isn’t Christmas that I hate.  In fact, when I listed all the things that Christmas means to me, I ended up with quite a list of things that I love:

  • The miracle of my Savior’s birth.
  • Buying presents for my daughters…the one time of year that I truly spoil them.
  • Christmas lights.
  • Traditional foods (HELLO Christmas cookies!!!)
  • Christmas music
  • All the beautiful decorations
  • The excitement that my kids feel (they are never too old to want to wake up early with excited smiles)
  • Christmas dinner
  • Giving
  • Special ornaments, especially the ones that were made by my daughters, nieces and nephews, and all the ones that remind me of the special times in their lives
  • Marveling at  the first Christmas pictures of my beautiful girls…how much they looked alike and how different they have grown up to be…and the true amazement that time has gone so fast
  • Receiving all the Christmas cards including pictures of all those beautiful kiddos (even though I suck and never send any of my own…thanks for keeping me on your list!)
  • The feeling of gratefulness for the incredible abundance in my life
  • Family time, including the gatherings of extended family
  • And the list goes on…

So what is the deal??  If I love all these things about Christmas, what it is that I hate?  Somewhere along the way, a light bulb went off.  I realized that it isn’t Christmas that I hate.  Instead, I hate how I feel at Christmas.  And when I dig deeper into that, I realize that I hate to remember painful things.  I hate feeling inadequate.  I hate the frustration I feel because I don’t feel the “right” emotions and excitement that I think everyone else must be feeling (even when I know that isn’t true).   In that moment, I didn’t get much further than that.  I tried to get caught up in the traditional light unwinding ritual with Becca, the happy memories associated with all the ornaments, the humor of the annual ritual of the leaning Andrews tree (surely one of these years we will put a tree up without the threat of it crashing down by the next day!)  For this day, the realization of all the things that I enjoy about Christmas was enough.

What's not to love about THIS?

What’s not to love about THIS?

And this?  Notice the mandatory "Andrews Tree Lean"??

And this? Notice the mandatory “Andrews Tree Lean”??

Tomorrow…my Sunday morning epiphany.

9/25/12 Today’s Advice to My Beautiful Daughters – Broken hearts really do mend

Broken hearts mend.

If there is anything in the world that I wish I could spare you, it is the a broken heart.  But I know that to avoid broken hearts, also means to avoid the greatest joys and accomplishments.  It means avoiding love and trial and hope and the best parts of friendship.  It means avoiding being a mother and watching YOUR beautiful daughters grow and learn and fly out of the nest.  Those are the best parts of life, but with them comes some heartbreak.  Today, my advice is that you are just going to have to trust me on this…hearts mend.

One of the things I have learned about being a mother is that it really is true that your heart is walking around outside your body.  When things happen to you, it happens to me.  With every heartbreak you feel, my heart breaks too.  But the shattering and the mending builds a stronger heart.  It builds a heart that understands pain so can empathize more.  It builds a heart that understands strength so it can hope more.  It builds a heart that understands love so it can love more.  A broken heart will mend, and it will be stronger than it was before.

When my heart feels like it has shattered into a million tiny pieces, these are the things that matter:

  • Your smile (you have no idea how many wounds your smiles can heal)
  • Hearing your voice
  • Hugs
  • Flowers from a friend
  • All the little ways that friends reach out to let me know they are out there when I am ready
  • Seeing you happy
  • The peace that comes from knowing you will be ok
  • The patient love and understanding of my best friend and husband

I’m not sure when I will be ready to write about the last month in its entirety, but I am ready to say that my heart has broken but it is mending.  Things are different now and it feels weird to have some pieces of the mending happening in Lansing, Michigan.  Every picture and phone call from my smiling Spartan and every special moment at home with my “only child”  is stitching my heart back together…different, stronger, new.

Broken hearts do mend, and whenever you are facing your own shattering and mending, I will be right there with you…helping you find YOUR different, stronger, new.