Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Little Housekeeping

I really thought we were going to have to change the flooring in our master bedroom.   I started looking up cheap DIY flooring options because we had already changed the flooring in the living room and kids' rooms to help with our daughter's  asthma.   I still have days where I can't do much so I was not looking forward to a drawn-out, huge job.   I am SO thankful that I found a tip for cleaning carpets on Pinterest: WINDEX, Original Formula.   It really works!   It's supposed to be a professional secret.   Well, it's no secret that the damage my children did to my carpets has disappeared and I am relieved.   I finished one section and a whole bottle.   I'll finish the rest next week, a little bit each day.   It will look really great when it is steam cleaned.   We're trying to decide if we want to invest in our own steam cleaner.

 And no, contrary to what these photographs seems to show, we do not have an oil well, with crude oil pooling around in our backyard.   I don't know how this happened, but our bedroom is right off the kitchen, near the back door, and they like to run in there to use our bathroom or just to play since we have the only room with wall-to-wall carpeting.  

Before: section by the door, leading in from the kitchen

Before: Stains sprayed with Windex
This is one of the kids' favorite paths if we are sitting in the room.

In addition to clean carpets, we now have a No Shoes rule!

After: (see first picture above!) Next is steam cleaning and  tackling the table o' stuff in the middle of the room.  

And now I feel an urge to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding...


'Lil Bakers

In August, Clare had her first baking lesson as I taught her to make homemade chocolate chip cookies and blueberry muffins.   She did such a great job and was so proud of the finished products.   They were delicious!   Now, I have two little people in the house upon whom I can depend for fresh baked goods!

Several evenings this week, Emmeline could be found sitting with a pile of cookbooks.   She wanted to create cupcakes this weekend, so she looked up recipes for the cake, frosting, and thought about toppings.   She decided to make S'mores cupcakes.   She baked the cakes last night and finished the toppings this afternoon.   Emmeline did all the work herself and I am so proud of my little baker!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Promise in a Glimpse

Today I threw open windows in my home as the first crisp morning of autumn arrived.   It took me back.

Rough, harvest gold and forest green verigated shag carpet beneath my tightly-crossed legs, clad in shorts for the first time since winter truly settled in.   Chalky, textured dry-wall against my back.   An attic fan, mounted in the hallway ceiling outside my bedroom, spun its massive blades and whined, drowning out the everyday evening sounds within our home and the new noises outside my opened window.    The first whirs after the flip of the switch were what I imagined a helicopter would sound like and the sudden intake of air from the opened windows around the house were so strong the house seemed to inhale and gain some momentary altitude.  That intense pull created my favorite spot of refuge, my temporary hiding place that I could only enjoy for a only a few weeks of the year.   As long as the attic fan's blades spun, the full sheers which hung at my small bedroom window would billow out completely and create for me a perfect hidden sanctuary behind their spread folds. 

 I believe it was the first time in my life I knew what it meant to truly savor something.   Delicious food was plentiful on our table and so it had the mark of the ordinary for me.   Mama's green thumb and the natural beauty of our tiny farm meant that even the glories of my surroundings could be ignored.   Climate, however, makes itself known in the delta, especially in my homeland of the Florida parishes of south Louisiana.   It is the great equalizer, exerting power over everyone regardless of race, class, or creed.   Even the residents of the mightiest air-conditioned mansions would have to eventually make their way out into the thick, too often breeze-less, air of a summer day in Louisiana.   It would leave its mark on us all, as it bore down on us, heavy and damp.  Even at night, the setting of the sun brought darkness, but only a slight change in the temperature, obedient,  servant of the humidity.

The oppressive summer climate became a character in any story that unfolded in our lives, the ever-antagonist, against whom we all struggled to maintain our composure and some sort of physical dignity.   In my childhood, spring and fall were distinguished mainly by the presence of Easter eggs and fried chicken in one and the falling of pecans and simmering chili in the other.   What they both held in common was that relief they granted.   Not just relief, though, that first crisp air of fall was a reprieve to me, granted at a time when I was uncertain I could bear the unrelenting heat any longer.   On those day, windows normally closed were thrown open.   Sounds were magnified as flies buzzed against the screens and birds chirped their approval of this weather change.   Everything was crisp where before it had all faded into a blur, like the horizontal waves of heat visible above all the black-top roads we travelled.  The sun could warm without injury, its rays seemed to gently pass through bone, as if they warmed my very soul. 

Winter in south Louisiana was an ugly affair, as it still is, after the gaudy sparkles of Mardi Gras have been packed away.   Grey and damp, without the hope of snow's white beauty, it was as dead as nature can seem without really breathing its last.   Spring brought a reminder that grass and tree leaves were meant to be green.   Just as I did in autumn, my senses were awakened to what could be, to what really should be.   There was a cycle and a rhythm, even if I had lost sight--or even--hope of change or relief.

Twice a year, that rounded-out fabric of my window resembled an elaborate skirt of a ball gown and created a tent into which I could escape.   The special breezes and cool temperatures were as rare and exotic to me as a fancy dress, or especially, the occasions at which they were required.   It always seemed as if there was a yell or some chaos on the other side of the attic fan's noise and it should probably have my attention.   I claimed the opportunity for an excuse, though, and would bravely wait a few seconds, with my breath held, to see if anyone came barging into my room.   Most of the time, though, I was left alone, unaccosted, as I settled down with a book or my journal.    I could savor what I had learned was only a short period of time, a burst of joy and peace in the midst of trials.   I could take hold of the moment and soak in every bit of it.  

Darkness, loud noise beyond, but me, safe and soul-settled, at peace within a gauzy whiteness.   The outside blurred, as the previously harsh realities of that world, were now, as I looked through my sheer shelter.   Cycles, reprieves granted in the midst of strain and suffering, reminders of promises we have forgotten.   Savoring, appreciating the glorious, because it is just that, a glimpse of glory, all the more appreciated because of its rarity in this world.

Glory billowing around me, a flutter of time.  A sharp intake of air that reminds me I am alive, that beauty and comfort exist.    It is not hyperbole to say it is a desperately-needed reminder right now, a promise of a new season and a future.   Heavenly.   It is good for my soul.   It is well with my soul.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

My Birthday Buddy

Hard to believe this picture was taken 8 years ago!

Today was my tenth birthday without Mama.   I've written previously about how Mama made me feel special just for being born.   I wondered if birthdays would ever be special again and there have been a few rough ones over the past ten years.   Today, I decided to remember what I had written about it being a day baptized, so I focused on the celebration of Clare's baptism birthday.   Eight years ago, she was baptized in Christ and today, we celebrated the day as birthday buddies.

I spent the morning grocery shopping and preparing our meal.   I needed a crock pot meal since we had a busy evening with mass and a meeting at church.   I tried my stovetop spaghetti and meatballs in the crockpot and it turned out great.   I made some other special foods, like these chocolate-filled raspberries which were a big hit with the children.   We used the good china because life is too short to not use the good china!

I also made King Arthur Flour's Flourless Chocolate Cake.   It was delicious!   The kids savored every bite.  

We had candles in the cake for my birthday and we lit Clare's baptism candle while we talked about memories of that beautiful day.   She was also able to see her godmother, Leslie, after mass tonight.


My evening ended with an e-mail notification that Regina had created this photo and tagged me on facebook.   That was worth checking in for: those dearest to me, in times good and hard.   There are pictures at births, weddings, and funerals.   All those pictured have been with me through it all.   What a blessing!

...And...the song we listened to several times today--the current favorite of Clare and Thomas--"My Doorbell" by The White Stripes:

Speaking of Birthdays in Your Forties...

I happened upon this interview from charming British artist, writer, comedian, Noel Fielding.   In this interview, he discusses turning forty.   It is so true.   It also made me think more about social media, especially Facebook.   Facebook, Instagram, Twitter--even blogging for those whose main purpose is to build an audience-- just seem to encourage/tempt a perpetual state of being in one's thirties, as they are described below.  I wonder if social media may alter normal stages of human development?   There's a thesis for someone.  

"In your twenties, you're trying to work out who you are.  
In your thirties, you're trying to tell everyone who you are
and then, your forties, you don't care."

It was almost automatic the day I turned 40 last year.   I still care deeply about people, but I just don't worry so much what they think of me.   I'm still working on it, but several things really changed.   I became less frightened of my own personality and temperament, meaning I became more likely to speak my mind.   I tend to the sarcastic in humor and I worried about being taken the wrong way when everyone around me just seemed so sweet.   I stopped saying "yes" to extra things I didn't want to do and to things that took too much time from my priorities right now: my family and my health.   If I declined politely and with those explanations, or others such as a conflict in schedules, it wasn't my place to worry if someone was offended.   I am still limited in what I can do, so I don't feel guilty about choosing carefully.

My health issues have meant that I was isolated some of last year.   I learned much about myself through that whole experience.  It's difficult to adequately express the love and gratitude I feel for friends who kept in contact, just to ask how I was feeling or to offer help and encouragement.   It is overwhelming to feel so loved by them.

My fortieth year was a rough one, but I learned a great deal.   I hope I'm a bit wiser, and more caring and empathetic.   As I face my first year at home without a child with me during the day since 2004 and this new chapter in my life, I can only imagine what my forty-first year will hold.   I'm concentrating on all that I have to be thankful for and that list is quite long.   Here's to all there is to come and thanksgiving for the good and the grace to have borne the rough.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Naturally Curly Hair: Trip and Tips

Last Friday, we drove to Houston, but it wasn't to take advantage of the Tax-Free Weekend specials at all the malls.   We drove over an hour to have our eight-year-old's hair cut.   It was worth the drive and the cost (more than my haircuts) to see her leave a hair salon so happy.

Clare's hair was straight until she was about 18 months old.   Slowly, large waves, then ringlets, and finally full-blown tight curls formed.  People stop us in stores and make Shirley Temple references.   Some people want to touch her hair.   Some people don't even ask!  

But Clare hated her hair.   She wanted Rapunzel's long, straight hair.   She has been teased.   Mornings, especially school mornings, have been miserable and she dreaded being told it was time to fix her hair.   Our favorite stylist at the walk-in salon we normally visit let Clare go by while she skipped to another client because I don't think she wanted to tackle Clare's curls.

This summer, I decided to do as much as I could to help Clare accept and love her beautiful hair.   I read all the curly hair tips I could find and amongst the information, I learned about the Deva Curl system.   Stylists can be trained and certified in this system which includes cutting hair dry and an intensive conditioning process.   Each curl or small groups of curls is cut separately and stylists carefully examine the way the curls lay.   There is a line of Deva Curl products available for purchase and you can search their website to find a certified stylist near you.

Through the website, I found Planet Curls in Houston.   It's a salon dedicated to caring for the special needs of clients with naturally curl hair, although they cut straight hair and even give perms for those who wish they were curly heads.   Our stylist was Charlie and I agree with the many positive on-line reviews I found for him.   He took such care in cutting Clare's hair and he explained everything he was doing as he also gave me tips.   Clare enjoyed the whole experience.   She was able to see women and little girls with hair like hers and she walked out feeling like she was beautiful.   It made me teary-eyed to see her walk so happily and proudly as we left the salon.   I'd like to share some of the tips I've learned from books, websites, and from dear Charlie for any other naturally curly- haired friends out there!


After: Happy girl!  Happy curls!

Her hair is not wet in this picture.   This is how dramatic the After picture was.

1. Hair cuts

Find a Deva Curl certified stylist near you, if possible.   If you can't find one, ask around to see if there is a stylist who seems to be more skilled with curly hair.   Ask the woman in front of you at the check-out line who cuts her beautiful curly hair.   Everything I've read says curly hair needs to be cut dry so the stylist can see how the curls lay because each person is so different and there are different kinds of curls.   I could tell a big difference in the feel of Clare's hair while it was still dry, before the conditioning process.   Her 3-step Deva Cut was $35.   This thrifty mom offset the cost by driving the Corolla instead of the mini-van!   Even in the van, it would have been worth the cost.   We've never had a stylist who really knew what to do with Clare's curls.

Planet Curls had booster seats and special kids' capes.   They are equipped for and welcoming to children.

The book Clare is holding is called The Curly Girl Handbook.   I'm buying a copy soon.   It is FULL of helpful information including tips to pass on to hairstylists and even tips for cutting your own curls.   It is a perfect first stop for information.

2. Shampoo

A few weeks ago, we switched to a sulphate-free shampoo.   It made a difference after the first wash.   We have tried Eden's All-Natural Peppermint Shampoo and Not Your Mother's Way to Grow Long and Strong Shampoo.   Both were available at Wal-Mart.   Another great line is the Tea Tree Tingle line from Trader Joe's.   The benefit of Eden and Trader Joe's for school-age children is that they contain peppermint and tea tree oil.   These are both supposed to repel head lice.   You can also add drops of these essential oils to your shampoo of choice.   Sulphates are added to shampoos to make them rinse quickly and they strip hair.   Naturally curly hair tends to be dry so it needs to maintain its natural oils.  

Curly hair should not be washed every day.   It's best to wash it every 2-3 days.   When washing, focus on the scalp.   Use the majority of the shampoo there and really massage the scalp.   Run the left-over shampoo through the hair to the tips and more shampoo will reach the tips as you rinse the hair.  

3. Conditioner

Maybe I'm behind and everyone else is already doing this, but Charlie showed me the best way to condition hair.   Use a deep conditioner after shampooing the hair.    Separate the hair into at least four sections.   You might even use combs to divide it out, depending on the length.   I separate Clare's into about eight sections.   Start applying the conditioner to the tips at each section and work you way up, working the conditioner thoroughly through the section, with less of the conditioner near the scalp.   The ends of the hair need the most.   This results in the best coverage of the hair.  Let the conditioner sit for about 5 minutes.   Applying the conditioner seems to remove most tangles, but if there are any left, use this time to gently comb through the hair with a wide-tooth comb.  

Rinse the conditioner with cooler water.   You don't have to rinse as well as you do with shampoo.    It's a good thing for curly hair if a bit of the conditioner remains.  

Right now, we're using Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle and Pantene 2-Minute Deep Conditioner--Curly Hair Series (square-shaped tub).

4. Drying Hair

Charlie showed us what to do after rinsing Clare's conditioner.   He had her stand on a towel and lean over so all her curls hung down.   Then, he worked a leave-in conditioner into her hair, while it was still completely wet.   Next, he worked in a dime-sized amount of styling gel.   Then, he squeezed and scrunched her hair.   He said you want to hear that "wet shoe sound."  

Next, he used a microfiber towel to squeeze her hair.   He said you should wait to do this until after you've applied the leave-in conditioner and gel so you can lock-in the moisture.   At home, we use a white t-shirt to squeeze and wrap Clare's hair.   Microfiber towels and t-shirts don't cause the friction of a standard towel, so less frizz results.   The difference since using a t-shirt has been HUGE.   Plus, the bottom of a t-shirt easily wraps around her head, like one of those pre-made hair towels.   We never rub her hair; we just squeeze and wrap.   I just grab one of my husband's undershirts to use for Clare's hair.

It's best to let her hair air-dry.   If it must be dried by an appliance, a diffuser is a must.   The Curl Deva one is great!    When she is older, we may invest in one, but for now we are able to let her hair air-dry.   Yes, it is shaped like a hand and the curls don't even move as it dries them.   Charlie held the diffuser under Clare's curls, with the diffuser vents upward, just to dry her tips.

I'd like to eventually try all the Deva products after this month of back-to-school expenses.

 5. Leave-In Conditioner

It's a must!   We use it for touch-ups on dry hair and for morning styling.   I made my own by mixing Clare's conditioner with water in a spray bottle.   Shake well before using.   For school-age children, you can add drops of peppermint, lavender, or tea-tree oil (or a combination of tea-tree and another) to this mixture for lice-repellant benefits.   We mist Clare's hair with a combination of water and lavender oil when we're done with her hair.   She loves the smell.

6. Sleep

It is suggested that those with naturally curly hair sleep on satin pillowcases to reduce friction in the hair.   This will reduce frizz.   Also, it's become a must for Clare to sleep with a "pineapple" hair-do.   We gather all her hair high upon her head with a scrunchie.   They're cheapest at a dollar store!   No more tangles and mats in the morning!

For many more tips, check out my Pinterest board for Naturally Curly Hair:


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Vacation 2014: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park & Lookout Mountain

One last stamp for the kids' National Parks Passports as we headed home: Chattanooga.   At the top of Lookout Mountain is the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.   We arrived in late afternoon, right before a rain storm.   Ah, lovely, beautiful rain!   The park is small, but beautiful.   It is more of a commemorative park than educational, but it is worth the tour.   There is a great visitors center.   I held on tight to the hands of Clare and Thomas because it is a long drop from the top of this mountain, with no happy ending, surely.   People have homes where their backyard just drops off.   I still get a little queasy looking at the pictures.   We did not examine any of the on-the-edge exhibits.   I am so thankful that other than the rain pouring down as we were going to the car, it was an uneventful trip!

People walk down those steps!   No way; the view was fine from above!

Yes, that rock in the middle just juts out over the edge of the mountain with NO guardrail so you would just fall to your death.   I had a real problem with this area!

Another path we didn't take

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