“I Can Make That Myself”: Dishwasher Detergent

Several of my friends (including Kristina) have tried making their own laundry detergent. Hearing their descriptions of how cheap and easy it is has placed making my own laundry detergent on my list of things to try this summer (once I finish off the bottle of detergent I currently have).

In the meantime, though, the house we  moved into has a dishwasher (which I have come to appreciate far more than I expected). When the sink leaked, soaking the box of dishwasher detergent that we found in the cupboard when we moved in, I started to wonder whether I could make that myself as well. Some research online quickly revealed that I could.

I found one article that compared six different recipes for powdered dishwasher detergent, which I found helpful. Based on that article, I chose the following recipe:

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

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1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
½ cup kosher salt
5 packets unsweetened lemonade mix

Mix all ingredients and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 1 tablespoon per load, or 2 tablespoons for extra-dirty dishes. Makes 42 loads.

Cost: 2 cents per load
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The verdict? It was super easy to make (it only took a couple minutes to measure the ingredients and mix them together) and seems to clean our dishes well so far. My own issue has been with the citric acid in the lemonade mix making it clump over time (which you can see a bit in the second photo above), which a few of the recipes I found had warned that it might. So far its still been usable, but I may look into some solutions for that with the next batch I make.

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Trusted Stewards

This week our friend Maggie arrived back from France to settle into the house for the next month while she works out her visa to return to France.

In the days leading up to her return, I found myself walking through the house, sweeping, organizing, cleaning, arranging. Remembering our experience moving into the house just a few weeks ago and our sense of unwelcome (unintended though it was), I wanted Maggie to feel welcomed into her house when she returned. As I prepared for her, I realized how much I value creating a sense of welcome in a space and as I looked around the room she would use, I asked myself, “How would I feel, coming into this space?” I put fresh sheets on her bed with a bright blanket folded on the end. I dusted and swept the room, added a chair in the corner, and opened the curtains to let in sunlight. On the bedside table, I set up a welcome home note and a small vase of fresh flowers. I hoped that each of these little details would speak “Welcome” to her.

My desire for Maggie to feel welcome motivated most of these actions, but as the morning of her arrival came, I finally put my finger on another emotional pushing me to clean and organize:

Fear.
(Still such as ever-present motivator in so many ways.)

I was afraid of what she would think of the house, her house, of the way we had cared for it, of the way we chose to live here. What if it was not clean enough, organized enough? What if she didn’t like how we arranged things or the colors we chose or the way we hung things on the walls? In the months leading up to our move, Maggie had invited us in, advocated for us, and blessed us in who we are, but as stewards of her house, would we live up to her expectations and her trust? Though I had worked hard over the past few weeks to clean and organize and had carefully chosen each thing we added, would it be enough?

As I put a name to these fears and wrenched them into the light, I wondered how to steward this space well without living out of fear and striving.

I turned to the parable of the talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30) as I waited for Maggie’s arrival, re-reading it with eyes fresh from our current situation and reflecting on what it says about stewardship. I realized that by entrusting his property to the three servants, the master in the story was indicating a level of trust in each one of them already. The parable does not say anything about the master telling the servants what to do with the talents or even that he expected them to invest these talents to produce more. Instead the servants found them selves free to use their own judgment, creativity, and ideas to care for what they had been given. While the first two servants did just that, though, the third servant clearly did not feel that same freedom. Why? Because he falsely viewed the master as a hard mad, exacting and unjust. Perhaps he even resented the responsibility of caring for something that would never be his. So he simply preserved what he had been given, believing that in doing so he had fulfilled his responsibility as steward.

The ability to steward something well, then, seems to come (at least in part) from an awareness of the trust that we have been given already and the freedom we have to function out of that place of trust. Do I feel free to steward this house creatively, to invest what I have been given? My level of uncertainty about whether I measure up to Maggie’s expectations and standards suggests that my day-to-day life is still tinged with more fear than freedom.

But the invitation to step into that freedom is there. I am trusted to steward here, to care for the space, to make decisions, to use it well. Trusted to choose curtains, hang pictures, and plant flowers. More importantly, trusted to help choose who will live here alongside us. I suspect that these coming months will push me closer to the reality of that trust and the freedom that springs from it.

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A House Where I Cannot Hide

On Friday, after a full day of countless trips up and down stairs, plenty of sweat, but thankfully no rain, Derek and I moved out of our apartment and into a nearby house owned by our friend Maggie.

For the past two years, our apartment has been a place of sanctuary for us after the chaos and heartache of the Tracy House. I felt more than a little reluctant to leave this sanctuary and jump into community living again, but as we prayed and considered Maggie’s invitation to move into her house and serve as house parents for the Vision Course students who would live there. I could feel God prodding at those still-raw places of hurt and frustration from our last experience in community. In the past two years of school and busyness, those hurts had lay mostly dormant, but God does not let those things rest indefinitely. He desires wholeness and right relationship for us and does not settle for partial healing. In Maggie’s invitation, I felt the Lord’s invitation as well to walk with Him through that process of healing.

Even recognizing this invitation from the Lord, though, I felt twinges of fear at the thought of living in community. In the weeks leading up to our move, people often asked me if I was excited for the move. I was, in some ways, but truthfully I was (and am) far more afraid than excited.

I am afraid of being annoyed with dirty dishes piling up in the sink.
I am afraid of growing frustrated with unexpected guests.
I am afraid of not being able to rest or enjoy quiet in my home.
I am afraid of overreacting to little things.
I am afraid of feeling pushed aside or disregarded.
I am afraid of miscommunication and conflict.
I am afraid of being rejected.

In short, I am terrified of moving into a place where my brokenness and humanity is laid bare and impossible to hide.

But that is part of the invitation in this season, the point in moving back into community: to learn to embrace those broken places, to expose them, to bring them before the Lord and receive healing, to experience the reality of God’s acceptance of me even in those places.

So even in the face of my fear, I am choosing to unpack and settle into a house where I cannot hide, to lay all of myself before God and learn to walk with him into my broken places.

Jesus Loves Me This I Know (For the Snow Days Tell Me So)

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Life has been exhausting lately.

These days I spend nearly forty hours a week at work with a group of seven to eight one-year-olds. After work I head to another six to ten hours a week of class, depending on the week. When I finally come home, there is always a chapter (or two) to read, a paper (or three) to write, an article (or six) to read and respond to, projects to create, and lesson plans to write. Not to mention dishes to wash, laundry to clean and fold, a menu to plan, groceries to buy, a house to clean….

When Friday afternoon arrives and I step out the door at work, I feel an exhilarating rush of relief that the weekend has finally arrived.

But then the weekends are packed, too – with class or trainings, collective, helping friends move, cleaning the house, birthday parties, homework, concerts, catching up with friends, teaching the Boiler Room kids, preparing lunches for the week, doing the laundry that I never found time for during the week….

And suddenly I realize with dismay that it’s Monday morning again and I never really stopped to rest.

Last Sunday I felt particularly crushed under the weight of this constant activity and said something along the lines of, “I feel like I need at least two weeks off to really feel rested again!”

I think God was listening.

I had Monday off of work for President’s day, followed by a shorter day on Tuesday for our staff in-service, then a second shorter day on Wednesday. And then a blizzard closed both school and work for Thursday and Friday.

I was so starved for rest that when they announced a snow day for Thursday, I felt a little giddy.

I turned off my alarm clock and slept in.
When I finally woke up, I watched the snow out the window, still wrapped in our blankets.

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I drank coffee, then cooked a big breakfast for Derek and I and ate it in our pajamas.

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Later we bundled up in several layers and took a walk, snapping pictures of the still-falling snow.

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We stopped by the house of some nearby friends, joining them for lunch and talking about gardening.

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We walked some more, stopping to swing on some snow-covered swings.

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We dropped in for tea at the house of some more friends. A few more friends joined us there and we walked part way home with them afterwards, our heads and shoulders and coats adorned with the fluffy, thickly-falling snow.

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I cooked a hearty potato and kale soup for dinner.

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That night Derek and I snuggled together on the couch and watched a movie together.

And I didn’t do any homework or housework or anything productive that day. Not a single thing.

It was such a perfect day.

And that perfect snow day was followed by another snow day, during which I cleaned the house, caught up on some homework, shoveled a little, and made homemade pretzels. That snow day was followed by the weekend, with collective, a little more homework, church, lunch with friends, and plenty of time to rest.

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Now it’s Monday again and they closed work early today because of the coming storm. School is already cancelled for tomorrow, gifting me with another day off. Though it has not quite been the two weeks off that I longed for, these unexpected days of rest have refreshed me and energized me to push through the rest of this final semester of school.

I Trust You

This evening I finally visited Bambini Creativi, the Reggio school in south Kansas City that I have heard so much about for the past year. I joined my Learning Environments classmates there as part of our discussion on how the learning environment influences learning. We started the evening sitting in child-sized chairs at child-sized tables in the dining room to listen to Breanne (the owner/founder) share a bit of her story and philosophy. Then we followed her and Annie (a former co-worker of mine who now teaches at Bambini) through the school as they described what they do and why they do it. I can’t even put into words what this school is like because it is so different than anything I have experienced.

At the end of the tour, we were invited to choose an area in the school that we liked and reflect on a list of questions about that space, about what it said to the children and their parents and how that space might influence our teacher. I sat myself down next to the projector, where the children can draw their own transparencies and then use them to tell stories. I looked around at the two block structures – spaceships, we were told – which have grown and evolved in that corner since before Christmas. I looked at the books, the blocks, the umbrella, the solar system, the wire sculpture, the disco ball, at the carefully documented evidence of what the children were doing and saying and learning. And I listened.

What does this space say to children?

That what they have to say, their ideas, their stories, are important. Their work is important enough, serious enough, to let it gradually creep its way across this classroom space, day after day, as they add to it and refine it. That their process matters, the journey of doing, but that their product is significant and beautiful, too.

That their teachers trust them. They give them responsibility, handing their learning back to them, because these teachers believe that these children are capable. They show that they trust the children, so that the children can learn to trust themselves.

It reminded me of a blog that touched me last year from Teacher Tom. This post was named “Be Not Afraid” and in it he described his most memorable Easters as a child, the ones he spent in Greece full of exploding eggs, boiling vinegar, and late-night bonfires. Then he shared about a two year old her dipped her hand in glue and then proceeded to walk all around the room, very careful to keep from touching anything with the glue as he shooed away the other teachers who wanted to clean off the glue for her. Teacher Tom ends the post by writing:

“I would trust Maya to carry an Easter candle; look how responsible she is. I would trust Violet to boil-dye a batch of blood red eggs. Children are as competent as we allow them to be. They step up to the responsibilities in their lives, but only when we leave them enough freedom to assume them on their own. I hear a lot of people this time of year saying things about the “real meaning of Easter.” The part of that real message that I always took home with me as I carried my candle through those dark streets was the part that said: “Be not afraid.”

It’s a good message because it’s only when we can move beyond fear that we can trust. And trust is what our children need from us.” (Teacher Tom, April 04, 2012).

How can my classroom, with my precious group of one year olds, reflect this message of “I trust you”?

The Sun Has Overcome the Night

The Light Will Come
Phil Wickham

To the one with the wounded heart
The years of fighting have left you scarred
Wait, the light will come

To the one with distant eyes
All this crying has left you dry
Wait, the light will come
Wait, the light will come

Lift your eyes, the sun has overcome the night
Come alive as we shine in love’s true light

Here is laughter beyond the tears
Here is courage to face your fears
Look, the light has come

So rise, you daughters, and stand, you sons
Claim the victory that Jesus won
Look, the Light has come
Look, the Light has come

Faith and Politics (or More Questions Than Answers)

On Tuesday Derek and I drove to a small church in a nearby neighborhood to cast our votes, along with millions of other Americans across the country. This was only my third time voting and my first time ever voting for president. On Saturday I spent most of the afternoon and evening and even late into the night researching issues and candidates, wanting to be an informed voter when I put my pen to the ballot. I felt a responsibility to vote this year but agonized over nearly every choice, feeling like neither side really stood for my values.

In the end, when I left the polls with my “I Voted” sticker in hand, I still felt more dissatisfied than anything else. I felt dissatisfied with my political choices. More than that, though, I felt dissatisfied with my own understanding of the issues and of how to mingle my faith with politics.

I hunger for a justice that our political system (and our world) sorely lacks in so many areas. And with justice, there are several things I am sure of:
• That God cares deeply for the poor and expects us to care for them as well (He has some strong words for those who oppress the poor or stand by while they are oppressed).
• That God desired to free all those who are oppressed and invites us to join Him in this
• That God calls us to shelter the alien (read: immigrant) among us and gives pretty explicit commands to do so (seriously, you might be surprised at how much he has to say about this issue…).
• That God is the protector of the vulnerable (of all ages) and calls us to be protectors of the vulnerable as well.
• That we are called to do what is in our power to live at peace with those around us.

These are beliefs that inevitably intertwine with my political position. They have to. But they also bring up complex issues without easy answers. Honestly, I am not sure how to stand for these in our current political system, or even outside of politics oftentimes. No political candidate champions all (or even most) of these ideals. Even if one did, I doubt that our current political system, driven largely by money and a hunger for power, would support such a politician. Voting, then, (no matter who we vote for) cannot absolve us from the need to wrestle through these issues, to seek God’s perspective and plans for justice, life, poverty, freedom, and the world around us. Our responsibility to justice did not end when the polls closed on November 6th.

Wednesday morning, as the country either rejoiced or lamented the newly elected president, I felt surer than ever of one thing: I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to fight for justice in politics. But I want to find out. In fact, I intend to find out.

(Do you have books or resources that have helped you answer some of these questions and clarify your own political position as a Christian? If so, feel free to share them.)

Gungor in Concert

This evening we drove out to Lenexa with some friends to see Gungor in concert.

I’m generally not a big fan of concerts – they tend to be an overwhelming mix of big crowds, head-throbbing noise levels, and flashing lights. This one was so good, though (flashing lights and all). Song after song I found myself catching my breath, at the edge of my seat, as they skillfully wove together sweet harmonies and poetic lyrics. They alternated between energetic beats and soft melodies, mixing the light notes of a xylophone with heavy drumbeats, amazing guitar picking with smooth cello, soft piano with resonating voices.

Each of their songs rang with the deep beauty of the gospel. I remember first hearing of Gungor when we sang their song, “Beautiful Things,” at the Boiler Room but only recently began listening to a bit more of their music. Their songs speak eloquently of the God who brings life out of death and beauty out of brokenness, who longs to see His beautiful bride, the Church, become who she was created to be. As I am learning to walk with the Lord through the places of my own pain and loss, these songs touch on the beauty of that process. They acknowledge the pain, even the disillusionment, but remind me that the story does not end there, that at the cross Love has already won.

“Dry Bones”
by Gungor

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new

(From their album, Beautiful Things)

Birthday Beauty

This weekend I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday.

To be honest, in recent years my birthday has carried a certain sting of heartache. That one day somehow tends to magnify any already-present feelings of being unseen and uncelebrated, perhaps because I have seen some amazing birthday celebrations here that embrace all the unique ways that a person reflects the Lord’s heart.

So this year I approached my birthday with some tentativeness, trying to guard my heart by not expecting much. But lately God has been taking me on a journey of discovering that He never designed me to protect myself or to live in lack. Throughout the weekend, He wove that truth all through dozens of small celebrations of the things I love:

– A sunny fall day
– Brilliantly colored trees
– Dinner with Derek
– A double portion of one of my favorite foods
– A small gathering of friends
– A house full of candlelight
– Words of blessing spoken over me
– A lovely scarf, full of deep rich colors
– Fresh flowers in reds, yellows, and oranges
– Apple cider
– Dancing with one of my favorite little girls
– A baby in my arms
– A few thoughtfully written notes
– A tiny succulent plant, wrapped in yellow
– A fragrant heart
– A phone call with my mom

All of which crooned the Father’s love over my heart: “You are seen. You are loved. You are beautiful. It is good that you exist.”

Photo Collage

This branch of fabric leaves has hung in our dining room for the past year or so that we have lived in this apartment. I hung them last fall, loving the burst of color they added to the room. And then I just never replaced them (mostly because I never got around to making something to hang there instead and hated the idea of leaving the frame empty). The other day I saw this pin on pinterest, though, and finally got inspired.

I chose some of my favorite photos to print. This afternoon I lay them out across our sunroom floor, arranging them inside the frame until I was happy with the arrangement. I hammered tacks into the side of the frame, stringing thin wire between them, and then clipped the photos to the wire with clothespins.

The finished product is less rustic than the inspiration photo, but I like it. It’s nice to have something different hanging there now. And the photos remind me of beautiful things every day.

In other house decorating news….this weekend I succumbed to the pumpkin craze and bought two for our living room.