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Monday, March 31, 2014

(Almost Forgotten) Cherished Moments

Using a brother as a footstool
... or a sister
Life is craaaaay-zeeeee busy in our home these days.  The kids are in full-fledged toddler quaddler mode, Jenna is busy as ever, and- well, life is just busy!  Many a day I walk up the stairs after putting the kids to bed and with a sigh say to myself, "Well, another day down!".
I am so busy just getting through the moments of each day (and cleaning up after those moments), that it is easy to hurry past or even ignore the little cherished things that make life sweet.  So tonight I thought I would list just some of these little things before they waft out of my mind for good...
Hannah pushing Lauren on a toy scooter
>>> I love the way Hannah laughs so brightly, it sounds literally like "ha HAW!".  She giggles infectiously... how she has such a kind, honest quality- Hannah knowingly handing me small items like hair ties that make their way into her mouth, giving back toys she took from another when I ask her to, handing Tyler his dog because she knows he likes sucking on its legs.  The way Hannah is usually the first to pick up on how a toy works, how or why things happen, and how mom works...

>>> I love the way Lauren loves to curl up on the sofa, press a soft blanket under her nose, and read book after book to herself.  She softly will whisper what sounds like Chinese to herself as she flips through pages... the way Lauren will quietly sneak her way into places that might be off-limits... how she repeats almost everything she hears and will speak in full paragraphs that again, sound like Chinese... the way she lights up when you read to her and will deliberately plop down on your lap as an invitation for you to read more to her... I love her curiosity and sweet disposition and tender heart...

>>> I love the way Tanner will run to you, throw his arms around you in a hug, and snuggle in...  how Tanner loves to stick his face in the bath water and blow bubbles- and how he sometimes (just to make sure) will have a coughing fit because he tried to see if he could maybe breathe underwater this time... I love the way he gets excited and will exclaim, "Ha Ha HA!"as he moves to the source of happiness... the way he loves to say "All done" for anything he is done playing, eating, or doing... the way he will hear me say "No" to something, look at me with those big blue eyes, and then knowingly do it again just to see if I really meant it... I love how he looks at me adoringly, like I am the love of his life...

... I love the way Tyler will hug his legs tight around my waist and wrap his arms around my neck in an effort to stay in my arms forever... the way he grins with his whole body and will clap for himself when he does something well... how today he got so much glee tipping over lawn furniture and throwing ice chunks over the edge of the deck railing...the way Tyler will notice across the room when daddy comes in and will stop whatever he is doing, make a b-line to Andy and exclaim "Dada!" over & over... the way he will throw his beloved dog out of his crib at least once during the bedtime process just so that I will give him a little more attention as I toss it back into his crib... the way he sleeps in the most unusual way with his upper body folded over his legs, the dog's leg in his mouth, and a blanket covering his head...

... I love the way Jenna came home from school today, quickly exchanged pants & shoes for flip flops & skirt, and then happily rode her bike and played outside all evening in this warm weather... the way Jenna will make a card for anyone who hurts themselves or is sad, particularly a brother or sister or friend... I love snuggling in bed with Jenna at night as she proudly and proficiently reads her beginner reading books from school... the way we say prayers and sing songs afterwards, and her bringing up questions that would stump theologians- I am not sure if this is a stall tactic or completely genuine, but many a night I love as we lay in her bed and snuggle and have good talks that go way past bedtime on a school night... I love her zest for life and utter five-ness...

And now that I have chronicled a few moments that would certainly have been forgotten, I love the thought that when I read this years from now, I will probably not remember the in's and out's of what made life so very hectic, but I can be reminded of these small but cherished moments and appreciate them for what they are.  So very, very sweet.

Hope you can take time today and smile as you remember some (almost forgotten) cherished moments that make your life sweet!



Monday, March 24, 2014

A taste of Spring

Rumor has it, it's Spring.
However, looking at the local weather forecast, it says it's 26 degrees outside but feels like 12.  Tonight it will be 10 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  Um... Spring?  Did you get the memo?

While we wait for that white stuff to go away for good, there is a solution to the cool weather blahs.
It is also one of my favorite things about Spring: Seeing the butterflies at Frederik Meijer Gardens!

I remember taking Jenna here when she was younger.  Here is a throwback photo of Jenna & Andy when she was the same age as the quaddlers.  I think she looks like a combination of Hannah + Lauren!

These Gardens are fantastic.  365 Days a year, you can come here and relax in a tropical, humid, warm setting where birds flutter around exotic plants and a warm humid breeze gently sways the foliage.  But wait, it gets better: in March and April, this place also become the home to hundreds of thousands of butterflies!  

I was itching to take the babies here, because I knew they would LOVE it!  However, I needed to recruit helpers.  On a whim I called up my sister to see if she & her kids were interested and available.  Cindy home-schools her 2 preteen boys & teenage daughter so their schedule is more flexible.  Not only were they up for it, but as a bonus their cousin Emma was visiting!  So thankfully I had the help of 10 hands!  We went right after the babies woke up from their nap, and we were there a good 2 hours.  The cousins were a HUGE help, and they even started commenting at the end that it was too hot & humid!!!  Oh, glorious warmth!
"Ooh!  Babafy!"
          Me, Kayden, Soren & kids in the Gardens       Reece & Tanner smile for a photo

   Emma & Kayden show Tanner & Lauren a fountain.      
Isn't Tanner such a handsome boy?!?
       When entering & exiting the Gardens, staff takes extra precaution to make sure butterflies stay in and don't escape!

Hannah spies beautiful yellow flowers!     I spy....   a caterpillar underneath the leaf!

Cindy walks Tanner on a bench and Kayden takes a turn with Tyler

 Inside the Gardens is a little waterfall with a walk-through tunnel underneath.  There is a break in the stone where you can peek at the water.  Hannah was a little uncertain about it, but Tanner thought it was neat and kept on splashing the puddled water!

Little lady Lauren snuggles with Emma
Aunt Cindy explores with Tyler 
          Emma and Kayden walk Tanner & Lauren around the Gardens
Reece pointing to a butterfly that has a beautiful blue color inside its wings.  We all huddled around it for minutes waiting for it to fly off, but it was happy to sit right there and be gawked at!
 We are so blessed to have this amazing place right here in town.  We definitely will go again (as much as we can) while the butterflies are blooming at Meijer Gardens, and then enjoy their summer offerings after that.  There is a huge tree house, great lakes water play, puppet theaters, and much more!  Just thinking of outdoor fun gives me hope.  It will get warm outside.  It really will!

Are there places or things you can do to capture a Taste of Spring in your neck of the woods?



Monday, March 10, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Got Laundry?

This is what our laundry room floor looked like after one night with three very sick toddlers.
The laundry was pretty much caught up prior to this...

This picture is about 6 months old, when I started this blog post (where does the time go?).
Tanner is with me as I do my weekly changing of the bedding: That's 4 sheets, 4 lightweight blankets, 4 lovies, and other odds & ends like my CozyWedge bumper sleeves or stuffed animals that smell rather funky...
And yes, this is just the babies' crib bedding.
Now do you see why I make my own laundry soap?
Lets Talk Laundry!!!
Many of you have asked me about my homemade laundry detergent.  For the past two years I have tweaked and modified my recipe to find what works best for our family for the least amount of money.  Since I just made another batch, I thought I would explain how I make it in case anyone else wants to try!

First, a disclaimer.  I love to cook.  I watch cooking shows all the time & think I would be a serious contender in the version of "Chopped:  QuadMom All-Stars" (hmmmm.. now THAT's an idea!).  But I am NOT a recipe cook.  I am more of an "Eh" kind of cook.  I drive family and friends nuts when they ask for a recipe because I rarely, if ever, measure.  My method to making laundry soap is a lot like my cooking.  I "Eh" it a lot.  No measurement is totally, exactly precise.  But this is what I have learned:
It really doesn't matter!  If you use soap, the clothes will get clean.  Having said that, I will try to be as precise as I can.
These little munchkins LOVE to think of creative ways to get clothes dirty.  Like smearing diaper cream all over their clothes and bodies!  Such curious, scientifically minded kiddos.

Liquid Laundry Soap vs Powder Laundry Soap
First off, homemade soap works great in regular and HE washers.  I know many moms swear by the powder soap version.  The recipe is 1 bar shredded Fels Naptha + 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda + 1 cup Borax, all pulsed together in food processor.  Use 1-2 tablespoons per load.  My friend Krista recently blogged about how she makes it so go check out her blog post here for a picture tutorial and to sneak a look at this amazing mom of 7 (quads included)!

For me, I prefer the liquid recipe.  I love the gelatinous transformation that happens to the soap, it's like a cool science experiment.  And it's fun to squish up.   But my preference is probably mostly on a psychological level.  I have made dry batches before, but something about using a measly tablespoon of soap per nasty, dirty load always caused me doubt about its stain-fighting powers.  Purely psychological, I know.  But for now, I am happy with and will continue making the liquid version.  There is no right or wrong way, just whatever works best for you!

The BEST Stain Remover in the World
Whether dry or liquid, homemade detergent works well.  Very well.  But, in my opinion, not so awesome on deep set stains.  The solution?  I have an extra bar of Fels Naptha soap always by my washer to use as a stain treater/remover.  If I see a stain (and care to remove it from the fabric), I wet the spot, rub the yellow bar of soap on the stain, scratch the soap into the stain with my fingernail, and then toss the article into the washer or pile of dirty clothes.
I have removed some of the nastiest stains, even when they were old, deep set, or from articles of clothing freshly pulled out of the dryer but the stain still was there (food is the ultimate culprit right now).  A bar of Fels Naptha is- can I be redundent- THE BEST stain remover in the world.
It is so cheap.  And it works AWESOME.  You will thank me :)

And now, my recipe!
Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap
What you will need:
1 bar Fels Naptha ($1.15/bar)
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda ($3-$4/box)
1 cup Borax ($3-$5/box)
1 5-Gallon Bucket with lid
optional: liquid fragrance ($1.99 +)

In The Kitchen:

1.  Shred the bar of soap
Tips:  I use my food processor.  I also buy & shred several bars at once (one by one), then place the pre-shredded soap in ziplock bags so the next several batches are easier to do.
*Note to children:  this is NOT shredded cheese.  It will taste disgusting when you grab a handful and eat it.  Just ask Jenna.  
~But man, was it an excellent natural consequences lesson!  (stifled mommy laugh)

2.  Boil the soap with 4 cups water on stove until it melts.  
Tip:  Stir frequently and keep an eye on it.  It can boil over easily.  If that occurs, the silver lining is you have a cleaned stove-top.  Just sayin'...

3.  Add boiled soap liquid to the other soaps in bucket.  Fill with water 1/4 of the way & stir well.
This is also where you can add the fragrance.  I have tried no fragrance (when babies were itty bitty), a little fragrance, and more.  It depends on the type of fragrance you buy.  The picture of the fragrance below is at my grocery store for $1.99 and is a concentrated fragrance instead of fragrance oil, so I found I need to use more (I even used a whole bottle once, and it was not overly fragrant).  I have used fragrance oils and need far less.  It also depends on the scent.  Let your nose be the guide, and remember you will be diluting this stuff A LOT with water so no worries if it smells strong.  Last night I made a Lavendar Lemon scent.  I think I will like this batch!

I love the clean scents like this Ocean Breeze, but also love other pleasant scents like Mountain Air, Fresh Rain, Lavender.  I buy these bottles in the fragrance aisle of my local grocery store (usually near the candles).
At this point, I bring my bucket to the bathtub for the rest of the preparation.  

4.  Fill Bucket with more water to 3/4 way full.  Stir, cover, and let it rest overnight.

5.  The next day, you will find your liquid has turned into the most wonderfully clean jelly!  Roll up those sleeves and dig in: squish, squish, squish!
The mixture should be a gelled consistency.  It is really fun to get your arms in, elbow deep, in the liquid and squish until there are not too many lumps left.  Kids love to help with this part!

6.  Optional but really helpful:  blend the mixture to a fine, smooth consistency.
You do not need to do this step, but after hand squishing the mixture there will still be some lumps.  I tried using my hand-held immersion blender a few batches ago and fell in love with how silky smooth the soap mixture became!  If you don't have one of these tools, consider buying one for the silky smooth soups you can make with it when not mixing soap!  Or, a hand-cranked mixer or even a whisk would work just fine too. ;)

7.  Pour halfway into empty containers.
Tip:  I use a larger measuring cup to pour the detergent into the containers.  For me, a funnel was a waste of time and very frustrating.  I use old laundry containers, but old milk & vinegar jugs work great too because you can actually see when the liquid is half-way.  When pouring the detergent into the containers, I now place them in a basin (not pictured) so I can catch every last drop that spills down.  I am very frugal, can you tell?

8.  Fill containers 3/4 of the way with water & cap the containers.
Tip:  I then shake the liquid while I wash the exterior of the containers and place them on a towel.  When all the containers are filled up & cleaned off, I swish out the tub and VOILA! I also cleaned my bath-tub at the same time.  Multitasking at its best.  The batch I did last night I filled 11 containers.  The batch in the picture I filled only 7.  This is an example of my "eh" measurements!  But clothes still come out clean.  I promise!

Use about 1/2 cup per load of detergent.
Shake before using.  Adjust volume as you think is needed per load.  This batch is suppose to last 6 months, but I ain't gonna lie:  I need to make a new batch every 2-3 months.  However, I do about 2-4 loads of laundry per day, so for a normal household I would think it could last 6 months.

Fabric Softener Alternative
Finally, another must in my laundry room is the giant container of white vinegar I use to de-funk all my family's unpleasant dirty laundry smells.  I buy a huge container at Costco for $3.25 and add about 1/4 cup to every load in the liquid fabric softener spout of our HE washer.
For the dryer, I purchased wool balls 2 years ago for $6 and they work like a charm.  They last forever.  What you do is keep them always in the dryer and they roll around with the laundry, beating softness into the fabric.  If I want more scent, I toss 1/2 of a fabric softener sheet into the dryer.  However, I was told fabric softeners actually prevent absorption of water in fabrics so they are not recommended for things like towels or cloth diapers.  That, and fabric softener is pricey, so wool balls and vinegar are fantastic!

This laundry detergent is super cheap to make, not very time consuming, and it works!!!  A bar of Fels Naptha should be a must in every laundry room, and vinegar is just the most amazing liquid ever. Whatever tips you might chose to try, I hope you are rewarded with clean laundry for a fraction of the price!  Got any other laundry tips or recipes?  Feel free to add them to my comments!