Wrapping Up “34 Days of Favorites”, and Announcing a Winner!

Well, now.

34 posts is a lot of posts! I feel like I’ve had much to say in the last month and a half. One would think I might have run out of things to say, but wait! There’s more!

I actually have a list of concluding thoughts.

Yes, a list.

1) You are all amazing.

Seriously. I feel so blessed to have you reading my blog. I’ve been posting about twice as often as usual, and yet people just kept showing up, day after day. And the comments! Oh, guys, I feel like we have some community going on here! I love it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you better, and have loved trying your suggestions. It’s been so much fun.

But….

2) I am so ready to return to my normal blogging schedule!

When I decided to stop blogging five days a week, and only blog on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it was a really good decision!

The last month and a half has confirmed that for me. Blogging three times a week allows me to keep my life in balance.

3) I’m ready to write about other topics!

I was having a long-overdue conversation on the phone with a dear friend the other night, and she said, “I read your blog, and I think, ‘Oh, Kendra has the perfect life!!'”

And I thought, “Oh no!! This whole thing has failed miserably!”

It was never my intent to make it sound as though my life is perfect. I just wanted to share a bunch of things making my life happy right now.

That doesn’t mean my life is always happy.

Most of the time, I think I’m pretty honest and open on my blog. But over the last 34 posts, I’ve been writing about my favorites. Things are bound to sound pretty positive, all the time. It wasn’t a series called “34 Days of Crappy Things Happening in Kendra’s Life”. Thank goodness! Who would want to read that?!

And really, if I had to choose between sounding too positive, or too negative, I would go with positive every time. This last year has been all about choosing a good attitude, no matter what my circumstances might be.

That doesn’t mean I won’t ever have anything negative to say.

But it does mean that for the most part, I’m going to focus on the good stuff, not in an effort to be fake, but rather, to choose an attitude of thankfulness.

For example.

This is our yard right now:

The weeds are so big, I can hide in them. The girls can’t find me if I’m out in the yard. Kaylia wanders around calling, “Mommy, where are you??”

I’m just a little bit COMPLETELY SICK OF WEEDS!!

But you know what? I also took this picture in our yard.

I think it’s kinda pretty.

To me, it’s proof that you can make anything look good. It’s not fake. It’s just limiting how much of the big picture you take in at once. And I’m learning that in general, it’s usually good to keep it small.

When you keep it small, there is joy in a cup of tea.

A cup of tea does not make my life perfect.

But it makes the moment pretty good.

And life can be about moments, if you choose.

That is what I wish to leave you with, as this series ends. Celebrate the little, simple things. The big stuff gets pretty heavy, for everybody. And sometimes, people can’t share what’s all going on, for various reasons, but it doesn’t mean the big stuff isn’t there.

So keep in mind that everybody has their load to carry, but if we are able to find joy in the small things, we will never run out of joy, no matter what else is going on.

4) And we have a winner!

As I said waaaaaay back at the beginning, there is a prize. Everyone who commented on any of the last 34 posts was entered. I used a Random Number Generator, and you’ll never guess who it randomly selected – my sister, Karla!!

As soon as I saw the results, I thought, “OH, NO!!! She’s not going to like that at all!”

In the past, my sister has purposely not commented on posts involving a prize, so that my other blog readers have a chance to win, instead of her.

My parents will love it. My dad will say something about how it makes him so happy to see sisters supporting each other, or something like that. And it’s true – I do feel very supported by my sister! I love when she comments on my blog.

So Karla’s the winner. And she’s getting a copy of my favorite book of the year, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Which works out well, because I don’t actually own a copy of my own, so if I ever want to reread it, I’ll just borrow it from her!!

A huge thank you to everyone who got involved in “34 Days of Favorites”.

And I will see you on Friday! I have A TON of pictures from our summer which I can’t wait to share!

34 Days of Favorites: Most-Used Birthday Gift

I always receive lovely gifts for my birthday, and I’m very thankful for all of them.

But for my birthday last year, I was given a gift which I’ve used many, many more times than any of my other gifts.

My mom gave me this book:

I was surprised when I unwrapped it, because although I’d been wanting to read it for months, I’d never told her that.

It was even better than I’d anticipated.

If you ever come over to my house, there is a very good chance you’ll find this book lying on my kitchen counter because I’ve just finished using it, or I’m just about to use it.

The resources in the appendix are my favorite. There are many recipes for natural cleaning products, as well as personal care items, which is why I use this book so regularly.

The book itself is a good read. I found the ideas for clearing clutter were similar to what I’d read before, but Tsh Oxenreider has an interesting twist to her perspective, in that she’s spent many years living overseas, and simply hasn’t had the space to collect junk as we do in North America.

I found this book highly motivating. It even made me have a garage sale, in spite of the fact that I had never thought I would do such a thing.

On top of all that, the pictures in Organized Simplicity are so clean and refreshing, it really makes you want to clean your house from top to bottom, and leave lemons lying around everywhere.

Definitely one of my favorite birthday gifts ever.

Do you have a favorite gift you’ve been given? Something you use over and over again?

And just a reminder…This is the last day you can comment on “34 Days of Favorites” to enter the contest! Here’s the complete list, in case you missed any, or want to go back and add a comment on any of them:

Natural Beauty Products, Blogs, Morning Routine, Prayer Book, Photo Galleries, Vintage Handkerchiefs, Books to Read Aloud, Purging, Restaurants, Overcoming Fear of Flying, Tea, Home, Counting Blessings, New Recipe, Quote, Getting Out of My Comfort Zone, Breakfast, Lunch, Supper, Sleep Habits, Body Brushing, Pinterest, New Camera, New Friends, Serious Music, Happy Music, Apple Cider Vinegar, Movies, Smiling, TV Show, Books, Clothing

34 Days of Favorites: Natural Beauty Products

Ben’s family is into natural products.

When I first started hearing about natural shampoo or Norwex products, I didn’t pay much attention. I thought the whole thing was a bit extreme and unnecessary.

But after awhile, my health issues led me to a state of desperation, and I became willing to try anything. I started seeing a naturopath (the same one my mother- and sister-in-law were seeing), and began using different supplements and natural products for health reasons.

I could not believe the difference they made.

Time and again, I experienced how natural products worked better for me than products containing chemicals. This led to an openness to other options I had previously considered so strange.

Around this time, my friend Julia came waltzing into my life with Norwex products.

After a weekend with her, I was persuaded to try natural cleaning methods. I was amazed by how much easier and faster it was to clean, as well as how good I felt after cleaning. I had become so accustomed to my “post-cleaning headaches” from strong chemical smells, I had accepted it as normal. When I no longer got headaches, it struck me how disturbing it really was to get a headache just from cleaning my bathroom.

By this point, I’d tackled natural health and cleaning products, but then Ben’s mom passed on some books she’d just finished reading: Slow Death by Rubber Duck and There’s Lead in Your Lipstick.

Don’t ever read those books if you’re happy with the products you use in your home! It’s better not to know.

If, however, you are interested in trying some new things, those books are fantastic. I found them fascinating. And disturbing.

I made it my goal to see how many personal care products I could replace with natural ones.

Here’s the catch: Lots of that stuff is crazy expensive to buy in a store, and we didn’t have the money for it.

Fortunately, there are tons of recipes and resources available for you to make your own at home.

I was also able to find some great, reasonably-priced options after much reading, experimenting, and shopping around. And hanging around with my friends Nikki and Julia. Thank goodness for friends who actually want to passionately discuss natural haircare products or chemical-free moisturizers. (Yes. There are normal people in the world who care about those things.)

Here’s my list of products I’ve discovered so far, with some links to recipes and tips:

Homemade Deoderant: The recipe I use can be found here. It contains three ingredients, is incredibly easy to make, and works better than any natural store-bought deoderant I’ve tried. It is not anti-perspirant, of course, so it doesn’t stop me from sweating, but I never notice an odor. It is fantastic.

Homemade Toothpaste: The recipe I’ve used to make my own can be found in this post, along with tons of other great info. I also buy Tom’s of Maine toothpaste for traveling, or for when I don’t have time to mix up toothpaste at home, which is ridiculous, considering it takes five minutes, but you know how it is in summer.

Shampoo and Conditioner: I stopped using shampoo a year ago, and have no plans to start again. This method is far too easy. Plus, it makes my hair dye last much, much longer.

Hair Dye: Yes, I dye my hair all the time. I have a ton of grey hair. I got my first one in high school, and that is the way we do it in my family.

I’m not ready to get so natural that I flaunt my grey hair for all the world to see, but hair dye is a hard one to do naturally.

There are some dyes which claim to be natural, and actually are not. After doing a lot of reading, I came to the conclusion that henna dye was really the only good option for me. I’ve been using this brand for a year, and am happy with it. I don’t love the process of using it, but I love the results, and the fact that it’s completely safe and natural.

It is very different from regular hair dye. It doesn’t cover everything, but rather turns grey hair golden, making interesting highlights in the hair. It also conditions hair and does not damage it in any way.

That all sounds wonderful, but it really is a pain to apply. If it wasn’t for that, I would think everyone should use it instead.

Lotion: I was stumped with this one for awhile, until I read this post, and realized I could just use plain coconut oil. I buy it at Vita Health for baking, as well as making other natural beauty products. It goes on pretty slippery and slimy, but soaks into the skin very quickly. (I’ve also read that it can be used instead of sunscreen, but I can’t test how reliable it would be, seeing as the girls and I are so dark-skinned, we never burn anyway, and I haven’t used Ben as my guinea pig yet.)

Skin Care: I wash my face with a Norwex cloth, and that’s pretty much all I need. I want to find a good moisturizer, as I find coconut oil too much for my face.

Soap: I buy Nature Clean at Superstore or Vita Health for a reasonable price. Anika doesn’t like how it smells, and has been ecstatic about the beautifully scented soap I got from a friend as a birthday gift! We usually have both options available in the bathroom, so she uses the nice stuff, and then walks around smelling her hands!

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And that’s my list. I have a few more products I’d like to replace, such as make-up (I had a reaction to Mary Kay, sadly), hairspray or mousse, and facial moisturizer. But I feel good about what I’ve been able to accomplish in the last year, and enjoy these changes very much. I know what’s in the stuff I’m using, it’s easy, cheap, and makes my life feel simpler.

I never used to care what was in the products I was using. And I totally get that many of you might not care either. That’s fine. There was a lot of discomfort in my life motivating me to make the changes I did. I don’t think I would have done it, if I hadn’t been so desperate to feel healthier.

Changing everything at once would be terribly overwhelming, but I made it my goal to try one new thing at a time, until it felt easy and normal, before moving on to the next thing. It’s been a long, strange journey to the point where I’m at today, but it’s been interesting, and I’m so thankful for the ways in which Ben’s family has rubbed of on me!

What about you? Any natural beauty tips you want to share? If you’ve never tried any, what would be the easiest one to start using?

34 Days of Favorites: Blogs

I love blogs – obviously, seeing as I have one.

But I also have a whole list of favorites which I love reading. I realize blogs can easily eat up far too much time, so I totally understand the need to wrestle these things under control.

But if you have some free time, and you’re looking for something fun to read, here’s my list of blogs I’m enjoyinging right now:

A Holy Experience – Gotta love Ann Voskamp. Beautiful photography, and spiritual wisdom and truth that make this blog like a daily devotional.

Enjoying the Small Things – Once again, fantastic photography, and such a vibrant, joyful spirit behind Kelle Hampton’s writing. I love her focus on making each day magical for her kids, and loving the life you’ve been given.

Becoming Minimalist – Fantastic for motivating even the smallest urges to purge. I find Joshua Becker’s ideas for simplifying refreshing and inspiring.

Ali Edwards – I started reading this one for the scrapbooking content, but now I love it because she has fantastic ideas for recording family memories in general. I enjoy her photography, and reading her thoughts. Her taste in most things is excellent.

Centsational Girl – Amazing decorating blog. Very inspiring DIY ideas. Love her stuff.

Simple Mom – Oh, where do I start? I love the organizational ideas, the tips for healthy living, her reading suggestions, etc, etc. I’ve learned a lot from this blog.

The Wellness Warrior – Very health focused. Great food ideas, tons of information on what to eat and how to add healthy habits to your life. Her “Inspiration Board” is incredible. I’ve written many blog posts in the past year which were inspired by the quotes she shares every few days.

Jeff Goins, Writer – Lots of thoughts, challenges, and encouragement for improving with writing and blogging. Reading this blog is what got me to finally start calling myself a “writer”. Just put it out in the open. Somehow, it makes a difference.

Putting Me Together – Fun fashion stuff, if you’re into that kind of thing. I didn’t think I was, but when I stumbled across this and started reading, I realized it could be the answer to simplifying my closet even more. Mix and match, I tell ya. I love seeing her creativity in combining her clothing in different ways.

Oh She Glows – Tons of extremely delicious, healthy recipes which I use on a regular basis.

I also enjoy a number of blogs written by friends that cover a variety of topics. I’m hesitant to share links, however, as some are more private than others. But if you have a blog and would like to share your link, please share your link in the comment section and we can all meet new friends. 🙂

And here’s an extra fun little tidbit: If you like reading blogs, and don’t use a blog reader, you should seriously think of trying one. I use Google Reader, meaning that I sign up for an account, add all the blogs I want to keep up with on a regular basis, and whenever any of those blogs has a new post, it pops up automatically in my reader. I never have to go to each blog individually, just to find out if they’ve posted something new.

Huge time saver, very handy.

Okay, I’ve shared my favorites with you, now it’s your turn! I would love to hear what blogs you enjoy reading – I’m always up for trying something new!

(To read more about “34 Days of Favorites, click here.)

34 Days of Favorites: Morning Routine

For many, many years, I was one of those people who slept in as long as I possibly could.

Fortunately for me, we’ve been blessed with children who don’t wake up before 8:00 in the morning, so I could usually get away with staying in bed until then. When I’d hear them making noise, I’d finally roll out of bed, and my day would start at exactly the same time as theirs did.

Although this kind of worked, way back in a deep, dark corner of my mind, I knew it wasn’t the best plan.

For one thing, I was always a bit cranky in the morning, because I hadn’t really had time to fully wake up.

Another problem was that I really like to have a bit of alone time first thing in the morning, but it could never happen when I woke up at the same time as the girls.

The most annoying part were all those women who kept talking about their “quiet time” in the morning, starting the day with devotions. I immediately felt defensive when I’d hear about early morning quiet times, because my conscience bothered me. I tried to justify everything by telling myself that prayer can happen any time of day, but really, I knew my day would go better if I would have the self-discipline to start it right.

I stuffed down these problems for as long as I could, and found other times of day for doing what I needed to do. Kaylia was still taking long afternoon naps, so I had time for reading with Anika, exercising, doing my devotions, and taking a quick nap each afternoon.

But one fateful day, Kaylia decided she was done with naps. At the ripe old age of two. I had been expecting a few more years of naps out of her, but it was not to be.

Suddenly, I had no time for exercising or devotions, and I knew something had to change.

I started waking up 15 minutes early. Not much time, but it was a start.

Before long, I changed it to half an hour earlier, and stayed there for quite some time. I got my exercising done, but that was about it.

After a few months, I decided to wake up 45 minutes earlier than the girls, so that I could exercise and do my devotions.

And I’m still going strong. Some mornings I wake up an hour early, if I need some extra time for working on the computer.

The weird part in all of this is that the very thing I most dreaded for many years has become one of the best parts of my day. Now I will sound like all those annoying women when I say how much I love a quiet house on an early, fresh morning.

I spend a little bit of time praying, and then I do yoga. I love that time.

If I’ve ever gotten to bed exceptionally late, wanted a bit of extra sleep, and gone back to waking up at 8 am, I feel completely disgusting.

I don’t know if it’s because my body is so used to waking up at 7:15 am, or if I just really need that quiet time alone before I’m ready to jump into the day, but if I sleep later, I am grumpy.

Finding what works for my morning routine has made a huge difference for how I feel about the rest of the day.

My new goal for this next year is getting to bed earlier! Oh my goodness, is that ever a hard one for me! But maybe by next year, I’ll love going to bed earlier as much as I love waking up earlier!

We’ll see…

What’s your morning routine? And do you have any tips for how I can get my evening routine working a little better?

34 Days of Favorites: Prayer Books

I believe in prayer being simple and accessible. Anyone can do it.

There is no right or wrong way.

I go to my Father, and I talk with Him. He loves me, and He hears me – every single word which comes out of my mouth or that I think in my head.

I believe in keeping praying simple.

So, if I believe there is no right or wrong way to pray, what’s the deal with prayer books?

I have to confess, for many years I avoided books which told me how to pray. I didn’t think I needed to read prayers, and considered myself able to come up with something good enough to say on my own.

Which was true. It worked fine without a book.

But my dear friend and mentor gave me a little book by Germaine Copeland called Prayers That Avail Much, and I have completely loved using it this last year.

One of the biggest reasons why I love using it is because sometimes, I don’t know exactly what to say. I have this heart full of stuff that I want to talk over to God, but I don’t always know how to put it into words.

And sometimes I don’t have to. Sometimes I’ve imagined myself lifting up that whole jumbled mess to God, and just giving it to Him without clarifying in words exactly what it all is, because I don’t even know myself.

But other times, I need words. I need to process it and communicate with my Father in a way which helps me to understand what’s all there.

The other reason why I love using this little book is because it is loaded with Scripture. Each prayer is basically a whole bunch of different verses grouped together by topics, and formed into a prayer.

I love praying Scripture. It’s God-breathed, which means Scripture is guaranteed to be the best choice of words, in every situation.

Something amazing happens when we pray Scripture. I feel it in my heart, although it’s difficult to discribe. It’s combining the power of prayer, with the power of God’s Word. Amazing, hey?

The Bible is full of God’s promises for us, so when we start praying Scripture, chances are good that we will pray for the very things God wants us to ask for.

You could randomly flip open your Bible to any spot, and quickly find something in Scripture to pray for.

Germaine Copland’s book makes it even easier, because it’s a quick reference for exactly which Scripture could apply to certain topics you want to pray about.

This book teaches me about new things I can pray for that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. It broadens my thoughts and my prayers. I love that.

It gives me God’s words for what I am wanting to express from my heart.

I read it aloud, and then I move on to my own thoughts and words, or other passages of Scripture that come to mind as I’m reading the prayer from the book.

So like I said, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to pray, but I believe there are tools we can use to grow in our communication skills. Prayers That Avail Much is an excellent tool.

And I’ve realized my need for tools. As much as I would love to say I  get up at the crack of dawn to pray fervently each and every morning, I must confess that I’m just not quite there yet! I try to make time for a structured prayer time each day, but on some days, I pray as I go. Which is good, too, but I think both are necessary. My current strategy is to leave this book lying around the house as a reminder to make time for it each day.

What tools do you like to use for prayer or Bible reading? Do you like getting ideas for what to pray, or would you rather go with whatever is on your mind and heart?

34 Days of Favorites: Photo Galleries

I wrote this post recently about why I love having pictures up on the wall, so I don’t have anything new to say about that.

However, I felt I needed to add “photo galleries” to my list of favorites, because I have learned to love them in the last few months, and feel that they take picture-hanging to a whole new level.

I still have a few small frames to fill, but here’s my creation:

It’s my favorite wall in the house.

Here are my reasons for loving photo galleries:

1) They tell so many stories, all at one time. I love having room for displaying many of our favorite photos, from different stages of our family’s past.

2) It’s a cheap way to fill up a large space in your home.

3) Anything goes. There are countless ways to arrange your frames, so you can hang them in a way to fit your spot, using whatever number of frames you choose, in a neat and orderly fashion, or as random as you want. There’s something for everyone.

Pinterest is my favorite place to look for photo gallery inspiration. Oh, you could spend hours looking at beautiful ideas for how to hang your pictures.

I helped my sister with this arrangement above her couch:

A photo gallery is a fair amount of work, but it is totally worth it in the end.

Do you hang pictures up in your home? Any large spaces just begging for a photo gallery?!