Rose Care Tips

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I have had so much going on lately that I haven’t had the time to blog as much as I would like to ideally. I do however always have my phone with me, so I am making an effort to give lots of gardening tips lately with my Instagram photos of our garden You can find me at http://www.instagram.com/aliciainwonderlandphotos πŸ™‚ The photo above is an example of one of my recent garden grams!

Also, I recently discovered Periscope, which is so much fun! You can post little live broadcast videos, right from your cell phone (which can also be watched later on replay)! I just uploaded a couple of videos about how I take care of our roses, and how I use them as an important part of my diet. I am really excited about adding these gardening videos into my blogging routine. Be sure to check them out! You can watch the replay of the first one here, and the second part here. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

DIY All-Natural Sensory Play Dough

DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog
Play dough is such a great learning activity for toddlers. Unfortunately, I am allergic to a lot of artificial dyes, and it appears that little E is allergic to some as well. I wanted to make him some homemade play dough with natural coloring so that he could play with it without any problems with allergic reactions. I used to buy natural food colors at Sur La Table (for cupcake frosting, etc.), but they have not restocked them in a really long time. Every time I asked about them, they just suggested that I order them online. I felt silly paying for shipping for something so small. Then I realized that the same natural food colors are available on Amazon.com, and they come with free shipping with our Prime membership (I cannot say enough good things about how much I absolutely love having that Amazon Prime membership…I use it for so many things)!

I was quite excited to get started with making some homemade play dough! I thought it would be even more fun to make a bunch of different scents with the dough, enhancing the sensory experience.

Here is the recipe I used:

2 cups flower
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup sea salt

1. Mix all of the ingredients above into a pot on the stove, over medium-low heat.
2. Cook while stirring frequently, until the mixture resembles mashed potatoes.
3. Let mixture cool, then divide into 6 equal sized chunks.
4. Each chunk of dough got a different color and scent for a fun, sensory experience. I kneaded 3-5 drops of food coloring and 3 drops of essential oil into each chunk of dough.

Here are the color/scent combos that I used:
1. purple – doTERRA lavender essential oil
2. yellow – doTERRA lemon essential oil
3. pink – rose essential oil (purchased at Sprouts since doTERRA does not currently sell rose oil)
4. greenish blue – peppermint doTERRA essential oil
5. green – oregano doTERRA essential oil
6. orange – 1 pinch each cinnamon and nutmeg, to smell like pumpkin pie

Between uses, each ball of dough is stored in its own ziploc baggie in the refrigerator.

*Important safety warning: Since this recipe contains a significant amount of salt, do not let your child play with the play dough around dogs. Salt is toxic to dogs, and most dogs love to eat anything they can get their paws on. Our dogs are especially good at making sad puppy dog eyes at our son, manipulating him into giving them whatever they want, even when they are locked out of the room behind a baby gate. When our son is having sensory dough time, I lock our dogs outside or in one of our bedrooms. One of our dogs has tried a few times now to get E to give him the dough.

E’s favorite scents are the three that he is most familiar with from our garden: lavender, lemon, and rose. The oregano and pumpkin pie scented doughs are not his favorite…sometimes he is in the mood for those, other times those two get pushed away. Here is a funny video of him having so much fun smelling his dough. πŸ™‚

DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog

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Wellness Wednesday: My Low-Maintenace, DIY, Non-toxic Beauty Routine

I know that many people are fed up with seeing posts online (mostly via Facebook) about essential oils, nail products, skin care, body wraps, eyelash extensions, etc. I apologize in advance because I am not trying to be one of “those people”. Simply put, I have found a few things that have been major game changers for me in my beauty routine, and I am just excited to share with you all. Before our son was born, keeping my hair and makeup well-kept was much easier. While I was always very health-conscious and concerned about using products that were environmentally friendly, I tended to use whatever worked best in the beauty department before I was a mom. Ever since I was pregnant with our son, my whole perspective on beauty products changed (previous post here). I started searching for natural options, and things free of all of the toxins. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least. Some things that I have tried did not go well.

I had actually planned to do this post months ago, but it took me a while to be able to put it all together. Plus, there were a few variations that I wanted to experiment with to make sure that I was giving the best possible advice.

The first thing in my repertoire is dry shampoo. I have very curly (frizzy) hair, and curly hair always tends to be dryer because of the uneven hair cuticle. One of the best ways to care for curly hair is to not wash it every day. That works great for a busy mom because it takes me a long time to blow dry my hair (air-drying is not an option for me…my hair is way too wild and it just gets too matted, tangled and unruly for me, despite a lifetime of trying everything and anything to get it to air-dry nicely). Let’s be honest though…skipping shampoos does wonders for my hair (and my time management), but my scalp is oily so it is kind of a double-edged sword. I used to buy those fancy dry shampoos in a bottle that you spray in your hair, which worked great. However the good ones are expensive, and full of pollutants and strange chemicals. I decided to try making my own dry shampoo, and this has been amazing.

Recipe:
1. 2 tablespoons corn starch
2. 2 tablespoons cocoa (or cacao) powder (omit for blonde hair)
3. 3-4 drops eachΒ dōTERRA essential oil: lemon (for cleansing), melaluca (also known as tea tree – for itching and cleansing), lavender (for cleansing and soothing), and peppermint (invigorating and refreshing).
4. Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times until well blended.
5. Transfer contents to mason jar or other container.
6. When using, dab small amounts of the powder onto scalp with a makeup brush, massage into scalp, then brush thoroughly.

It helps with oilyness, itchy scalp, gives your hair a great refresh between washings, and saves tons of time (and money)!
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The next thing on my list is my recipe for the perfect detangler/leave-in conditioner/texture and shine spray for perfect beachy waves and curls. I use fresh aloe vera for a lot of things, especially when any of us gets a cut, scrape, bruise, rash, etc. It has such amazing soothing and healing properties for our skin, and I started to wonder if it would do the same for my hair. Spoiler alert…it does. πŸ™‚ I have spent most of my life hating my hair, wishing that I had been born with anything other than such frizzy, unruly hair. I am not exaggerating by any means, but ever since I started making this spray, I have finally started loving my hair for the first time ever. See, major game changer, right?

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1. To start making the spray, a piece of fresh aloe vera plant is essential. Cut off a piece about an inch in length, and place it in a food processor or blender. Liquify the entire piece until it is mostly smooth and creamy.
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2. Then poor that mixture over a very fine mesh strainer. It is slow to strain, but you want to separate out all of the fresh juice, leaving behind the bigger chunks and bits.aliciainwonderlandblog
3. Then mix about 1 teaspoon of the aloe vera juice with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 2-3 teaspoons of filtered or distilled water, and 8-10 drops dōTERRA lavender oil (for soothing and healing the hair, as well as masking the scent of the raw aloe vera).
4. Mix well and pour into a spray bottle.
5. Spray onto hair before styling, when tangled, etc. Keep refrigerated between uses. Let sit out for a few minutes before using to reach room temperature, and shake very well before applying.

The other major breakthrough I’ve had with my hair lately has been with these jumbo foam curlers that I found at Target (similar ones here). My mom used to use foam curlers on my hair when I was a kid, and I wanted to try it out in an effort to use less heat styling. The first few attempts with the foam rollers were a bit disappointing. I even tried using them with things like coconut oil, steam, etc. and everything had slightly disappointing results. However, once I came up with the spray above, my results were drastically different. My hair came out with perfect Pinterest-worthy big waves and curls, without using the curling iron or hot rollers! This may not work the same if you are lucky enough to have naturally straight hair, but if you have wavy, curly, or frizzy hair, I definitely highly recommend trying this out!

I start with blow drying my hair to smooth it out. Then as I am getting ready for bed at night, I put in the aloe vera-lavender spray, brushing well to work the spray through. Then I section my hair into chunks and put in the big foam rollers. It works incredibly well, and my hair stays nicer all day than it does when I use the curling iron or hot rollers! It took my husband and son a few days to stop laughing at my hair in rollers each night, but they definitely appreciate seeing my hair down and nicely styled instead of shoved into an ugly bun in desperation. πŸ™‚

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Cell phone selfie of my hair…first time I was ever proud of my hair. πŸ™‚
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Speaking of getting ready for bed, I also made a natural makeup remover. Previously, I had always been afraid to use anything oily on my face because I tend to have acne-prone skin (thanks hormonal imbalance!). Then I kept reading online about how people were having great results with using coconut oil and castor oil to remove their makeup, and how it applies the like-dissolves-like principle. I knew that my regular face washing routine was not fully removing all of my makeup each night, so I decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, it works great, and has not given me any breakouts! I just apply it, massage it in, and wipe it off with a soft towel.

For the makeup remover, I mixed together:
1. 3 tablespoons organic coconut oil
2. 1 tablespoon organic castor oil
3. 3 drops each dōTERRA lavender (for cleansing and soothing), frankincense (for skin renewal and anti-aging), and melaluca oils (for cleansing and anti-acne).

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The last thing on my list has been something that I’m sure many people have heard of, but perhaps have not considered trying yet. I’m talking about Jamberry nails. When I was pregnant with our son, I started trying all different types of natural nail polish. None of the non-toxic options seemed to last longer than a day without chipping, even on my toe nails. I honestly don’t care if my fingernails are polished unless I am going to a fancy event (with all of my gardening, crafting, and cleaning the house, I am just happy if my fingernails are all the same length and clean), but I can’t stand going in public with unpolished toe nails. Since we live in Southern California, we keep our sandals in heavy rotation most of the year (it is almost November and still in the 80 degree range most afternoons lately).

I have been using Jamberry nail wraps for the past several months on my toes and have been so happy with them! They stay on for weeks at a time, which is amazing! They even hold up through all of my barefoot gardening and beach walks. πŸ™‚ Over the past few months, I found a few tips that work best for me with applying the Jamberry nails. The first couple of times I applied them they were okay, but once I got the hang of a few tricks, they have been beyond amazing.

Alicia in Wonderland blog - low maintenance, nontoxic DIY beauty

If you haven’t heard of Jamberry nails before, they are basically like a DIY, non-toxic alternative to salon gel manicures. They are adhesive strips that you apply to your nails with a hair dryer. It is pretty simple and great for moms because you don’t have to worry about your kids coming over and smudging your perfectly painted fresh pedicure (has happened to me many times before I tried these)! Also, they have so many fun, amazing designs to choose from! I have seen some nail wraps at the drug stores, but the patterns available there do not come anywhere close the the amazing options that Jamberry has available. πŸ™‚

Here are my tips for the perfect Jamberry manicure/pedicure:
1. Be sure to prep your nails well. Soak to make sure they are nice and clean.
2. Dry completely, then push back/clip any messy cuticles.
3. Lightly buff your nails, trim, and file them to get them prepared.
4. Wipe nails with rubbing alcohol pad.
5. Apply Jamberry strips per instructions.
6. Be sure to trim any excess tiny bits around the edges and sides of your nails. Anything that is not trimmed off will lift up, leaving your manicure or pedicure falling off when it could stay on for much longer otherwise. The easiest way I have found to trim all those excess bits is with a pair of sharp cuticle nippers (seen below).
7. Pay attention to the size and shape of your nails when applying. I am very petite, which means I have small feet, and therefore tiny little toe nails. I initially had a problem with keeping my pinky toe nail polished, but then I realized a trick that worked best for me. The cuticle bed of my pinky toe is tiny and flat, not rounded like the other toes. Once I trimmed off that rounded bit on the pinky toe wrap, it stayed on much longer! Trimming to fit your own toe nails’ shape/size is the most important part. πŸ™‚
8. Don’t rush when using the hair dryer to apply them. If you need to, stop the process and come back to the next few nails instead of cutting the applying time short. I often do a few nails, deal with the round of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom”, and then come back to finish up the rest. πŸ˜‰

Alicia in Wonderland blog - low maintenance, nontoxic DIY beauty

If you would like to try Jamberry nails for yourself (and I definitely recommend that you do!), I have a Jamberry party set up over on Facebook here that you can join! My friend Kristin set up the event (and has very patiently rescheduled it multiple times for me while I tried to get this blog post together!), and she has a way of making these Jamberry parties so much fun. πŸ™‚

*Disclaimer: the post above contains affiliate links for your convenience. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease.

Clearing out Clutter & Chaos

You know how in the show Friends Monica was obsessive about cleaning and organizing, but had that one locked closet where she stashed all of her junk and clutter? That’s kind of what our closet room/storage room has turned into lately (our house has no garage, no basement, no useable attic, and no closets. We have a bedroom designated for all of our storage). Our house is usually clean and organized (despite having a toddler and four furry kids which makes keeping a clean house a lot more work). My one area of weakness lately is paperwork. I had gotten so behind on keeping organized with all of the receipts and paperwork for my business expenses, just shoving things in boxes and drawers to deal with later. As we approach the end of our extension for our taxes, I started going into panic mode recently trying to get everything organized. I quickly realized that this prolonged procrastination of organizing my paperwork made several things go missing.

I decided that it was time to do a major purge on the whole house. I started tackling area by area, as we looked for the papers we needed to locate. Even though things were organized and labeled, it was still neatly organized clutter that we don’t need, taking up valuable storage space in a house with very little storage. This pile in the photo below is our donation bags and boxes that Salvation Army just picked up yesterday, along with all of the paperwork that I still need to organize in a better manner. Luckily, just a few days after I started my massive reorganization/purge project, a 31 day purge project started over at ABowlFullofLemons.net! I have been going to that blog each morning to find a daily theme for purging and organizing, and adding it to my routine. Breaking it up bit by bit has really helped! There is also a great Facebook page set up for the 31 day challenge, where lots of readers are sharing pictures, tips, and more. It has been so incredibly helpful!

I will be doing follow up posts soon, showing some of the changes I have made, and how I am reorganizing everything! For anyone who may have been wondering why I have been silent in the past week…I apologize! I have really been trying to focus on the tasks at hand here. πŸ™‚ I’m finally just about finished with my tax stuff too. πŸ™‚

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On a side note, I sorted my donation bags and boxes after I took this photo for easier itemization. I even had a few things labeled. The men that came to pick up my donation were super appreciative that my donation was organized. It helps them a lot and it is apparently something people rarely do. It only took a few minutes too!

Wellness Wednesday: Vegan Cold & Flu Blast Soup Recipe

Vegan Cold & Flu Blast Soup - aliciainwonderlandblog

I have been making this soup for years and it has always helped me recover from a cold or flu in a hurry. It was inspired by some of the advice my grandpa used to give when we were sick as kids (my grandpa was a D.O. and an M.D. and preferred to find more natural solutions for illness when possible, instead of taking things like cold medicine). Every time I have gotten sick in the past few years, I have asked my husband to go on my blog, find the recipe and make me some soup. I realized that I have never properly blogged the recipe, and the last thing I ever want to do when I am sick is stand in the kitchen and cook. When I got a particularly nasty cough/cold last week, I made a huge batch of this soup again. This time, I saved some in the freezer and made sure to get a picture so I can finally blog the recipe. πŸ™‚

Ingredients (preferably all organic):
1 head of garlic cloves
2 yellow onions
3 lemons
approximate 3 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
4 carrots
2 bell peppers, varying colors
3 long pieces of celery
2 cans of cooked chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans)
1 package of mushrooms
4 tomatoes
leeks (optional)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
water

1. Peel and finely dice all of the cloves of garlic on a head of garlic. I know it sounds like a lot of garlic, but this makes a lot of soup and garlic is great for beating viruses.
2. Peel and chop onions.
3. Place onions and garlic in bottom of large stock pot. Add olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until lightly caramelized.
4. Juice the lemons, and put lemon juice in pot, along with lemon rinds.
5. Drain cans of beans and add to pot.
6. Add whole piece of peeled ginger to pot.
7. Chop all remaining vegetables and add to pot. Fill up remainder of stock pot with water, and cook on medium heat until vegetables are cooked through (check carrots for softness).
8. Once vegetables are all cooked, remove lemon rinds and ginger from soup. Add additional salt & pepper to taste, and serve.

This recipe will make quite a few servings, probably at least 8-10 servings, which is great for a few days of servings, and freezing some for another time. I like to make sure all of the ingredients are organic so there aren’t any extra toxins for your body to cleanse out while getting rid of the virus in your system. This is a great vegan, gluten-free alternative to homemade chicken noodle soup! It should have you feeling better in no time and it tastes great. If you want to be super organized this fall and winter, why not make a batch now, put it in servings in the freezer, and that way you are already prepared for cold & flu season!

Future Little Chef

This little wooden kitchen is one of my favorite things that we have gotten for E. My husband kind of thought I was losing my mind when I said I wanted to get a mini kitchen for E to put in our kitchen. For one thing, our kitchen is small. A tiny galley kitchen. It is definitely a one-chef only kind of kitchen, but there was a tiny bit of space near the doors to the patio that could be used. This little kitchen (made by Melissa & Doug) is the perfect size to fit in our tiny little space. E loves watching me cook, and having his own space to “make lunch”. He is so funny with his little fake food, and whatever sensory activity I have given him (he had cloud dough made out of flour and vegetable oil in these pictures). I often see him adding things to a pan, stirring, smelling, then adding more of something else…pretty much the exact way I cook since I rarely cook with a recipe. πŸ™‚ The mini kitchen has been wonderful for both E and myself. It keeps him occupied and out of my way, allowing me to cook and do dishes without a tiny little guy constantly ending up in my way. πŸ™‚

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Transitioning from Baby’s Nursery to Toddler’s Room

You may have seen my previous post about our son’s baby nursery design. Now that he is no longer a baby, I have made several changes to his room and wanted to do a follow up post with his updated room. One of the major changes was that I rearranged all of the furniture. I wanted to create a layout that gave him more room to play on the floor. Also, he started climbing up on the daybed to look out the window at the garden. Previously, the daybed was just on the edge of the window, so as soon as I saw him leaning over to look out the window, I started rearranging all of the furniture. We also found two cute rugs at Ikea that work well in the middle for a cozy play area.

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I wanted his toys to be organized and accessible for him, so I got the toy box at Ikea also, and ordered the toy hammock online to hold all of his stuffed animals (how did we accumulate so many of those so quickly?!).
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The picture frames are all empty for now, until I eventually get around to ordering prints (you would think we don’t have any pictures of our son or something with all of those empty frames!). The octopus kite was a cool vintage find in E’s favorite color, red. I let him pick out a plant for his room one day when we were out plant shopping, and he picked out a spider plant. πŸ™‚
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This wall has new items, all crafty things that E and I have made together. The weaving was our first craft project together. He handed me nails and helped me make the loom on the back of an old drawer, and helped me pick out yarn from the stash of yarn that I used for his newborn photoshoots.
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These are a couple of activity boards that I made for him. The one on the left is a little magnetic board, that we use with magnetic numbers and letters for learning time. The rest of the time, I keep the letters and numbers packed away since they just end up all over the house otherwise. πŸ™‚ The board on the right is an old cork board that I turned into a fun felt story board. I purchased some felt stickers of owls, fish, bees, and ladybugs at Joann’s Fabrics and then cut out some trees and a pond. I put Velcro on the back of the animals and bugs and E loves playing with them and moving them around. Sometimes the fish even end up in the trees. πŸ™‚
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This branch was another project E and I made together. He loves trees, so I took a branch that I pruned from our yard and we covered it with fabric scraps to hang up in his room.
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His cloud bunting is still up, with the addition of a (temporarily empty) frame above it.
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We are still cosleeping at night, but I am trying to encourage E to use his crib for naps. He was never a fan of the crib, but since my husband converted it to a toddler bed, he is much happier with it. E is an awful napper for the most part, but I was beyond excited a couple of times recently when after playing in his room, he climbed up into his bed on his own and took a nap. πŸ™‚
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E loves to pick out his shoes each day, so I have his box of shoes down low and accessible, along with plenty of books and a few toys.
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This vintage print was an amazing antique store find. πŸ™‚
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That’s it! I also moved the changing table out of this room, into the hallway near my office for a couple of reasons (first so that my clients could use it without having to go into the the personal area of our house; second since it was not very much fun to play on the floor next to a diaper bin!). Pretty much everything else is the same. I try to keep things organized and keep clutter to a minimum so the room does not turn into a huge disaster. Our bedrooms are so small, so keeping them organized is so important! We may do a decluttering round soon on some of those stuffed animals. :-/

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Letting Go of Worrying What Others Think About Us

Friends and loyal readers, I have a confession to make. I have failed my family in one crucial area ever since our son started walking. I have let what others say get the best of me, usually preventing us from enjoying mass on Sunday, and a few times when our son was having a particularly wild day, we did not even go for fear that we were going to annoy everyone else. As moms, we tend to be the spiritual backbone of our family. As my husband’s Godparent, I feel that responsibility even more so. Yet we temporarily got into a rut where we were just so overwhelmed and I felt like I was failing as a mom, wife, Godparent, and Catholic and Christian in general.

Our son is a very active, chatty, social little guy. He loves talking to strangers, and running up to see new people. He was very easy to keep contained in church before he started walking, and was usually on my chest in the baby carrier. However, once he started walking, he mostly lost interest in being in the baby carrier. He likes to explore, be free, and hates feeling constrained. Our normal parish does not have a crying room, which is nice since it encourages families with young children to sit with the rest of the parish. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys having a toddler near them in church. After a few weeks with some unfortunately discouraging comments, I was too embarrassed to keep going, so we tried other parishes.

I wanted to go to a church with a crying room, so that I could relax a bit. We tried a church with a very full crying room, but after one week there, my husband and I both agreed that was not how we wanted to raise our son. We could see that the kids (even the older, school-aged kids) in there were just getting into a habit of not paying attention to the mass at all, and were just busy playing with toys and all of the other kids. We tried another church where the crying room was usually empty. That worked for a few weeks, but then our son started to catch onto the fact that we were separated from everyone else. He started beating on the glass walls like he was trying to escape from a cage. All of the normal recommendations that people give about keeping your kids occupied during church were not working for us. Normally, at home or at the library, our son is a little bookworm. He loves looking at books and “reading”, but for some reason had no interest in books at all when we were at church. He also loved his sensory box when we were at home, but would not even glance at it when we were in church. I tried making a few pages for a quiet book for him to use during church, but he had absolutely no interest in it during mass (even though he loved those pages when we were at home). I tried setting aside the special books and quiet book pages so he was only looking at them when we were at church and they would be fun and new to him, but that still did not work.

Then one day something occurred to me. Our son is very sensitive to my emotions. I have spent months being tense on Sundays, worrying that his chattering, whining and squirming was disturbing everyone. I have not allowed myself to relax for fear of bothering everyone around us. Then I read this blog post and this one, and the words of these wonderful, experienced Catholic moms assured me that what we were going through was not unusual. I let go of my anxiety that we were disturbing everyone around us. I started making an effort to stop caring what others say or think about us, both in life and in church. I worked on getting myself into a calm, peaceful place before we went to mass. Guess what happened. Our son’s behavior suddenly changed.

The past few weeks have been wonderful. Our son E has been peaceful during mass, has sat quietly with his quiet book, his sensory box, and his big children’s Bible. He has cuddled in my lap and listened to the priest speak. He has loved singing along with the music during mass since he was about five months old, but then a few weeks ago he said “Amen” after everyone else did, and he even reached out to shake my hand during the Sign of Peace. I realized then that maybe I was not doing such a bad job after all.

For some reason, his original sensory box disappeared. I spent days looking everywhere for it, and it was just gone. I figured it was time to upgrade to a toddler model anyway, so I made a new one. I have a little plastic statue of Jesus that someone gave me for my First Communion that E loves. He loves saying “Hi Gee!” when he sees it, so I made sure to include that in the new box. πŸ™‚ I also added some latches and other items that were not in the original box.

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I have gone a bit Pinterest crazy lately researching quiet book templates and planning our tot school homeschool room and curriculum (more on that coming soon). I found some great templates for quiet book pages, especially at this blog. I put together a Pinterest board with a lot of great resources that have inspired me with various pages. Some of the pages I designed on my own and cut out freehand, and others I followed a template, or modified a template to my own design. I plan to do a page for each letter of the alphabet, plus some other pages as well, so it is far from finished but it has plenty to keep our son occupied for now. I do not like cutting out letters, so I found some foam alphabet stickers that I hot glued on where I wanted to spell out words.

This first page is a modified version of the felt board that I made for our son’s room (updated room tour coming soon too). I purchased the felt stickers at Joann’s for the ladybugs, bees, and fish, and added Velcro to the back. The rest I cut out freehand. I also did the same for the page with the owls later in the book.

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Why I Blog + Keeping Poisonous Plants Out of Our Garden

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging at all. Some days it seems like many people view bloggers as just someone to contradict, like the internet is one big arena of the high school debate team. I know I personally do not blog to try to start arguments, debates, or be insulted about the way that we live our lives, and I cannot imagine any blogger who would write with that intention. Most bloggers do not get paid for running their blog, so it is not like they are getting a weekly paycheck for keeping up with a blog, or have a boss telling them what to write about, or editing their entries.

So, why did I start my blog? Way back here on my first post on Tumblr, I started the blog with the intention of teaching my husband more about portraiture. I figured if he was documenting my more creative outfits and outfits I had designed and sewn, with the intention of posting the photos on a blog, he would be more motivated to work on his skills than if he was just photographing me for photos that no one else would ever see. He had experience with photography, but I wanted to work on his skills with portraits so he could assist me as needed in the photography business we wanted to start. I very quickly got bored of only blogging about my outfits, and decided that since I had already gone to all of the trouble to build the blog, I might as well start posting more interesting content.

A couple of generations ago, things like gardening and creating new recipes were common activities. I noticed among my own friends that they were hobbies and interests that were not as common as I am sure they used to be. I wanted to share some of my own experience (especially with gardening), and help inspire others to get out and get creative in their gardens, and maybe try making some healthier meals at home. I started writing about things I was growing in our garden, and documenting some of the recipes I came up with.

I started gardening at the age of two, with the encouragement of my dad. It is something he enjoys as well, and so did his mother. While my dad was always encouraging and teaching me about gardening, his mother was not encouraging to me about my gardening skills. She would tell me horribly mean things, like I would never be able to grow strawberries as well as she does (strawberries are not the easiest food to grow). She would tell me that nothing I grew would ever be good enough to win any awards or receive any recognition. Some of those comments stuck with me for a long time.

Since gardening has been something I have been interested in for so long, I wanted to help demystify the process of gardening for those who read my blog. It really is not that difficult (no matter what my grandmother claimed). I wanted to help inspire others to get outside and grow something beautiful or useful (or both!). Even when I only had a little studio apartment with an old fire escape at the end of the hallway, I still worked on growing a container garden of edibles that became a community garden for my building. I want people to know that it is easy to grow your own food and flowers. That is why I blog.

I also blog as a way to document our lives, mostly for our own reference. It may sound a bit morbid, but after having a couple of close calls with my health where my doctors were having conversations with my husband about the fact that I may not make it to the following day, I wanted to make sure that I was documenting our family from my point of view. A few times, when I have been too ill to be up and about with my normal routine (either when I had a severe case of pneumonia, was on pregnancy bed rest, had meningitis, etc.), my husband actually referenced several of my blog posts to find some of my recipes or figure out how I normally handle certain things around here. I like having that peace of mind knowing that my simple act of blogging could be a great point of reference if needed. Also, it is so much fun for me to be able to document our little guy growing up, especially for family members who are not local!

In addition to all of that, I really enjoy sharing when I have found something that works well for us, like the amber teething necklace post or my rave review of the gDiapers system. Those were not sponsored posts, they were just honest reviews of things that I was excited about and wanted to share with others. Unfortunately, sharing what works for us has not always been met with favorable responses.

After I wrote my gDiapers post, I was suddenly flooded with angry hate mail from crazy crunchy moms who were upset that I referred to disposable diapers as “regular diapers”. I know that cloth diapers are the original thing that everyone used, but sorry…disposables have become the norm, whether any of us like that fact or not (hence my use of the term “regular”). Such a minor thing to gripe about in reality anyway. I posted my low-sugar lemonade recipe, and got more angry hate mail from people who were upset that it was not as sweet as store-bought lemonade. With the disclaimer that it is a low-sugar recipe, without artificial sweeteners, why would you expect a sickeningly sweet lemonade anyway? When I decided to share the artwork I designed for our son’s nursery (for free, as printable pdfs), I mistakenly made a typo in referencing one of the Bible verses. As soon as the first person brought it to my attention, I corrected the post and the artwork, and apologized profusely for the typo. I still got tons of angry emails and comments because I was not able to correct the typo in the pin that had since gone all over Pinterest. Sorry, but that is not my fault…I did not design Pinterest. As I told one angry reader, the last time I checked, there has only ever been one perfect person, and He has never yelled at me for a simple typo. You would think that people interested in free Bible artwork would have a little more patience. It’s not like they purchased the artwork and it was defective!

I may have some strong opinions about how we do things in our house, and I often share those on my blog. But here’s the thing…it’s my blog. Meaning my own personal corner of the internet. I am not writing for a boss, or writing to get a grade at school. If you do not like how we do things here or how I write, you can simply find something else to read. I have a zero tolerance policy for internet bullying and rude comments. Even less patience if those rude comments come from someone I actually know or worse yet have considered a friend. If you have a legitimate concern, that is understandable, but people who just want to complain for the sake of complaining are persona non grata in my world. Just because you stand up publicly and say “here’s what I’m doing and it works for us” doesn’t mean you are also saying, “here’s what I’m doing, rip me apart if you don’t agree”!

Also, I never claim to be a certified expert at anything I write about. I am not a certified Master Gardener (yet…I don’t have the time to complete that process now). I never claim to be the best gardener in the world, or have grown the world’s biggest squash, or anything of the sort. If anything, I always think I am not doing a good enough job with our garden, and if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I almost did not even bring my squash to the fair that ended up winning first place and division winner. When I am proud of an accomplishment or award I receive, it is just news that I am excited to share…that’s it. Like most of us, I am always learning and challenging myself to learn more and try new things. My blog is just my way to document the process.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, has it inspired you to get out and try new things in your garden, experiment more in your kitchen, try a new DIY decorating project, give cloth diapers a try, or something else? If it has, please send me a photo! I would absolutely love to do a special post with reader photos that have been inspired by my past posts!

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Thank you for reading my rant, and now back to the regularly scheduled programming, so to speak. I always try to keep our garden free of any poisonous plants. I have realized recently that this is not always something that people take into consideration when planning a garden. If you have children, grandchildren, or pets, it is a good idea to keep in mind that some plants may be toxic or poisonous if ingested. Our son does a pretty good job now of knowing what he can pull off and snack on in the garden and what he cannot. He even can tell when a tomato, strawberry or kumquat is not ripe yet. I have worked with him extensively on this for months. However, one of my good friends had a scare a few months back with her daughter. She texted me a photo of a plant that her daughter had nibbled on, and was worried that it may be poisonous. Thankfully it was not poisonous, but it motivated me even more to make sure that nothing in our garden was toxic. Even though I grow specific plants for our pets to eat, some of them have a tendency to nibble on just about anything when they are in a certain mood.

When planning what I would plant in our garden, I selected mostly plants that have edible flowers, such as sages, rosemary, roses, nasturtiums, and lavender. I wanted to be sure that just in case something was accidentally ingested by our son, one of his friends, or one of our pets, it would not be a problem. I used to grow things like sweet pea flowers, just because I love the way the smell. Unfortunately, sweet pea flowers are highly toxic. I tried planting them in places that I thought our pets would not find. Our one cat became so infatuated with the smell that he seemed to find them no matter where I planted them. I have since stopped growing sweet peas.

When we purchased our house, it had lots of elephant’s ears plants everywhere (seen above). They are highly toxic, and unfortunately grow from little tiny pieces of the root system, making it difficult to completely get rid of them. Even the tiniest piece left underground seems to allow them to come back. I thought I had previously gotten rid of all of them when we first moved here, but they keep popping up when I least expect it. It means that I go out in the garden early each morning and do a quick check before our son and any of our furry kids wake up and come outside to play. Another thing that I keep trying to get rid of is the English ivy around our son’s garden, also poisonous if ingested. Ivy is nearly impossible to kill off, and it keeps coming back despite my best efforts. I have resigned myself to the fact that it may be a lifelong battle, but I at least try to keep it trimmed back enough so that it does not drape down into E’s garden. It is currently growing in the retaining wall planter above his garden.

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When I was purchasing plants for our back yard garden, I researched each plant online before purchasing. I have a variety of succulent arrangements in containers in the back yard. When I first researched the fire sticks shown below, all I read online was that they could be a mild skin irritant. That did not seem too serious so I did not worry about it much. However, in the series of gardening classes that I recently took at our local botanical garden, the instructors started talking about how dangerous fire sticks can be around children. They can be poisonous and deadly if ingested in large enough quantities, and can even cause temporary blindness. I was completely freaked out and it was a scary reminder that I need to always be sure to get my information from a reputable source online. I since replanted my fire sticks in their own containers, and relocated them up onto the high ledge above our son’s garden, where they are out of reach from him and all of our pets. Similarly, I also made sure all of my medicinal herbs are not accessible. Most of these are intended for internal use, but that does not mean I want anyone going in there and nibbling on things they should not be eating (more info on my herb garden coming next week).

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If you are researching plants for your own backyard, I highly recommend referencing the ASPCA list of toxic and poisonous plants. Many of the things in our garden that were planted by previous owners were on that list, and I have removed them, such as lantana, elephant’s ears, etc. If you ever have any concerns that your pet or child has eaten a plant, contact your veterinarian or pediatrician immediately.

My Summer Reading List

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I have to admit, I am not very organized with my gardening. I try at times, but I end up gardening more like an artist than a scientist (and that aggravates my engineer husband at times). I fertilize and water the plants based on how much I feel they need, not calculated amounts. I try to keep on a schedule but I always loose track. I decided that going forward, I am going to get a lot more organized with my gardening. I have tons of gardening books that I refer to when needed, but I decided that it is time to go through, really get in depth with these books, and start creating a more organized approach to my gardening. I’m pleased with how my gardening entries did this year at the Orange County Fair, but I would like to be more organized about it next year and come home with even more ribbons. πŸ™‚

If you are new to gardening, and looking for some book recommendations, I put together a short review for each of the books that I have in my reading stack. Each book in my stack is great, and they cover a variety of topics.

Starting from the bottom, the Sunset Western Garden Book is one that I have had for years. This copy used to belong to my grandmother, and it was given to me after she passed away. At the time, I did not have a flower garden, but I started reading through its’ wide expanse of information and bookmarking pages. If you live on the West Coast, the Sunset garden books are a must-have. Someday I will probably upgrade to a more modern version. πŸ™‚

Western Garden Book of Edibles This is another great one, with information about pretty much any fruit or vegetable that you can grow here on the West Coast.

Sunset Big Book of Garden Designs You may have noticed a trend…I am a big fan of the Sunset gardening books. πŸ™‚ They are very well tailored to gardening here on the West Coast. I got this book after I planned our front and back gardens, but it has some great ideas if you are planning a complete garden makeover. It gave me some great ideas for the garden I am planning in our downstairs yard. πŸ™‚

Modern Essentials This is technically not a gardening book, but got thrown into the mix because it is something I am trying to learn more about. This book is wonderful for anyone interested in learning more about using essential oils. I have been using lavender oil and fresh herbs for a variety of things for years, but I recently incorporated a lot more essential oils into our routine, and it is something I absolutely love. I am going to be blogging more about our journey with essential oils soon.

DIY Projects for the Self Sufficient Homeowner This book has some great ideas for projects that I would like my husband to build eventually. πŸ™‚ It has helped me show him step by step instructions for some of the things I would like him to build eventually. Some of the projects I am not 100% sold on, but that is up to personal preference. For example, we don’t like the idea of planting edibles in plastic containers that may not necessarily be rated as food safe (we try not to use plastic much at all to be honest). I was also disappointed that the book got me excited to try to build a solar food dehydrator, only to later realize that we do not live in a climate that is conducive to solar food dehydrating (so then I immediately ordered this electric dehydrator for preserving). Otherwise, the book has some really great projects!

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening This book is my favorite out of all of my gardening books, hands down. It has such a wealth of information, and covers so many topics. It has monthly checklists that I am determined to actually go through each month from now on. This book usually sits on my nightstand, next to my Bible. πŸ™‚

Mini Farming This book has great in-depth information about various home farming methods, and detailed information about the benefits to the various methods. Reading this book has motivated me to get more precise with my vegetable planting in our raised beds. I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in growing your own produce.

The Backyard Homestead This book packs in a ton of information about edible gardening with limited space. It includes information about warm and cool season planting, proper soil preparation, how to cultivate a variety of types of fruit and vegetables, pruning guides, sample garden designs, preserving information, and lots more. The sample garden designs are one of my favorite parts of this book, and we drew inspiration from this when we did our first round of planting with fruit trees when we first bought our house.

The City Homesteader This book is a must-have for those with limited space who want to get started with edible gardening. The first few chapters are great for those who are new to gardening, covering all of the basics, and the later chapters have more detailed ideas even seasoned gardeners will appreciate. It gives a breakdown on which fruits and vegetables are well-suited for growing in a small space and which are not. It also gives great step-by-step instructions for a variety of projects that will help you live more self-sufficiently and Eco-friendly. There are chapters on beekeeping, raising livestock in a small yard, making cheese and yogurt, building a root cellar for storing produce, and more. There is even a chapter on foraging for wild foods which has become so popular lately. πŸ™‚

Flower Gardening Secrets This is another older book that used to belong to my grandmother. It has some great, time-tested tips and techniques that will get you on your way to growing a beautiful flower garden.

Soil Mates This one is not pictured, but it is one I always keep on hand during planting time. It has cute little drawings of vegetables, and my son loves looking at this book. I assume I couldn’t find it at the moment because he probably ran off with it again. πŸ™‚ The book may read as a bit silly at first (kind of like a soap opera for vegetables), but it really carries some very useful information about what vegetables are good near each other, and what to plant far away from each other.

If you enjoyed my book reviews and would like to order any of these books, please consider purchasing through the links provided. The price is the same as if you went through the main Amazon.com homepage, but they are affiliate links, which means ordering through those links helps keep this blog running!