Re-purposed Soap: From Nothing to Something

The plastic grocery bag of Ivory soap crumbles had lain in the cabinet under our bathroom sink for close to a year. Periodically, I would wonder what I could do with those bits, left over from a Cub Scout soap-carving activity. After the boys of Garfield’s Scout den had practiced on these bars of soap (Ivory is evidently best for soap-carving), they were more prepared to earn their Whittling Chip, which would afford them the privilege of owning and carrying a pocket knife.

And I was afforded the bag of soap flakes and flecks. I wanted them, don’t get me wrong. My frugal, use-it-up, reduce/reuse/recycle bent wanted to rise to the challenge of re-purposing the remains of the soap bars. But I was at a loss.

soap bubble

Finally, I did what all wannabe crafters do when seeking helpful household hints:  I searched on Pinterest. And I discovered this post, which details the process of transforming soap scraps into “new” soap.

The steps are easy to follow, plus the soap was already mostly grated. It didn’t take much elbow grease to get the pieces melded together and deposited into a muffin tin to “set”:

soap scraps in tin

There’s another soap carving planned for another den of Scouts this spring, which my husband will lead. I hope to be the recipient of those leftovers, because I’d like to try this once again. Next time, I might add a little more water when mixing the scraps. Incidentally, if you wonder about germs on the soap, the crumbles get microwaved on high with a small amount of water to make them easier to squish into new bars. I figure the heat killed any lingering baddies.

Here’s the end result, after a few days of setting:  4″muffins” of soap. Although they look more crumbly than I expected, they hold together better than they might appear.

soap on a plate

One “new” cake of soap has already been used in the shower:  so far, so good. They aren’t pretty enough to give as gifts, I suppose, but I think of these soaps as gifts even so. Go with me here…

As a follower of Jesus and His Word, I believe God the Creator spoke the whole universe into existence. There was nothing–and then there was something. Lots of something. He formed this world for His glory, and we get to enjoy it, too. It all belongs to Him, and He graciously allows us to delight in it.

God made something out of nothing and then gave it to us as a gift. These soap crumbs seemed like nothing, and a different Cub Scout leader might have tossed them in the trash (not the Lees!). To be able to form something useful and purposeful out of seemingly nothing feels like a gift to me. And it connects me more with the heart of our Creator and Savior.

 

Advertisements

Grace and Truth at the Soccer Field

I pulled the back of my t-shirt higher up my neck, hoping to prevent sunburn as I faced away from the sun. We were at our first soccer game of the day; Garfield’s team–coached by Mike–had so far held the opposing team to zero. But they faced a tough challenge.

Our boys have always played with the YMCA, which emphasizes participation and learning over competition. Our boys love to win, of course. Mike and I love that we don’t have to travel out of town for games.

This past Saturday, the family members of both teams set up our chairs and water bottles on the same side of the field. Nobody wanted to face into the sun. Our cheering for our own children’s teams got all jumbled together. That is, except for the two teen girls (big sisters of the players, perhaps) who evidently had experience playing soccer and loudly commented on the strategy of Garfield’s team. To each other, to parents of that team. Not only was their knowledge of the sport evident, their low opinion of the Lions’ strategy was evident, too.

mic on stand

As the two girls commented freely on “the coach’s strategy” while critiquing the team against which their little brothers played, one of them yelled, “The stupid coach keeps telling them to kick the ball out.” Loudly. Loudly enough that, sitting 8 or 10 people down the line from her, I heard it.

Stupid coach? 

My heart started to thud, and I wondered if I should talk to her after the game. I wondered if I wanted to, if it were the right and appropriate thing to do.

In the meantime, I cheered my heart out for those 2nd and 3rd grade Lions. They lost, and I kept cheering for them as they came off the field. As I cheered, I’d also been formulating a rough draft of what I might say to the teenager who’d screamed out the “stupid coach” comment.

red and white crane

I considered how I might approach her and be honest while remaining calm. Standing my ground and holding her accountable while also being gentle and respectful. In other words, speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

I felt my hands shake a bit as I stuffed our chairs into their pouches. Many of the fans had left at this point. But not the 2 teen girls. I walked over to them, asking the brunette if I could speak to her for just a minute.

Me? she asked. I nodded, smiled, told her my name.

Then, anticipating she might accuse me of simply being upset that my son’s team had lost, I started out this way:  I know every game has to have a winner and a loser. I’m so proud of our team and how they played, even though they lost. (Voice is quavering a bit, because it’s so important to me to get this right. Not to blow it by letting emotion take the reins.)

But…I continued…I heard you yell out “stupid coach.” Like most coaches, my husband volunteers his time to come out to practice, to attend the games. I’m not an expert on soccer, and you are free to have whatever opinions you want to have about our team and our coach. But I don’t think what you showed is the spirit we want to show to the players on the field. It’s taking it too far, in my opinion.

When I read Peaceful Parenting in January, I noted that the author recommends always endeavoring to speak in a calm voice, even when upset, because it helps everybody to remain calm. I put that into practice, very intentionally, in speaking with this girl at the field.

woman with glasses

She stayed quiet, looking at me with an expression that broadcast “I’m embarrassed but trying very hard not to show it, because I must look cool at all times.” I’m sure I wore that look as a teen many times.

I finished with this:  I know I said inappropriate things as a teenager, and I’m thankful for the times people called me out on it–because it taught me that words have consequences  (I’d really planned ahead to use that phrase). I just think what you said today was taking it too far, in my opinion.

With eyebrow cocked, she said OK, and I smiled and nodded and returned to my family and our mountain of stuff to load in the van.

I felt victorious for the rest of the day. Hard things are worthy things, I read in a book called The Homeschooling Housewife. I didn’t shirk a hard task, and I showed restraint. I endeavored to confront (in a non-confrontational way) with grace. To speak the truth in love. 

 

Spring Cleaning for Heart and Soul

I read once that it’s easier to simplify than to organize, so when I approach spring cleaning, that’s my plan. Thus, I’ve been ridding myself of a few things lately. Take a gander at this whatnot (a piece of furniture whose name my boys and I learned reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books). I bought it while shopping with a friend at an antique fair back in 2003. Here’s how it looked before the spring clean of 2018…

dirty whatnot

And then after…Can you  count how many things I eliminated from these shelves?

clean whatnot

Along with extraneous things from what was always intended to be a nature shelf, I’ve gotten rid of other items, too. A former Cru colleague, battling cancer, has been eliminating cosmetics with risky chemicals from her make-up bag. As I’ve kept up with her story online, I’ve gotten inspired and, last week, tossed two lipsticks containing an artificial preservative that I decided I’d rather avoid.

In March, our boys each lost a tooth. As they grow, the necessary replaces the outdated.

But clutter on our shelves–or other things that hang around even when we don’t need them any longer–isn’t the only mess that makes life messy. I often find I need to clean out my thoughts, to purge ways of thinking or things upon which I might dwell, in order to bring clarity. In order to clean up the space.

blurry window

Comparison of myself to other women, to other mothers, or of my children to other children…

Jealousy of another woman’s success when it’s the exact kind of success I want for myself…

Irritation that may arise from taking things personally that were never meant to be personal…

Carrying around the burden of regret or condemnation from a long-ago mistake, one that I know is forgiven…

And yet, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures me, I am always, always a new creation in Christ. And Romans 8:1–Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Operating out of some need to prove myself… 

A few years ago, when both Woodrow and Garfield participated in the same Cub Scout pack–before Woodrow graduated to Boy Scouts–all 4 of us attended a Scout fundraiser together. During this particular shift selling coupon cards in front of a grocery store, the leaders (myself included) had asked the older Scouts to step aside and allow the younger ones to get practice approaching people in order to make sales.

Woodrow was one of those older boys who’d been sidelined during this one-hour shift; his turn would come later. He wasn’t thrilled about waiting, but he cooperated. As he sat off to the side, an older man walked out of the grocery store and looked upon our Scouts and our table and heard the cheerful cries from the boys, begging him to buy from them.

boys at dawn

Instead of purchasing a camp card, he elected to make a donation. He dug in his wallet to give each boy a one-dollar bill. He waved one over to Woodrow, who hesitated to retrieve it. After all, he was following our instructions to wait his turn at the fundraising. But this man didn’t know that–he looked at me, somewhat appalled that Woodrow wouldn’t jump up and grab the dollar with gratitude. I felt embarrassed and hurriedly ushered Woodrow to accept the dollar from the man.

Yet I didn’t need to feel embarrassed (or ashamed of my son or his behavior). The man didn’t understand our fundraising plan, and any judgment he may have made about my son was formed without having sufficient information. But still, I let that judgment (perceived or not) prompt me to nudge my child into something I’d just asked him to wait to do until the next hour.

What did I have to prove? To this man or anybody else? Nothing. 

robot

Giving my thoughts over to jealousy or annoyance or comparison reminds me of the game of Tic Tac Toe…nobody ever wins. (Unless you play with a toddler.)

But I find I must do something with those thoughts. So:  I confess them to the Lord. I talk to Jesus about what I want, and what feels as though it’s missing, and what I’ve used to try and fill those spaces. With clutter. 

I want things to go my way, and I want life to feel good, and I want to be understood. And when I feel anxious or irascible or defeated because I don’t experience what I want, I talk to the Lord–usually on my knees and usually gripping my holding crossI clean house. 

And I discover that the “simplify instead of organize” adage holds true for my thought life, too. I sometimes waste much energy attempting to organize those thoughts, when, really, I’m in need of simplifying. Just like with those baby teeth my boys lost–those teeth that had to make way for something new–the necessary replaces the outdated.

 

 

 

 

5 Must-Haves for My Frugal Household

On our way back to Orlando from sheltering at my parents’ home in Mississippi last fall–to escape Hurricane Irma–I read a book called Faithfully Frugal (and blogged about it here). It provided much encouragement to keep pressing on with frugal living–but, more than that, it pointed me to the heart motives and reasons for maintaining a frugal lifestyle.

painted egg

And one of my 2018 goals is to continue in the journey toward faithful frugality. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to items that help equip us for simplicity in the Lee house.

  1. A clothesline. This provides a savings of less than $100 per year for our family (which I estimated based on a few blog posts I read–it will vary from household to household). But the money saved last year by using a clothesline covered the cost of the shoes I bought to run a 5K with the boys. I appreciate using the sunshine and breeze to accomplish the work (for free) that our clothes dryer would otherwise do. This process is good for the environment, too. In our townhouse–where clotheslines were disallowed–we used a few folding dryer racks instead.
  2. A library card. This gives our family access to free books, movies, and e-books–vital for a home schooling family. We do own a number of books, but the library offers a plethora of resources–and my children are learning to use the library. One of Garfield’s favorite things to do is sit in the reference section of the downtown library perusing guidebooks of collectible toy cars.

old books

3. Cloth napkins. We don’t buy paper napkins. Well, maybe once every couple of               years…for a birthday party or Scout event. We’ve received lots of beautiful cloth              napkins for gifts, and last year we bought a set at Kohl’s with our $10-off-anything-in-the-store coupon–because the set we’d bought with a gift card (received as a wedding present) had finally worn out after almost 15 years of use.

4.  Castile soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (currently the lavender-scented variety) in a number of ways:  for homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher gel, and foaming hand soap. I ordered this 3-pack of foaming soap dispensers in January–so far, so good. I think the recipe for liquid hand soap that accompanies these dispensers calls for 80 DROPS of essential oil–for one batch of soap! Too much. I leave out the essential oil entirely, because the castile soap already has a scent. The dispensers are reusable (no need to buy bottle after bottle of Soft Soap or the like for your bathroom counter), and the fact that the dispensers cause the soap to foam means less soap gets used with each hand-washing. I’ve even used castile soap in homemade toothpaste. 

colored eggs in nest

5.  Hair clippers/scissors. We received a set (pair? just one?) of Wahl’s hair clippers as a wedding gift from Mike’s parents almost 16 years ago. To add to our hair cut supplies, we purchased a pair of hair cut shears (about $14) from a beauty supply shop, along with some oil to keep the clippers in working order. This small investment pays off every month. 

Hopefully, these simple-living tips will inspire you on your own path of money-saving ventures that fit your life and family.

 

At-Home Haircuts, After All

Well, he did it:  Garfield acquiesced to another at-home haircut. After the last (horrendous) haircut session–filled with fears and tears–we’d discussed taking him to a salon for a professional haircut the next time around.

However, after about 6 weeks (during which time I gave Mike 2 haircuts), when I mentioned we needed to get haircuts done again, he told me he preferred to have me do it after all. Perhaps the known factor won out over the unfamiliar.

shoes hanging from wire

I promised him that I’d be extraordinarily careful about his ears and about staying patient. We prayed and then, making my voice as calm as I possibly could, we started in on the task.

And together, he and I made it work. No tears, no fuss, no muss. There’s no guarantee that next time will be smooth, but I hope one truly peaceful haircut will help set a new pattern. For us both.

calvin new hair cut
Garfield, sporting a new haircut at his first soccer practice of the season.

I tried an approach with Garfield that I’d read in a midwife’s memoir. In her book, she mentioned coaching women in labor with what she called P.E.P. Here’s what that means:  P = Progress (“Look how far we’ve come! Every snip of the scissors gets us that much closer to being finished.”) E = Encouragement (“I see how still you’re being; that really helps me get the job done.”) and P = Praise (“You’re being so cooperative! I know it’s not easy, but you are really hanging in there.”) 

Success! Giving the boys their haircuts was, no kidding, one of the highlights of last week. I’ll be considering other aspects of parenting where I can apply some P.E.P.

wilson new hair cut
Woodrow with his new haircut.

 

 

When Hospitality Gets Messy

My family and I walked into our house to find a mound of damp, sandy beach towels–our own–piled on the kitchen floor, near the laundry closet. The closet doors were open, and the ironing board took up the kitchen floor space not covered with brightly-colored dirty towels.

sweet home bouquet

We hadn’t just returned from a trip to the beach–rather, we’d just gotten home from visiting Mississippi (and attending the finals of a scholarship program with which I volunteered for many years). The family staying at our house, one we still hadn’t met at this point, had left the towels tossed on the floor–which surprised me, particularly since I’d let them know we’d be returning home that night.

I had chosen “hospitality” as my word of the year that year. I felt weak in the area of hospitality, and if you’d asked me to explain that, I’d have said I didn’t love going to the effort of having extra people over for dinner. So, for that year, I aimed to be more intentional with hospitality and to do so in ways that would stretch me.

welcome to our home sign

Months earlier, I’d read in our Cru online newsletter that a family (formerly connected to Cru) would be returning  from overseas and needed to find a place to stay for about a week. This family of 4 needed to be housed in our part of town so as to be close to a family member at a nursing home. The specific dates they needed temporary, free shelter–for 8 days, according to the online ad–coincided with the dates our family would be out of town. Brilliant. We could open our home, help meet a need, and not be too crowded in our townhouse while 4 extra people lived there.

I began corresponding with the wife, who’d submitted the ad, and later learned that my husband had met her years before, although they weren’t friends. We worked out the details:  where I’d leave a house key, pool entry key, etc. I would make sure clean sheets covered the beds as we left.

However, not long before their house stay was to begin, I wrote the mom to confirm. Finally I got word that their stay was going to be longer by 3 days, the dates would be different than first stated, and they would overlap us for some time. Surprised she didn’t ask if this would be OK, I adjusted. We set up an air mattress in our bedroom for the boys, while the 2 teen daughters slept in the boys’ room and the mom and dad took the guest room/home office.

basket with books

The dirty towels left on the floor weren’t the only reason I mumbled to my husband that this family was treating our home like a hotel. They also left a bag of trash in the hall, along with a sack of clothing, on the early morning they left. I kept the clothes for several months, wondering if they’d ask me to mail them somewhere, before finally delivering them to Goodwill. They left dirty sheets on the beds, along with a note that thanked us for letting them “crash at our pad.”

This wasn’t my first foray into letting strangers stay in our home while we were out of town. Years before, while pregnant for the first time, I read another ad in the Cru newsletter requesting short-term housing for a family visiting for a wedding. The contact person, a Cru staff woman, sought housing for this family in our neighborhood, and Mike and I planned to be gone (again for the scholarship program–this time I was judging) over that weekend.

The day before we headed out of town, the contact person came to look over the house. She told me that, instead of 2 couples and a baby (which I thought were the ones visiting our home), there was a couple, a mom with her baby, and a single man. Hmmm…How was I going to make this set-up work in our 3-bedroom townhouse that, at the time, contained only 2 beds?

black and white throw

I scrounged extra sheets and set-up our pull-out sofa, not the most comfortable option. Everything was ready as Mike and I left town. Our only requests for this group were not to wear outdoor shoes inside, not to smoke inside, and not to use the master bathroom (there were 2 other options). When we returned from the weekend, we discovered a battered box of slightly crumbly candles left as a thank-you gift–and the toilet paper roll from the master bathroom removed.

I suppose they’d run out of t.p. and, instead of going to the store down the street, they’d simply removed the roll from the bathroom they weren’t using. I’d have rather they kept the candles and sprung for a four-pack of toilet paper instead.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His followers about taking in strangers–and how performing this act of service is, in essence, serving Him. I wanted to serve Him. 

blue and yellow doors

I got over the dirty towels and missing toilet paper, and later we housed a mom who needed a place to stay (on her own) for 13 nights. Ellen (not her real name) spent the days with her family at home but needed a place to sleep for that time period. She was the most grateful house guest we’ve ever hosted. We’d first met Ellen when our church sponsored some families from the school where we held services. When Ellen contacted our pastor for help, it seemed natural for us to open our (not well-decorated) door to her.

And this is what I learned..Hospitality is more than entertaining people, more than hosting in a beautifully-appointed home. Hospitality is offering a welcome place of shelter–for a meal or for a week–to one who might need some nourishing. 

I hope when I meet Jesus face to face, He says, “Hey, I noticed you took in those strangers! Well-done, you. And don’t worry; I have plenty of toilet paper here.” 

 

 

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Biscotti

For the first Valentine’s Day that Mike and I spent together, we stayed in. My roommate graciously (and without being asked) vacated our apartment, and Mike came over and cooked dinner for us. I covered the dessert:  chocolate mocha bread pudding. I even dusted each serving with powdered sugar and topped it with fresh raspberries. I myself don’t care for coffee, or foods that contain coffee flavors, but Mike loves coffee–this mocha-flavored dish was part of my gift to him.

valentine rocks

Mike had tried to make reservations for us at an Ethiopian restaurant that year–we both like to eat adventurously–but the restaurant had closed. So we opted for a night in, and we both enjoyed it.

Valentine’s Day this year also found us enjoying a night at home. Mike picked up Indian food for us–and a Thai iced tea for me–and we spent time together after the boys went to bed. Not time spent on to-do list items or catching up on emails, but intentional time spent with each other.

This year, my gift to Mike was something else baked. But instead of what I cooked for us 16 years ago, this time I created homemade biscotti (for the first time). And we both enjoyed it–the boys did, too, but I made them ask Mike for permission before they could eat one since I had made the biscotti as a treat for him.

biscotti

I used this recipe, leaving out the peppermint flavoring (substituting vanilla instead), since it’s not Christmas. These biscotti contain chocolate chips, and I dipped most of them in melted chocolate, too. I found these treats easier to make than I expected.

Garfield, who’s never met a biscotti (biscotto?) he didn’t like, mentioned that maybe we should always have homemade biscotti in our house. I think he finds something heartwarming about having baked goods in our home; I have to say I agree.