One Cleaner to Rule Them All

Alas, my computer crashed. I don’t have the proof. But if you’ve been to my house for dinner and gotten the comfy chairs at dinner, you would have noticed about two months ago that you were not sitting on white cushions. They were, at one point. Maybe two years ago. Well, come on over for a cuppo soup! We have white cushions again! Gee thanks, Branch Basics.

It honestly took less than ten minutes to clean two chair cushions. I sprayed on the diluted spray, let it sit about a minute, and used a damp rag to rub it clean. I did the same on Copper’s secondhand touch-and-feel book – the front of Kipper’s tummy fur was restored to white. It’s food grade, so I use it to clean produce, especially broccoli, which is notoriously difficult to clean. It’s especially useful in the kitchen, on cutting boards, faucet handles, and eating surfaces. It’s safe for toys. Upholstery. Carpets, Car seats. Laundry. Dishes. Windows. Grease-covered pans.. Name it – it cleans it.

The BB product line.

The BB product line.

And safely! It’s food grade, folks – you could eat it. Can you eat just any old cleaner? This is made with plant-based fatty acids. That also means it’s lethal to bugs’ exoskeletons – you can spray it on bugs and it kills them. But not us. Wonder-cleaner, or what?? I love that I don’t feel dirty after I clean. You know what I mean – you get out your rag and spray bottle, but… you’re just about to cook. If you clean now, you’ll have to wash your hands before you knead that dough. Or your little one is trying to reach up to the sink and help mama clean – No, don’t put your hands in your mouth! Ohmygosh, I think I sprayed the top of his head. Shoot.

Not anymore I clean all the freaking time now. It’s safe for me, it’s safe to eat off of, there’s never any rinsing, and it won’t make my kitchen smell funky. Did I mention it has absolutely no smell?

Here’s one of my favorite stories of its amazingness: This 100+ year old farmhouse rental didn’t come with a dishwasher. I’m a hand-washer from way back, so generally no problem. But we have these Potato Sundays where my husband fries up some potato cut into some wedge or hash or another. Sometimes, he gets too much oil and wants to save it. We generally put it in a mason jar till the following Potato Sunday, and wait until a visit to my parents’ house to put it in the dishwasher. Alas, the parents go to Florida for winter. So this week, after fruitlessly trying to swish warm water around the lower unreachable half, I sprayed some BB along the inner walls. Left it sit a few minutes. (Never sure if I need to do that step.)  Rinsed. It was done. All the used cooking oil sitting in it for a week was nuthin’ for a few sprays of BB.

If I wasn’t so stingy with it, I’d replace a-l-l-l-l my cleaners with it. (As it is, I kept my dish detergent, floor cleaner, and laundry detergent. But all are replaceable with Branch Basics.) Annnnnnd… it’s on sale. Just for you. Branch Basics sent our local moms’ group a sample pack with a coupon, and you can be in on it, too! Our group plans to go together on a 5 gallon bucket, but it’s great if you want to get clean all on your own, too.

Use TryBB15. Today. Or tomorrow, if you need another day to find friends to share it with.

(I’d recommend checking out Branch Basic’s website, especially the FAQ’s. I wanted to share my experience and utter joy with it, but they have a lot more to tell you about the science behind it.)


Amen! to “What do you DO all day?”

My small group was recently talking about how we plan our futures, and where we thought we’d be now if we were asked ten years ago. I would have said, optimistically, “A stay-at-home-mom and artist.” And, after a long time of thinking that wasn’t going to be, here I am, and I’ve got all that 16-year-old me could have wished.

At new introductions and homecomings, I hated answering with some menial job when people asked what I did. So why do I still feel like I have to make excuses?

I’ll say, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” (smile)  “… … I’m-also-taking-classes-for-my-master’s-and-have-a-home-based-business.” Read: I’m educated. I do things with my day. In case you were wondering.

This is an article written by Matt Walsh, a husband and father of 3-month-old twins. He defends his wife and mothers everywhere who choose to stay home with their children – and argues that it’s ridiculous that he needs to be “defending” SaHMs.

“Are we really the first culture in the history of mankind to fail to grasp the glory and seriousness of motherhood?” he asks. I love it. He also points out, “Whatever they are doing, they ARE doing something, and our civilization DEPENDS on them doing it well. Who else can say such a thing? What other job carries with it such consequences?” In the workplace, there is a position and someone is hired to fill that role. In motherhood, there is no one else that can do the job of a mother. No interviews. No resumes. No one else can be a mother to your children. It’s not expendable, and as Matt says, entire generations of lives will turn upside-down if you decide to quit. But no matter who you are at what company, someone can be trained to fill your shoes. Apple lives on without Steve.

Neither Matt nor I are saying that all women should be home with their kids. It’s not in everyone’s cards. Likewise, not everyone is called to motherhood, or to marriage, for that matter. But it also shouldn’t be OK to assume moms will go back to work in 6 weeks.

Carl Jung: “We overlook the essential fact that the achievements which society rewards are won at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumberroom of dusty memories.” Author and Rabbi Harold Kushner adds to that, “Worst of all, society applauds this imbalance, honoring us for our financial success, praising us for our self-sacrifice. …Forces in society won’t let us become whole people because we are more useful to them when one small part of us is over-developed” (When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, 25). We are useful if we work and earn money; useless if no money is involved. SaHMs who blog and make money – you’re OK. Write a book – good to go. Whatever you do, just make money at it, and everyone’s happy. It’s like you’re a waste of space if you’re JUST home.

…with your kids! There is one little 13-month-old at our house. Just one. And there are days when I get one, two, maybe even none of the things on my to-do list crossed off. That’s because kids speak the love language of quality time. They read your love in the time you spend with them.

This is something I’m working on. I’m very much a to-do-list gal. That’s how I know my day was worth something! Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” I believe nothing is outside of God’s will – everything happens because he ordains or allows it to, and it all works “for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). So if Copper is tugging on my pant legs every ten minutes today because he’s been getting a tooth for three days and he’s tired and sore, maybe what I need to do is stop sweeping or cooking and hold him. Hold his head to my shoulder. Let him be part of my cooking or sweeping. Be his mother.

Because that’s my job. I’m not making money – but really, why does anyone care? One kid’s world (and my husband’s!) is changed by what I do. That’s something I’ve never been able to say about my job before.


Honeymoon in the Azores

Terceira Island: Azores

Terceira Island: Azores

My husband Cody and I had the opportunity to visit the Azores on our honeymoon two years ago, convinced in part from online resources touting their beauty and recently expanded tourism. One boasted that tourism is growing largely from the beautiful sites and remote, yet accessible, location. We had also read that many in the tourism industry spoke enough English that we wouldn’t have to worry that we didn’t speak Portuguese. The Azores, remote Portuguese volcanic islands, sounded like the perfect place for our honeymoon.

We visited two of the nine islands, Terceira and Pico, located in the mid-Atlantic, a mere five hour flight from Boston Logan International Airport. We took advantage of the fact that our flight landed at Terceira and spent time visiting its natural wonders. The island consists of two small Renaissance cities, the historic capital and major seaport, Angra do Heroísmo. Between these seaport towns are vineyards, rolling hills, and rocky seashores. Pico has Mt. Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, at 7713 feet. Both are sparsely populated with whitewashed houses and low stone walls, but heavily populated with cattle.

As excellent timing would have it, we happened to visit during Touradas da praça ou à corda, a festival celebrated only on Terceira with bullfights in every village. Imagining a ring with seats for spectators and safe viewing, we arranged for a cab to take us to the site of the fight. On the way, our taxi driver made us take his card so that we could have a way to escape if we

"Bullfighters" traditionally taunt with colorful umbrellas.

“Bullfighters” traditionally taunt with colorful umbrellas.

found it was too much. When we arrived, we found that the bull “fight” was an inaccurate translation. It was actually more of a bull “run.” Multiple bulls were delivered in crates, and ropes attached while they were still contained. When each was released, a group of men held onto the rope while simultaneously taking turns to taunt the animal.

These bull runs take place in the streets of the town. Most spectators are locals and watch from the security of a friend’s stone-walled porch or upstairs windows. Others, like my husband and I, attempt to find a public place that affords some protection from the rushing bull. Our driver delivered us to a small outdoor café, set against a hillside, so that we could climb a rock wall and have both protection and front row seats.

After watching a few rounds, it appeared as though they had a tight hold on the animal. All the men who taunted were unharmed, and the bulls rarely rushed more than a few yards at a time. We soon decided to participate in the run and found ourselves in the streets, keeping at the back of the crowd that tried to keep just at the edge of the bull’s reaches. In the midst of our exhilaration, we heard broken English from a man hanging onto a light pole asking if we spoke English. He shouted a

The bull: street view.

The bull: street view!

warning, informing us that what we were doing was much more dangerous than we could imagine. He informed us that the bull had enough rope to easily run to the end of the street in a matter of seconds. We realized the wisdom of his advice and, instead of turning around to follow the bull back up toward the town square, we continued down the road toward a food vendor and safety.

As far as cuisine on the islands was concerned, there were limited options for dining out. After first landing on Pico Island, we stopped at what colorful umbrellas advertising coffee suggested to be a café. Inside, the barkeeper seemed confused by our request for food, but after checking the pantry supplies, she offered us fish, boiled potatoes, and salad. This was our experience at every little place we stopped for food. And, as it was at this bar, a friendly patron usually helped interpret for the barkeeper, who only spoke Portuguese, and us newlyweds, who didn’t speak any. In one case, as we pointed to different items on the menu board, the cook popped out of the kitchen holding the various ingredients of the dish to help us make our selection.

The beautiful Azorean Islands feel a world and a time apart, with few modern structures and a rustic way of life visible everywhere. We visited an Occulista, or eye doctor, a small, single room storefront facing a fountain in the stone-paved square of town, and it was the only store in town that had contact solution. There was one large grocery store per town, but even those had very modest offerings compared to American standards. Of more interest were natural attractions, such as seaside and inland caves resulting from the island’s history of volcanic activity. Much of the terrain is clearly formed by volcanic activity, so igneous rocks are prominent, if not overtaking the landscape. Otherwise, they have been collected into orderly rows between cattle fields. Gazing from a high mountain, the landscape is a tartan pattern of stone walls.

View of the landscape from Cume mountain.

Criss-crossed landscape from Cume mountain, Terceira.

We also enjoyed our stay on Pico Island. Bed and breakfasts offer the best choices for accommodations, and we found one along the ocean owned by a European couple who spoke fluent English. We spent a day climbing Mt. Pico, the high point of Portugal. Wine and port are specialties of the area, as the dark stone reflect heat and promote sweeter grapes when collected into biscoitos, or stone vineyards. Most people make their own wine, but there are also biscoitos open to the public.

View of Mt. Pico from the plane.

View of Mt. Pico from the plane.

English speakers shouldn’t expect much help from those in the tourism industry. We were unable to communicate with the woman who arrived at the airport with our rental car and contract; we were unable to tell the hotel clerk what time we wanted our wakeup call, and decided to be content with whenever he decided to call us. Still, we found all the beauty, history, and adventure of these islands as we had hoped.


Diapering Refined

Ok ladies. Here’s the rundown: it’s week 2, and we’ve learned a lot as we enter these double-digit days.

First: Inserts are a good thing. They’re basically washable Maxi pads. We started out with prefolds (large rectangles you need to fold before inserting), and they’re great for heavy-duty absorption. But, I would recommend using prefolds when you know you won’t be dealing with solids. (If you do use them with solids, place a thin liner on top. Single layers are much easier to dump out than something with many soiled surfaces once unfolded.) Inserts are great on their own for daytime use. They’re a quicker change and less messy when you remove them.

Second: Flushable liners. Folks. These are amazing. The Bambino Mio Liners are the only ones we can use, as they’re made out of cornstarch and are septic-friendly. Also, they’re thinner than a page in the Bible, so they won’t clog pipes. You just lift and plop right into your porcelain pot.

Third: We had our first public change! Just needed a plastic bag for the used and insert a new liner. Bam. Just like good old times.


Here’s a list of our supplies, including new additions:

4-6 waterproof covers (check out some of those designs in the photo! How cute!) – We have one of each brand, and they’re all comparable. I would just recommend snaps so your dexterous darling doesn’t undo them.

12 thick inserts

4 thin inserts – Single layer pieces of cloth. These came with one of our covers and we use them to catch solids when we use a prefold. I’m not sure we would buy them if they weren’t included, especially now that we have the liners, but they serve a purpose.

6 prefolds (mix of these and Chinese and Indian – honestly, I can’t even remember which is which and it hasn’t mattered yet)

One pack flushable liners (mentioned above)

3 wet bags – We just got these and I’m looking forward to trying them out. We got a tall one, a small one, and a Kanga one that is supposed to sit up on its own (but doesn’t, at least not empty). We had been using a makeshift setup with a cloth hamper bag inside a wooden hamper with a hinged lid, but that was just barely cutting it. It just needs to be waterproof and close securely.

Regular wipes – We still have our Diaper Dekor, and there will be times we still use and need to dispose of plastic diapers, so we have a secure place to toss wipes. I thought about getting fabric wipes, which require that you either buy or make your own cleanser to use on them, but I decided I really like something that gets thrown away. Then, if you really have a mess on the table, you can swipe and toss.

Washer/Dryer/Clothes line – I do a cold prerinse with vinegar, then a hot wash. Sometimes, another cold rinse for good measure. And I would recommend a detergent like Free and Clear or something.

Happy diapering!


Crunchy Mom

It’s a cool thing we humans do with language: I read the term “super-crunchy” in an article and instantly thought, “…I think that’s me.” Here’s what Urban Dictionary says it is: “persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons.” I would adjust that to include human-conscious reasons. So that means we buy organic not just because it’s better for the field and surrounding areas where it was grown, but because the people who picked the lettuce will live longer, healthier lives, and my family and I just might, too.

I ran across this term in an article about vaccinating your kids. (Amen, sister.) I admit, I considered not vaccinating my son. Hear me out: we’re at the pediatrician’s office and two nurses come in and tell us to hold him down so they can give him shots. “Shots? What kind of shots?” They had to go find info sheets on what it was they were giving him. So there, I thought about not, but then again, I didn’t want him contracting rubella, measles, mumps, and the like.

The author said it’s usually super-conservative or super-crunchy types that don’t vaccinate, and that they’re usually very different camps. Actually, I’m probably part of the small population in the Venn diagram that overlaps them both – not completely, but I’ve got a foot in each. Crunchy: our future house is very possibly going to be off-the-grid. Conservative: yay big business. Crunchy: I make bread, applesauce, and yogurt. Conservative: 10% goes to the church. Crunchy: I’m a stay-at-home mom diapering my baby in cloth, collecting rainwater for plants, selling a natural alternative skincare line (Arbonne) from home. Conservative: we have a 401k and a lot of our money is in long term, high yield stocks.

So put that in your local honey-sweetened granola with almond milk and chew on it.

...and we garden. Like fools. Wherever that falls.

…and we garden. Like fools. Wherever that falls.


Six Yellow Chairs’ Farmer’s Market


The Six Yellow Chairs’ Farmer’s Market is helping revive small town life. Usually a single stand fruit and vegetable market wouldn’t attract much attention, but in Lanse, Pa, it’s just another example of how the café and gift shop seeks to improve rural life. The white tented stand is run by a local resident, situated at the back of a café’s gravel parking lot. A prominent sign atop the tent advertises the weekly event and is visible from the main intersection in Lanse.

It used to be that no one had heard of the town of Lanse, even lifelong residents of the nearby college town of State College. But since its opening in January, Six Yellow Chairs has been earning a reputation and attracting visitors from State College, DuBois, and other larger boroughs. On this bright and brisk Saturday morning, there were only a few buyers at the market, but diners were overflowing onto the brick patio of the café across the lot.


Seasonal fruits and vegetables

Six Yellow Chairs, March 2013

Six Yellow Chairs, March 2013

Add to the attraction of the café a weekly farmer’s market in the parking lot, and local residents are prouder than ever. As nearby Donna Matsko explains, “We need businesses around.” Most of the local towns were once booming centers of business and trade, built on railroads that carried local natural resources like clay, coal, and timber. Those industries have long since died out, but many of the families stayed. Businesses that offer high quality fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are rare and much appreciated. “It’s a good thing,” says Rachel Ryen, a local resident. It improves the quality of life for people who have chosen to live around family and friends in their familiar hometown, but have given up conveniences like shopping and dining.

Offering fresh produce is a recent addition. This is its third week, and upcoming fall groceries will include pumpkins, apples, and seasonal flowers like mums, according to the seller. Dave Bennett gets his produce from local Amish farms and tries to offer a wide variety. He acknowledges that rural folks usually grow their own tomatoes, but most don’t have cabbage, melons, or onions, which were among this week’s produce.

Vendor Dave Bennet

Vendor Dave Bennet

Bennett says that Six Yellow Chairs is a local asset. “They’re doing a great business – better than they thought they’d do,” he says. It’s the only business of its kind in the area, and locals might have been shy to try something new. But the combination of its quality food, rare espresso bar, central location, and reasonable prices are hard to resist. And as the owners make additions such as the farmer’s market, it will be hard to imagine Lanse without its star attraction.


The Start of Cloth

It’s day three. We received the cloth diaper covers and inserts Monday night and decided an overnight test was as good of a start as any. I briefed my husband on how the “boy fold” worked, added a “soaker” liner just to be safe, and tucked sweet baby Copper in for the night, fingers crossed I wouldn’t be changing sheets at 3:30 am.

Here it is Thursday, and we’ve had two outings but thankfully no public changes yet. I have had to do laundry twice, but mostly because the covers got soiled. We started with two nylon waterproof covers and seven prefolds. The covers came with a pack of liners, but really, compared to the prefolds, they don’t seem to do much.

As I sat with Copper at our 5am feeding this morning, I contemplated whether to put a cloth or disposable diaper on him at this point. He’s very predictable with his nighttime and early morning diapers: the first is always wet, the second is always soiled. So this twenty cent diaper would save me from a messy cleaning in a few hours when I know I’ll be rushed to get to my mom’s group on time. But if I put him in a disposable now, will I always do that? For the first time, I calculated how much money I’ve been spending on disposables. Right now, we’re at a pretty steady rate of five diapers per day. That means about $1, so roughly $400/year. Now, this is at a year old, so there have been heavier rates of change, but I’m going with what I know here. That $400 is a lot less than cloth diaper sites will quote when they’re selling you on the astronomical savings you’ll see. To be fair though, it only cost us $41 to start this cloth thing, so we’re admittedly doing pretty good.

But it’s not just the cost, of course. I read that babies contribute half a ton of landfill annually with their plastic diapers. Poor little poopers – it’s not their fault. I make the choice to either put his plastic diapers in a plastic bag and half fill a garbage pail every other week, or I can literally get my hands dirty and save all that. Now, again, my husband just read that if our rate of garbage production continues to steadily increase, in a few thousand years, we’ll still be able to fit our country’s garbage in a mile-long landfill, which isn’t really all that large. So should I be more concerned with our water consumption as I launder all those prefolds?

So here’s how I look at it. As it is, I do laundry as little as possible. It’s not so bad to do more little loads instead of a one huge load that I never want to put away because it takes so long to completely repopulate our closets and dressers. They’re wrinkly and less thoroughly cleaned because they’re all jammed into one load – it’s just not a good deal. Second, I just feel better about it. We’ll see, a few weeks down the road, if the novelty of scraping and spraying off the contents of his diaper gets old. Then back to disposables and I’ll put the lot on Craigslist. Will we ever change to cloth wipes? Probably not. I think that’s where I’ve put my finger on the limit.

Plastic throwaway diapers are supposed to be filled with materials that aren’t exactly baby-friendly. They are definitely bleached white, so there are those residual chemicals. They use more raw materials. They have “a variety of plastics, adhesives, glues, elastics and lubricants,” but the industry isn’t required to disclose materials, says a CBC News report (2010). There have been lawsuits brought accusing some brands of causing chemical burns. And a research lab found diapers emitted a number of fumes with known respiratory toxicity.

I sell Arbonne. I’m the poster child in the fight against chemical additives. “Did you know it only takes 26 seconds for something on your skin’s surface to be absorbed into your bloodstream?” I ask potential clients. I’ve rarely fed Copper anything store-bought outside puffs and Cheerios. We buy organic fruits and vegetables when we can and get our milk from the dairy. But you know, whatever chemicals are in his diapers 24/7 for two and a half years, I’m sure that’s fine.

If nothing else, they say cloth kids potty train younger because they can feel the mess better.

bumGenius Freetime AllInOne  Snap Cloth Diaper Albert


+ This is a great post about the basics of diapering: what you need, how it practically works out in the day-to-day of this mom’s life, from newborn on. My added two cents: 1) I highly recommend the snaps. Starting with a one year old, I can tell you nothing but snaps will keep these on him. Also, snaps won’t ever wear out. 2) I’ve mostly done one wash cycle, maybe an additional rinse cycle in cold. 3) That spatula idea is gold.