Uses for the Essential 4 Pack from Spark Naturals

When it comes to essential oils, things can get very overwhelming, very quickly.  I remember when I first started looking into adding essential oils to our green cleaning and health routines.  Scrolling through pages of information on the internet, browsing hundreds of oils and blends and their uses, I had a bad case of analysis paralysis.  It gave me flashbacks to my early days of looking into cloth diapering- pre folds and covers vs. pockets vs. all in ones, wool vs. PUL, bamboo inserts vs. microfiber.


It took quite some time and some trial and error to find the best cloth diapering method for our family.  The same is true of essential oils.  I started off with a set of 10 popular essential oils.  I had already been doing some research, so I felt pretty comfortable with the set.  And in the following months, I ordered many more oils.  This was mostly due to my involvement in an auto ship program that had minimum requirements to earn points and commission, more so than a true need for more oils.  While there is no inherent problem with that system, it didn’t align well with our goals of intentional purchasing of only items we really love, need, and use.  All told, it was a good learning experience and helped me to truly see how we would use oils in our home and which oils we would use most frequently.

So after nearly a year of using oils, the most frequently used oils in our home are also some of the most versatile.  When you consider that each essential oil has multiple uses, having even just a few oils in your collection to start can go a long way.  The four oils we use most often in our home are lavender, lemon, peppermint, and melaleuca (tea tree).   Here are just a few of the ways we use each of these oils in our home:

Lavender– (often called Swiss Army knife of oils) soothes minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, calming, add to spray bottle with water for a toxin-free room or linen freshening spray, combine with lemon and peppermint for seasonal allergy relief, soothe insect bites, promote restful sleep, aid with anxiety and depression

Lemon– (my favorite cleaner) amazing degreaser, add to toilet bowl with baking soda and melaleuca for natural toilet cleaner, add to spray bottle of water for natural counter spray, diffuse with peppermint to lift mood and purify air, add to dishwasher for sparkling dishes, ease a runny nose, clean scuff marks

Peppermint- (tummy tamer and more) ease upset tummy, diffuse to help with focus, calm a headache, help bring down a fever, ease nausea and car sickness, add with lemon, baking soda, and water to make a tub and sink cleaning paste

Melaleuca- (natural anti fungal, antibacterial) help cold sore heal quickly, athlete’s foot, head lice prevention, clean insect bites or scrapes, dandruff and dry scalp treatment, great acne fighter, all-purpose disinfectant (especially when combined with lemon), control diaper bag odor

Each of these oils has even more uses, but these are the ways we’ve used them in our home. I love that Spark Naturals offers these 4 powerhouse oils in the Essential 4 pack.  The set is available in 5 ml or 15 ml size bottles and it’s perfect for new oil users or just an economical way to purchase some the most popular, most frequently used oils. In addition to the powerful oils, the kit comes in a dark plastic case, protecting your oils from moisture, air and light, which all negatively impact the life of essential oils.  There is also a small usage card that tells you the English and Latin names for each oil, safe usage guidelines, and some common ways to use each oil.  It’s like a mini reference guide. You can see the case and card in the picture below.


The Essential 4 Pack is the Oil of the Month for January.  For this month, you can get these oils for just $15.99 (which includes the shipping and tax). It is a great deal to jumpstart your journey to fewer toxic chemicals in your home. The Oil of the Month Club is a great way to build your oil collection. Each month, you are sent a 15 ml size oil for $15.99 (January being the exception with the 4 pack, so you get 20 ml of oil!) You can find a list of the oils for each month here:

In addition to the already competitive prices, you can use my coupon code SEARCH4SIMPLE at checkout to receive an additional 10% off your entire order, every time you order.

Remember that making changes to your health and home require research, time, and patience.  Give yourself plenty of all three and make the decisions that are best for you and your family.  Have a happy, healthy day!


A word for 2015

I have always been a lover of words.  My nightstand is constantly a precarious tower of multiple books being read at a time, permeating my life with words and stories, facts and fantasies.  I kept all the flashcards I made for the GRE and still like to look through them from time to time to see if I remember the meanings of the words.  I love when you find just the right word to convey a meaning, like flabbergasted instead of just plain surprised.

Sometimes just one word can carry so much weight.  Birth, death, love, divorce, family, cancer, friends…I am sure you can think of many more.

I had heard of the idea to use one word to help define your goals for the New Year.  I have always been one to set goals in January. A new year feels like a fresh start, a time to dream big. My goals are usually quite specific, as it’s in the details that goals are made to be attained.  But I liked the idea of having all my goals linked to one word.

So I decided to give this one word idea a try.  It was harder than I thought it would be.  What one word would keep my goals fresh in my mind, grounded when things got in the way?  My first thought was “contentment”.  The word certainly aligns with my goals in many ways, but it wasn’t quite right.

After lots of lists and words struck through, I found it.  Focus.  It’s defined as a central point, as of attraction, attention or activity.  Here is what focus means for me in 2015:

To look into my children’s eyes and focus on their words when they speak.  To focus my heart on hearing what they have to say, really feeling their tender touches.

To focus on my marriage by spending quality time with my husband, loving him as my best and most trusted friend, and serving him in making our house a home.

To focus our home education by carefully choosing curriculum and materials that both suit our family and honor God.

To eliminate distractions like phone alerts or unproductive internet time to focus on tasks and people at hand.

To focus on the many blessings I’ve been given each day, eliminate excess, and make my overabundance a blessing for others.

To eat mindfully and give thanks for my meals rather than eat rapidly while checking emails or news.

To pay attention to the needs of my body and mind, giving it rest, leisure, and work when needed.

To focus on my true passions, like writing, reading, spending time in nature.  God has given me these unique passions for the purpose of bringing him glory and I want to honor that.

Ultimately, I choose to focus on Christ.  For when I focus on my creator, savior, redeemer, all these other things listed above will happen as He reveals His will for my life. I pray that this year of focus will more closely align my heart with His in ways that will delight and surprise me.

I encourage you to find your own word and to join me in a year of focus.


Spark Naturals Essential Oils

Happy New Year!

While I love the holidays and all the joy they bring, I really look forward to January with its fresh starts, new goals, and blank pages to be written. One goal from last year that carries over to 2015 is finding natural alternatives for cleaning and wellness.

Last year, I was introduced to the world of essential oils and it was love at first use.  Essential oils have drastically changed our cleaning methods and dealing with minor health concerns.  My cleaning routines and shopping lists have become shorter, simpler versions of their previous selves due to the versatility of essential oils.

After spending most of last year using oils from another company, I eventually started looking into other options for essential oils.  I was looking for a company with high quality products that promoted accessibility to oils for all budgets and needs without the complex business structure or need for annual membership for the best pricing.

I had heard of Spark Naturals oils and was anxious to try them.  Last fall, I ordered Spark Naturals Essential 4 Pack of Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint and Melaleuca. These are the oils we use most in our home for cleaning and they are some of the most versatile oils, period. (Post coming soon about how I use these specific oils) I was very impressed with the oils from Spark Naturals and have continued to order their oils.


Why I love Spark Naturals:

Quality: Spark Naturals sources their oils from plants grown in their indigenous regions.  This is important to me as plants grow best in their home environments.  The high quality of plants can lead to a higher quality oil.  In my research on essential oils, I have learned to look for the Latin plant name, country of origin, and distillation methods ( i.e. cold pressing for citrus oils, steam distillation for other oils) as markers for quality.  Spark Naturals provides that information by oil on the website. All Spark Naturals oils are tested for composition and quality.

Accessibility: Spark Naturals’ commitment to accessibility is evident in their business model.  They offer all oils in 5 ml size, making trying oils more affordable. The 5 ml size is perfect for those new to essential oils, on a limited budget, or just trying a new oil or blend for the first time. There are no memberships required to get the best pricing.  The Oil of the Month Club is a great, economical way to build your essential oil collection.  For just $15.99 per month, you will receive a 15 ml oil.  AND for January 2015, the Oil of the Month is actually the Essential 4 Pack featuring a 5 ml Lavender, Lemon, Melaleuca, and Peppermint! It’s a fantastic value for those just starting their essential oil journey.  (A full listing of the Oil of the Month for 2015 is available at )


In addition to the already great pricing, you can use my coupon code SEARCH4SIMPLE to receive an additional 10% off your order at checkout!  This code is good for use every time you place an order.  Plus you can get free shipping on orders over $55 in the continental U.S.  Lots to love :).

Integration: When first learning about essential oils, you learn two things. First, there is so much to learn and lots of research to be done.  Second, there are many tools that will make using your oils safer and easier.  Spark Naturals offers usage guides, diffusers, carrier oils, roller bottles, oils cases, etc right on the website to help you in using your oils well.  It’s great to be able to get everything I need at one place.

If green cleaning, fewer chemicals, and natural alternatives are among your goals for the New Year, give Spark Naturals a try!


Beans in the Crockpot

With the New Year here, many people make resolutions or goals of eating better, cooking at home more, eating less processed food, etc.  One of my favorite tools to accomplish all of these things is the crockpot.  Oh how i love my crockpot.  In fact, I have two large ones that we use several times a week.

A few years ago, I wanted to make refried beans for dinner and realized I was out of the canned variety that we used to keep in our pantry.  I had dried pinto beans on hand, so I decided to look for a recipe to quick cook the beans on the stove.  I have not had the best luck cooking beans on the stove, but didn’t think there was another way.  My results with beans on the stove had been inconsistent.  Sometimes the beans were too hard even after soaking overnight and cooking for hours.  Others times they were over cooked.

While Google searching for the ingredients I would need to cook the beans on the stove, I ran across a recipe for cooking refried beans in the crockpot.  I was intrigued and figured it wouldn’t be any worse than how my beans usually turned out on the stove.  I was pleasantly surprised when the beans were the perfect texture after cooking in the crockpot.  And the best part…no soaking overnight required (there are definitely some benefits to soaking beans, but we have had great results without soaking as well)!  I have tweaked the original recipe over the past few years and the result is a family favorite.  Here is our recipe for Crockpot Refried Beans:


Crockpot Refried Beans

Cook time :5-6 hours


2 cups dried pinto beans, washed

1 large yellow or white onion, coarsely chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (We like garlic so I opt for 3 cloves)

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1.5 tsp salt

5 cups of water

Add all ingredients to crockpot, set on high and cook approximately 5-6 hours, stirring half way through cooking time.  Beans may be finished in as little as 4 hours as the high temp on crockpots can widely vary.  Scoop finished beans into food processor and blend to desired consistency.  Use as a side dish, in burritos, on nachos, as a dip, or any other way you can think of.  A great variation is to add chipotle pepper for a richer flavor.

The crockpot method is also great for black beans and garbanzo beans. We will be enjoying these today as we hopefully cheer the Steelers on to victory!


Welcome to…


For the past few months, I have been thinking it would be fun to name our homeschool.  When we are asked where our children attend school, we answer, “We homeschool” or “They do school at home”.  While there is nothing wrong with not having a named school, I thought naming our school would give the kids some pride in attending a school they helped to name.

Coming up with a name hasn’t been easy.  We wanted a name that was symbolic of our family and values, and that had a tie to our faith and home (since it’s the physical location of the school).  I put the naming project aside for most of the fall simply due to busyness and lack of inspiration.

Today, we were finishing up our math work and I felt we should try to brainstorm a few names together and see if anything stuck out.  Our list included Chicken Academy (J) and Monster Truck School (C), among others.  When I told the kids I wanted the name to reflect something about our family and home, C said “tree, we have lots of trees”.  And as it turned out, the perfect name was right outside the window to our school room.

When we moved into our house last year, I was certain the tree outside our living room was dead.  The bark was peeling off everywhere and it had a large crack down the middle.  But, come spring to my amazement, big beautiful leaves appeared and it was one of our favorite trees to picnic under.  We had some friends over in the early fall and when seeing the tree, Mr. Friend said it looked like we had a sycamore tree.  The peeling bark is just the way sycamores grow and wasn’t because the tree was unhealthy.  Hearing sycamore made the kids and adults remember the story of Zaccheus, who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus over the crowds (Luke 19).

So today, as we looked out at that tree, the idea for Sycamore Academy was born.  And with it, a school moto: planting seeds of learning, rooted in faith and love.  When I think of teaching my children, the idea of growth and image of seeds and trees often comes to mind. While we are planting the seeds, it will be up to them to continue to grow in knowledge, kindness, compassion, determination, and faith after their few years under our roof have passed.  And it couldn’t be more fitting that the sycamore tree helped a man see Jesus and come to love him, a hope we have for our children as well.

We still have to get N’s vote before we can finalize the name, but I am pretty sure he will love it. I am hoping to design a school logo for a print for the school room and shirts for the family.  And now, I am off to make lunch for the students and headmistress of Sycamore.  Have a wonderful day!


Lessons from the Kitchen

I consider myself very blessed when it comes to food. I come from a line of gardeners and cooks.  Many of my childhood memories center on the family kitchen. My siblings and I used to lay on the wood floor of the kitchen while my mom made dinner and sang opera, which was funny when we were small and slightly embarrassing as we got older ( I now subject my children to the same). Holiday meals revolved around the making of delicacies like pierogi, sour mushroom soup, and pork pie.  Bowls of blackberries we picked ourselves would be covered in milk and sugar and baked into cobbler.  In the summer, fresh salsa from veggies we grew was a family favorite. My dad would start his hot pepper plants in the windows of our family room in cold PA winters and watch over them like they were his babies.

From a fairly young age, my mom encouraged us to help in the kitchen while she slowly taught us the recipes that her mother had taught her and meals that were staples on our dining room table.  To this day, my husband’s favorite recipe is my mom’s chicken Marsala and no matter how hard I try, it’s just never as good as hers, though I think I am getting close.

Knowing how to grow and cook my own food is one of the best lessons my family taught me.  Now that my children are getting a little older, we have started some kitchen traditions of our own.  Tuesday is baking day at our house.  Now that we are on our more relaxed December homeschool schedule (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE), we have a little more time in the afternoon for fun projects.  I have tried to balance outings with fun stay at home activities like baking and crafts.  C and J look forward to baking time every week.  Muffins were the recipe of the week, banana and blueberry orange oat.


In addition to Baking Day, C and J are now “in charge” of Friday dinners.  They pick the menu, write the list, go shopping ( with me of course), and help with the cooking.  J is only 4 but she is a great helper with measuring, mixing, and clean up.  C is 6 and I have started to let him do some careful cutting and helping to cook at the range.

These are some of the lessons we’re learning in the kitchen:

Math-On Tuesdays, we take our Math book work light because I know we are going to bake.  With fractions, conversions, weight, counting items to go in recipes, we are learning how math applies in everyday life.  C will now tell me how many times we need to fill the 1/2 cup measuring cup if we need 3 cups.  As part of our Classical Conversations  curriculum, both kids have memorized some basic unit of measurement conversions ( i.e. 3 tsp =1 Tbsp).  I love when they can make the connection to their memory work in the kitchen (I need to do a whole post about CC when I have time!).

Science-Baking has never been my strong point because it’s so precise.  I am a bit of a messy cook and love coming up with new recipes and combinations of flavors.  Cooking is very forgiving,  baking, not so much.  But it’s been so fun to teach the kids about why you need a certain amount of salt and sugar to help activate the yeast to make the bread rise.  It’s always good to have a recipe fail once in awhile so we can hypothesize about what went wrong and how we can make changes for next time.

Vocabulary and Talk time-The kitchen has a vocabulary all it’s own.  Words like “zest” are best learned in the actual zesting.  We also have lots of time for questions and answers and reading while our items bake or cook.


Life skills-This one is actually the most important in my mind.  I am glad to be able to give my kids a rigorous academic education.  But it’s more important to me that they succeed in the world as independent adults than which college they get into or profession they pursue.  When you cook your own food, you gain a grasp of where food comes from and basic economics.  The kids help me price compare at the store to find the best prices on the ingredients we need.  I can also show them how much more economical and healthy it is to make our own baked goods then buying them at the store at a high mark up and full of preservatives (not saying we never buy premade cookies, but you get the point).

My kids are learning to buy fresh ingredients that our best benefit our bodies.  Ever since they learned about beta carotene in carrots, they always mention their improved eyesight when eating them, which makes me laugh. They are really hoping it will eventually lead to night vision.  I don’t have the heart to correct that yet :).

 They learn about how some things in life work best in an order when following a recipe.  And one of my favorite lessons yet, resourcefulness, came up yesterday when we were out of baking powder and had to look up how to make our own (baking soda and cream of tartar, easy peasy).

If you want to take the learning to a whole new level, plant a garden.  We spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs and choosing which varieties of vegetables we will plant.  My husband makes scaled drawings of the garden space and where we will plant each crop. The kids loved checking our seeds each day to see if they’d sprouted. There is nothing like going outside and choosing items for dinner from your yard, for kids and adults alike.  Even at 32, I still find so much wonder in a tiny seed that grows into a mighty tree of kale or unruly vines of pumpkin.  Growing our own food is such a gift from start to finish.


There is nothing like food made with time together and love, two precious commodities.  I hope these lessons will stick with my boys and girl as they go out into the world with the ability to nourish the families they make.


Keeping the Holidays Simple and Meaningful

Just like many years before this, December 1st has arrived and I am in disbelief that another year has nearly come and gone.  We’ve already had our first snow, so the holiday spirit arrived early and we’ve been enjoying lots of hot cocoa while Christmas carols play in the background.

I am always so excited for the Christmas holiday season.  For me, each November brings memories of laughing family members, delicious foods made from scratch by the hands of my grandmothers, mother, and aunts. Playing cards with 3 generations after the Thanksgiving meal. Hanging ornaments on the tree and retelling all the stories surrounding each one.  Watching Christmas specials on TV.  Making Christmas cookies with my mom and carefully packaging them to deliver to neighbors and friends.  Candlelit church services and driving around to see all the homes sparkling with lights.


Now that I have my own little family, making memories like these is very important to me.  I want my children to have holiday memories filled with family, friends, laughter, and experiences.  Not gifts.  Now, I enjoy getting a gift just as much as anyone else.  But gifts have become the focus of a season meant for reflection and thanksgiving.  And you’ll notice something missing from the list of my memories above.  I have almost no recollection of the gifts I received as a child.  There are a few special Christmas gifts I remember, like Rudolph aka “Rudy” the red-nosed tabby cat I received for Christmas when I was 5.  But for the most part, the gifts are not in my memories.  Because gifts were never the focus of the holiday for my family growing up, and they aren’t for my family now that I’m grown.  With the holiday season now upon us, I thought I would share some ways we are trying to keep the real meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas alive in our family.

Keep the focus on thanks…

For the Thanksgiving holiday, we have started a few family traditions to keep our focus on being thankful for all we have.  We ask the kids to name one thing they are thankful for each night before their prayers.  I can tell when they are really tired, because the answer is always “our house” or “Mom and Dad”.  These are great things to be thankful for.  But occasionally they really blow me away with their answers like when one child said they were thankful they knew how to read or thankful we gave them a brother.  This simple and quick routine keeps our minds on giving thanks for what we have, not coveting what we don’t.

Keeping with that theme, we don’t shop on Black Friday or Thanksgiving.  I know the argument can be made that you can save lots of money on gifts you will give to those you love.  But it just doesn’t sit well with me that we have made a holiday celebrating consumerism exactly one day after we are supposed to be thankful for all we have.  I don’t agree with retailers being open on Thanksgiving or the wee hours of Friday, so I choose not to buy things during that time.  Yesterday, I asked the cashier at Target if she had to work Friday. Her response, “Yes and Thursday night”.  Her tone was not happy when saying this. We talked about how it took time away from enjoying a day with her family and she wished stores weren’t open Thursday.  No great deal is worth this in my opinion.  And for those who are wondering, we don’t shop online those days either.  It’s really not that hard to take a 2 day hiatus from buying things.  It also keeps our lives simpler.  I recycle the Black Friday flyers before they even come in the house and delete the emails without reading them.  Same goes for the toy catalogs. It’s a time saver I am happy to have.

And giving…

Our biggest holiday challenges revolve around gift giving and receiving. We are trying to find ways to limit the gifts coming in and to make wise decisions about the gifts we give.  There is a lot of money spent in the last two months of the year.  It’s heartbreaking to read of the credit card debt people go into over the holidays.  All for gifts that will likely be forgotten by this time next year.   My husband and I forgo getting each other gifts most years and have a special date instead.  We encourage relatives to donate to our children’s college fund or help pay for an experience like a zoo trip, museum outing, baseball game, etc. in lieu of another toy. We do realize gift giving can bring great joy, but it must be kept in check. Because we don’t want to be completely hard-line about no toys, we ask grandparents to limit gifts to a “want, a need, and a read”.  Three gifts because that is the number Jesus received from the wise men.  Our children have been more than happy with the few gifts they receive.  We also put more emphasis on fun family activities during the holidays like baking, visiting family, driving to see light displays in our jammies with hot cocoa filled Thermos, and remembering where we got each ornament on our tree (we buy an ornament on each vacation).

In years past, we’ve rung the bell for Salvation Army.  It was freezing, but we had fun singing carols to passers by while our children learned an important lesson about serving others.

To encourage a spirit of giving in our children, we make homemade gifts like ornaments, cookies, etc. for friends and family. This year we are excited to make some gifts using essential oils to pamper the special people in our lives.  We try to limit gifts for family members to something they actually need and is useful.

One of my favorite traditions is choosing a gift for Jesus.  A wise older mom from my church shared this idea with my MOPS group a few years ago and it quickly became a treasured tradition in our house.  In years past, we have chosen to give clean water in His name through Compassion International.  It’s so much fun to give the kids the Compassion Catalog and let them choose their gift to Jesus.

This year, we decided to take the giving a step further by sending a Christmas email instead of cards.  I generally spend between $50 and $100 on Christmas cards and postage each year.  While I love sending and receiving cards, the reality is they will end up in a recycling bin in a few weeks.  It’s like throwing money away.  So we are sending an email with pictures and a year in review letter and using the money we would have spent on cards to buy a small brood of hens for a family in need. The gift of livestock not only provides food, but a source of income which can make a world of difference to an impoverished family.

Remembering the Reason…

All our efforts to promote thanks and giving during the holidays point back to one thing : Jesus.   We have chosen to make a Jesse Tree this year to help us celebrate Advent by retelling the story of Jesus’ lineage and keeping us focused on Christ. By keeping our eyes on Him, it’s much easier not to get wrapped up in the consumerist chaos of the Christmas season. He is our reason to be thankful and our inspiration to give generously to those who need it most.  He challenges the very idea of what a gift looks like: the world expecting a King receives a baby born in hay. The best gifts live in our hearts and minds, not on our shelves.

I’d love to hear how you are keeping your holidays simple and focused this year.  May your Christmas by Merry and Bright!


Letting Go of the Good

There are some lessons in life that can only be learned from experience.  Raising 3 small children, I get to see this play out daily-learning about the power of heat from touching a hot object, the importance of taking care of your things when a favorite toy is broken because it was carelessly left in a bad place, I could think of at least 10 other examples.

This concept doesn’t change when we enter adulthood. Some lessons are best learned through experience. This year, I decided to pursue a business in a multi-level marketing (MLM) essential oil company.  It seemed a perfect fit with my passion for creating a healthier home environment for my family and using my background in education and communications to share the power of essential oils with others.

While the business was financially profitable for our family and gave me an outlet aside from role as “mom” and “teacher”, I recently decided after a few months of prayerful consideration to stop pursuing the business.  Here are some the valuable lessons I learned this year both from entering and ending the business:

1. Aligning my goals with my actions– For the past several years, our family has been on a quest for simplicity in all areas of our life.  That means whittling down possessions, moving to a smaller house in a rural setting, creating carefully planned family goals,  simplifying meal plans, learning to live off the land in new ways each year, homeschooling, etc.  While essential oils themselves have greatly added to simplicity in our household by cutting down on the cleaning supplies, personal care products, and medicines we buy, the MLM business model didn’t align with our goals for simplicity.  This is in no way meant to bash MLM businesses.  Plenty of women I respect are running successful MLM businesses and it works for them.

But with the hierarchies, team building, classes taught, complex ordering systems, ordering more things to meet a quota etc., the business didn’t align with our personal goals. Being more available to answer customer queries led to more time away, physically and mentally, from my family.  Again, not always bad.  But when I have goals of less computer time, less daily interruptions via text, email, etc., things weren’t lining up.  But because it was profitable and enjoyable, it took me awhile to admit this truth to myself.  When simplicity is a major theme in family life, each need endeavor added needs to be carefully considered to see if it will, in fact, further your goal of less hustle and bustle. At first, I didn’t want to think that the business was adding to stress in our life.  We even let go of some other commitments to see if they were the stressors.  But when the stress didn’t go away, it was time to take an honest look at our priorities and our activities to see where the disconnect was happening.  It was quickly evident to me that I needed to pray about making a change.

2. Define Your Why– One aspect of the business I really enjoyed was personal development.  Being out of the workforce for a few years now, it was invigorating to listen to trainings and do assessments that helped me focus and plan for goals.  One statement that leaders often put before us was “Define Your Why”, encouraging us to put into words why this business was important to us.  I saw my “why” as encouraging others to find natural alternatives to take proactive steps in their health.  The trouble for me wasn’t defining my “why”, it was my “how”.  With a high involvement in church ministries and commitments, homeschooling my own 3, tutoring in our Classical Conversations community, and other responsibilities, my plate was already overflowing like Thanksgiving day when there isn’t a spare centimeter of clear space.  But then Grandma would put out the pierogi.  Something needs to come off the plate.  Or to quote Ron Swanson, a favorite character from a favorite show, Parks and Recreation, “Never do two things half-assed, do one thing whole assed.”

While this quote always makes me laugh, there is a lot of truth to it.  I am a firm believer in doing a few things well instead of many things in mediocrity.  With many things starting to look mediocre in my day to day, I had to evaluate if it was the business or the passion of sharing that was really my why.  It wasn’t the business. So, I found a new “how”.  I really enjoy blogging.  I am able to set specific time constraints and schedule my writing while sharing with many people our “search for the simple” things in life. It’s a creative outlet for me, serves as a journal, and  is still a way to fulfill my “why”.  Blogging also gives me the freedoms to discuss all the ways we pursue natural health and all the companies helping us in that journey.   I am excited to diversify a bit as I have never really been a “brand loyal” type of gal and share our experiences across the board.

You Only Get One– This could easily sum up the lesson God taught me through this entire year.  We only get one shot at this life. And in a year marked with illness and tragedy in our family, we have truly come to realize the fragility of life.  This life is beautiful and too short to be doing anything we don’t absolutely love.  This is not to say we are going to love every mundane task.  I love my kids, but will never say I LOVE changing a dirty diaper.  But when we do have a choice, it should be something we love. So while this was a difficult process of making the choice to leave behind a profitable and upwardly mobile business, the peace I feel in making the decision is proof that it was the right choice…for me.

I’ve been reading the book The Best Yes over the past few months and so much of what Lysa Terkeurst has to say has resonated with me in this season of life. Sometimes we have to let go of perfectly good things to make room for the things we love, the best things. When there is a voice in your heart telling you that you need to let go of something, listen to that voice because it’s likely our great God who has something even better in store for you.

When I let go, in obedience, to something good, God makes room for His best.

While I am incredibly passionate about simple living and natural health, it is God who is the ultimate Healer.  My focus must first be on Him if I am to be healthy in any way.  Because the health of my soul will always be more important than the health of this body I will leave behind one day.  Listening to God’s call for my life and the dreams He places in my heart will always lead me on the right path, even if that means letting go of something good.


All Hail Kale!

kale 1

Over here at 5H homestead, we spent the last few weeks digging out the last of this year’s crops and prepping the garden for next spring.  With the exception of a few potatoes we probably missed, the only plants we left were our kale plants.  Really kale trees would be a more accurate term.  They were almost as tall as my 4 year old daughter and had stems a few inches in diameter.  We had two kale plantings this year, one in May and one in July, totaling about 10 plants.  We harvested the majority of the kale this week, as sub freezing temps will be the norm next week around here (yikes!)

Here are some reasons I love kale:

1. It’s hardy.  Kale will continue to grow through light frost, which where we live means at least November.  The leaves are more tough than spinach or lettuces, so they can withstand cold and bugs very well.  We didn’t use any pesticides, natural or otherwise, and had very little pest damage to our kale.  It will also keep in your fridge longer than spinach or lettuces.

2. It’s versatile.  I will share some of my favorite kale recipes below, but this is a very versatile “green” (It’s technically a cruciferous vegetable).  We use it in salads, soups, stews, smoothies, as a side dish, etc.

3. It’s HEALTHY!  Check out this info by Alison Lewis at MindBodyGreen:

Kale is being called “the new beef”, “the queen of greens” and “a nutritional powerhouse.” Here are ten great benefits of adding more kale to your diet:

1. Kale is low in calorie, high in fiber and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It is great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its great fiber content. It’s also filled with so many nutrients, vitamins, folate and magnesium as well as those listed below.

2. Kale is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more.

3. Kale is high in Vitamin K. Eating a diet high in Vitamin K can help protect against various cancers. It is also necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions including normal bone health and blood clotting. Also increased levels of vitamin K can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Kale is filled with powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids help protect against various cancers.

5. Kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids, which help, fight against arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

6. Kale is great for cardiovascular support. Eating more kale can help lower cholesterol levels.

7. Kale is high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for your vision, your skin as well as helping to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.

8. Kale is high in Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and your hydration.

9. Kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility

10. Kale is a great detox food. Kale is filled with fiber and sulfur, both great for detoxifying your body and keeping your liver healthy.  (Originally posted 4/2/2012 on MindBodyGreen by Alison Lewis)

So by now, you are thinking you should eat more kale.  I would encourage you to grow your own if you have the space (not much space required).  It’s a really easy crop and will produce for you all growing season.  We grew Halhoher Gruner Krauser kale, an heirloom variety from Seed Savers Exchange ( It’s one of the first plants to go in the ground, grows quickly, and the last to stop producing. It did very well and we will use the same variety next year.

Here are some of our family’s favorite ways to enjoy kale:

Chicken Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Soup

-3-4 chicken sausages cut into chunks

-one onion, roughly chopped

-16 oz cannellini beans

-4-5 large leaves of kale, chopped

-3 cups chicken broth

Sautee onion and sausage in a large sauce pan with a little oil until onions are translucent.  Add beans and kale, cook 5 additional minutes on medium-high heat.  Turn down heat, add broth, and continue to heat on low until heated through (about 30 minutes).  This is a quick weeknight favorite in our house.

Add chopped frozen kale to smoothies for a veggie boost.

Kale Fatoosh

-1 cup cooked quinoa

-finely chopped cucumber, tomato, and red onion ( your preference on amount, I am not much of a purist when it comes to recipes)

-4 cups finely chopped raw kale leaves ( I use the food processor on pulse to get the leaves just right)

-Dressing- I buy a fatoosh dressing from a local specialty store as it’s my favorite dressing.  You could use any lemon based vinaigrette.  Toss all ingredients in a large bowl and chill.  Add feta cheese if desired.


This Middle Eastern dish is traditionally made with kale, caramelized onion, and bulgar wheat.  It was my first introduction to kale when I worked at Ali Baba’s in Pittsburgh (AWESOME restaurant).  My at home version will never compete with Ali Baba’s, but we like it. I skip the bulgar wheat and serve it with pita and hummus.

-3 onions chopped

-3 tbsp oil ( I use coconut or grapeseed)

-10 to 12 leaves kale, hard stem removed, torn in pieces.

-salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon to taste.

Sautee onions over low-med heat until nicely browned and soft (45 minutes).  Add in kale and spices.  Cook on medium until kale is nicely wilted.  Serve with hummus and pita or spicy roasted cauliflower with tahini.

Happy Kale Cooking!


Us and Them

I recently was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Texas.  He told his audience that we are all one phone call away from having our lives turned completely upside down.

I received that phone call Friday morning from my husband, who had received a life-changing text at 3 am from his father.  N and I always turn our phones on airplane mode at night, so he didn’t read the text until later Friday morning.  In his calm, collected voice, N told me that he received word from his dad that his aunt, Colleen Hufford, had been attacked at work and had not survived the attack. The breath was taken out of my lungs and I could have sworn my heart stopped.  My brain was furiously trying to make sense of the words.  But when senseless things happen, no meaning can be made.

We knew very little detail about what had happened, but being citizens of a digital society, we would soon begin to learn more than we could ever imagine, and frankly, more than we could process.

Headlines changed from attack to murder to confirmed beheading. To type out that word is painful.  It seems like a barbaric practice from ancient history, not something we would ever expect in this country.  Two days later, we are still in shock ( I imagine we will be for some time).  I cannot even begin to fathom what Colleen’s husband and daughter are going through. They have lost the love of their life, their mother, their grandmother.

We immediately reached out to our closest friends, community group, and church prayer team for prayer for the family.   We kept the details vague, but as news reports spread and her name was released, we found ourselves saying over and over, “Yes, she was the woman from Oklahoma killed at her workplace” and “Yes, she was the one killed in the horrific story you read about.” Our close friends had remembered that this was the same Hufford family who had lost their home and everything in it less than a year and a half ago in a tornado that struck Moore, OK.

I took to social media to spread the word to friends and family.  I was torn about doing it, but N’s family needed all the prayers they could get.  And making one announcement over the Internet is easier on our weary hearts than explaining the lost look on our faces right now to each individual friend and acquaintance we encounter.

I will admit I don’t often watch the news and get most news updates as I check emails daily.  But, of course, when a catastrophe strikes, I tune in to get the details.  When I have read about terrible tragedies like the shooting the in Colorado theater, Boston Marathon bombing,  or Newtown school massacre, my heart ached for “them”.  You see, I had true, heartfelt emotion for the families enduring the incomprehensible loss and suffering. I cried and prayed for each family touched by unthinkable loss.

But I never believed such tragedy would overtake our family.  And not in a defiant way like, “Oh, that could never happen to us.”   I was truly so sorry for “them”, but it never even crossed my mind that I would read about the gruesome, random, senseless death of my husband’s relative on CNN, NBC, The New York Times.

In an instant, we had become “them”- a family affected by an unthinkable tragedy.  The one thing I have said over and over to friends in the last 48 hours is that you never in your wildest imaginings picture seeing the personal tragedy of your family played out on 24 hour news and Internet venues.  Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.

Though this is something I never would have thought my husband’s family to go through, there are beacons of light in this extreme darkness.  I have a whole new understanding and perspective for the horrors that occur in this world.  My prayer life is more honest and deeper because of this tragedy. I have literally screamed at God this week, and known He can handle it and feels my pain.

Unfortunately, this is not the only hardship my family has gone through this year.  But it is certainly the hardest to process.  But when I hear of other stories of Christians suffering the same end in Iraq due to ISIS or children who are diagnosed with life threatening diseases (both of which I have learned about in the past few weeks), my heart is leaning more toward empathy than sympathy. And I am even more aware that people all over the world are brutally attacked, raped and murdered every day.  But to us, they will be forever nameless, with no recognition of their lives and no justice for the atrocities they face.  My heart is heavy, sick, and crying out to God for mercy for these people.  I have the peace of knowing God is bigger than all of this.  This life can kick you when you’re down, wear you out, and break you. That is when we need God and each other more than ever.

My family has never met the majority of my husband’s family due to geographical distance.  But they are praying and looking for ways to help as if it were their own flesh and blood. I am so proud to be a part of a family who goes beyond their own hardships to serve others.

Living far from family, I have always celebrated the amazing support system we have in our church family and friends. Today I ran 10 miles with Team World Vision as our half marathon is just a few weeks away.  One of my very best friends was waiting for me before the training run as I exited my car to hug me tight. She actually startled me when I looked out the window and we both laughed. We had no words, but that embrace meant more than anything she could have said.  Another friend prayed not only with me, but she prayed for us during the majority of her 10 mile run. We have received countless emails, texts and offers for help in any way from friends near and far. Friends have brought cards and flowers to our home. We were hugged and cried with and stood in still silence with our church family at service tonight.  And N and I sang loudly to profess “the Lord our God is EVER faithful”.  He has not foresaken us, even in this.

For my final thoughts, I pray with everything in me that no other “us” becomes another “them”.  I know that is unlikely, but I also know my God is greater than I can even begin to fathom. The solution to this is beyond me, but we can all do something.

First, be sure to tell the people in your world you love them, every opportunity you get.  Because you may not get a tomorrow.

Second, pray for the “thems”.  We read of tragedy daily in this world and these people need to be surrounded by prayer and helped in tangible ways.  What if instead of going out to dinner  one time a week, we found a family in need on GoFundMe or CrowdRise and gave them $25-$50 instead? People dealing with tragedy need to know that they have a team of people backing them up.

Third,  teach your children about love and peace.  Being a Christian, I know many people who identify as Christians can be bigots, spiteful, and terrible to those who aren’t.  I apologize for those people and honestly question if they’ve ever opened a Bible.  But I also offer this: we are all sinners, don’t look to us. Because no matter how much I try to love all my fellow man, I will always come up short. Look to Jesus.  He spent his time with people everyone wrote off and hated.  And He loved them.  And he called them his friends.  And He gave his life as a ransom for many. Let’s all take a page from His playbook and show each other a little more compassion.

Maybe one day, we will see an end to all these random acts of violence. And as far as seeking peace goes, it is my prayer that you would pray for the soul of Colleen’s attacker.  If I am honest, bile rises in my throat as I write that.  The part of me that seeks retribution wants to see justice served on this man and served harshly.  I know that’s not a very “Christian” thing to say.  But I am human and this man has hurt our family to the core.  However, I know that no matter what punishment this man faces on this side of eternity, it is no match for Hell.  I pray that he can come to recognize the gravity of his actions, seek forgiveness, and find Truth in Christ. Thank you for being “us” with us as we figure out how to be “them” with grace. May the peace and love of the Lord be upon you always, -L