Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Natural Cleaning Products

Natural cleaners entered our home about 4 years ago, and I can't even remember how I got started on them. While I would love to say that I made the switch to "green" cleaning products to be more earth-conscious and healthy, I think I was more motivated by the desire to save a little money. It was the same thing with switching over to cloth diapers. But as a result I have become much more conscious of how all of our decisions in regard to the products we use can affect both the environment and our health. For me it feels really great to use products that work well (I personally find the products I use now to be way more effective than their commercial counterparts) and are also not dangerous for my children who want to help clean or my one year old who might go exploring under the sink.

When I first got started with natural cleaners I used a basic cleaner made up of half vinegar, half water. And then I added a little tea tree oil as a disinfectant. After a while I got lazy and started using Simple Green, which I have since learned is actually NOT a very green product. I have since dumped it. About 6 months ago though I got back on track with making my own products. I don't know what got into me but  one day I just got up and revamped our whole cleaning system. I put together a basket for each bathroom and for the kitchen in order to have everything easily accessible for each place when I am cleaning. This also allows for more easy on the spot cleaning. I cleaned out all of our old spray bottles to reuse with my homemade vinegar cleaner. I put a bottle in each basket along with a bottle containing just plain water. I also put a tupperware container full of baking soda in each basket, along with a cleaning sponge and a cleaning rag. Lastly I added to each basket a little dark spry bottle that I filled with hydrogen peroxide. Here is a summary of what products I use for what chores:

Basic Cleaning: I use a mix of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water with a few drops of essential oils. I use this in a spray bottle to clean counter tops, floors, bathroom fixtures, the microwave, etc. Instead of using paper towels I use cleaning cloths made by Casabella and e-Cloth. I started out with the Casabella cloths and then my friend Catherine introduced me to e-cloths on her blog. I like them both quite a bit but am considering trying out another brand. I will keep you posted on that! 

Stainless Steel Appliances: For these I either use the vinegar spray or just a spray of plain water with the e-cloths specialized for stainless steel, though I have found that the general e-cloths work fine too. The same would work for non-stainless steel appliances.

Sinks and Bath tubs: For these I use plain old baking soda and a scrub brush. It works great! This will work just fine on grout and tile as well, though our tub is in desperate need of a re-grout job so not even the greatest product can save us at this point! But to clean basic mold and mildew in bathrooms you can use the vinegar spray or hydrogen peroxide. If memory serves, I have heard that vinegar can wear down grout though, just FYI.

Mirrors and Windows: All I use here is water and the cloths from e-cloth intended for windows. It does take a little bit of elbow grease to get the windows and mirrors clean, but they are gleaming afterward!

Floors: We have porcelain tile floors in the kitchen and bathrooms. To clean them I will either use the vinegar cleaning spray with a rag or I will use my floor steam mop. I love my steam mop but the handle is broken so it is a little harder to use right now. Steam mops are a great way to clean and disinfect though!

Blinds and Basic Dusting: My least favorite chore is dusting. I use these dusting gloves. They make things soooo much easier!

Toilet Bowls: I either use baking soda with vinegar or the leftovers we still have of Clorox green toilet cleaner (which I am not even entirely sure is truly green - we won't buy more after we use it all up).

To disinfect or clean mold on windows I use hydrogen peroxide. I bought a couple of little hairspray bottles (the bottle needs to be dark for hydrogen peroxide) and dumped out the hairspray and cleaned them out. Then I filled with the hydrogen peroxide. I use this on door handles or other things I want to disinfect. For the mold on windows I first use the vinegar spray with a paper towel and then follow it up with the hydrogen peroxide.

So those are my cleaning basics. I have found that having the right products can make cleaning quite a bit more fun! And seriously, this route makes cleaning so much cheaper! The cleaning cloths might seem expensive at first, but keep in mind that they last for years and seriously reduce the need for paper towels. So they pay for themselves pretty quickly - not to mention they are better for the environment and do a FAR better job cleaning than paper towels do.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Attempts At House Cleaning

I finally have stopped pumping milk for James and now I am catching up on many things that I wasn't able to do this past year. Cleaning is one of them! Before I had children I had a weekly cleaning time where I cleaned my entire house pretty thoroughly. After our first child Elise came that weekly time quickly vanished, only to be replaced with occasional cleaning times as there was need. I don't think our house has ever gotten super dirty, but as we have added more children and the time I have available to clean has simultaneously decreased, so too has the condition of our home. It is overwhelming!

Well, now a weekly couple hours of cleaning is not very realistic. However, my husband sent me an article a couple of years ago that talked about organizing the house into different areas and cleaning in one area for 15-20 minutes each day of the week. The idea is that you could get your whole house clean over the course of a week. Such a great idea! As I tried to figure out how to do this in my house I quickly realized there was no way I could clean my entire house in 5 or 6 15-minute slots. At least not at this point. So I improvised and divided my house into 4 zones, with the plan that I could focus on one zone each week. It would take one month to get the entire house thoroughly clean, but hey, that would result in more cleaning than I was doing at the time. I made this beautiful colored graph and everything and was so excited to get started. But, it never happened! I was probably pregnant or something and I just couldn't implement the new plan.

Fast forward to today. Now that I am not pumping for 2+ hours a day, I have a tiny bit more time (most of which is taken up with the kiddos) to actually get some cleaning in. So for the past three weeks I have been implementing my two-year old plan. And I really love it! Now it remains to be seen if I can stick with it, but at least this is a great start. The first week I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen, pantry and laundry room. Last week I did the dining room, living room, and my daughter Elise's room. This week is the office, entry way, boys' room and downstairs bathtub (the rest of that bathroom gets cleaned weekly because we host a community group for our church). The fourth week of the month I will clean the master bedroom and bath and the baby's room. Some things still need to be cleaned more regularly (like the sinks, counters and kitchen floors), but usually those just take a few minutes here and there.

Keeping a clean house can make an impact on overall health. Lots of dust in the air, as well as mold and mildew have the real potential to harm our bodies. However, if we are using toxic chemicals to get rid of dust, mildew and mold, we are setting ourselves up for even more harm. Over the past few years I have slowly transitioned to using natural cleaning products. There are so many reasons I am excited about this! Next time I will share with you some of the things I am currently using to make cleaning safer and easier in my home!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chicken and Biscuits Recipe

I LOVE chicken pot pie! Seriously love! I remember the first time I went to a Marie Calendar's restaurant and got one of their amazing pies with the perfectly flaky crust and rich chicken and veggie filling. Oh yum! When Nik and I got married his mom gave me a pot pie recipe that I made regularly. It was one of our favorite dishes, always served with tons of cold cottage cheese. Now that we are gluten and dairy free that meal is a distant memory for sure. However I have made lots of variations through the years to try to keep it alive in some form. I have tried several gluten free crusts but none were real winners, and I wasn't crazy about the ingredients anyway. In the last few years I have opted to just make a pot pie filling and serve with biscuits. Now that we are trying to do less grains, I have been making the biscuits out of coconut flour. They are pretty sweet so the flavor is a bit different than traditional biscuits, but they are still really tasty.

Now in the past this dish has not been the biggest hit with my kids. I was always so surprised that they didn't love it! I remember always being such a fan as a kid. I think the big issue was that they prefer not to have their food all mixed together. When I made this a couple of days ago it was the first time they seemed to enjoy it. Finally!

I am going to be really honest - this is not the quickest of meals to make. Nothing about it is too tricky or complicated, but it involves a lot of cutting and chopping and a few different pots. As I look over the recipe I keep feeling like it shouldn't take so long, but every time I make it it ends up being a little more involved than I thought it would be. Part of it is that pulling all of the chicken off of the bone and cutting it up is really time consuming. So this is not something I make too often. This week I made a bigger amount and we had this two nights in a row to make all of the work worth it.

Last thing to mention before getting to this recipe - from the picture it looks really potato-heavy and lacking in chicken. We were half way through dinner when I remembered to take a picture. My son had the fullest and neatest plate so I took a picture of his meal, but he had already eaten most of his chicken. So the picture isn't super accurate :).

Chicken Pot Pie Filling with Biscuits


  • 1 Whole Chicken, cooked, meat removed and cut up (I have the butcher cut up the chicken into 8 pieces for me) - I cook mine at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
  • 8 medium-sized carrots, sliced
  • 4 large red potatoes
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 4 Tbsp butter or palm oil
  • 2-3 C frozen peas
  • 2 C chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp thickener (I used arrowroot starch, but you could use any flour or starch)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)


  1. Steam the carrots and potatoes in a large pot until fork tender. For me this takes about 20-30 mins, depending on how small I cut the veggies.
  2. While the carrots/potatoes are steaming, melt butter or palm oil in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery and garlic and saute until tender. Add the thyme.
  3. Once the potatoes and carrots are done add to the onion mixture. Add the frozen peas as well.
  4. Mix the thickener in with the chicken stock and stir to incorporate it completely. Then add the stock to the stock pot. Bring to a soft boil and then reduce heat slightly, stirring until thickened. 
  5. Now add the salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Serve over biscuits of your choice. Here is the recipe I used. I made the recipe times 1 1/2 to make enough biscuits for two nights. (You will have to scroll down the page to find the biscuit recipe. I feel like these are way to sweet so I cut the honey in half.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Surviving a Road Trip With Kids

Whew! It has been a long few weeks, but I am finally getting back to writing! Our family went on vacation to Idaho a couple of weeks ago. When you have a family with food sensitivities, in addition to one on a whole foods diet, vacations end up looking quite a bit different than the typical eat out as you go vacations. After all of the menu planning, grocery shopping, food preparation, packing and other things that went into our vacation I sincerely needed another break to recover from all of the work :). But it was soooo worth it. We had a great time and made many beautiful memories! 

Our Idaho vacation involved a 6-7 hour car trip each way. We have done a few car trips with the kids over the years, and thankfully they have all gone really well. Of course we have had the occasional kerfuffle, like Joel getting overheated and throwing up in the car (note to self: keep air conditioning on in the back of the car during road trips!), but our kids for the most part are awesome travelers. I am sure most of it is just good fortune (and a lot of prayer!). However there are a few things we have done to try to make the road traveled a bit smoother. So in memory of our wonderful trip I thought I would share our travelling tips!

Have Plenty For Them To Do

I am sure most parents already do this, but every time we travel we make sure the kids bring a backpack on the trip loaded with activities they will enjoy doing. A day or two before we leave I have the kids bring me their packs and choose their favorite coloring books, reading books and toys. We just stuff their packs as full as possible. I give them each a ziplock bag with their own crayons or colored pencils for easy access. I don't allow markers in the car. For our 3 year old Erik I keep his bag in a place where I can access it so I can pass toys back to him. I need a pretty good pile of things since he tends to drop things along the way. Oh, and I must not forget that they also have their favorite blankets and stuffed animals with them to keep them occupied! One must never travel without those :)!

Snacks, Snacks and More Snacks

I think this is the key to our travelling success. I give the kids several bags of snacks and keep them eating throughout the whole trip. This helps in two ways. Number one it negates the need to stop for lunch or dinner because instead of stopping to eat we just snack through our meals in the car. But this also keeps the kids sooo happy. Whenever they start getting really bored or stir crazy we let them dig into another snack bag. For this trip I did the same basic things on both the way there and the way back. We had organic green smoothies (loaded with calories to fill the kiddos up) in their stainless steel straw cups, carrot sticks, lunch meat slices, grapes, popcorn, and these homemade granola bars as well as a banana each. (For the granola bars I did slightly less honey, which made them a bit crumbly, and I also used soaked and dehydrated nuts & seeds). I also had large bottles of water for them to keep them hydrated. I found that I had just enough food to last for our 6 hour trip. If we had a longer drive I definitely would have needed more food bags!

Family Quiet Time With Video Reward

Because we still have young nappers in our family we need to have a time of quiet in the car so they can sleep. We usually keep it to about an hour and as a helpful incentive they can watch a short video in the car afterward. We are NOT normally bribe advocates, but I think that car trips can qualify as an exception to the rule. We usually do this toward the end of the trip, as we try to keep the video watching to a minimum. I also save their favorite snack for the video time. So if you wanted to try this out but don't have a DVD player in the car you could just use a special snack as a reward.

We didn't do this on our last trip, but in the past we have played games like rock, paper scissors and I-Spy or we have sung songs (singing Christmas carols together is so fun if you are travelling around the holidays). As far as keeping baby happy goes, I don't have much of a strategy. We just pray a lot and hope for the best. Thankfully our baby James is located in the very center of the car and I think he was just so happy to be with the whole family that he was content for the majority of the trip. I had plenty of pacifiers handy and a bag full of toys and small board books to pass back to him though.

So for those of you with young kiddos, what are your strategies for keeping the kids occupied in the car? For those of you without kids, what do you do to keep yourself content during a long car ride? I would love to hear your thoughts! Oh, and if you want a grain free granola bar, you really should try out that recipe I put up the link for. It really is yummalicious!