All natural, baby

Gina Butz DIY 3 Comments

“Hey, this tennis ball smells like lemons!”

Yes, yes it does, son. It’s just one part of my continuing quest to go more natural throughout my house. First stop: laundry room. I’ve read too many things about the dangerous chemicals in our laundry rooms to not try making my own detergent and fabric softener. After a little bit of research, here’s what I’ve been doing:

I posted this last month – my giant batch of laundry detergent, made from washing soda, baking soda, Borax, and three bars of castille soap that I shredded in my food processor (no, thankfully, my food does not taste like soap). My sister-in-law tried the same recipe and we both came to the same conclusion: it seems to get things clean, but they don’t necessarily smell clean. They don’t smell bad – they just, well, don’t smell. Maybe we’re just used to things smelling a lot, which doesn’t actually mean they’re clean; they’re just full of chemicals that smell. Today was the greatest test – I threw in a pair of socks that were quite black on the bottom. After being washed they weren’t sparkling white, but they were significantly cleaner – as clean as I’d have expected them to be otherwise, given that I did nothing to help them out prior to washing, poor socks. (side note: they aren’t actually my socks. I don’t know whose they are. Rachel? Missing some socks?)

Next, fabric softener. I decided to go with tennis balls. Hence, a tennis ball that smells like lemons because I put lemon essential oil on it first (actually I could have sworn I used lavender, but it might be that Ethan couldn’t tell the difference) to make it smell nice.

The first time I used one, I realized that my towels felt different. I was afraid they would be stiff and scratchy, but they are actually very soft. The difference is that they don’t feel coated with some kind of film. This I count as a good thing. Our clothes are not as static free as they might be, but it does enough.

So far, I like that it’s less expensive, easy and better for us. Next stop: cleaning supplies!

Now What?

Gina Butz transition 0 Comments

My extended family is currently heading north through Florida on their way back to the chilly midwest, and we’re left asking, “Now what?’

Up until now, we’ve been in a process of going somewhere. Our last months in China were preparation for getting everything from that side of the world to this one. This whole fall has been a time of waiting for all of that to get here. We were living in limbo.

But now we’re here. The waiting is done. Now we’re supposed to start doing life like we normally do, except I have no idea how. There’s no rhythm, no routine.

Oh sure, we’re figured out a few things, like the fact that we need to learn how to stock up when we’re “in town” because the nearest store is 15 minutes away. We’ve got running routes determined around the neighborhood which does wonders for getting us going in the morning (and for the dog!). We have food in the refrigerator and laundry running. We’re functioning.

But I look at Megan’s new guitar and think, “She needs guitar lessons. I don’t know where to find a guitar teacher.” Ethan wants to join soccer. Where? And where is the library? Our kids ask me daily, “What are we doing today?” and I don’t how to answer them. Who do they play with and when? And who do I get to play with? I don’t have a “this day we do this” mentality yet (and if you know me, you know that structure is my very good friend).

Yes, it’s all a little overwhelming, but nothing we haven’t done before. It’s just a new wave of transition, a bigger one, that will be a bit harder to ride.

So I take a deep breath and say, “One day at a time. We’re going to figure this out.”

IKEA . . . or . . . Excuse Me, Can I Follow You?

Gina Butz culture, transition 0 Comments


Trust IKEA to be my cultural undoing again. I successfully navigated my way there today to find a few things for our house that I simply cannot find anywhere else, like all the shelf hooks that are missing from our IKEA bookshelf. They must have decided to head back to Sweden instead of migrating here with us.

It wasn’t as unnerving as the other time I’ve been there in the US, possibly because there were more people. There still weren’t enough Asians though. Every time I saw one, I literally felt more at ease. Something about seeing Asian faces made me feel like everything was right with the world. I was tempted even to follow them around the store like a creepy stalker. If I were emotionally less stable right now I probably would have, but thankfully I’m doing ok. I settled for just being happy whenever I saw them.

On the other hand, I was also cheered by the fact that I could read all the signs and that the meatballs are cheaper here.

One Week

Gina Butz Uncategorized 2 Comments

One week ago we had just pulled up to our new home in Orlando. Over the course of seven days, we’ve unpacked 95% of the boxes, painted the dining room, living room, hallways, kitchen, and office, and stripped and refinished a coffee table (it was previously traffic sign yellow – not the antique yellow I had requested). We have organized closets and furniture. The chainsaw has chewed down enough trees that I’m pretty sure our neighbors to the north are a little upset with us for taking away part of their view. Three toilets (yep – all three) have been fixed, and a new pool pump and garbage disposal have been ordered. In the midst of all of that, we have fielded about 30 phone calls from companies who are super happy to welcome us to the neighborhood and would like to sell us a newspaper subscription or security system or water testing. Most importantly, the trampoline is assembled.

There’s still a lot to do – more rooms to paint, pictures to hang, rooms to organize, a yard to tame. I can’t help feeling like I am squatting in someone else’s house and at any moment they will return and demand to know what we are doing here. If they do, I hope they like the paint job. I know I do.

Before and after – we’re doing our best to make it feel like home.

Project 365 November

Gina Butz photos 0 Comments

Ok, so this month I wanted to try harder to take a picture every day again, but at the same time I had to pack up all our belongings, including everything of ours that’s been at my parents’ house for over a decade while we were overseas, and drive cross country to our new home. So I focused on getting “everyday” shots and managed to get one most days.
My experiment with homemade laundry soap
A country road on the way up to the Cities
Ethan taking cover with his new Nerf gun
cozy and peaceful
An almost daily sight with Megan hamming it up
Which stain do I want?
My bedside – notice the library stack!
The last blooms
Read aloud
Baking with my sister
The heat was broken so school was often here
Or just bundled up
But then we had a glorious 70 degree day
One of my many books this fall
A special treat
A familiar sight – dropping Erik off to go to Orlando
Our cake pop adventure
My sweet grandma
Too many road trips!
Preparing the van
Leaving bright and early from Milwaukee
Another early morning
Trees on the grounds of Graceland
Early morning fog


Gina Butz DIY 0 Comments

I love color, especially on my walls. To me, white walls are just a canvas – they must have color.

Apparently, the previous owners of our house were kindred spirits in this regard, although the argument could and will be made that they took it a little too far.

When we first walked into our living room, we could see not one, not two, but five colors: dark red, yellow, orange, aqua, and peach. This is beyond “feature wall.” It’s not just in the living area though – it’s throughout the house. Usually it’s two walls of one color and one wall of another, like in our bathroom, the office, and the laundry room.

We think the logic went, “Hmm . . . I bought this gallon of orange to do one wall in the laundry room, but I still have more. Let’s do another wall. What – still more? Let’s do that little bit of the hallway.” This logic was applied repeatedly throughout the house, so that one of the blues in the media room shows up on two walls of the office. Another one of them appears in our bathroom. The other color in our bathroom is also in the kids’ bathroom. The yellow in part of the dining room matches the other two walls in the office. And then there’s that odd space in Ethan’s room where they seemed to have started sponge painting with a Twinkie and then gave up (maybe they sensed the Twinkie’s impending doom and chose to eat it instead).

All this I would like to remedy. Thankfully, some of the colors I actually like and would have chosen myself, so our bedroom and the guest room will remain the same.

Thankfully down the street (and by “down the street” I mean, “the closest stores to us, which are still about 5 miles away”) there is a Sherwin Williams store which has delightful names for their colors like On the Rocks and Dill and Pebblestone, all of which will be making appearances in our home. It also seems to be where the previous owners purchased paint. Using my otherwise fairly useless minute color difference spotting skills acquired during my stint as a photographic technician in a one-hour photo store I managed to pick out the colors they used on the walls we’d like to keep, so we can cover the ones we don’t.

Tomorrow, we paint!


If one color is good, two is better!

Thoughts on Unpacking

Gina Butz Uncategorized 2 Comments

Thoughts going through my mind as we try to organize our belongings into a home:

I’d like to ___________ (hang the shower curtain, assemble the bed, dry my hair, etc) if only I could find ______________(curtain rings, the set of screws, my hair dryer, etc.)

Hey look – that fits perfectly there!

Where are my indoor shoes?

Hmm . . . where on earth are we going to put this piece of furniture?

Hey! That thing!

Wow. Our master bedroom is stinkin’ huge.

Where are my indoor shoes?

It’s amazing how fast our dog can run when given the chance.

I love Target.

Where did all this stuff come from?

I still need my indoor shoes.


They’re in there somewhere.


Adventures in Our Odyssey

Gina Butz transition 0 Comments


See what I did there? Not just Adventures IN Odyssey, but in OUR Odyssey. That’s clever only to those of you whose young children are entertained by Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey series, and even then maybe only a small percentage of you. I thought of it though because it was one of the ways we passed the time in our Odyssey during the 4 day journey to our new home.

On paper, driving a total of 29 hours with two mini-vans, seven adults, two children, three dogs and a trailer sounds like a National Lampoon’s vacation. In reality, it wasn’t bad at all.

I’ll confess, learning to navigate the interstate at reduced speeds with a larger, crazy heavy load because of the trailer was a little hairy. I wasn’t even driving, but within 15 minutes I was having thoughts about turning back. I took the wheel halfway across Wisconsin. The last 45 minutes or so through Milwaukee in the dark with heavy traffic managed to squeeze some fairly inhuman squeals from me. I’d rather drive in China any day.

We went to Milwaukee to pick up two of the aforementioned adults and one of the dogs. As we looked ahead to what was a planned two more days of driving, we realized that it seemed a bit infeasible without driving 15 hours the first day and leaving our transmission somewhere in the hills of Tennessee. We decided to stretch it to three which only required finding new hotels to accomodate three dogs. It was an excellent decision.

Ethan was busy making decisions of his own. We’d told them that the whole way could not be spent staring at their 7″ TV screens or iPads, so he developed a schedule which went something like, “First hour, we rest. Then we watch a movie for two hours. Then we read for an hour. Then we listen to Adventures in Odyssey . . . ” We didn’t realize how serious he was until he asked to put in a movie. Erik told him, “We’re going to stop soon buddy,” and Ethan replied, “But we have to stay on schedule!” That wasn’t the only time that happened.

I have to say I’m surprised at how diverse the US geography isn’t, at least the way we took. Illinois and Missouri were incredibly flat and Mississippi had some beautiful rolling hills through the woods, but for the most part if you’d told me I was in Minnesota at any given time, I wouldn’t have doubted you. Our only stop of interest was Graceland, and that was because in our quest to find the cheapest gas around ($3.04!) we happened onto Elvis Presley Blvd and figured why not? So we took a picture from the fence and called it good.

I swear the minute we crossed the state line into Florida the skies cleared, like this state is hogging all the sunshine. We pulled into our house around 6:30 pm last night. Now the real adventure begins!

Almost There

Gina Butz transition 0 Comments

We’re almost there.

It was more than a year ago that the possibility of Orlando snuck into our lives through a series of phone calls that led us from, “No thank you” to “Wow, I guess we’re really doing this.” That’s a long  limbo.

The waiting can be wearying, draining, frustrating, full of “let’s just get to the next step!” It’s hard to stay engaged. It can also be exciting as we ponder the new, the novel, the “what’s ahead.”

Thankfully, these last few months of the waiting between there and here has been spent quite pleasantly. Sort of like having to circle the airport but in the meantime they bump you up to first class. We’ve had the blessing of a slower schedule, a comfortable place, plenty of time with friends and family. It’s been good.

In two days we will begin the three day journey to Orlando. We’ll take my parents and my sister, our two dogs, two mini-vans and a trailer, drive to Milwaukee and pick up my brother and sister-in-law and their dog, and drive to the other end of America. By this time next week, we’ll be Floridians (technically. Can I retain Minnesota status?)

We’re excited. The waiting is almost done. At least once a day one or more of us says, “Can we just go now?”Soon. We’re almost there.

The Slow Boat From Asia

Gina Butz faith 1 Comment

Anyone else remember this book? I didn’t read it, maybe because I never had trouble getting my locker open.

Today, my book is titled, “If God Loves Me, Why Can’t We Get Our Stuff Off the Slow Boat From Asia?”

I’m guessing that sweet 70’s era book might have a good answer for me, so now I’m kicking myself for not pulling it off the church library shelf, but I have a pretty good idea what it would say.

I think it might tell me to give thanks in the midst of circumstances so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m thankful that:
1. Our stuff did not fall in the ocean.
2. We are not like those people we met who shipped their stuff to the US and didn’t get it for a year (Oh  Lord, please don’t let us become those people).
3. We have had a place to stay while our stuff has been sailing the seven seas
4. Erik has been able to do other things to get our house ready, so these two trips haven’t been wasted
5. We have things to ship. Lots of things. A lot of people don’t have anything.
6. This is a light and momentary trial, especially compared to what so many are going through.
7. It’s kept us on our knees.
8. God is still God, and He is still good.

It’s this last one that I wrestle with in times like this, and I think that’s good. It’s good because it makes me think about what goodness to us really is – not our comfort or our happiness, but something much bigger and better. It’s good because it reminds me that God is not our vending machine, our Santa Claus, our butler, who does what we ask. when we ask. It’s good because it puts me in my place, a place of being very small and insignificant, which is why the fact that He loves me still is even greater.

I think I know what to do if I can’t get my locker open.


I hope our belongings are on a bigger boat than this one.