10 Things I Don’t Buy

To be more accurate, these are things I either rarely or never buy anymore. Either they are things we don’t use, don’t see the need for, or most likely make or do ourselves. In an effort to be frugal, I think each person or family needs to ask themselves this question–Is it worth it? That is, is making this/doing this ourselves worth it? So, here’s our list of what is worth it to us personally. Yours may be much different than ours, and that’s okay.

1. Laundry Detergent. Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen these “Make Your Own Laundry Detergent” posts all over the  blogs (including on mine).  Perhaps you’ve wondered whether or not it’s worth the effort. For us it has been. I haven’t purchased laundry detergent in almost 2 years and don’t plan to anytime in the future. The first time you make it it’s a little more to put out initially, but then you have 2 of the 3 key ingredients on hand for the next several batches.

2. Jelly. I have been making my own jams and jellies ever since I’ve gotten married  and have never really had to buy any. As my kids get bigger, we go through lots of jars and I’m continually thankful for the stash I have on hand.

3. Cans of Soup. Nope, I very rarely buy cans of soup. First of all, unless you get a really good deal on them, they can be expensive. Secondly, I’m not the biggest health nut out there, but they’re usually full of sodium and other ingredients I’m not too keen on. I happen to like making soups and make huge batches that I can freeze part of to use on a busy night or to give away.

4. Gym memberships. I’ve never paid for one of these and probably don’t plan to. I happen to walk the beautiful roads all around where we live and have some DVD’s and basic fitness equipment here at home. If I don’t utilize them, it’s my own fault!

5. Bread. This one’s a toss-up. A few months ago I found a wonderful bread recipe that we love. It makes 5-6 loaves at a time, so I can freeze the extras until we need them. I was making bread every week and had a good stash built up. However, I have been finding it at a local bent-and-dent store for 99 cents a loaf, so I do buy a few of those now and then.

6. Tomato products. Another thing that we have canned ourselves for many years. We make tomato sauce, juice, whole tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, salsa, and so on. It usually consumes a day out of our summer working as a family. However, when I go down to my basement shelves and see those rows of mason jars lined up, it’s worth it! As a bonus, we know exactly what’s in it and what’s not.

7. Brand new clothing. With the exception of socks and underwear, most of what we buy and wear is secondhand. My version of splurging on new clothing is usually something found on the clearance racks or marked down significantly. You can find such great stuff at thrift stores, Goodwill, and the like. It’s like going on a treasure hunt! I have found many things that even still have the tags hanging on them and are very much current.

8. Latest Tech Gadgets. I’m not a very technical person to begin with and neither is my husband. However, I really don’t feel the need to keep up with the Jones’ on all these things. The only thing I’ve bought in this realm is a Kindle (which I surprisingly love!). We have a very small TV, very basic cell phones, no video game systems, no I pods, or anything else besides our computer. I mean there are hundreds of free games available like the Happy Wheels unblocked game, why would I pay for games! And no, we don’t feel a bit deprived.

9. Canned Fruit and Applesauce. This one goes right along with #2 and #6. Every once in a while I will buy the little lunch packs of fruit for convenience. Otherwise we use up what’s in our stash of canned goodies. For applesauce, I have canned some and frozen some. We do a good bit of frozen veggies as well.

10. Haircuts. Granted, this is more of a service you pay for. However, out of the 7 people in our family, mine is the only head of hair that we pay to get cut. My husband cuts his and the boys’ hair with clippers and I usually do my daughter’s hair periodically. Mine I get cut every couple of months, but that’s it. I happen to like my natural color most of the time, so until I find even more grays in there (they are sneaking in!), I am not paying to have it colored.

Kids’ Birthday Gift Baskets

Looking for kids birthday gift ideas?

Here’s a quick and easy idea that will work for either a boy or a girl, and can be adapted to any age. We have had loads of birthdays lately, including two kid parties to attend last weekend. This has been my go-to gift for almost any kid. I have been known to give some version of this “snack basket” for the last few years. Let’s face it–most kids we know don’t need a single new toy and usually have plenty of clothing as well. Most parents I know really aren’t crazy about receiving more toys or other such things to clutter up their homes.

Here are examples of what I gave out just last weekend:

The green and blue one was given to a boy and the yellow and red was given to a girl.

Basically I pick out a container of some sort that can be reused. Then I fill it with snack packs, juice boxes, and little treats.

I also sometimes throw in a couple of $1 items from the dollar section of Target, Michael’s, etc. Usually I have a stash of these in our gift supply box.

Easy to put together (even at the last minute!) and easy on the wallet as well.

How to Make Gravy

Today I am sharing with you all how I make gravy. Now, if you’ve made your own gravies and sauces for years and have your own method, you may want to disregard this post. However, if making gravy intimidates you or you want to see how someone else makes it, go ahead and read on. This is the method I’ve used for at least a dozen years and it’s pretty foolproof. (Hey, if I can do it without majorly screwing up, then it is foolproof.)

Start out with any stock, broth, or sauce that needs thickening up and put it in a heavy pan. For an example, I had some nice dark stock from a beef brisket that we were having for Sunday lunch. This is one that was baked with some BBQ sauce, so that’s why it has such a rich color. You can also see some pieces of onion  floating around that were baked with the beef. Turn your stove up to a fairly high heat. The goal is to get this liquid bubbling.

While that stock/broth/sauce is heating up to a boil, spoon some cornstarch into a small bowl. How much you use depends on what amount of liquid you are planning to thicken up. Generally I use about 2 Tablespoons.

Add some cold water to your corn starch and mix well until nice and smooth.

I’m not sure if this is necessary or not, but I always dip out a small amount of the stock and add it in to the cornstarch/water mixture.

Once your pot of liquid had come to a low rolling boil, pour in your cornstarch mixture, stirring as you add. Keep stirring for several minutes, lowering the heat once it starts to thicken.

You should now have gravy or sauce. That was easy, wasn’t it? I hope so.

I poured mine over pot pie noodles and enjoyed it with my beef and sweet corn. Yummy!

Chasing the Caterpillar

As a parent of 4 boys whom I am aspiring to raise to be godly young men, I really love James Dobson’s book Bringing Up Boys. It is a great read and chock full of wisdom, especially for this Mama who is learning how boys are wired in order to understand them better. Out of the entire book, my favorite chapter (which is applicable to raising boys AND girls) is called “Chasing the Caterpillar.” Strange title, I know. It really doesn’t have anything to do with little boys chasing caterpillars. Dr. Dobson tells the story of a naturalist who did a study on processionary caterpillars, which march in unison. Basically, he lined them up on the inner edge of a flowerpot and watched them march for several days. On the third day, he put their favorite food, pine needles, in the middle of the pot. Did they break off and pursue this food, providing their bodies with nourishment and keeping themselves from starving to death? Nope. For four more days they marched in an endless circle, eventually dying of starvation, mere inches away from their ideal food source.

Sort of a depressing story, isn’t it?

Why did Dr. Dobson put this not-so-delightful tale in a chapter about parenting?

Because, my dear friends, do any parents nowadays remind you at all of these caterpillars? Even more convicting, does it remind you of yourself at all? Even a teeny bit?


I know for myself, especially as my kids get older and are more involved in outside stuff, I can relate to those caterpillars. Too many parents these days are literally racing around from one thing to another, day after day after day. Volunteering at school, running errands, sporting events, plays, scouts, church, band, dance, playdates, birthday parties….the list could go on and on (and on!). I’m not saying any of these things are bad. In fact, many things we or our children are involved in are quite good. I know exactly how it feels to say yes to too many of these good things, only to find myself stressed out and snappy. Just as an example, last spring we had this whole caterpillar scenario going on in our household. We had kids in a couple of different sports, scouts, Bible club at school, PLUS all of the things either me or my husband helped out with. I won’t even list those–they make me tired just reading all of them!! We had many weeks where our whole family didn’t even have a single night at home together. Sure, we may have grabbed a quick meal at home, only to “divide and conquer,” him running a kid here and me running others somewhere else. It was ridiculous. When a lot of these things ended for the summer, we all took a giant collective sigh of relief. Thankfully this past fall wasn’t nearly that busy. It was wonderful. This spring I’m feeling a little like those caterpillars once again. Granted, I do like to get my share of running around and I do enjoy socializing, but I love nothing more most evenings than staying home and getting down time with my “people,” a.k.a. my husband and children. I can’t imagine that kind of crazy running around most of the year or having many kids in multiple sports, etc. every season. Not only are the children worn out, but it can’t be all that great for most marriages either.


Now, where do we draw the line? Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of these activities are good things that are meant to build us or our kids up in some way. It’s a fine line to walk. Do we say no to the things that really matter to us or our children? Do we put a number on the amount of activities, etc. that our family is involved in? How does a family limit their activities to a managable level without feeling like they are depriving anyone? I wish I knew the answer to that–this is a personal thing I believe each family must decide for themselves. In January, my oldest 3 all wanted to play soccer. However, looking at the practice days and times for each age group, we discovered that the boys’ age levels would have had to practice on Scout nights. Now, my boys love Cub Scouts, plus I am a leader for the one den as well. My husband and I sat them down and had them choose if they wanted to do soccer or scouts, then gave them a day to think about it. Well, after weighing the options, they both chose to stick with Scouts. Their sister, however, is trying soccer as her practices are on a non-conflicting night. Besides preschool, my little boys aren’t in any activities yet, so I know these dilemmas are just going to get harder! Honestly, my gang is happiest when they get home from school and don’t have to rush around to get their homework done. They love to just come home and play, sit down to supper with Mom and Dad, and have time to just be kids. This Mom and Dad love it when we can just enjoy quality time with the children and spouse God has blessed us with. Isn’t that worth saying no to other things that steal time and energy away from what matters most to us?
I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be one of those caterpillars.

Oatmeal Cake

Ever broiled a cake before? Me neither–that is, until yesterday when I made this piece of deliciousness for my man.

A moist and scrumptious oatmeal cake with coconut on top.

And I should have been a little more specific–you actually bake the cake and then broil the topping.

We found the recipe for this in a Penzey’s Spice catalog. Other than selling amazing spices, their catalogs also boast great recipes. (Penzeys.com) Our most recent one had this recipe in it, and I discovered that my husband had earmarked the page. I figured he was going to try making it soon, but surprised him by making it yesterday as a token of my appreciation for all he does (which is a lot). It was a big hit, especially with my older boys. In fact, I took the pictures of this piece today while there was still some around!

Oatmeal Cake

  • 1 C oats
  • 1 1/4 C boiling water
  • 1/2 C softened butter
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Topping:

  • 1/4 C softened butter
  • 1/4 C heavy cream (I used just milk and it was fine)
  • 1 C packed light brown sugar
  • 1 C shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 pan that will hold up well during the broiling. Combine the oats with boiling water and let sit for @10 minutes. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugars together, and then add to the oat mixture. Add in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt , and cinnamon. Gradually add to the oat mixture and mix well. Pour into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Take out and then preheat the broiler. In a bowl, combine all of the topping ingredients and mix well. Pour and spread over the top of the warm cake. Place in oven directly under broiler. Broil for 2-4 minutes, or until cake top is lightly browned.

10 Alternative Uses for Coffee Filters

Besides serving their obvious purpose, coffee filters can be used in many ways. Some purposes are ones that I already knew about and some I discovered just recently. Here’s a practical list of ways that you can use a package of coffee filters:

1. Instead of using paper towels, use coffee filters to help wash windows, mirrors, or screens. They are lint-free!

2. When putting away your Christmas ornaments, wrap each one in a filter to protect them from breakage.

3. Line the bottom of your flowerpots with a coffee filter so that when you water the plant, soil doesn’t fall through the drainage hole.

4. Make an easy-breezy air freshener by placing some baking soda in a coffee filter and tying it up.

5. Instead of using paper plates, serve up snacks in a coffee filter. It is great at keeping things like popcorn, chips, etc. contained. (I can definitely testify to how great this tip works. I have used these to serve up snacks to children many times.)

6. Absorb grease from fried foods by blotting them or lining a pan or plate with a coffee filter.

7. Wrap messy foods like tacos and hot dogs with a coffee filter to keep your fingers clean and the mess contained.

8. Place filters in between cast iron skillets to prevent rust.

9. On the same note, place coffee filters in between stacked pans. Or, better yet, in between dishes to prevent pieces from banging together and breaking.

10. To prevent messy splatter when reheating something in the microwave, place a filter over top of the plate or bowl you are using.

Or, my favorite use for filters–brew coffee 🙂

I Get That A Lot

Just this morning I was approached by an older gentleman who politely asked me a question that I’ve gotten a lot: “Are they all yours?”

The “they” he was referring to was, of course, my kids. At the moment we were in a Burger King at 8 in the morning. My oldest son had band practice before school in which I had to drop him off at another district elementary school and wait 50 minutes with my other children and my 4 year old niece in tow. It was most definitely not worth running the whole way home, unloading everyone, and then loading them back up shortly after. So, I did what any other “good Mom” (ha ha) would do in the situation–we went to BK and snagged some $1 packs of hash browns and a couple of OJ’s to wait out the time without going nuts. So, when the man asked me the usual question, I just had to chuckle to myself and think about how many times I get that and other similar questions. Now I do realize there are tons of people out there with way more kids than I do. However, having 5 that are semi-close in age, I still get lots of the same kinds of questions. Some people are quite polite about it and others have been not as polite. So, this is a random list of questions or statements that my husband and I get a lot and either (a)what I respond or (b)what I’m thinking or (c) what I want to say when I get that question or statement. :

1. Are they all yours?

What I usually say, with a smile: Why yes they are.

2. Wow, you’ve got your hands full!

What I’m thinking: If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I would be a wealthy woman.

3. Are you done yet?

What I say: Oh yes.

What I’m thinking: Yup.

4. Haven’t you figured out how that happens yet?

What I do: Usually I just laugh.

What I’m thinking: Um, yeah, we know.

What I want to say: No, I have no idea. Can you tell me?

5. Don’t you people own a TV? 

This one is related to the previous question. Usually I just chuckle. By the way, people who have asked us this question usually think they are hilarious.

What I want to say: We have one, just not in our bedroom! (True)

6. Did you always want a lot of kids?

What I say: Yes, but not this many!

7. How do you handle all of them?

What I say: I have different answers for this one. Sometimes I just make up something that sounds good at the time.

8. Are they twins?

What I say: Yes, they sure are.

What I’m thinking: Gee, two little boys that look exactly alike and are the same exact size. Do you think? (Yes, the sarcasm creeps up on this one.)

9. Are they identical?

What I say: Yes they are.

What I’m thinking or want to say: see #8’s what I’m thinking.

10. Holy cow, are there 2 sets of twins?

I’ve sometimes gotten this one if Andrew and Heidi aren’t standing next to each other. This kind of cracks me up because they are the furthest apart in age.

What I say: Nope, just one set.

What I’m thinking: Thank God, no!

11. How do you tell them apart?

What I say: I usually explain that I can just tell who’s who and that one of them has a chipped tooth.

What I want to say: Oh, I mix them up all the time. Who knows who’s who at this point?

12. Do twins run in your family?

What I say: Nope, they were a complete surprise.

13. Are twins more work than having one baby? 

What I say: Definitely.

What I’m thinking: Definitely.

14. Whoa, that’s quite a brood/tribe/crew you’ve got there.

Those are the main ones I get when I’m out and about. I have to say that I’ve gotten pretty used to these types of questions/statements and will usually politely respond to whoever is talking to us. Once in a while it is annoying and I feel myself mentally rolling my eyes. I’m sure other parents of multiples or parents of many get the same kinds of responses and can agree with me on this one. However, I do love having my brood/tribe/crew and wouldn’t have it any other way!

Wild Violet Jelly

Is this not a beautiful sight?

Seriously, this may be the prettiest jelly I’ve ever made.

What gives it that gorgeous color? Wild violets, straight out of my backyard.

As my little guys have now named it, “flower jelly.”

I stumbled across the recipe for it on another blog and had to at least try it once.

Luckily I had lots of helpers to pick the violets for me.

This is Andrew, my 3rd grader. He was by far the most diligent of my little pickers and also helped to separate all the blooms and stems. The kids were all pretty into helping though. So, if you have any crazy little projects like this, I would be glad to hire them out! Just kidding. Sorta. (They’re also great corn huskers and pea/lima bean shellers.)

Anyway, after they had bunches of violets picked, this is the recipe I used to make the jelly:

2-3 Cups Violets

Juice of 1 Lemon

2 1/2 C Boiling Water

3 1/2 C Sugar

1 Package Sure Jell

Pick flowers and separate the blooms from the stems. In a jar, place the blooms and pour the 2 1/2 C boiling water over them. This will help to make an infuson. Allow to infuse until the water color is a dark blue/purple. (I even pushed the blooms around to help with this.)

Once you are satisfied with the color (it doesn’t take very long), strain and add the lemon juice to the liquid. I wish I had taken a picture of this step, for this is when it changes into such a brilliant color! Pour all liquid into a heavy pan and turn on high heat. Add the package of Sure Jell. Bring to a rolling boil and add in the sugar. Bring to a boil again, allow to boil for @1 minute, them remove from heat. Pour into jelly jars and process for 5 minutes. Allow to set for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the taste. If you are not too weirded out by eating “flower jelly,” it really does taste fine. I have to admit that I was a little nervous–was it going to actually taste good? Or gross? (Almost all of my jelly-making experience has been with berry-based ones.) Well, we tried some with our Easter breakfast and the closest thing I can compare it to is a light grape-y flavor. Nothing strong, just a light, pleasant flavor.

Wouldn’t this make a pretty little gift as well?

Hmmm….I may have to send my little workers out with their baskets to pick me another batch.

Vintage Hankie Table Runner

Do you ever come across bunches of these at antique and thrift shops?

Ever wonder what you could do with them?

I have, so I’ve bought a few here and there (they’re usually $1 or less) and have finally come up with an idea to display them in a pretty way.

A table runner made exclusively of vintage hankies and doilies. Perfect for your Easter table or just for spring.

This was incredibly simple to make and probably took me 30 minutes to pull together. It only takes a minimal of sewing skills too.

Here’s a rundown of what I did to make this:

First, I chose which hankies or doilies I wanted to use. To be honest with you, I didn’t use several pretty ones because they had too much staining on them. Once I picked some out, I lined them up in the order that I wanted them displayed. Notice that I overlapped lots of the edges on purpose. Many of these items are a very thin material, but have such pretty and feminine detailing.

Then I cranked up my sewing machine. Basically I started at one end and pinned two together where I wanted them to join. I chose white thread so it wouldn’t show too much and sewed several straight lines to connect them. Then I would move on to the next one, join that, and moved down the line until everything was sewn together.

I also want to note that I placed one doily entirely on top of a larger hankie that I felt had a lot of blank space. I sewed a few lines to attach this and you really can’t see the stitches at all.

I laid this on my much-loved kitchen table and topped it off with a vase of frilly daffodils. Love it!

PS-These hankies always remind me of my sweet Mom-Mom, who passed away last fall. She always had a hankie tucked up her sleeve, sometimes rolling the end of her sleeve to hold it in place. We would sort of tease her for doing this, but it is a fun memory of her.