Archives for August 2009

September Grocery Spending Challenge

$75 Spending Challenge

Giveaway News!

As of 5 PM Pacific time, entries for my laptop giveaway will be closed. The winner of the laptop will be announced on September 7th!  I can’t wait to see who it is!!

The winner of my book giveaway, according to is #60–Missy of Grasp the Love.  Missy is a long-time reader here, and I am just thrilled that she has won these books.  Will y’all go over and say hi to her?  And Missy, send me your address, and I will get a copy of both of my books sent to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered both of these drawings!!!

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Can 11 people go to the fair for under a hundred bucks?

My goal was simple: to spend no more than $100 at the fair for all 11 of us. Except I wanted the whole enchilada: admission, rides, and food. Could it be done?

First expense: Admission
We have 6 adults, 4 kids, and 1 free preschooler. (Letting preschoolers in free is strategic, I realized while carrying my 40 lb 4-year-old on my hip.  They know the parents will end up buying overpriced snacks to keep the lil buggers happy.)

Regular adult admissions to the fair are $7, but looking online I discovered that if we waited to go til the very last day of the fair, our local newspaper was sponsoring half price adult admissions, provided you bring a coupon clipped out of the newspaper. On the way to the fair, we bought a paper.


We discovered on the drive there that you needed a coupon for EACH admission. Drat. Thankfully a very nice lady came up to us near the ticket booth and offered us 4 coupons. Bless the woman! We paid for our tickets.


Fair (20)

Once inside, we beelined it for the indoor exhibits. We discovered years ago that kids LOVE entering stuff at the fair. Makes the whole trip so much more participatory! Here are pictures of some of our clan showing off their ribbons. (OK, truth— they were thrilled with the ribbons, but mom forced gently encouraged them to smile purty for the pictures.
Fair (1)
Another photographer in the family
My cute hubby and his mantis
Yet another photographer

Ribbons at the exhibit hall:  $0

Not shown– my 4th place ribbon for a picture of my nephew, and my husband’s third place ribbon for a truly gigantic green pepper.  (OK, I confess:  not only the kids like entering stuff at the fair!)  Once we made it through the exhibit halls (to the relief of our 4 year old– how many chicken quilts can a kid be expected to look at, anyway??) it was time to go for the rides.

Here’s where the other reason for going to the fair on the last day came into play.  Along with half price admissions, there were also free carousel and ferris wheel rides all day long. Sure, they aren’t THE most thrilling rides at the fair for teenagers, but they’re a heckuva lot better than no rides at the fair, which we have done a time or two.  And this year- get this– ONE ride coupon is a buck.  And rides take 4 or 5 coupons.  That’s $4-$5 PER RIDE.  During the course of the day we (collectively) got 22 rides on the ferris wheel and at least 15 rides on the carousel.  Major bucks a different day.  Lovely.

Ferris wheel and carousel: $0

We’d eaten lunch on the way to the fair,  so we  were able to get a couple hours without major hunger pangs.   But once we’d ridden a few rides, and got hot and hungry, it was time to survey Food Row.  From previous years, we had a pretty decent idea of what was filling and fun.  After walking the length of the whole row of food venders,we made our choices.

8 Coke slushies and 3 blueberry slushies:  $22

Fair (10)

On a hot day, I tell you, they’re heaven in a cup!

Then, food.   We were sorely tempted by the onion blossoms AND the churros.   But Second Daughter sensibly reminded me that we can make both of those items at home, and they don’t have the filling power of the other contender:  the Pound O Fries with all-you-can-eat ketchup.  We ordered 4 pounds.  The girl at the counter looked alarmed.  Until I told her that we had 11 people.  At which point she admitted I might be right.

Fair (11)

Four pounds of french fries:  $14

Next on the agenda: animals.  We admired chickens and petted rabbits and watched eggs hatch and (surprisingly) saw a cow who had given birth to an adorable wobbly legged calf so recently that unmentionable stuff was still hanging out of unmentionable areas.  Ahem.  Good thing we were done eating. (And no, I didn’t take pictures of that– sorry.)

Animals:  $0

Fair (12)

After the animals had been thoroughly admired and commented upon and fed bits of grain that other people had paid a buck for and spilled upon the floor, we decided to head for just one more ride on the freebie rides of the day.  John and some of the younger kids went on the carousel while older kids and I opted for nearby shade.  At that point a man walked up to us.  “We’re leaving,” he said.  “Could you use these tickets?”

And he handed us 13 ride coupons.  How very kind.  Hmmm….what to do?  Since a couple of the 11 year old kids had been lobbying hard to ride at least one of the scary rides, I offered to buy enough ride coupons so that all of the older kids could ride one ‘scary’ ride.  As it turned out, however, only 3 kids wanted to ride something scary.  Which required the purchase of exactly two tickets. The rest of us got the fun of standing below and laughing as we watched the faces of the kids fighting the urge to vomit.

Fair (17)

In the above picture, the boy smiling gleefully wearing the green shirt?  He’s mine.

Fair (16)

In this picture, both the grinning girl and the screaming girl are mine.

2 ride coupons:  $2

On the way out, a couple of the kids decided to buy some metal canteen-type water bottles, which I am not counting in our fair expenses, since they spent their own money.  But they were definitely pleased by the buy.  Since it had been a couple hours since our slushies and and fries, we talked about buying more fair food.  We opted instead to go to Wendy’s across the road, where the Frosties are $1.19.

Frosties:  $13

At that point, thankfully, the fair spending was done.  The day, however, was a grand success.


Total Spent:  $93!

Yeah!  We did it!


Video: Canning Tomatoes

A couple of you mentioned you’d like to see the process of canning tomatoes. Since I had some to process anyway, yesterday I got the camera rolling again.

Canning tomatoes the easy way from Mary Ostyn on Vimeo.


In the comments on the grape jelly video, I showed some of the costs of jelly-making. You don’t really save a lot of money canning your own jelly and jam if you have to buy the fruit.  However, homemade jelly is healthier than store-bought.  There’s no high-fructose corn syrup. And you can even choose to make low-sugar jam with special pectin. Still worth it in my book, even if there’s not a lot of money savings.

Tomatoes offer a much great money savings.  If you grow your own tomatoes and get jars for free or cheap  (thrift stores!  yard sales!  relatives!), basically you’re only buying lids. I love making spaghetti sauce from our own tomatoes all winter long.

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$75 a Week Grocery Challenge

Two out of the last three Septembers, my family has done something called “30 Days of Nothing”.  You can check out the details by clicking the link in my sidebar, but basically we’ve spent a month experimenting with spending a little less money.  Seeing how far we could stretch our resources and what we could get by without.

This September we’re doing something similar.  In honor of my new book Family Feasts for $75 a Week, I’m going to aim to spend no more than $75 a week for groceries for my family.  I have to explain that the $75 in the title of the book actually refers to food costs for a family of 4, NOT a family of 11.   Most months I spend $800-$900 for groceries for our clan.  But during September I’m aiming for no more than $300 — or $75 a week.

Along the way I’ll be sharing spending tips and recipes from the book.   Whether you feel like doing this with your family or not, I hope you will find something useful in this series.   But  I’d reallyreallyreally love it if a bunch of you would join us in this challenge.

How much do you spend a week?  Could you feed your family — well– on $75? For some of you this may be a cinch, for others it may seem impossible.   Wanna try anyway?

I want to reassure you that we are not talking about major deprivation here. No kids will be going hungry. My husband won’t even be doing without coffee creamer.  But we probably will be eating a few more beans. Skipping paper napkins. Resisting impulse buys. Cooking more from scratch. And a bunch of other things.

Anyone interested in doing the challenge along with us? Here’s how:


Decide on a spending challenge for your household, and then blog about it at least once a week. Tell us what worked for you and what didn’t. As far as goals, you may aim for $75 a week like we are. You may just decide to shave $50 off your monthly average. You may do something different. The choice is yours. But I challenge you to aim for something that seems a little hard, a little bit of a stretch. I think we get into spending ruts sometimes, and don’t even realize that we could be doing more with less. One more thing– if you’ve bought my book and it ends up being a help to you in this challenge, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ll be putting up a Mr. Linky on September 1st, so that everyone can easily visit the participants and hear how things are going for others during the month.

Questions? Ask away! I’m looking forward to this!

Video: How to Make Grape Jelly

Every day people google ‘grape jelly‘ and end up here at the Owlhaven.  I thought I’d add a video of the process to show you just how easy it is!

How to Make Grape Jelly from Mary Ostyn on Vimeo.

Related links

Grape Jelly

Apricot Jam

For more easy recipes:

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Homeschooling: what curriculum do you use?

These days there is a huge variety of choice when it comes to homeschool curriculum, with almost as many good options are their are homeschooling families.  Below I am going to list my favorite curriculum.   I hope you will add your own favorites in comments, below.


Grades K-3 — Alpha Omega Horizon
Grades 4 and up — Saxon math


Beginning around 4th grade we start Apologia science

ABeka Phonics

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

BOB books (very early readers)

Sonlight Curriculum -we don’t do the whole curriculum, but we have many of the readers.  I love the diversity of the characters, and the way each stories illuminates a specific place and time in history. (Many different reading levels here)


Childhood of Famous Americans– This very diverse series of biographies is great for kids 2nd-6th grade, and is another great way to get reading and history at the same time.

Note: The above link will take you to, a great way to get affordable books. If you look at the site and decide to sign up, list me (owlhaven at aol dot com) as the person who referred you, OK?  I’ll get a book credit, which will delight my kids, because they’ll get to pick books!

A Reason for Writing– Kids get writing practice by writing Bible verses


Rosetta Stoneinsanely expensive, but really good.  Kids are able to work on their own, without parents having to know the language.


OK, all experienced homeschoolers, it’s your turn. What homeschool curriculum do you love?

Empty Spaces

I’m over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, talking about empty spaces. Do you have any?


Happy 23rd anniversary to my dear hubby! Whether in times of joy or times of challenge, life is always better with you by my side.