Archives for May 2014

Summer projects for outdoor fun

Recently while thinking about the summery fun I’m hoping to have with my family, I came across several ideas that I thought would be fun to try.
Firepit-in-15-MinutesEasy DIY Firepit — John got me one of these metal firepits for my birthday last summer, and we’re thinking it would be really fun to jazz it up with a rock surround like this one.  The one shown here takes 44 stones and about 15 minutes to put together– practically instant gratification!  Probably the most time consuming part of the project is making sure you begin with a level surface. Click on the photo to go to the blog and read the instructions.

Water BlobMake a Water Blob — I’d never even seen one of these until recently, but it looks like a fabulous way to entertain little ones who might be too small to play safely and happily in a swimming pool.  (All my grandbabies!)  Basically you seal the edges of a large painter’s tarp using an iron. (While ironing you use a layer of parchment paper between the iron and the tarp.)

sponge bombsSponge Bombs— This idea is something I might try for our annual 4th of July bash.  Filling water balloons takes SO much time, and these sponges can be filled and tossed over and over again.  I’m thinking about ten per person would keep a water fight good and lively, especially if you had buckets of water stashed all over the play area. Click on the photo to visit InnerChildFun and read the direct4th of July Flag Palletions.

Raise the Flag– Here’s a great use for an old pallet.  I think my 11 year old daughter and I would have fun painting this, and it would look awesome in the corner on our front porch.

Do you have any projects you’d like to try this summer?  Pinned anything interesting lately?

Giveaway: The Nesting Place

Folks, I am soooo excited about this lovely book!  It is by Myquillyn Smith, who blogs at The Nester, and it contains many, many simple and delightful ways to make a wonderfully comfortable haven out of any ordinary house.  You don’t have to have thousands of dollars.  In fact, you don’t even have to own the home you’re living in to make it a welcoming place for you and your loved ones.

I’m blessed to be giving away one copy of this book.  All you have to do to enter the drawing is comment below and tell me one thing you’d like to fix about your current home.  For an additional entry, like this post on Facebook or share it on Twitter, then comment again telling me you did so.   I’ll choose a book winner later this week!

Running to our Saviour

We're the lilies of he field

We’re the lilies of the field
Covered by the sun
We’re the sparrows of the air
Lifted by his love

Oh, oh, oh, seasons come and go
He is ever closer

To take the last breathe here
Is to leave behind the tears we cry
With nothing left to fear
We’re running to our savior

Frugal friday– and ways to save at the store

a typical grocery trip

Whew! It’s frugal Friday again, and somehow I’ve taken a blogging vacation this week. Except, instead of FEELING like a vacation, it felt like driving and more driving. To job interviews and shopping and doctor appointments and more shopping and more appointments. The good news is that both of my soon-to-be-driving sons now have summer jobs– a huge blessing since they both hope to buy cars soon! And I did have at least some success in keeping an eye on the money going out.

  • Early in the week I bought some marked-down chicken thighs that were about 80 cents a pound.  I bought about 10 pounds, and wished there was money in the budget to buy a few more packages.
  • I also found already-cubed ham marked down. I used some in a batch of split pea soup on Tuesday.  I always try to look for marked-down meat at whichever grocery store I visit.
  • I combined a bunch of errands into one day when I needed to bring two kids to two different things.  It meant for a long time out and about, but I really made the most of that gas money.



In other frugality-related notes, while prepping for last night’s e-class   –great fun!–  I went through a few of my notes about food shopping, and thought I’d share some of the most helpful ones here, for those of you who were not able to attend the class.


Choose items with the fewest ingredients possible: pinto beans instead of canned chili, raw chicken instead of chicken nuggets, head lettuce instead of salad mix and dressing packets.  Look into your cart before you enter the check stand. The more single-ingredient items you have in that grocery cart, the more likely it is that you’re making frugal choices.


Spend your produce dollars on the most affordable fruits and veggies: apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, and whatever’s in season in your area.


Check unit prices on each item, and remember to look lower and higher on the shelf.  Sometimes the most affordable package is larger or smaller or a different brand, and it can vary from week to week.  It pays to be non-brand-loyal.


If you try to do everything perfectly, you’ll burn out.  It’s fine to have a meal of fish sticks every couple weeks, or a particular brand of cheese you adore.  But to keep your grocery spending down, limit yourself to ONE such splurge per shopping trip.


Cook that chicken.  Brown that ground beef.  Then freeze in meal-size portions, and you’re 20 minutes closer to dinner, just like that.  A huge psychological advantage on busy days when cooking feels like a lot of effort.


How did you do in your frugal efforts this week?  I really enjoy hearing from you!

A happy weekend

Jared's graduationHappy weekend for us– Jared, our third born and oldest son, graduated from college with a degree in computer science!  He starts a new job in June. So proud of him!

(not so) frugal Friday

Our graduatesOh, I’ve had a busy week!  This weekend Jared graduates from college (computer science major), and next weekend Lidya graduates from high school.  So we’re planning a party for both of them along with some friends who are also graduating.  We’re also finishing our school year and trying to get in the groove of a summer schedule.  The teens are complaining bitterly about having to get up at 10 during the week.  Nevermind that it’s 3 hours later than during the school year, and that they can sleep later on Saturdays. Sigh.

So. frugality.  This week was far from a roaring success.  In fact, I think I have more fails than successes to report.  I find that the busier I am, the less success I have at saving money.

  • We packed lunches to eat in the park with our homeschool group, but then stopped for chocolate shakes to augment the picnic.
  • I bought cheese and meat for the party trays this weekend at the lowest prices I could find, and I’m putting together the trays myself, so that will save on party costs.  But when the kids and I were decorating at church over lunch, we got hungry and grabbed Panda Express.
  • We resisted the urge to install the swamp cooler in the living room even though it was warm this week, but soon we will need to break down and do it.  It is warm!
  • We are scraping up the last of the hay on the floor of the hay barn to feed the cows, to help give our pastures more time to grow up.  (We have three different pastures that we rotate the cows through, but this year we are feeding 2 full-grown cows, so the 1.5 acres of grass is going down quick.) Thankfully there’s been a lot of rain so the pastures are growing pretty well.
  • John turned a small patch of grass alongside our garage into more pasture, which gave them a few more days of eating, and a 4th pasture to rotate through.  But the fence for that project was $80.
  • I did some shopping at Cash ‘n Carry which I don’t always take the time to do.  But they have some decent prices, including hamburger for $2.39/lb (in 10 lb rolls) which is about as good as I’ve seen lately.

What about you?  How did your week go?


Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

A NYT article Putting Meat in its Place captured my philosophy on meat perfectly. We don’t NEED huge slabs of meat on our dinner plates every day! In that spirit, here’s a recipe that I posted a couple years ago but just now got around to photographing. We only make this once a month or so– it is NOT low fat– but it is a favorite at our house! This recipe does not call for canned soup, which helps make it more affordable.

Hamburger Stroganoff

30 minutes

Yield: 5-6 servings

Hamburger Stroganoff


  • 1 (16 ounce) package egg noodles
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 of an 8 ounce container of sour cream
  • 1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms, optional


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
  2. While pasta cooks, in a skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef until no pink shows; drain and set aside. If you are using fresh mushrooms, fry for 1-2 min in same skillet that you used for the hamburger. Set aside.
  3. Again in the same skillet, melt butter on medium high heat. Add minced garlic and cook for a minute. Then add flour. Whisk well to break up any clumps of flour. Add milk and heat till bubbly and starting to thicken.
  4. Add ketchup, and sour cream. Whisk til smooth and heated through. Add ground beef and mushrooms back into skillet. Blend hamburger mixture with pasta. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Once you've made this recipe a few times, you'll probably be able to get the whole thing on the table in 20-30 minutes. It is a quick, easy and very delicious meal. We serve the mushrooms on the side, since not all our kids like mushrooms.

Stitch Fix time again– help?

Thanks to those of you who have been trying Stitch Fix along with me, once again I built up some credits to spend. Yay-thank you!  🙂

My latest fix had some things I adored, and some that seem almost right but have me still guessing.  This bracelet set is absolutely lovely, but at $36 for the set, I just can’t pull the trigger.  I am much more likely to hunt for jewelry at thrift stores, honestly.

Next up is the item is this chevron print maxi skirt.  I adored it the second I saw it. I have two maxi skirts already– one in navy, and one in a tiny brown pinstripe.  Both are so comfy and versatile that I’ve really been wanting another.  And this one is just fabulous.  The pattern is flattering, I think, and I have lots of brown and turquoise in my wardrobe already with which to pair it.  For sure I am keeping this.


The next item is this delicately patterned white sweater.  It is very lightweight and has a pretty nubby feel to it.


I like the way it looks from the front, but the back has some ups and downs and some flaring that I’m not really sure about.  I am pretty sure it makes me look wide in back– what gal wants that?  My husband said something about a peacock’s tail when he saw it.  I already have a similar sweater in cream, but it is slightly heavier weight and won’t be wearable in warmer weather, whereas this one is so light that it could easily be worn longer into warm weather. But, the back?  So not sure.


This next top is in a color that is very flattering to me, and  most of the top is a nice stretchy fabric.  But the panel in front is a woven and tugs across the chest in a less-than-great way.  I want to love it, but because of that odd panel, it’s not the best fit. Also, it’s super see-through.


This last top is nice considering it is a tank top.  It has good coverage in back, and with another tank worn underneath, I think it is fairly modest.  I like the looseness and length, and can picture wearing this at home tons in the summer.  My teen daughters and I both liked the top ‘in person’, but seeing the photo of myself in it, I’m wondering if the large crosswise stripes are widening?  Tempted because I think if I kept it I’d probably wear it often, but not quite sure.  Also, it is $48 which seems insanely spendy for a tank, even if I am buying it with credits.


I’m thinking that I will keep only one thing besides the maxi.

1. Is the tank cute enough to be the second ‘keeper’ despite the price?

2. Should I consider the lightweight white sweater instead?

3. Should I keep only the maxi?

Those are the three options I’m weighing.  Help?

Easy summer learning

This week I’m thinking about what school our kids will be doing this summer, besides yard work, and hanging out with friends, and summer jobs. For years we took summers entirely off school, and I have to admit that way still sounds appealing. But then I remember about the math-forgetting, and the wandering around bored, and I return to the conclusion that mixing just a little school in with all the down-time works best for us.

One of our teens will be reviewing algebra in hopes of acing the COMPASS and being able to skip one college math class. Another is planning on studying for the Psychology CLEP.  Two other teens will be putting in a little time each day studying Spanish.  As for the youngest two, it will be multiplication and division all the way.

Our current third grader is just at the age where not having her math facts down cold is slowing her down. I’ve had her write down the facts over and over, and do some work with flash cards, but still any math fact higher than the 5’s takes a LONG time to answer. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, a fellow homeschooling mom of 7, she said, “Oh, you ought to try Reflex. My kids love it!”

reflex math

Reflex is a web-based math fact fluency system that uses a variety of games and rewards to teach kids, and to get them to like math in the process. Your child begins by creating an avatar (a computer picture of them) whose features and clothing they get to choose. The program then starts with a simple game to assess what facts your child knows, then customizes the learning experience to focus on facts that your child still needs to learn. As kids progress in their learning, they can unlock new games which keeps things interesting. They also earn points to spend on clothing and accessories for their avatar. My 9 and 11 year old daughters LOVE it, and have been begging to spend time learning their math facts on Reflex.

Reflex offers a free 2-week trial, so that you can see how their product works and if it is interesting to your child. My first plan was to let my daughter just do it for the free two weeks. But she enjoyed it so much (and still had so much to master) that I went ahead and bought it. A one year subscription for one child is $35. I’m planning to make this be my 9 year old’s math curriculum for the summer. She is thrilled to be doing something fun on the computer, and I’m thrilled that she’s finally learning her math facts. The only down side I’ve found is since the program customizes to what a child knows and doesn’t know, two children can’t share one profile. You have to buy each child an individual seat. But other than that, this is a great software program and my kids are thrilled that I listened to my friend’s recommendation!

Do you do summer enrichment with your kids or do you take summers entirely off school?

Oh, and before I forget to share it, here’s me and my clan yesterday. Everyone was home– and smiling– all at the same time! Be still, my heart….
With all 10 kids  :)


*Reflex gave me a free subscription for my second daughter in exchange for blogging about this program.

Frugal Friday

Frugal Friday

I’m so glad you’ve been sharing your frugal successes with me every Friday! There are soooo many opportunities in a week to spend money.  Knowing that I’ll be telling on myself really helps me avoid overspending!  Speaking of which, I’ll start with my frugal fails.  I spent way too much on lemons and avocados late last night after picking up our son from work. It wasn’t a good time to go to a less expensive store, and I was in the mood for guacamole.  Now.   🙂   I did have a good bit of success this week too, though.

  • For Sunday supper, I combined Friday’s leftover taco meat and Saturday’s cooked pinto beans with the leftover corn from Sunday lunch to make an easy taco soup.  I often serve taco soup with tortilla chips, but since I didn’t have any, I chose instead to cut flour tortillas into strips, toast them briefly in a bit of oil, and serve them atop the soup.
  • When I saw an interesting book on a blog this week, I requested it at my local library.  My son also asked me to put a book on hold at the library.  There’s two fewer books that we’ll be tempted to buy.
  • That same son spotted a coupon for a local indoor laser tag place that will decrease the admission for him and a couple friends (a birthday treat) by $5.  I’m thrilled to have kids already on the lookout for such things.
  • I cut a little bit of chard out of the greenhouse to go in a salad, and John’s tomato seedlings are growing!  Garden season is on the way.
  • I grabbed 50-cent boxes of cocoa out of a clearance bin at the grocery store.  They’ll make good treats on cool mornings while camping this summer.
  • I made a weekly menu (photo below) using mostly ingredients that we already have.  We need a few things like milk, cheese, fruit, and potatoes, but the list should be fairly short.
  • I’m planning to make bread again, as well as yogurt, and fruit crisp with some of the canned fruit that I still have in my pantry.


And speaking of frugality and money saving, I wanted to mention that I’ve been asked by the Mom and Dad Academy to teach an e-class called Introduction to Family Kitchen Management and you can attend right on your computer!  I’ll be sharing how to save $100 a month or more on your grocery bill, get in and out of the kitchen efficiently, and involve your kids in the cooking adventure.  If that topic sounds interesting, come join us on May 22nd at 6:30 PM Mountain Time, 8:30 Eastern.  You’ll need to register ahead of time right here.