Archives for November 2014

Recipes for holiday gatherings

If you’re wondering what to bring to a Thanksgiving gathering, here are a few yummy ideas for inspiration.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread With Orange Glaze is always a hit.

Reeses Bark

Reeses Peanut Butter Bark

This recipe for Reeses’ Bark is from the Hershey’s website. It is yummy, easy and SO pretty!  Seriously, a 20 minute recipe. I’d definitely melt the chocolate over a double boiler instead of in the microwave.  It just turns out a lot better.

Easy  Homemade Eggnog

Easy Homemade Eggnog

This Easy Homemade Egg Nog is cheaper than store bought, and is very rich and creamy without requiring any raw eggs.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

If you’re cooking with little ones, try this easy recipe for Jam Thumbprint Cookies.  It comes together very quickly, and kids can help with some of the steps.

 

If you would like more easy recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill. (Hint: it makes a great Christmas gift!)  I’m taking the week off from blogging, but I wanted to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  Thanks so much for coming here to read each week.

Books, frugality, birthdays, and an awesome pencil sharpener (do these topics actually go together?)

My birthday girl, a few years ago...time flies!Life has been nutty around here.  Wednesday alone I had three different interviews for Forever Mom.  By the end of the day both of my phones had dead batteries and I felt certain I had lost all ability to construct a complete sentence.  Whew!  What’s really cool is that people are interested in Forever Mom–here’s a review on adoption.com. (By the way, if you go read it, will you also share it on facebook so more people can see it?  Thank you so much!)  I am so humbled and so grateful that folks are appreciating the message of the book.  And also relieved.  Because, honestly, my heart went right out there in every page. I’ve never felt so trembly-kneed when sending something out there.  So thanks for all your support.

I don’t have many frugal thoughts this week– it was kind of a fish sticks and corn dogs and cereal kind of week around here with all busyness. I did bookmark this great-looking blog post sharing 52 Meatless Meals so that I can intersperse all the rich holiday food with some frugal and good-tasting meatless dinners. I also earned a free turkey at Winco.  (They have a promo where if you spend  $100, you get a free turkey– yeehaw!)  The man in line behind me looked in my heaping cart and told me I should have gone through the line twice and gotten two turkeys.  He was right.  I actually ended up spending $300 on groceries yesterday– apparently I’ve skipped shopping lately too, because we were out of so many things.  So I could have gotten THREE free turkeys, but ah well. Now we are stocked up and I hope that I remembered most of what I’ll need for the next couple weeks.  Potatoes were on a screaming good sale 99 cents for 10 pounds– so we currently have about 4o pounds in the pantry, and I am signed up to bring mashed potatoes to every Thanksgiving gathering we’re attending.  (That reminds me– I still need to buy sour cream.  Because in my opinion, mashed potatoes reach greatness through butter and sour cream.  And maybe garlic.  But I’m aware that not everyone agrees about the garlic.)

 

For those of you who asked, I am in the process of getting an email subscribe feature added to my blog.  I should have done it a long, long time ago but somehow never got around to it.  I will let you know when it is up and running, since I know a lot of people prefer to read blogs in email form.  Thanks to those of you who emailed me lately and encouraged me to get it together.  🙂

 

Finally, I have meaning for awhile to tell you about a REALLY neat pencil sharpener. Let me tell you, as a homeschooling mom of many, I have bought SO many pencil sharpeners over the years– from the old fashioned manual kind that you mount on the wall to the really nice electric kind.  I don’t know if it is just a function of having a lot of kids, but every sharpener I’ve ever owned til now has always ended up disappointing me. So when I heard about this one from Classroom Friendly Supplies, I was all attention.  This sharpener is different in that it holds the pencil for you, which I think makes it much more likely that the pencil will enter the machine straight and be sharpened properly. (Watch the video to see what I mean– it’s a little different.)  I also need to disclose that I was given a sharpener for free in exchange for a review. The bottom line is we’ve been using this sharpener for several months, and we really like it a lot.  It makes pencils SO sharp! The only thing I don’t love is that the clamp that is supposed to hook it to a counter is a little chintzy– we can’t make it stay. But since the sharpener holds the pencil for you, it’s not a big deal to just hold the sharpener steady with one hand while turning the handle with the other.  I am working on getting a freebie to give away here on my blog, but I don’t have it yet. I will keep you posted.

Anyway, we are off to homeschool craft day and then we are celebrating my BABY’s tenth birthday– oh be still my heart!! There she is above several years ago with a PENCIL in her hand, which is my very best attempt at making this post actually hang together.  Pencils.  Birthday girl.  Books. You get it?  OK,  that’s all I have for you today. But as usual, I’d love to hear about your frugal successes for the week! So comment away!

Need a new Christmas story?

Christmas Stories for Kids For many years when we had a whole slew of little ones, each November I would secretly gather together all our Christmas story books, wrap them up individually in gift wrap, and then let our kiddos open one story book each night during the weeks before Christmas.  Always I would sneak in at least a new book or two, so that along with rediscovering the old favorites, the kids were also surprised by a new book.  In case any of you are interested in such a tradition, I thought I’d share some of the stories we’ve enjoyed most over the years.  (Don’t tell the other books on the list but these top two are our very favorite!)        

This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click through and order, I will receive a few cents from Amazon.  This helps support all the free content here at Owlhaven, but doesn’t add a cent to your cost.  Thanks so much for purchasing!  And by all means, feel free to add your own book suggestions in comments, below.

Chat with me?

Remind them how precious they are

Hey friends, THIS afternoon on FaithGateway LIVE at 2pm EST/ 11am PST I’m chatting about my new book Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting! Whether you’ve adopted, are considering it, want to support loved ones, or just want to hear more about our adoption journey, come join the conversation!
Here’s the link: http://www.faithgateway.com/author-chat-with-mary-ostyn/  Hope you can join us.

Frugal holiday beauty

This weekend I have the fun of attending the Joy for the Journey adoptive mom retreat in Lancaster, PA. So instead of my usual frugality post, I thought I’d share some fun and frugal ways to decorate for the upcoming holidays.

thanksgiving-decor

 This silver and white decor could be lovely for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

 

Christmas ball decor

Lots of pretty ideas for Christmas balls– A big box of glass Christmas balls is $10 at Target or Walmart.

 

Here are a couple of affordable and pretty ways to decorate pine cones.

Dip a pine cone in glue and dust with Epsom salts for snow-sparkled pine cones.sparkly pinecones

 

Or gather a bunch of pine cones with some red ribbon for a lovely alternative to a wreath.pinecone-cluster-collage

Did you know that you can slip ping pong balls over LED lights to make these lovely globe lights?

DIY_ping_pong_lights6

Then finally here’s a sweet craft you can make with some wood rounds and an etching tool.

Etched-Birch-Ornaments-7

 

Before you buy decor items at full price, be sure to look at your local thrift stores and craft stores. Often thrift stores seem to be the depository for half-done craft projects, which makes them a great place to look for ribbon, yarn, silk flowers, and many other craft and decor items such as knitting needles, beads, crochet hooks, baskets, tins, and wreaths.

If you have more ideas for affordable Thanksgiving and Christmas decor, I’d love to hear them!

 

Gifts kids can make for friends

Gifts Kids Can Make

If your kids are like mine, they enjoy giving their friends gifts at Christmas time.  The problem is, even a $5-$10 gift, multiplied by 3 or 4 or 6 friends, times whatever number of kids you have in your family, can add up to a lot of bucks.  But if you can think of fun gifts that your kids can make for friends, suddenly gift-giving gets a lot more affordable– and a lot more personal. Here are a few gift projects that might spark a kid’s creativity and help solve the dilemma of gift-giving on a budget at your house.

 

paper clip earrings1.  These paper clip earrings would be quick and fun to make, and could be done in any color, depending on the preferences of the gift recipient.

 

Decorating Mugs

2. These coffee mugs decorated with sharpies would also be cute.  Just make sure you follow the directions on the site and be aware that you’ll need to buy the right kind of sharpie.  Not all sharpies are created equal.

 

teacupcandles3. Fill a thrifted teacup with melted candle wax and add wicks (purchased at the craft store or on amazon) and you have a sweet delicate gift for a teen girl or maybe even a grandma.

 

paracord beaded bracelets

4. These paracord bracelets are completely awesome looking.  I wasn’t able to find an exact tutorial, but my son who has made quite a few paracord bracelets says it isn’t a complicated design.

 

 

licorice jar
5. What kid wouldn’t like to get a jar of his or her favorite treats?  If licorice isn’t a favorite, suggest mini Hershey bars, nuts or even beef jerky. (Tho that last option might put you back into the $10 range, depending on the size of the jar.)

 

Duct tape wallets

6.  Duct tape wallets have been a popular project at our house for years.  Here’s an easy tutorial.

 

iPhone wallet

Make Your Own IPhone Wallet

7.  A teen who knows how to sew and is game for a more challenging project might enjoy zipping out one of these I-Phone wallets.  You might even want to make one for yourself!

 

washers

8. For a fun and colorful necklace, just use nail polish to decorate a washer in bright colors.

 

Be sure to visit the bloggers linked above  to see the details of each of these great ideas!  And happy crafting!!

releasing

Tattoos

 

If you ask my teens how I am at releasing, they’d be quick to tell you it’s not my forte.  The youngest three teens in the house are 16, and still I remind them to wear jackets in 35 degree weather, eat protein every meal,  turn off the xbox at 10:30 and take Emergen-C when they have colds. I make them finish school before facebook, ‘force’ them to hang out in the living room with us for an hour during story time in the evening, and don’t allow phone use after 10PM.

SO there’s that.  But here’s some of what I have released. They’ve been allowed to have jobs and cars two years sooner than any of our others, which means some of them missed most of our family camping trips this summer. They are free to take a class or two at the local community college each semester during high school. They drink coffee quite routinely.  And awhile back I finally relented and let them read Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.

I am a person who appreciates nice-looking stylish clothing, but these days I bite my tongue while kids wear huge ratty sweatshirts and tired batman t-shirts over and over and over, when in closets reside heaps of nice stylish clothes. I let them wear jeans to church (unheard of during the growing-up years of our now-grown kids).  Some of them wear shorts all year unless it’s snowing.  At least one kid goes around long-haired most of the year, and on this particular day four of my kids are walking around with ball-point pen’ tattoos’ on their arms.

And yet, when a new friend the other day asked me if my teens were ‘running amok’, I quickly and laughingly said no.  Overall, they’re good kids.

I’ve released my own wishes in other harder areas tho.  I sometimes (at least temporarily) allow disrespect from teens to a degree that was unheard of from our now-adult kids.  It pains me, but with this particular batch of teens, the needs are different, and the responses to correction are vastly different.  I’ve found that with them correction is much more effective when gently stated awhile after the fact, instead of rushing in to offer a consequence when we’re both upset.  Come to think of it, that’d probably have worked better with my big kids too, but they somehow responded okay to the younger-momma ham-handed me, the girl I can still sometimes be.

I’m like any mom, playing it by ear– giving this tremendously hard job my very best, most prayer-filled, most on-my-knees guess.  But I am realizing more and more that even within the limits of God-honoring parenting, there is tremendous latitude.  There’s not just one proscribed, perfect way to respond.  God is the one who made all my kids different, with different needs.  And in this particular phase of life, it seems that God is teaching me that sometimes the most effective path is to release some of my ideas about what is right for our family, and to value my people more highly than I do my own longings and desires.

Oh, this growing-up is painful stuff.  Maybe by the time my kids are all grown up, I will be too.

Frugal Friday

chalk art in progress

This week when making my frugal list, I tried to think of things I do routinely every single week but don’t often mention here. This week’s frugal successes, in no particular order…

  • I checked out the clearance racks at the local Family Dollar store and found some items of clothing on really good sales– the start of my Christmas gift stash.  Bonus:  when I got to the checkout counter, two of the items were buy one, get one half off.
  • I combined leftover gravy from the Sunday church pot-luck with ground beef and served it on really big biscuits for a nice meal on Monday.
  • I washed a couple of gallon-size ziplock bags to re-use.  Usually I don’t wash out sandwich bags, but I almost always wash out the larger sizes, unless I’ve used them for raw meat.
  • We had our very first fires of the fall in the woodstove.  (We have electric heat and try not to use it at all, except in the coldest nights of winter.) I made frugal fire starters with dryer lint and egg cartons.
  • As per usual, I sent kids out to feed the chickens with kitchen scraps at least once or twice a day.  We also fed the last of the garden zucchini to the cow. This gets fresh food into their diet, decreases their need for store bought food, and uses something we’d otherwise throw away.
  • A few weeks ago when making lasagna, I had half a dozen lasagna noodles leftover that I stuck in the freezer, not sure what I’d do with them. One night this week I decided to make taco soup with ground beef, garden peppers and tomatoes, and corn.  When I realized I didn’t have any kidney beans to add to make it heartier, on a whim I pulled the leftover lasagna noodles out of the freezer, cut them crosswise, and used them like egg noodles.  Super yummy.
  • I overbought corn tortillas a couple weeks ago. So a couple times this week, I cut a stack of tortillas into quarters, tossed them in a dab of salt and olive oil, then baked them in the oven til light brown.  They made nice very sturdy chips that I served with homemade salsa and guacamole.  Yum!
  • I had some extra homemade pizza dough in the fridge after making pizza one night.  A couple mornings later when I couldn’t think of a thing for breakfast  (we were out of milk, flour, and eggs) I grabbed that leftover pizza dough out of the fridge, rolled it out on the counter, slathered it generously with butter and cinnamon/sugar, then rolled it up into cinnamon rolls.  Nobody complained about that breakfast!

When I asked the kids what else I did this week to save money, one of the boys said teasingly, “You ordered takeout pizza!”  Oh.  True.  But in my defense, I did order it on a $3.99 special, so it could’ve been worse.  How about you?  What did you do to save money this week?

PS- I’ve been pinning chalk art lately– the photo above shows my 12yo daughter’s first attempt at graphing and copying an idea.  (You just erase the lines when you’re done drawing.)

6 quick kitchen tricks

6 quick kitchen tricks

Have you ever read the book Cheaper by the Dozen?  Though the dad in that book is a little extreme, I have always secretly identified with his eternal quest for greater efficiency in the home.  I am always on the lookout for ways to save time, and thought it might be fun to share some of the ways I save time in the kitchen.  I’d love it if you add your own ideas in comments, below.  Who can’t use a few good time-saving strategies?

1. I double-batch whole meals at least a couple times a week. It only takes a few extra minutes to measure out more ingredients or chop more veggies or meat while the kitchen’s already a mess. Leftovers can go into the fridge to serve at lunch later in the week or in the freezer for a different week entirely.  Common examples include big pots of soup or chili, or pans of enchiladas to stash in the freezer.  Time savings per meal: at least 30 minutes per meal, especially when you consider there’ll be much less mess when serving that second meal.

2.  You don’t have to double batch a whole meal to save time, however.  Even doubling one portion of the meal can save prep work a different day.  For example, when I am cooking meat for a meal like tacos, fajitas, or Molly’s chicken, I will often cook more meat than I need for that meal, setting aside the extra to use a different day  in a soup or a stir fry. (Remember to set that extra meat aside before the meal, however, so your family doesn’t just gobble up the extra.) Other examples of this tip include making extra pizza dough one day so kids can easily make their own pizza another day, or making extra rice and setting it aside for fried rice another day.  If your rice AND your meat is already cooked, it’s perfectly possible to get a meal of fried rice onto the table in 20 minutes flat.  Time savings:  20 minutes per meal

Creamy Chicken and Potato Soup3. When I am beginning dinner, I always think about which part of the meal will take longest to cook and start there. Since I have lots of meals that take less than 30 minutes to get to the table, that often means starting rice or pasta cooking. On spaghetti nights I  get pasta water heating first, then cook ground beef and simmer sauce while noodles cook.  If the meal is a stir-fry, I’ll get the rice going in the rice cooker, then chop/cook the chicken, then work on the veggies while the chicken (and rice) chicken cook.  I love having multiple pots going at the same time– it feels so efficient. Time savings: at least 10 minutes per meal.

4. Especially when meals are labor-intensive, I get help! The other day I had 10 pounds of potatoes to peel– we were bringing mashed potatoes to a potluck.  I started by putting the water on to boil, then asked 5 kids to peel three potatoes each.  (We have lots of peelers!) It was a tiny bit of work for each of them, but getting their help made the job at least 20 minutes shorter than if I’d worked alone.   Even tiny kids can peel carrots or garlic.  Elementary age kids can set them table and pour drinks.  Bigger kids, with training, can do almost any part of cooking that I can.  And whatever you do, always say yes to a kid who wants to make cookies.  When they’re little, it feels like more mess than it’s worth, but they get efficient quickly, and there’s not much in the world that’s nicer than fresh-baked cookies that you didn’t have to bake yourself.  Time savings: probably at least 5 minutes/child/meal, but this varies by your child’s age. 🙂

5.  If you need a quick side dish to fill out a meal on a busy day, crank your oven t0 475 and chop whatever fresh veggies you happen to have into bite size pieces.  Almost any veggies are wonderful roasted;  I’ve roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, whole peeled garlic cloves, Brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, and broccoli.  Toss your choice of veggies (cut into similar sizes) in a couple tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet.  Then spread them out evenly across the pan, top with a few grinds of salt and pepper,  and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until veggies are getting browned bits and are cooked to your liking.  Yum!  You may even convert a veggie hater in your house– this is the only way my husband will eat Brussels sprouts.  Time savings:  depends on what you would’ve made instead. 🙂  This recipe takes about 10 minutes of prep time.

6. One last tip for frazzled mommas:  often I’ll decide at the last minute that I want baked potatoes for dinner.  Problem is, they take an hour to bake, and they’re just not the same when cooked in the microwave.  But there’s a way to shave half an hour off that cooking time.  Just preheat the oven to 425. (convection is best, if you have that feature) Then wash and poke potatoes, then zap them in the microwave 2 or 3 potatoes at a time for about 3 minutes.  By the time the oven is hot, the potatoes have already begun the cooking process in the microwave, which means they’ll only need another 25-30 minutes in the regular oven.  But they’ll end up cooked as nicely as if their whole cooking time had been in the regular oven.  Time savings: 30 minutes per meal.

OK– your turn!  What are your best quick kitchen tricks?

For more affordable and quick recipes, check out my cookbook: Family Feasts for $75 a Week
.

Created for Care winner

Freebies if you order Forever Mom by Nov 4th

Happy Monday! How I wish I could send all 280 of you to an awesome Created for Care conference. I hope some of you find a way to get there soon. But rafflecopter has decreed that the winner is Christy Largent.  Congrats, Christy!

We are all learning and growing

One of the many freebies you get when you order FOREVER MOM by November 4th

You have ONE more day to get the freebies when you order Forever Mom.  Click on over to watch a video about the book, or to read what folks in the adoption community have to say about the book. To get those freebies, just send proof of purchase (ie- receipt, order confirmation, etc) to ForeverMomBook@gmail.com, and the free package will be emailed to you.  And once you’ve read the book, by all means, please add your own thoughts about Forever Mom on amazon.  I’d love to hear from you, and I know that others considering the book would appreciate additional feedback as well.

And thanks to everyone who shared about the book on your facebook and/or requested it at your local library.  I so appreciate all your support as this little ‘baby’ of mine ventures out into the world.