Archives for December 2014

Looking back, looking forward

We had a lovely Christmas with our family.  With more of our kids growing up and getting married, I’m thankful for each time that we’re all able to get together.  Here are a few of the pictures we took.  Light was dim, so there’s lots of blur, but the people are cute anyway. You should be able to click on photos to enlarge them. We’ve had some hard times this year, but we are so blessed by all the precious people in our lives.

John and I are looking forward to some exciting things in the future as well.  Our oldest daughter Amanda and her husband Ben are expecting their third baby in April. (They’re the ones in the ‘I Spy’ picture above.)  Lidya will be graduating from the dental assisting program in May.  Our oldest son is getting married in July!  We also have several trips planned this next year, including some time on the beach, and hopefully a homeland trip to Ethiopia this summer with four of our daughters.  What an adventure!

To help fund that trip, for the first time in many years I’ve applied to work as a nurse again at a local hospital.  Some of you may remember I was an OB nurse for 9 years.  That’s what I’m hoping to do again– just 4 or 5 night shifts a month, so I’ll still be home most of the time. Kind of crazy to think of working outside the home again.  The last time I worked was in 1998, just before Josh arrived, so it’ll be a job to catch up on the new technology.  But it will be a nice boost to our income, and to tell the truth, I’m excited.  I love helping women in labor and those first hours after birth.

On the blog/writing front, as I mentioned (I think) last year, I’m working on a couple of e-books. My homeschooling e-book is 80% complete and should be available on Amazon by the end of January.  I’m also putting together a supplemental planner for Family Feasts for $75 a Week
with a focus on affordable gluten free food — grocery lists, recipes, and everything else you need to plan gluten free menus a week at a time. I’m excited about that project and will keep you posted!

Do keep praying for my friend Lisa who lost her daughter Kalkidan in a car accident. Lisa broke her hip and suffered nerve damage in the accident, and their van was wrecked.  If you’re inclined to support them, there’s a fund to help with their expenses.  Money won’t heal their hearts, of course, but it is nice to think of easing their financial burdens at least a little.

Tonight some of us are going to a New Year’s Eve party at church, and others of us will be staying home– we’ve got colds running around the house, and not all of us are up to partying late.  I already took down the Christmas tree but the twinkle lights are still up and we won’t start school again til the week after next–so we will hang onto Christmas break for another week or so.

Do you have interesting plans for the new year?  I’d love to hear them.  Thanks as always for visiting me here.  And if you’re interested in getting a newsletter with more details about coming projects, just sign up in the sidebar on the right side.

Happy New Year!


Will you all please pray for my friend Lisa and her family? She and her husband and daughter were in a car accident on Saturday and lost their precious, much-loved daughter. She was born in Ethiopia and came home to them eight years ago. My heart breaks for them. Hug your precious ones.

Merry Christmas!

Ostyns at Christmas 2014

Frugal Friday

Lotsa candles!

Lotsa candles!

It’s almost Christmas! I’ve been wrapping like crazy and still have a tiny dab of shopping to do for a few folks that I’m feeling clueless about, but I’m getting there. We also got another birthday celebrated — hard to believe, but our oldest son is now 23.  Happy birthday, Jared!

Here are some quick frugal highlights this week.

  • I returned something that we’ve never used and got a nice chunk of store credit to help with Christmas shopping.
  • I used a $10 off $10 or more coupon from JCPenney to help with more Christmas shopping.
  • I’ve been wrapping all our gifts with wrapping paper that I bought last year on fabulous sales. I’m nearing the end of wrapping and still have lots of paper left.  I’ve also been using bags that we saved from other years.  Every bit helps!
  • I stocked up on butter since it is currently on pretty decent Christmas-baking sales.  Ditto on chocolate chips.  And potatoes.  Hooray for sales.
  • I bought a bunch of dry goods in bulk at Winco and after emptying the various flours, etc, into proper containers, I saved all the bags to use for other purposes.
  • I’m working hard to use up a Costco size bag of spinach so it won’t go to waste.  Might need to puree and freeze a bit of it so we can add it to smoothies later– that bag is huge, and I think the last time I bought one that size, we were feeding more people on a regular basis!
  • Lidya got a mega-ham as a Christmas gift from her employer— 18 pounds!  She promptly gifted it to me, and I’ve so far made at least 3 meals from it– one ham dinner for everyone, a ham and split pea soup, and a stir fry with ham and veggies.  The last of the ham went in the freezer to use a bit later.  What a nice gift.
  • I’ve been enjoying filling up the gas tanks on the vehicles with the lower gas prices.  Perfect timing with all the Christmas erranding.  It would sure be nice if those prices stayed down for awhile.

I’ll check in next week to share our Christmas photo, but other than that you may not hear much from me til after the new year.  Hope your Christmas is wonderful!

Royal Icing for Gingerbread Houses

Royal Icing for Candy Houses (Recipe)

Each December in our homeschool craft co-op we get together to make candy houses, which we put together using graham crackers and royal icing.  Once the houses are built, it’s best to wait 5-10 minutes before adding candy– regular frosting works fine for that — but royal icing is essential for making strong structures on which to place all that candy. Here’s the recipe I use to make royal icing, just in case you’re interested in a similar Christmas craft with your own children.

Royal Icing for Gingerbread Houses

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Royal Icing for Gingerbread Houses


  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar


  1. In the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer, place egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat all together on low speed until combined.
  2. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 7-10 more minutes, until the icing is very thick, shiny, stiff and white. If icing doesn't look stiff enough, add a little more powdered sugar at this point and whip a little longer.
  3. If you want colored icing, divide it among several bowls, adding drops of food coloring to each bowl to get the colors you want. Usually we just make ours white, but red and green would be fun too.
  4. Scoop the icing into heavy ziplock bags, squeezing all air out of the bags before zipping them shut. At this point I also usually double-seal the top of each bag with a strip of clear packing tape, to keep bags from bursting open while they are squeezed. Icing will last several days, refrigerated, sealed in ziplocks.
  5. When you're ready to use the bags, just snip a TINY corner off each bag so that when squeezed, the icing comes out in a thin line.
  6. Royal icing dries to a very hard consistency, and sets quickly once exposed to air. It will be hard within 15-30 minutes of application.

Note: This type of icing is great for glue, but potentially not great to eat, since it contains raw eggs. We've never had issues, but be aware of the risk, especially with young children and immune-compromised folks. For those people you may want to skip the eggs and instead use meringue powder. Happy building!


Julianna's House

Julianna’s House

Emily’s House


Book ideas for kids


We’re down to the last full week before Christmas–does that seem crazy to you?  I’m getting close to done with my shopping, but have at least half a dozen more items to find. If you’re in the same boat and are on the hunt for books for your kids, I thought I’d share some my kids have loved over the years.  Some of these I’ve shared here in the past, and some are new additions to the list.  And just a heads up– amazon is currently offering 25% off any book (or book set) if you plug in the code BOOKDEAL25 when you place your order.


1. The Napping House
2. Tacky the Penguin
3. You Are My I Love You
5. Five Minutes’ Peace
6. But No Elephants
7. Dinner at the Panda Palace
8. Hedgehog for Breakfast
9. Henry’s Awful Mistake



1. Junie B. Jones

2. The Stories Julian Tells

3. Amelia Bedelia




1. Inheritance 4-Book Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance) by Christopher Paolini is about a farm boy who discovers he is really a dragon rider.

2.Percy Jackson and the Olympians (5 books) by Rick Riordan is a story about a boy who has adventures with Greek gods and sea monsters.


3. Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix is based on the premise of a society where each family is allowed only two children, forcing any subsequent children to live in hiding.


4. Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke is about a girl catapulted into peril when a story read by her father surprisingly comes to life. These books have some language, but the storyline is utterly intriguing.

5.  The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games. This series is about a boy who discovers a world under New York City where he is forced to fight giant rats, spiders, and bats, and in the process becomes an unexpected hero.  the later books in the series get somewhat violent.

6. Warriors series: Volumes 1 to 6 by Erin Hunter  This series is about cats who have great adventures.  It was the very first series my 12 year old daughter really loved.


I hope some of these book ideas help you with your Christmas shopping.  If you know of books that are inspiring and interesting for teens, I’d love for you to tell me about them in comments, below.  As always, I encourage you to do some research and don’t be afraid to trust your instincts when deciding  what is appropriate for your kids to read at various ages.


This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase them on amazon, I will earn a few cents for each purchase.  This does not increase the cost of the books to you, but it will help support all the free content here on this site. And don’t forget to use that 25% off code-  BOOKDEAL25

My baby is 10!

No frugality post this week– sorry, today we decorated gingerbread houses instead. I did remember, however, that I hadn’t yet shared any pictures of a very momentous event in my heart– my sweet and sassy lil Julianna turning TEN years old.  Be still, my heart.  We ended up celebrating twice, once with friends and then again the next night with family. Here she is having fun with her sister and their friends who spent the night.

Here’s Julianna and her friends again, getting ready to pulverize a pinata.  They had lots of treats, including BBQ chips (her fave) and stayed up late to watch TWO episodes of High School Musical.  The next day we even fit in ice skating and frozen yogurt.  Whew.

10 Yrs Old

Here she is with her little nieces and nephews, getting ready to blow out candles at the family party.  As the happy birthday song was winding down, Ascher puckered up to blow Julianna’s candles out all by himself, which idea Ranger nixed by covering Ascher’s mouth just in time. We all got a laugh at him policing his cousin.  Crazy how much kiddos learn in less than 3 years on earth.  They are so much fun. I’m so glad that even tho my baby is getting so big, we still have plenty of little ones to enjoy.

10YrsOld (1)


Talking with our adopted children about their first family

Joy for the Journey panelAt the adoption retreat that I attended last month, the organizers put together a fabulous panel of birth parents and adult adoptees who talked about their experiences–  Robyn Afrik, Dr. Fran Edwards, and Darrick Rizzo were just some who spoke. Very often in the adoption ‘triad’, the voice of the adoptive parent is heard loudest, and birth parents and adoptees are sometimes not heard, or are marginalized, so it was really meaningful and rich to hear from others about their experiences with adoption.

There was a wide range of experiences among the adoptees. It was moving to hear about the hard and the good, and about the variety of relationships they experienced. Some adoptees shared stories about reunion with their first family. Others talked about rich relationships with adoptive siblings, or parents.  Some relationships with both first family and adoptive family were excellent and others were less satisfying. But I got the impression that those who were able to make contact with first family were glad to get some questions answered and know at least something about the people from which they came.  Even if someone is very happy with his or her adoptive family, it’s a really big, hard thing to not know anything about your first family.

Also hugely interesting to me were the words of the birth parents. There was so much longing in their voices as they described the agonizing decisions that led to not being able to parent their children, and also so much pride as they talked about their children now.  It seemed so obvious that they’re still parents in their hearts, even though they made the hard choice not to parent. One birth dad, Darrick Rizzo, signed papers as a teen because he was promised an open adoption including contact with his son, only to have the adoptive family disappear and not allow any contact.

I know that it can feel intimidating to adoptive families sometimes– the idea of having open relationship and contact with birth family, and in other cases it isn’t even an option.  But I came away from that discussion convinced that it was deeply appreciated both by the adoptees and the birth parents who were able to be in reunion.  I’ve read that it can be a key to emotional wholeness for many adoptees. I think we as adoptive parents would be wise to understand that, and to foster connection whenever it is safe and possible, even if it can sometimes feel scary to us.

Those brave story-tellers also left me remembering how important it is for us as adoptive parents to be honoring in our words about our children’s birth family.  I know there are birth parents out there whose choices are less than stellar.  Some children even need to be removed from family due to neglect or abuse.  Especially in situations like that it might be tempting to lay blame, or to be less than honoring in our descriptions and words. Our momma-lion instincts rise up and feel angry on behalf of our precious ones, and all that they endured before they came to us.

But still we need to remember this:  our children came from their first family. Their very DNA is entwined. If we disparage their first family, we’re also disparaging our children, whether we intend it or not. And our children will feel it. For the sake of our children, it’s up to us to find ways to honor the very real relationship that already exists between our children and their first family.

Denying it doesn’t make it go away.

Talking about it doesn’t make us less their parents.

It just shows our children that we’re brave enough and strong enough to be trusted with their feelings and wonderings and thoughts. Not all kids will choose to talk to us about those feelings.  In fact, some of the adoptees that I spoke with said that many adoptees feel disloyal even broaching the subject.  But that truth makes it even more important for us to be the instigators (at least sometimes) of such conversations– proving to our children that it’s okay to wonder, and to have questions, and longings for the loved ones in their mysterious past.

Maybe even to be brave enough to take steps to help our kids unshroud some of that mystery.


Our son’s meeting with his first family

November Stitch Fix


Chevron skirt and black blouse

I thought I’d share my latest Stitch Fix goodies with you this morning. First up is this black chevron skirt and black short-sleeve blouse. The skirt is pretty, but it was a little short for a maxi on me– it almost felt like petite sizing– and is similar to another skirt that I already own.  The blouse is a nice light-weight under-layer.  As I was putting it on, I was thinking of all sorts of ways it could be useful in my wardrobe, and my daughters thought it was a nice flattering fit.


Dotty blouse

The dotty blouse is one that I would not have looked at twice on a rack.  But I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected.  Looking at the photo, I wish I had not paired it with that scarf.  What kind of jewelry would be good with it instead, do you think?  I have a hard time with accessorizing.



The ‘tablecloth’

 The plaid sweater is absolutely gargantuan.  It made me feel so wide putting it on, and I kept trying to arrange the big floppy collar in a way that didn’t show the inside of the knit.  But it really wouldn’t behave.  My son took one look at it and declared it to be a tablecloth. On the bright side, the bigness of the sweater makes my legs look skinny.

TurquoiseThis turquoise cardigan was one I knew I’d keep the second I pulled it out of the box.  I love the way the collar drapes down and creates pockets at the bottom of the sweater. Besides the turquoise cardigan, I also ended up keeping the black blouse since it was such a nice layering piece, and the dotty blouse because it was different from anything I already have. All in all, it was an interesting batch of clothes.

Stitch FixHere’s my affiliate link if you’d like to try Stitch Fix. It’s a lot of fun to see what the stylists pick for you, and if you give them more info (I shared my pinterest style board) the better your fixes can be. They also have gift cards that would make it a fun Christmas gift.  And if you refer other people to Stitch Fix, you can earn credit to apply toward your fix, which makes it a lot more affordable.

Frugality this week

This week I’ve been Christmas shopping, which tends to lead to feelings of non-frugality. But I felt good about overall resisting the siren call of Black Friday shopping, which often seems to end up with me impulse-buying a fair number of random items.  I did buy a few carefully chose items online for excellent prices.  It’s always fun when the UPS man comes bearing goodies.

I opted not to renew amazon prime this year.  Yes, the free shipping is nice.  But I find that when I have prime, I am much quicker to impulse-buy on amazon.  Amazon is already my budget’s Achille’s heel. I just shop smarter if I put an item in my cart and then force myself to wait til I have $35 worth of merchandise (to get the free shipping) before hitting that ‘buy’ button.  Half the time when I wait, I end up deciding is not as important as I first thought to own that particular item.

At Wal-Mart this week I happened upon 10-lb logs of ground beef marked down to $2o each.  It has been probably half a year since I’ve been able to find ground beef for less than $3 a pound, so I bought 40 pounds.  Seemed extreme to spend $80 on ground beef in one trip, but who knows when I’ll see the price that low again.  I probably actually should have bought more than that.

Table sparkleI bought 40 pounds of potatoes for 99 cents/10 pounds.  That’s a LOT of food for $4.

I copied a Pinterest idea for some sparkle on the dining room table using items I already had.  Looking at the photo I think I’ll remove the natural items and redo it with all glass balls, but it is fun the way it is too. The tiered tray is something I made a few years ago using gorilla glue and thrift store candlesticks and plates in different sizes.  Originally it was used to serve cupcakes at our oldest daughter’s wedding.

Our Christmas tree is getting very old and tired. I think we got it in 1999 for $70, so I think we’ve gotten our money’s worth from it. I was sorely tempted to take advantage of Black Friday sales to buy a new one.  But instead I opted to use it for (at least) one more year.  Once decorated, it didn’t look half bad.  And even on a good sale, the type of tree I had in mind would have been $100.  So it’s just as well that I waited.

I wanted to support a brand new Ethiopian restaurant called Kibrom’s in Boise, but didn’t have much in the eating-out budget.  So instead of bringing everyone and getting a full meal, we stopped in and bought injera plus a triple batch of our favorite entree (doro wat) and asked them to package it up for take-out.  They got some business, and we all had a taste of yumminess at a lower price.  Another time we’ll bring everyone there to eat, but this was a nice compromise.

That’s all I can think of for now.  On Monday I’ll share my latest Stitch Fix goodies.  I’d love to hear how your frugality efforts are going this month, especially related to holiday expenses.