9 stocking stuffers under $3



Sometimes it can be hard to think of fun small items to use as stocking stuffers. I thought I’d share a few ideas that I’ve seen on Amazon, and I’m hoping you’ll chime in and add your own ideas.

Nivea Hand Cream is wonderful, and these little tins are small enough to fit perfectly into a purse or pocket.  I carry mine in my pocket at work to counter-act the effects of washing my hands five times an hour all shift long.  It’s great stuff.

Flash lights are always useful.  They can be toys for bored toddlers in the car, grabbed during power outages, or kept in the glove box in case of roadside emergencies.  And what kid doesn’t want to read a book under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime?


Who wouldn’t welcome a nice pair of fuzzy socks especially in cold weather?  I’m kind of hoping someone will buy something this cozy for me!


Chocolate is always a winner.  Here’s a nice big bag of Hershey’s nuggets at a reasonable price. Divvy the bag out between all the stockings you have to fill, and you’ll still have a few left over to munch as you finish up your Santa duties.


Beeswax Natural Lip Balm is another great cold-weather offering, especially this 6-pack that comes in 6 different flavors.


How about a new toothbrush in a fun color?  Maybe not the most exciting gift for a kid, but I’m guessing my newly-moved-out young adults have already developed an appreciation for necessities that they don’t have to buy for themselves.


If you’re shopping for little guys, these pull-back race cars might be just the ticket.  I’m pretty sure that my little granddaughters would enjoy them just about as much as the boys.

These adorable finger puppets would also be a hit with little ones.  What a darling find in a stocking!  If you’re a real over-achiever, you might even be able to find a story book or two featuring some of these adorable little critters.

And if you’ve got guitar-players in your midst, these might be the prettiest guitar picks they’ve ever seen.  The picks feature art by Vincent van Gogh.



OK, now you know a few of my best ideas. (Shhh….don’t tell my kids and grandkids!)   Will you pin this post if you found it useful?  And by all means, share your own affordable ideas in comments, below. I would love to add to this list.


This post contains affiliate links.  Affiliate links don’t raise the cost to you, but they do send a few cents from each purchase to support all the free content here at Owlhaven.


Happy New Year!  It’s been a whirlwind 2 weeks around here– probably the craziest Christmas we’ve ever experienced.  After planning for a month to close on our new house Dec 18th, we had all sorts of delays.  At one point the expected close date was looking to be as late as Dec. 29th.  But then a mini Christmas miracle happened, allowing us to close the 23rd. Too late to do Christmas at the new place  (which turned out to be utterly fine).  But soon enough to move a few things over on the 23rd, and a few more the 25th–  “Merry Christmas, kids!  We’re putting your mattresses in the van!” And then on the 26th, the moving van rolled into our new neighborhood, and it was time to unload that beast.

Thanks to fabulous help from all our kids  (not just the ones living with us)  that entire semi truck was emptied in two hours flat.  And then the slow work began– unpacking all those boxes.  I’ve done little else in the week since Christmas.  But we’re finally winning over all those boxes, and I am just thrilled with how it is all coming together.  Here are a couple shots of our new living room….ahhhhh.

Looking from Front Door Looking from the dining areaWe had most of the kids over for Sunday dinner this week, and instead of the usual press of a mob of us all together, we actually had space to move, even after John and the grandkids dumped out alllll the Legos!  I think it will be a wonderful home for us.

I will show you more photos  soon.  But at  the moment we don’t have internet (it’s coming FRIDAY– hooray!!!  Finally!!!)  so I am very limited in my blogging time. I will call this post good for now, and plan to write much more regularly in this new year!

Oh, and here’s our whole clan on Christmas Eve!

Christmas Ostyns



What we can bring

Way back in 1992, we were living in a cute older house in town, were the happy parents of three tiny children, and were dreaming of homesteading in the country.  Big garden, orchard, chickens, all of it.  When we found a 3 acre piece of land for the princely sum of $13,ooo, we leaped on it.

The next summer, after looking at dozens of house plan books and finding just the right plan, we sold our first house (in 5 days, no less) and began building this one.  The plan was that we would serve as general contracters, subbing out all the parts of the build to various subcontracters.

Finding an affordable rental to live in during the build was made harder by the fact that we had a dog.  We ended up buying two old travel trailers which we paid for on payments– $112 a month. No way we could have found rent that cheap.  We rented an outhouse, drilled a well, and lived right there on that 3 acre stretch of land while we built us a house.

Yes.  Three kids, two parents, a dog, a couple of cats, and a couple of travel trailers.  Our full-size refrigerator, our house plants, and a whole variety of other household items were protected from the weather by nothing more than a cattle chute that we covered with a tarp.  We jokingly called our ramshackle campsite ‘Okietown’.

Now, looking back from the perspective of a parent, I wonder just how worried our parents were about us.  They probably thought we had taken leave of our senses.  Thankfully God watched over that home build.  Our maiden voyage as home contractors went smoothly, and just 3.5 months later, in October of 1993, our home was done and we were moving in.

Just in time.  The weather had already gotten cold enough that I made frosty footprints walking across outdoor carpet each morning from our travel trailer to the kids’ trailer to get them out of bed.  Wow, were ever glad to move into our new home.  It felt like a palace.

Since that happy move-in date in 1993, we’ve added 7 children to our family, had many huge gardens, many happy Christmases, and many years of homeschooling.  We’ve birthed children, adopted children, seen their first steps and their first words and their first Christmas programs and all the other firsts that come with watching children grow.

We’ve read story after story on that old green living room carpet.  We’ve built Lego masterpieces and gathered eggs and bottle-fed baby calves and gone for long lovely walks and even welcomed grandkids into the family who then proceeded to do all the things here that our own children have.

Oh, this has been a good home for us.

We are definitely feeling many pangs of nostalgia.  But we’ve done all we came here to do, and we’re ready for some different pursuits.  And it helps to remember that in leaving the house, we’re not leaving all those amazing memories.  They get to come right along with us, and continue to be a huge part of our children’s childhood.

So we’ll take pictures.  We’ll copy our wall-mounted growth chart to a piece of trim we can mount in our new house, and then use it to document the growth of the grandkids just as it did their parents. We’re breathing deep of the last days we have here in this house.  (Due to a paperwork snafu, we’re getting a few extra bonus days.  In fact, it looks like we get one more Christmas right here.) But we’re also confident that in looking forward to this next adventure, we’re not truly losing all the neat blessings we’ve gained while living here.  It will forever be a part of the memories of a really wonderful part of our lives.

I think also that our very human wish for a lovely home is a beautiful reminder of the only perfect home we will ever experience:  heaven.

I pray that as we all celebrate home and family and love and the miraculous birth of Jesus during this beautiful time of year, we’ll also be joyful thinking of the heavenly home where some day we will celebrate forever.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!


Kids and gifts. And Jesus.

This is the time of year when my momma-heart wants to give my children the perfect gift. Well, truth be told, always I long to do that, but that longing is huge at Christmas. This year with all the busy-ness of moving, my Christmas gift-hunting feels hampered, what with budget constraints and time restraints and the need to focus on the huge task of moving from one home to another. But still, I think of each of my loved ones when I lie in bed at night.  I’d give them the sun and the moon and the stars, if I could, if that is what will bring them joy.

This time of year also, with all the busy-ness of Christmas, is a time when tempers can flare, when tired-kid tantrums can push a tired momma over the edge, leaving a momma feeling like the strain of all that rampant emotion is too much to bear. Don’t kids understand mom is tired? Busy? Stretched? Trying her darndest to make sure this Christmas will be memorable and special and beautiful?

I know it is completely illogical, but somehow I think if loved ones could just see past my to-do list to my heart, they’d save all their negativity til another month, just set it aside, give me a bit of breathing room.  Because, oh, drama.  I really don’t need it right now.  Let’s have joy and tranquility and understanding and patience instead.

Humans don’t work like that though, do they?  Stress just boils every bit of negativity to the surface, doesn’t it?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at an angry toddler, or a stubborn teen, and prayed desperately for wisdom great enough, words wise enough, to turn that heart around.   Oh, what a useful power that would be.

Yesterday in church the theme of the sermon was this simple longing: “We wish to see Jesus.”

Oh, yes. That.

But how can that longing guide my momma-heart?  Help meet my children’s needs? Direct their hearts?

I suspect in each situation, each heart is different.  Jesus demonstrated that Himself, in his different approaches to human drama. Sometimes he came to earth in baby humility.

Fisher Price nativity

Other times He threw the money-grubbers out of the temple.  Or healed their broken bodies.  Or fed their hungry tummies.  Or fed their hungry souls.  Or showed beautiful grace in the face of the ugliest of sin.

And then there was the bit where He spread out his arms in love and died, just so we could be in heaven with Him someday.

All love, all the time.  But evidenced in different ways.

I’m not ever going to do love as well as Jesus does.  But in the end it’s not my love, really, that I want my children to see.   I want the words out of my mouth, and the actions of my hands,  and even the gifts under the Christmas tree to show them Jesus.  To remind them of the great love He has for each and every one of them.

In this season of gift-giving, of scurrying, and hurrying to prepare just the right celebration for our loved ones, I pray that I will be able to point my loved ones to the truest, best Lover of their souls.

Whether they know it or not, they wish to see Jesus. May my words, and actions, and attitudes direct them to Him this Christmas.

And always.

We wish to see Jesus.

Fisher Price nativity

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. -Isaiah 61:1




Things I’m doing this week

I’m sitting here at 5:30 PM in my PJ’s yawning and waiting for my coffee to kick in. After last night’s work, I had a nice long sleep today.  So once I get to work tonight, I’ll be golden, but at the moment it’s PJ’s and yawning for me.

Hard to believe we move in a week. Though we’re getting lots done, my to-do lists don’t seem to be getting shorter. Seems like the emptier the house gets, the more little odds and ends I discover that we really ought to fix up. Am currently wondering if we really truly need to do new bathroom counters as our real estate agent recommended, or if fresh, lovely granite in just the kitchen will be enough.

Here are some of the things I’ve been working on this week.

  • Perfecting my caulking techniques
  • Learning how to install a new range hood
  • Using lots of boxes and packing tape–  we already used up that big-ol pile of boxes I got a couple weeks ago
  • Trolling Pinterest for great packing ideas
  • Planning to label my 2 quart jars at the new house with paint markers like this.  Isn’t it cute?  Here are the markers: Sharpie Oil Paint Marker
  • Painting, painting, painting– most of the main level is done, and the upstairs has been started.
  • Wrapping lots and lots of Christmas gifts.  Trying hard to keep up with the Christmas prep in the middle of the packing to move.
  • Getting far enough in packing that I am beginning to have the dreaded ‘misc’ boxes– just jumbles of odds and ends still sitting in corners in various rooms.
  • Cooking most of our dinners either on stovetop or in the turkey roaster, since our oven broke and we’re waiting to buy a new one until we move.  There’s a tater tot casserole in the turkey roaster as I type– hooray for freezer food! It’s dinner and then off to work around here.
  • Once this move gets done I look forward to blogging a little more often.  But it may be quiet around here during the busyness that is bound to be happening in the next couple weeks. Hope all is well with you and that you are enjoying your Christmas preparations!


Bonus hours

What with moving in 17 days— 17, people!– and Christmas in 24, I’ve been wishing I could find some bonus hours in the day somehow. Well, this morning I was granted my wish. After working night shift all weekend (and sleeping the subsequent days), this morning I woke up at 4 AM completely unable to go back to sleep.  So I’m just going with it.   There might be a nap this afternoon.  But for now I am mapping out all sorts of things that I’d like to accomplish today.

On the agenda:tater tot casserole

  • Bring the van  to Wal-mart to jump start my car which decided to die there last evening.  Bah.
  • Empty more kitchen cabinets and get more things packed away into the storage unit.
  • Take down the upper cabinets over the stove top, so that my husband can install the new range hood we bought to update the look of the kitchen.
  • Make 3 tater tot casseroles to freeze as easy meals for busy days in the next few weeks.
  • Gather paperwork needed from the bank for our house closing.  (Did I mention that’s in 17 days??  Eeek!)
  • Put up the Christmas tree and finish other decorating here.
  • Decide what to make for family dinner on Saturday.

Meanwhile despite all the busyness, I keep finding myself wandering over to Pinterest thinking of various projects I am hoping to do in the new house. One fun idea is a minimalist sideboard in the dining area that (with bar stools) could double as a school desk for the girls, or be used to serve food when we are having a big crowd over.  Here are two versions of it that I really like.

Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic

Clean Lines

Clean Lines












Credit: CherishedBliss.com

Credit: CherishedBliss.com

And then just for fun, here’s an easy peasy table decor idea for Christmas. The only problem would be keeping the kids out of the treats, I think! How are you doing this week? How are you preparing for Christmas?

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!

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

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.