Chair covers from kitchen towels

While furnishing the new house, I’ve kept my eyes open for affordable furniture that might help fill in gaps and make the home more comfortable.

One of the things I’d like for each master bedroom is some kind of chair. When we got the smallest coziest master bedroom finished, we decided it would indeed fit a chair, but it needed to be a small one.

My friend had an old chair that she was getting rid of that fit the bill perfectly size-wise.  It was comfy and had a nice shape.  But it needed recovering.  When offered the chair, I accepted it happily, and began thinking of what I might like to use to recover it.

A day or so later I happened to spot some kitchen towels on clearance at Target for a couple bucks each.  When I grabbed the towels, some smooth cotton with a pattern, and some terry cloth, I had dish-drying on my mind.  But at home I happened to set the towels on the new/old chair, and suddenly my wheels were spinning.

The pattern on three of the towels was appealing, and blended well with the colors I already had in that master bedroom. What if I made a chair cover out of the towels?

I started draping the towels across the chair, and discovered that two towels, sewn together lengthwise like a pillowcase, would exactly fit the straight back of the chair.  The third towel covered the top and front of the seat with a little to spare.  But I didn’t have enough of the patterned towels to cover the sides of the seat.  What to do?

I liked the smooth feel of the patterned towels better, but the terry cloth towels I’d also bought were a match color-wise.  I decided to see if I could use just enough of the terry cloth to put together a chair cover.

I started by sewing together the two towels to cover the back of the chair, trimming them just a bit shorter to fit.  Then I attached the seat towel to the back piece

The scraps that I’d cut off the other towels were long enough to cover part of the sides, but not all.  I filled in the rest of the space with narrow strips cut from a terry cloth towel.

It took more than a little fiddling, and lots of pinning and re-pinning to make it all go together smoothly.  I went bit by bit, sewing a few seams, and then trying it on the chair again, to make sure things fit as I intended.  I also used the finished edges of the towels as much as possible to be the bottom edges of the slipcover since that saved a bit of sewing.

I was very happy with the end product– a cute seat cover made from four towels, at the cost of $8 and a little less than two hours of sewing.

And I discovered an unexpected benefit from my little stripes of terry cloth.  That fabric was a little more stretchy than the patterned fabric, which allowed me to end up with a snug-fitting cover that was stretchy enough to be removed for washing, should that be needed down the road sometime.

This success so emboldened me that I’m now thinking of making slip covers for a couple of my old couches, maybe using painter’s drop cloths?  Anyone else ever tried that?  Or seen a good tutorial?  I’d love to hear about it!


Affordable wall art!

With the beach house so close to completion, I’ve been realizing I need WAY more wall art than I have, but hello??  We have a budget and I’ve already spent it.  So I’ve been trying to think of some affordable solutions.

I have a LOT of 5×7 and 8×10 picture frames that are that old golden oak color.  I am kind of tired of the look of that type of finish, and over the years it seems like I’ve collected more that I really use.

For Christmas this past year, one of the things I did was spray paint some of the frames and then just hunted for some free printables that I could put in the frames.  Here’s a (distant) shot of the framed Christmas printables on a wall above some new coat hooks that John made for me.  I chose simple black and white printables with the silver frames and I think it turned out really cute.


I decided to do a similar fix to fill in some gaps in small spaces at the beach house. I first tried painting some frames with a coppery gold craft paint, which did freshen up the yellow gold oak.  Here are a couple of neat prints of ships that I put them in.  I think they will be fun in small dabs of space in the ship room.




Though the ones I did in gold look fine, I ended up liking the silver look better. Here are some prints that I did for the laundry room.  I think it will look nice against the sea salt paint.

Then here are a few sweet old prints of little children that I framed in silver to go in the children’s bathroom at the beach house.  Most of the metal in there is brushed nickel and I think the silver will look nice there.  For some reason I am charmed by the old fashioned prints.  I found most of the old fashioned looking prints on the Graphics Fairy website.


One of the printables that I ended up loving the most was this sweet one of cottages by the sea.  As you can see, we spray painted this frame black, and I think it has a really nice look about it.

My daughter Julianna, who is 12, did all the spray painting for me.  It was literally the first time in her life that she’d spray painted anything, and she did a great job.  This is not a hard project at all, and I am really excited to have a few more pieces of art to put in small places around the house.  All for the price of some printer ink and spray paint.  Gotta love that!


Frugal Friday: 6 ways we save money on trips

Frugal vacationing

I’ve skipped Frugal Friday way too many times in a row but I thought this would be a good day for a quick post about ways to be frugal even when you’re on vacation.  I’m hoping you’ll also chime in below and tell me ways that you save money when you’re traveling.

1.  We camped for a lot of years and of course that is a super affordable way to sleep your family on vacation, especially when you also do a lot of the cooking yourself.  Here are a few fun camp-food ideas.

2. For a mob as big as ours, a vacation rental is also a good way to sleep a lot of people on a budget.  A house that can sleep a dozen or more can run $250-$400 a night, but divide that among 4 or more households and all of a sudden it starts looking more affordable, especially when you compare it to the cost of sleeping that number of people in a hotel.

3.  Whether camping or staying in a vacation home, a fabulous way to save money on a trip is to cook for yourself. In 9 days of vacation this past week  our group of 16+ people ate out exactly twice, and one of those times was on the way home. Also remember to use those coolers, and pack lunches and snacks for driving days.  If you feel too disorganized to pack a whole meal remember that even apples, cookies and juice boxes in a cooler will help ward off the hungries and save you money.

4.   When you do eat out– we all need a break from cooking sometimes!– choose your restaurants wisely. We tend to gravitate toward Mexican restaurants or pizza when we are on the road, since those types of restaurants tend to be more affordable.  Another bonus of Mexican restaurants– free chips while you wait for your meal!  That’s a big help when you’re traveling with hungry kiddos:)

Swimming5. If you’re hoteling it, stay in hotels with free breakfast. We also try to find hotels with sleeper couches and extra cots, to limit the number of rooms we’ll need.  And remember to read the reviews so you won’t be surprised by what you’re getting for your money.

6. Splurge a little. On trips even when we’re cooking at the house, I lean a bit heavier on convenience food and often serve snacks that I don’t buy any other time.  That keeps the trip feeling special, and makes life easier and more fun for everyone.

What about you?  How do you save money on vacation?



Frugal, not so frugal

Frugal: The biggest news around here is that I got that OB job at the local hospital.  I’ll start in early April and will work 3 shifts a week for a month as I get oriented. Once I am oriented I’ll cut back to two (night) shifts a week. Since John works only 3 (day) shifts a week, one of us will still be home the vast majority of the time. But it’s been SO long since I’ve worked away from home that it’s going to feel different, especially on the mornings where I’ll need to sleep.   The teens tend to already be fairly independent in their school, but I’m working up a simple checklist to help Em (12) and Julianna (10) stay on task.  It will be an adjustment, I’m sure, but I’m excited at the thought of helping moms and babies again– it’s such an exciting part of nursing.   And we’re really looking forward to getting our house paid off turbo-speed, which will free us up to work on some other projects we have in the works.  (I’ll talk more about those later.  🙂  )


Frugal, (eventually, probably): Since Lidya has been driving our minivan, and John usually has our tiny car, I’ve been driving our big 12-passenger van for my errands.  At 14 mpg, the gas costs are pretty high. Thinking of the increased driving that I’ll be doing, we bought commuter car for me for the princely sum of $1500.  So when John and I spotted a 2001 Hyundai Sonata with 127,000 miles on it, we checked it out and decided the price was right. It’s not pretty, but it runs great, has A/C and uses lots less gas than our big van. Since the paint is flaking off in chunks,  I am toying with the idea of having Emily, my resident artist, decorate it something along these lines.  Wouldn’t that be fun?? Probably not the whole car, and probably quite gradually.  But she thinks it sounds like a really fun summer project, so we’ll see how that goes.

Not so frugal: we started a project to replace the tile backsplash in our kitchen. At first I brought home a boring-looking tile sample that neither John nor I ended up liking with our cabinets.  Too blah compared to my cabinets which have a definite red tinge.  We went together to Home Depot and immediately found something that we both liked. It’s a glass one-inch tile with colors that remind me of copper pennies.  It is fun and sparkly and gypsy-ish.  I am hoping to have a post next week once we get the project finished– we’ve been hard at work on in this week.  The tile priced out at about $80 for the whole project, which I thought wasn’t too bad at all.  But once we’d bought grout and tools and everything, it ended up being more along the lines of $160.  Ah, well.

Frugal:  I did pretty well cooking out of the freezer and pantry this past week– it helped to have the menus laid out ahead of time.  I also got bread at the dollar store, and stashed a few casseroles in the freezer for easy meals on days that I work.

Not so frugal:  I am already finding myself heading toward more convenience food to stash in the freezer for the kids on my work days.  I want the kids to be able to easily feed themselves, especially in the first month or two as we are adjusing to this new thing.  My work will be a big boost to our income, so I think it’s an acceptable tradeoff.  But I will still need to be aware, and try not to go overboard with the easy stuff just because we will have more income. Ya know?  Also, I need to get back in the habit of double-batching food every single week, so that I can keep a freezer stash for the busy times.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this adjustment to part time work–  I already have it in my head that I just need to be super-intentional about all the time I will still have at home, and make sure to fit in fun with the kids right along with the mundane.

How did your week go?  What’s new in your world?  Are you looking forward to the end of the school year?  I know I am!


Frugal Friday: When One Meal Morphs Into Another

I saw this article yesterday The Never-Ending Soup Pot and thought it was a great explanation of a concept that can save you time and let you use your food in a very affordable way. Very often a meal doesn’t have to be a completely new beginning. Often you can use building blocks from another meal.

I personally have never served soup every day for a week. However I often cook multiples meals in stages. For example, this last Saturday I cooked a turkey, which we served with mashed potatoes and gravy. The next day (after making a HUGE pot of bone broth with the turkey bones) I made turkey noodle soup, enough that we had it for two meals. One Tuesday we had turkey sandwiches for lunch. On Wednesday some of the kids made turkey wraps with fresh-cooked tortillas (I love the uncooked flour tortillas from Costco that you can cook at home!) And on Thursday I made a creamy cheesy soup with potatoes, veggies and turkey, using the bone broth that I’d made over the weekend, as well as any veggies in the fridge that were needing to be used. Definitely a week much heavier on turkey than usual. But because we did a variety of different things with the turkey, no one was bored with it. In fact, my boys would happily eat turkey wraps many days of the week, if there happened to be turkey available.

cooking chicken to freeze

Another example of this is how I often handle ground beef. A time or two a month I will cook a LOT of ground beef all at once– maybe 8-10 pounds. I season and use it for tacos on night # 1. Because I cook so much, there’s lots leftover for other purposes. Some of what remains goes into spaghetti sauce another night. Another cup or two of the cooked meat will go into hamburger veggie chowder later in the week. A few cups goes into baggies in the freezer for easy use later. And usually I also remember to set aside a couple cups of the spaghetti sauce to go on pizza yet another day. That means I get at least 4-6 meals of meal from one meat-cooking session. It tremendously speeds my effort in the kitchen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week in the frugality department, but I’d love to hear how your week went.


Frugal Friday

I thought it might be fun to show you this week’s menu plan instead of my regular frugal Friday details.  I do menu planning in kind of a loosy goosy way–  meaning, before I go shopping, I make a list of 14 or so recipes that would be good dinners in the next couple weeks, ideally using as many ingredients as I can from my pantry and freezer.  Then I make a grocery list from that menu list, filling in the items that I still need to buy.

Our new baby chicks!

Our new baby chicks!

As I planned this week, I had my two half-full freezers on the brain.  One of them needs to be defrosted and ideally I’d like to be able to turn it off for a few months, until it’s time to butcher our steer.  So as I menu plan I  I need to use up some of the bulky items so that I can consolidate everything in one freezer. Literally the biggest item in that category is a 20-pound turkey which is currently thawing in my fridge.  It’ll be turkey dinner for a couple nights, with hopefully enough left over to make turkey tortilla soup a different night.  I’ve included links to some of these recipes here on the blog, as well as page numbers to some other ones that are in my cookbook Family Feasts for $75 a Week.

I think that menu planning is huge in successfully lowering a grocery budget.  It just makes you much more intentional– less wasteful and more proactive.  So here’s what we’ll be having for dinner for the next couple weeks!


Turkey and mashed potatoes (x2)

Make your own pizza (x2)

Fried rice and (costco) potstickers

Tacos with ground beef

Chicken Fajitas  (Family Feasts, p. 140)

Chili and cornbread x2 (Family Feasts p. 188)

Injera and doro wat (Family Feasts p. 180)

West African peanut chicken

Mexican tortilla skillet (Family Feasts p. 129)

Pasta carbonera  (Family Feasts p . 164)

Turkey tortilla soup (Family Feasts p. 175)

Chicken skillet pie  (Family Feasts p. 100)


If you don’t yet have a copy of Family Feasts for $75 a Week, check it out on amazon, and see what other readers are saying about it.  And as I cook during these next couple weeks, I’ll try to get another recipe or two up on the blog.  Though it’s awesome if you want to purchase the book, I am working to make my blog a great source of cooking inspiration also.

Happy cooking, and I’d love to hear about your frugality efforts this week!

Frugal Friday

Last week I spent four days in Seattle with John, which was fun, of course.  But meals out and rental cars and bits of shopping all add up.  It was good to get back home where money doesn’t leak away quite as fast.

On my table this week



  • I bought some spring flowers and planted them in containers that I already had for some spring color on the table.  Also found just the right color in a scrap of fabric for a bit of a table runner.  I love doing different things on the table from month to month.
  • This week I found several types of produce for reasonable prices, including pears, sweet peppers,  and apples.
  • Looking through my pantry, I’m realizing I need to serve pickles and applesauce more often, since we still have lots of both.
  • I found the boys shirts that they like, on clearance, again at Fred Meyers.
  • I returned a couple boxes of markers that turned out to be dry, brand-new.
  • I remembered to print a 10-pg tutorial for a kid in ‘draft’ quality to use less ink.
  • I combined a bunch of errands Tuesday evening to save on gas.
  • I went and did a consumer survey-thing at Hewlett Packard  (critiquing their website in a guided way) which earned me $100 for 2 hours of work.  Not bad.  And actually kind of fun.
  • When the Keurig broke, we resisted the urge to buy a new one (refills are spendy, and so is a new Keurig) and instead just brought the old coffee maker back inside from where it had been sitting in the garage. I figure every week we resist the urge to buy a new one, we’re probably saving $8 or so in refills alone.
  • My hipster son finally managed to find glasses he LIKED at the Walmart optical center for quite a reasonable cost.
  • I’m going thrifting this afternoon with a 20% off coupon.  Sweet.


  • We got home from Seattle at around 1AM Sunday morning, but still wanted to have our kids over for dinner.  Since I was pretty tired, we went for   takeout pizza instead of something homemade.
  • I bought a new blouse (on clearance) that I probably didn’t really need.  Clothes are my Achilles heel.
  • I brought our four youngest girls to see The Drop Box (which was excellent) and also splurged on a quick meal of Ethiopian food before the movie.  Lots of fun, but it made for a spendy week in the entertainment budget.
  • And finally, a bit of gratuitous grandbaby darlingness.Wilona1


Frugal, not so frugal

How did your frugality endeavors go this week? I think we did okay around here. Since I did a big shopping trip last week, I didn’t need lots of groceries this week. These days with 6 kids home full time (mostly teens), we’re averaging about $650-$700/month. Could be better, could be worse.

Feeding the cow Frugal:  As usual we ate leftovers for several lunches this week.  I also made several vegetarian or almost-vegetarian meals, including beans and rice, and chap chae, a Korean veggie noodle dish made.  I did add a little ground beef to the pasta for more protein.

Frugal: As the days are getting longer, our chickens are increasing production again, which is nice.  However we only have 7 hens now, which isn’t quite enough.  Usually once a month or so I have to buy a few eggs from the store.

Frugal:  I found some cute shoes for one of my daughters who wears an unusual size on clearance at Fred Meyers.  Their winter clearances are really good right now, and the shoes that were usually $40 were marked down to $11.  And she loved them!

Feeding the chickensNot so frugal: Once again, I didn’t buy enough notebooks on back to school sales to last the whole school year. Bah humbug.  Or maybe the kids should be blamed for that– I honestly don’t know how they go through so many notebooks so fast.  So I bought 8 or so more at 79 cents each.  Not terrible, but it just aggravates me since I can buy them for a quarter in August.

Frugal:  Last week I mentioned getting ground beef for $2/lb.  This week I turned some of that ground beef into 3 pans of hamburger enchiladas, a meal of spaghetti sauce,  and three meals of seasoned taco meat. That’s 6 meals that will be that much easier to get to the table because I spent a morning in the kitchen.

StoriesFrugal: This week I sold 5 dozen canning jars, as I had way too many and they were taking way to much space in the shelves in our garage.  After  Refresh next weekend  (so much fun!) I am looking forward to doing more cleaning and sorting, in the garage and in my closet.  The clutter in both places is getting to me.

Frugal/Not so frugal:  We had Dominoes pizza last night for dinner, but there’s a $5.99 sale right now so it wasn’t as spendy as it could have been.

Frugal: I stayed home a lot this week, which means I didn’t use much gas.  Hooray!


PS– Just had to include a few gratuitous baby pictures.  We have so much fun when they come to play!


Frugal Friday

How did your week go? I have a few things to report in the frugality department, but nothing hugely earth-shattering.

  • I went grocery shopping on Tuesday with a list and a menu plan, so my shopping was fairly thorough.
  • I found 10-lb ‘chubs’ of ground beef at Walmart marked down to $20 each, so I bought two. Then I came home and made hamburger patties and meatloaf.
  • I made chili for dinner one evening, enough to serve for another meal also.  We had enough from a couple other meals for several lunches during the week, and as usual I tucked some leftovers away in plastic containers in the freezer to be used as my husband’s work lunches.
  • I found apples for 88 cents a pound, so I bought quite a few.  Also in the produce section I resisted the urge to buy strawberries (sigh) and stuck with the fruit that’s most affordable now, my typical stand-bys:  apples, oranges, bananas.  I just last week overheard a produce lady in Fred Meyers tell a customer that most grocery stores take a loss on bananas, milk, and eggs, because they know customers will go elsewhere if their prices aren’t competitive.
  • I bought quite a few things in bulk on my big shopping trip, including beans and oats.  I store that type of thing in large 2-quart canning jars in the pantry, and when I empty out the sacks from the bulk department, I always shake out the crumbs and save the bags to be used again.
  • As usual, we washed clothing with our homemade laundry soap.  Emily made another batch this week.  Also as usual, we dried
    Soap making

    Making soap

    large and heavy items (jeans, towels, blankets) on the long bars that we have in our laundry room.  This decreases the wear on the dryer and allows smaller things get done in the dryer more quickly.

  • Whenever the power bill comes, I compare this month this year to this month last year, and was pleased that this year we used quite a bit less power than last year, probably because January was such a warm month.  We mostly heat with wood, but in the middle of the night on very cold nights, the furnace goes on for awhile. But this January was so warm that I don’t think that happened often.  John reports that the wood pile is much bigger than he expected for this time of year.
  • I decided to go with just the jacket and jeans from yesterday’s Stitch Fix.  That’s what I had enough credits to buy, and those were the only two pieces I truly loved anyway.  And since I did like the grey tee, I’ll keep an eye out for something similar at a lower price.
  • I found some nice duffel bags with wheels at for $14 each.  They are HUGE, and should be really great for packing lots of clothing.


Related to the duffels, but on a decidedly NOT frugal note, we just bought 5 plane tickets for Ethiopia for this summer.  I’ll be taking our 4 Ethiopian daughters for a homeland visit.  We’re meeting my sister Sophie there, and will be gone for two weeks. So very exciting! It seems like most of our not-frugal things are related to travel–I guess you could look at that either as our Achilles heel or as the reason we do all the frugal things.  We’ll need to update passports soon too.  Three are expired and two of the kids have never had them.  So that will be a pretty penny.  At least we know far enough ahead to avoid rush shipping.

That’s all I can think of for today.  I’d love to hear what you did this week that helped your budget!

PS– If you buy Practical Homeschooling (my latest e-book) and would like the 5-page bonus pack that contains additional info and transcript writing samples, just email me, and I will head it your way.  I’d also LOVE it if you’d share on facebook and tell your friends about the book– proceeds from this book are going to our Ethiopia travel fund.  🙂  And remember, if you’re not quite sure this book is for you, zip over to amazon and read the first few pages for free.  It ended up being an 85 page book and is loaded with info, a fair bit of which could easily translate to enrichment ideas and homework helps for kids in traditional school.

Frugal, Not So Frugal

I cannot figure out how the days fly by so quickly!  I look at the calendar and see very few appointments, and yet the week still seems to roar by in a flurry of school, writing, laundry, errands…. and before I know it, it’s the weekend again.

I skipped Frugal Friday last week– I just had to get my e-book done. It ended up being 85 pages– no wonder it took me so long.  You have til Monday  to grab it at the sale price of $3.49. Then, if you’re game to share about it on facebook and shoot me an email, I’ll send you a bonus pack with 5 more pages about high school transcripts. Altogether that’s 90 pages of homeschooling info for $3.49.  A frugal bargain, right?

On the not frugal side last week, and also part of the reason I hardly blogged– we took a super quick 3 day trip to the beach.  Only 3 of the kids could come with us, so we got by with one hotel room that we got on (breakfast included). We packed food too, only ate out once a day, and gas prices are good right now.  We had so much fun.



It felt odd to be traveling with only three kids, but the three that could come love the beach as much as we do, so we had a blast.  And sunshine….oh, the sunshine.  It was 66 degrees in Newport, which is crazy-unusual. We felt so blessed. The beach is definitely my happy place.  And by the pictures, you can probably tell the girls feel the same way.

Silly Sisters


So, on to THIS week!

SweaterFRUGAL: We did a good job of eating leftovers out of the fridge this week– didn’t waste anything, and got a couple of nice lunches with zero extra effort.  Always a win.

NOT SO FRUGAL:  I went and got my hair done.  I added a little red this time, which I think turned out fun.  Spendy, but I usually get away with doing it only 3-4 times a year, so I guess it could be worse.

FRUGAL:  Found a cute J.Jill poncho/sweater at a thrift store.

NOT SO FRUGAL: It was $14, practically highway robbery in thrift store terms.  But it was so cute! And comfy!  Like a sweatshirt, but the teensiest bit more pulled together.  And  it would have been a lot spendier at J. Jill, right?  (I’ve never been there, so I actually have no idea.)

FRUGAL:  I found a couple birthday gifts on deep, deep clearance at Fred Meyer’s.  My gift stash is practically non-existent since Christmas, so it’s nice to be building it up again.

FRUGAL:  Took the girls to the library, which delighted them.  Sometimes I don’t get around to it.

NOT SO FRUGAL: Got a notice after returning the books that someone damaged a book.  Bah. The ups and downs of being a library patron.

So how did your week go?  Successes?  Fails?  I want to hear it all.

PS–Before I forget– I’ve started sending out a little newsletter/update every week or two, just telling highlights of what’s been going on around here.  If you’d like to keep up with what’s happening (or if you don’t always get here to the blog) just type your email address into the little widget on the right at the top where it says, ‘Let’s be email friends.’  That’ll get you included in those updates too.