Thursday, September 21, 2017

5 Ways We Saved Money on Our Wedding

As most of you probably already know, my husband and I, after about 3 years of working through various forms of red tape, finally tied the knot about 3 months ago. Now, being parents to a fairly large family, and raising that family on one income, we didn't have a lot of spare money in the budget to throw at a wedding. Still, we wanted to have a nice wedding. Not huge and fancy, but nice enough to be worthy of the sacrament we were celebrating.

Now, there are as many different sorts of weddings as there are couples getting married, but today, I plan to share with you some of the ways we personally got creative to cut costs on our big day. Who knows? If you're planning a wedding, some of them might work for you, too.

#1. Buy a Used Dress

This might be one of the biggest potential money savers. There are loads of places one can keep an eye out for secondhand wedding dresses, and it's possible to save hundreds, or even over a thousand dollars simply by being willing to forego a brand new gown. We knew we wanted to get married for quite some time before we were actually able to do so, which allowed me to keep my eyes open for a dress that suited my style, fit my requirements, and was a realistic size for me to be able to wear. As it happened, the perfect dress ended up sitting in my closet for over two years before our wedding. But I knew I already had that major expense taken care of, and I paid hundreds less than retail for a gown that suited my style perfectly.

#2. DIY is Your Friend

There are quite a few things associated with a wedding that you can actually do yourself, and save a ton of money. For example, my dress, amazing as it was, didn't come with a veil. I did my research and decided I wanted a drop style veil, with alencon lace that (more or less) matched the lace on my dress. Similar veils were expensive, so I decided to make my own. Along the way, I discovered that one reason the veils are expensive is because alencon lace isn't cheap, y'all. I had a 55% off coupon for JoAnn's, and we still paid close to $70 for the lace trim and a cut of sheer illusion fabric for the body of the veil. However, if alencon isn't what you're after, you can save far more than I did. Many designs are amazingly cheap for materials, and very simple to put together. One thing I would have done differently, in retrospect, is buy the lace from a seller on Etsy. There are many styles available from suppliers in China for less than half what I paid per yard. But by the time I got around to seriously shopping for supplies for that particular project, I didn't want to risk shipping taking more time than I had. 

I also opted for silk flowers, and I arranged the bouquets, bouts, and altar flowers myself. You could do this with fresh flowers, but I knew I was going to have enough on my plate the last day or two without having to do the flowers right then as well. So I chose flowers that could be purchased and assembled ahead of time.

We designed, printed, and assembled our own ceremony programs, and they turned out beautifully. We had intended to print our own invitations, using some blanks I purchased on clearance, but when we were finally able to set a date, the one we chose was less than a month away. And so, we opted to skip printed and mailed invitations, and kept the invitation process less formal, creating an event page on Facebook and inviting friends and family through social media and by word of mouth. 

I never even considered having my makeup professionally done, but I know many do, so I'm putting it down here. Ladies, most of you know how to do your own makeup; I'm not 100% sure what this trend is even about. I did buy some special makeup for the day, so I'm not sure how much I actually saved with this move, but if you're not like me (kids had demolished my makeup stash) and have a healthy assortment of makeup, why not apply your own?

#3 Ask for (and Accept) Help!

I'll be honest; I was skittish about this one. Jon was much better than I was at asking our friends and family to take on various roles as we planned our wedding, but you know what? Everyone was super excited to help us celebrate! And there's no way we could have pulled off our perfect day on a budget without our friends.

My matron of honor happened to be very handy with a sewing machine, and she did some minor alterations to my dress. It needed a better bustling style than it came to me equipped with, as our church is very small and I didn't want to utilize the train at all. She totally hooked it up, and it was gorgeous. Also, it seemed like quite a simple job, really. I can't believe how much alteration places charge for that! She also helped me make table runners for our tables at the reception (did most of the work, actually, once we realized they only needed to be serged, not turned and hemmed as well; I don't have a serger).

Jon's mother happens to be very talented with a camera, and we asked her to take our wedding photos. I really was just expecting the digital copies, but a few weeks after the wedding, the most beautiful album arrived in the mail! It was obvious she had gone to a great deal of trouble getting prints of the best photos and arranging them in a lovely white photo album for us, and I was so very touched. What a thoughtful gift! She even sent a smaller album for my matron of honor a little later. Have I mentioned that I have the best mother-in-law, ever, y'all? 

The thought of catering the wedding ourselves was just as intimidating as the thought of paying for professional catering. In the end, we decided on a compromise. We came up with a few main dishes to make, and then we asked our church family (who would be the majority of our guests, and throw AMAZING potlucks) if they would kindly bring a side dish to share instead of giving us gifts. We're in our middle 30s with kids. We didn't need fancy wineglasses or a blender; we needed help throwing a party (something I've never been all that good at). They came through with flying colors, and wouldn't even let us clean up after. And many still insisted on giving us gifts, which came as such a touching surprise.

My hairdresser (who also attends church with us) surprised me by making my hair styling a wedding gift, and another friend purchased some flower arrangements as a gift. Yet another, when told the lettered sign I inquired about was for our wedding (she makes and sells them) told me to consider it a wedding present. I'm usually a terribly independent person, but I was so incredibly touched by everyone's generosity and love.

#4 Keep it Simple

We kept our wedding and reception small and simple, and while it was exactly what we wanted (no compromises there), it also saved a lot of money! We invited only family and our closest friends to share the occasion with us, and we kept it relatively simple. There are so many trappings out there that you REALLY don't need, if you stop and think about it. We skipped a lot of excess decorations that we probably could have had, and I'm quite sure no one missed the aisle runner, pew bows, or cherry blossom wreaths I almost caved and made for the front doors. No one cared that I didn't bust out a bunch of tulle and christmas lights for the reception space (and frankly, I wouldn't have had time to do so). 

Instead of renting a separate space, we had our wedding at 11 a.m. and had a simple lunch reception in the basement of our church. We didn't serve alcohol, and we didn't hire a DJ. Lunch was served on paper plates at tables decorated with white cloths, our handmade pink runners, and dishes full of pink and silver wrapped Hershey's kisses. Some little sparkly bits (loaned to us by a friend who offered our choice of any decorations she had stashed) were just the right finishing touch. It was simple, it was pretty but still casual, and it suited the happy couple and their guests just fine. Everyone had a fine afternoon, enjoying each other's company and celebrating our wedding.

We also skipped favors. I went back and forth on this one, but in the end, favors would have been a substantial expense given our entire budget, and I just couldn't see any of our guests being particularly disappointed to not have a can koozie, fridge magnet, or votive candle with our names and wedding date printed on it. Not that I didn't consider other options as well, mind you. But in the end, we skipped it, and I've had zero indication that anybody cared. 

#5 Shop Around

We didn't do as much of this as we might have, because it was important to us to plan and execute our wedding together as much as possible, and my husband shops like a guy--he likes to know exactly what he's after, go straight in, get that thing, and be done. We spent one particular day shopping for things for the wedding. I wanted to make a trip to the Dollar Tree, because you just never know what you might find there that would prove useful. As we walked into the store, he said, "What are we here for?" I swear I heard his brain explode when I responded with, "Possibilities." 

That aside, he did do an incredible job with looking online for things. Our tablecloths come readily to mind. He found exactly what we wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the cost of buying them anywhere else. I don't remember exactly what he paid, but like $2 and change a cloth. You can't beat that!

Plus, Places we Splurged

We did agree early on in the planning that we weren't out to just cut corners wherever we possibly could. We identified a few areas that were important to us, and agreed to splurge on those items to the extent necessary.

My grandparents on their wedding day.

Rings. We knew our rings would be blessed by our priest as part of our wedding ceremony, and so we rejected the idea of "starter" rings. We wanted the rings we placed on each other's fingers on our wedding day to be the rings we would wear for the rest of our lives. And with that in mind, we were willing to spend a little more to have exactly the rings we wanted. The diamond in my engagement ring is the one my grandfather bought my grandmother in 1941. The setting it was in was not the original, and was, dare I say, ugly, lol. I've dreamed for years of having it reset in something I'd actually want to wear, and we finally did so for my engagement ring. They were happy together until his death in 1985, and she missed him every day until hers in 2000. I love having a little piece of their love story as a part of ours. Our rings are simple gold bands (we're the traditional sort, with simple, classic tastes) with one of "our" sayings engraved inside the bands (we're also sentimental saps).

Cake. I thought about making my own; I really did. I know I possess the necessary skills, having made the cake for a wedding only a few months prior to our own. At the time, I told myself that in addition to being a wedding gift for our friends, it was also good practice for our own cake. In the end, I became overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I would need to accomplish in the final few days before the wedding, and I shoved the task off on a dear friend who makes cakes professionally. Best. Decision. EVER. She made us a beautiful and delicious cake that perfectly suited our theme (and Jon's dislike of fondant), and the best part was, I didn't have to do it. Know your limits, people. I was thoroughly crazy enough without adding a fancy cake to the mix, and I knew it.

Cake topper. In addition to the cake itself, we splurged on the topper. Much like the dress, it was purchased a couple years before the actual wedding, but we found it online and knew it was exactly what we wanted. It wasn't actually a cake topper, but a regular figurine, so we could easily put it on a shelf (or dresser, as it happened) in our home after the wedding. The catch was, we couldn't find any sources in the US for it! So we ended up not only paying for the figurine itself, but international shipping from Great Britain. Worth it. 

In the end, my advice would be to know which elements are the most important to you. Where are you willing to loosen the purse strings a bit to have exactly what you want? Where can you save by making compromises that, five years from now, aren't going to matter to anyone (even you)? Do it. You're more likely to regret blowing the budget--and arguing with your new spouse over it--than you are not having live music or releasing doves after the ceremony. Or really, any number of things the wedding industry butters their bread by convincing you that you absolutely must have. Take a step back, breathe, and ask yourself if whatever it is is really necessary. In the end, nothing is except a license, an officiant, and witnesses. Maybe rings, and even that is debatable. So decide what's important to you and your love, and don't get swept away in the madness. (Which, believe me, is hard.) Do you. And do it on a budget you can live with once the honeymoon ends and your real life together begins.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sewing Tutorial--Cloth Wipes

Hey, everyone! Today's post comes to you by reader request, and it's all about cloth wipes. Primarily, we'll be talking about how to make your own, but I'll also touch on how I use them and care for them, as well as a few ideas for purchasing them if you'd like to use cloth wipes, but prefer not to make your own. I like to make my own, personally, because it saves me quite a bit vs. buying them. So far, I've been able to make all the wipes I have by reusing items I already had, which makes them free--my favorite price. 😉

You can probably hand sew these wipes if you like. Personally, I prefer a sewing machine, so that's how I'll be showing you how to do it. The first thing you'll want to do is choose some fabric. I use cotton flannel for mine, but anything soft and absorbent should do the trick. For today's wipes, I'm using a receiving blanket. Moms, you know these things, we love them, and we probably all have more of them than we're actually using. If you'd rather just buy flannel fabric, most stores that sell fabric carry it, or if you're on a budget, you can keep an eye out at thrift stores and garage sales for flannel sheets and baby blankets to repurpose. If you're buying your flannel fabric new, you should prewash and dry  it using the same settings you intend to use to wash your wipes. If there's going to be any shrinking going on, it's best to get it over with now. If you purchased your fabric already used, I recommend washing it before use, but before or after sewing is up to you.

Ok, so. . . here's what we're using today.

One flannel baby blanket that's been kicking around here for a bit, but hasn't actually seen much use as a blanket. I like it; don't get me wrong. But I simply have a lot of receiving blankets, and I don't use them that much, if I'm honest. I have five in my cloth diaper rotation as diaper flats, and they see more action there than they ever did as blankets. So, no, I don't particularly feel guilty for what I'm about to do to this blanket. ☺

I liked the size of the last batch of wipes pretty well, so I wanted to try and match that, while wasting as little of the fabric as possible. I'll spare you the process, but I found that folding the fabric in thirds one way, then thirds again the other way gave me the best size squares. So, I did that as neatly as possible. . .

And then I used my pinking shears to cut on the folds. This gave me three (still folded) strips of fabric, which I then cut on the folds again, to yield 9 individual squares.

I was already in the process of cutting when I realized this meant I'd have an odd number of squares, and each wipe takes two, leaving me with an odd square left over. Ah, well. It's tucked away in my craft supplies waiting for me to decide to do this again. However, if you were to choose two blankets with complimentary designs, you could simply cut them both up and make the front of your wipes with one design and the back with another. Voila! Nine super-cute baby wipes. Or adult wipes (commonly known as "family cloth"), because frankly, I'm not above using these myself when we're low on toilet paper.

But back to the project. Once you have your squares all cut, you're going to choose two squares (handy hint, keep the rounded corners together if you have any) and pin them together, pretty side facing in, not so pretty side facing out.

Leaving a space on one side about 3-4 inches wide for turning, sew all the way around, using about a 5/8 inch seam allowance. Stop at the corners and make a nice, sharp turn before continuing. Your edge with the open space will look something like this:

I really should have used a darker thread color, but hopefully you can see that well enough to get the idea.

Next, trim the seams and the corners. this will help it not to be too bulky on the edges when we turn and topstitch it.

Now, you're going to turn your wipe right side out, and use something (your scissors, a chopstick, a pen, a knitting needle) to poke out the corners and smooth the edges a bit. Then, turn the edges of the hole to the inside, and pin them together to close that side completely.

This one is pinned all the way across because my first one had the entire side left open. Don't do that.
Starting on the open side, topstitch all the way around your wipe, stopping and turning in the corners. Topstitching leaves a very small seam allowance. The way I do it with my machine is simply guide the fabric where the clear plastic meets the metal at the right side of my presser foot. Once you've topstitched all the way around your wipe, you've made a usable wipe, and you can stop here if you like. Personally, however, I like to sew an X across the wipe. It keeps the layers from shifting on each other. You can use a simple straight stitch for this, but I like to add just a little more flair to mine by using a wavy stitch. If your machine doesn't have that function, no worries. If it does, and you want to use it, set your machine up for the appropriate stitch and (if necessary) change your presser foot. Set your stitch length as high as it will go (this gives you a nice, loose wave, rather than a tight wave) and simply stitch from corner to corner in both directions.

And there you have it! One handmade cloth wipe. It really doesn't take a lot of effort to have a stack, and, as with anything else, the more you make, the easier it gets.

Now before I go, I promised I'd give you a little information about using and caring for these, so here goes. A lot of moms like to use a special cleaning solution with these, either purchased or homemade. There are a ton of recipes available for the searching, but personally, I just wet them under the faucet and wring them out. That has worked just fine for me so far, and I don't have to worry about my homemade wipe solution going rancid on me, which is a problem I keep hearing about from other moms. If you'd like to purchase, there are premade solutions available, as well as solid "bits" that are meant to be mixed with water.

Washing is fairly simple. I just rinse off any solids (just get rid of the chunks; you don't have to try and make it look clean) and put them in my wet bag with my cloth diapers, then wash them right along with the diapers. They can be hung to dry or dried in your dryer.

If you really don't want to make your own wipes, there are several options out there for buying them already made. My local Wal-Mart carries single-layer Gerber cloth wipes. There are countless work-at-home moms on Etsy who make the cutest wipes you ever saw; the options are endless. And most cloth-diaper companies also offer wipes. If you like shopping Amazon, I found this pack of 15 OsoCozy unbleached flannel wipes, and Baby Bits wipe solution bits in tea tree and lavender. If I weren't making my own wipes, these would probably be my choice. They're from a trusted brand, and the price is excellent.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Little Life Hacks--Ground Beef

We all appreciate those life hacks that actually turn out to work, don't we? Small things that maybe you never thought of before, but they make your life SO much easier. Today, I want to share one of my favorite little life hacks with you--how I portion and store our ground beef to make it easy to use.

I mentioned a little while back in my post about 10 ways to save on groceries that one way I do this is by buying my hamburger meat in the largest package our store offers, which happens to be a 10 pound roll. Now, even a family of 10 doesn't go through a 10 pound roll of meat before it goes bad, unless I'm either making them sick of hamburger-based dishes or deliberately making meals that take a LOT of hamburger (like meatloaf--we use 4-5 pounds for that). So what do I do with this gargantuan roll of meat?

Simple. I bring it home, and I slice it into 10 equal portions. (A word of caution: It has been my experience that the markings provided on the side of the package are not to be trusted.) I do this by first cutting the roll in half. Then I eyeball about where the line would be that divides it into 2 pounds and 3 (with me?) and cut on that. I place the 2-pound chunk beside the 3-pound one to measure where the next cut in the 3-pound one belongs, then I divide the remaining 2-pound chunks in half. You may not get exact portions, but meh. Close enough.

I then remove the plastic from the meat, and place each 1-pound chunk in a quart-size freezer bag (I buy mine from Aldi for $1.99 a 40-pack, so even by adding the cost of the bags, I'm still saving loads by buying the large roll.) and use my rolling pin to press the meat flat, and fill as much of the space in the bag as possible with meat. When you're finished, you should have little to no air in the bag, and the bags should stack nicely for the freezer.

When you need hamburger for a meal, just take out however many pounds you need, toss in a bowl of hot water, and they'll be thawed and ready to use in no time flat! You guys, this has changed my life. I always forget to take meat out to thaw. With this trick, it doesn't matter! At least, as long as dinner is hamburger, lol.

*If you don't have a rolling pin, this is easily done with just your hands. I only recently discovered the rolling pin trick, and it does make it a bit easier, but I've done it for ages without mine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why I Don't "KonMari"

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple years or so, you've likely heard at least a bit about the Japanese decluttering, organizing, housekeeping--whatever you want to call it--trend that's been taking the world by storm. It's known as KonMari, after the author of the hit book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) that spawned the whole sensation, Marie Kondo. And ladies and gentlemen, it's become HUGE. The following is almost cult-like. Which might be the first reason I'm not a fan; I tend to shy away from the hugely popular, for reasons even I can't quite define. If everyone is going crazy for it, I'm probably not.

Now, I'll start this by saying I haven't read the book, nor do I particularly intend to. Not reading much in this season of my life is a deliberate choice I've made, based on the fact that I tend to get sucked into a book and forget there's a world outside. Not the best idea when you have two toddlers in your care. ☺ I decided it was no longer acceptable to look up from my book and realize it's 8 p.m. and the children haven't had lunch yet. I love to read. But for now, it's a sacrifice I make to better care for my family. Not that reading the book is strictly necessary to understand the method. A quick Google search and membership in a related Facebook group or two can net you all the information you need to put the method into practice--or, in my case, realize it's not for you.

Now, if this method speaks to you, and it changes your life for the better, more power to you. But for me, there were a few problems. . .

The number one principle of the method seems to be to only surround yourself with items that "spark joy." It's like the catchphrase of the method. You declutter all your belongings--in one great big, marathon session--by grouping them all by category (say, all the books, all the dishes, all the clothes, etc.) and holding each item in your hand. If it doesn't "spark joy," out it goes.

Excuse me, what? Um. . .

I can think of a lot of items in my house that don't spark joy. But I can't just be throwing them out. Or donating or selling them either. My vacuum cleaner comes to mind. It might not spark joy--the emotion that comes to mind is more accurately described as "ugh"--but it's still pretty necessary. And I'm sure that the theory is probably that I should toss it, and buy a vacuum cleaner that does make me feel that spark. Ladies and gentlemen, I ain't got that kind of money. Pretty sure I'm not even acquainted with anyone who has that kind of money. Especially when you start adding up the necessary items in the average household that might need to be replaced if we suddenly got rid of all the ones we didn't absolutely love.

Would it be kind of nice to purge my house from top to bottom of all the things I don't love and replace them with items I do? Sure. Is it realistic. Not on your life. And I've considered this (because apparently I have that kind of time on my hands), and frankly, if I were to throw out all this stuff willy-nilly, who's to guarantee I could quickly find a joy-sparking replacement. My mismatched dishes don't inspire joy. But you know what? The ones that do are a discontinued pattern, and it's getting harder and harder to find replacements for them, at any price. So far, I haven't found a pattern that I love that's both easy to find and remotely affordable. So I soldier on with my mismatched Corelle and plastic kid plates.

Another consideration is that, unlike Ms. Kondo, I am not single. If my husband and I both agreed that our bath towels do not spark joy (and believe me, they don't, but you still gotta dry your bum), we would, in order for this to work properly, need to find bath towels that both of us love. One thing I realized early on in this relationship is we have drastically different tastes when it comes to home decor. There's usually a middle ground where we can happily meet, and he allows me a lot of latitude, don't get me wrong. But I do actually care if the house suits him as well as me. After all, we both have to live here. 😉

I'm also a mother. Now, some moms out there have had great success adapting this method to suit their homes. I still can't figure it out. The bins of kid clothes (in between sizes) taking up space in my closet do not spark joy. But they still have to stay, because I'll be darned if I'm buying an entirely new wardrobe every time one of these kids changes sizes! The Legos I keep stepping on do not spark joy. Quite the opposite. And yet, they stay.

A lot of people have loved the folding techniques that are a part of the method. Oh, yes. You have to relearn how to fold your laundry. You've been doing it all wrong, you see. Now, I do use a modified version of her shirt fold on my husband's t-shirts. It helps them fit the available drawer space better, which is the entire point behind how I fold literally everything. But as far as the rest goes? NO, okay? It's hard enough to get me to actually fold the darn laundry (a chore I find as enticing as a root canal) and put it away without telling me I have to learn how to do it all over again.

The last thing about the system that makes me raise my eyebrows is the practice of treating your inanimate possessions as if they were sentient beings. Did you just toss your pants on the floor? They don't like that; hang them up. Are you getting rid of something because it doesn't spark joy? Be sure and thank it as you put it in the donation box, for the time it has served you. Crazy organization guru say what? This mama has far too much on her mind. I can understand the value of appreciating your things and taking care of them. But I refuse to worry about whether or not the socks are tired because I folded them wrong.

How to Write a Blog Post

It occurred to me today, while trying to begin a post, that some of you might be interested in (or at least entertained by) a peek inside the creative process for us bloggers. Now, I can't claim to know how it works for everyone, but here's a general description of my blogging process.

1. Get an idea for a post.

2. Pour a cup of coffee with pumpkin spice creamer, because hey, 'tis the season.

3. Retrieve desk chair (which is actually a kitchen chair, to be fair) from kitchen where it was used for dinner last night.

4. Sit down and open computer. Close 5 superfluous tabs, then open "new post."

5. Begin writing.

6. Toddler climbs milk crates that serve as a handy bookshelf/4th desk leg and attempts to climb over your right arm. Place toddler in lap and attempt to type around toddler.

7. Toddler climbs down on your left side, walks around the back of your chair, and climbs the milk crates on your right again, pushing her way onto your lap.

8. Repeat step 7 multiple times, with spurts of typing with only your right hand as you attempt to hold toddler with your left.

9. Realize toddler just left with the Benadryl cream and toddler toothpaste that were sitting on your desk, and that this could have consequences.

10. Debate if consequences are worth 15 minutes of peace to finish your blog post.

11. Sigh and go retrieve glorious tubes of fun from toddler.

12. Place tubes on top of tall dresser. (Does my husband seriously wonder why it's always so cluttered up there?)

13. Deal with screaming, angry toddler climbing in your lap to attempt to regain her tubes of delight.

14. Make mental note that toddler needs her fingernails clipped.

15. Toddler eventually realizes you don't have tubes anymore and leaves.

16. Worry about what toddler is getting into now.

17. If you're lucky, finish blog post. If not, wrestle all day long with post, kids, and mommy guilt at the fact that you haven't accomplished a bit of housework and your older children are due home in less than an hour.

*Bonus: Attempt to add photos to your post, only to realize that Blogger apparently isn't feeling it today. (So if this post lacks visual interest, sorry about that.)

There are many fun variations to this game, such as the toddler screaming and tugging on your skirt until you go with her and figure out what she wants, or both toddlers being awake and attempting to sit on your lap at the same time--perhaps with a bonus round of trying to shove each other off. But this has been a basic (and hopefully amusing) look at the creative process at work.

Until next time!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Chicken Chatter--Exciting News!

Once upon a time (about 4 months ago, to be precisely imprecise), a hatchery a couple hours' drive from our home had an overhatch sale. For those of you who don't know, an overhatch sale is what happens when a hatchery accidentally incubates and hatches more chicks than they've received orders for, so they have an event where they sell the extras at a fairly steep discount, in this case, $1 a bird for certain breeds. Said breeds included a bunch of my favorites. It was enough to make Jon and me go from thinking about having chickens again someday to saying, "What the heck; why not?" Our coop had sat empty for too long, we decided. And so, a road trip was made, and a baker's dozen of assorted chicks was brought home.
Everybody say, "Awwwww!"
 And the chicks grew.
First day in the coop!
And grew.
Enjoying the shade of the rose bush.
And grew some more.
Breakfast time!
Until one day, they were all grown up!

That's right, you guys! Tonight, we have our very first egg from our very own chickens! Everyone is pretty excited about it, so I thought I would share it with you. ☺

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Grandma Carol's Oatmeal Cookies

Today, Daddy Bear (aka Jon) is feeling a little down. We had a rough evening yesterday with our oldest in residence. Tempers got heated, and things were said that were later regretted. We all managed to work things out in the end, but he's still having a hard time forgiving himself this morning.

And so, toddler squad and I have been hard at work in the kitchen this afternoon, making Daddy's favorite cookies. The recipe is one from his childhood, oatmeal cookies just the way his mother used to make them.

They're just the right combination of crispy and chewy, and a stack of these with a cold glass of milk is the perfect snack to take your mind off your troubles. So today, I'm going to share the Mosher family secret recipe with all of you.

Grandma Carol's Oatmeal Cookies


6 Tablespoons real butter
6 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups quick oats


Cream butter and shortening together with both sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in water, egg, and vanilla until well-blended, then add salt and soda. Stir well. Stir in flour, then stir in oats. Drop by tablespoons (happens to be the measurement of my cookie scoop) onto ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350℉.

Baking time will vary depending on your oven and how crispy you like your cookies. If you like them chewy, like I do, check them a little early, and pull them out just as the edges start to brown. The middle of the cookies will still look underdone, and that's ok. They'll set up as they cool.

Cool for a couple minutes on the baking pan, then remove with a metal spatula to a plate or (preferably) a cooling rack.

Enjoy with cold milk. Or, with the cooler weather coming on, I also recommend hot cocoa, tea, or coffee. Don't be afraid to dunk. 😋

Monday, August 28, 2017

Weekend Excitement

Well, it's been a busy weekend at the Mosher house, but now it's Monday. . . and it's still busy! Lol. I'd venture a guess that with all the children and the husband at home, you can pretty much count on not hearing from ICHM over the weekends.

Buttercream transfer Hylian shield.
Saturday, we did our grocery shopping (and a little window shopping, which is always fun) and celebrated our freshly-minted 12 year old's birthday with his choice of dinner (burgers, corn, and potato salad) and cake and ice cream. For the cake, I tried out a new-to-me technique I've been considering for a while--buttercream transfer. If you haven't heard of it, I'll spare you the tutorial (mostly because I was in a hurry and didn't take photos during the process), but if you Google it, you'll find lots of information. I learned a couple things I could have done differently, but for the most part, I was really pleased with how it came out. And so was he, which is the main thing. ☺ This poor kid. It seems like his birthday cakes never come out quite right. He's a huge Legend of Zelda fan. Last year, I attempted a 3D Triforce for him. . . not my best work.
The offending Triforce cake.

It would be comical if it wasn't just so darn sad. I mean look at this thing. The gold sugar sparkles refused to stick to the icing properly, and I really should have cut my sheet cake in the opposite direction to make the layers. . . oh well. Water under the bridge, as they say. And if I'm ever crazy enough to do that again, at least I learned a few things to help the project along. Poor kid. I always seem to be busy, stressed, and broke for his birthday. That's what he gets for being born right at back-to-school time. 😜 

Today, so far, it's been sports physicals (late, oops) for 2 of the kiddos, a little bit of laundry, and a bunch of sorting out chores and schedules that I hope will make this place run a little smoother. Dad decided last night after dinner to assign two of the kids to clear the table and wash the dishes, and I was inspired. I have six kids around here, y'all--count them, 6--who are darn well old enough to help out with the chores. Although last night when I ventured into the kitchen and saw this, I sort of questioned that premise. 😆
What happens when you have 2 12 year old boys do the dishes.
So starting tonight, we're going to be running some new chore and bath routines, and if they actually work, I might share them with you guys. But for now, it's on to the next thing on today's to-dos, and I'll see you again tomorrow!

Friday, August 25, 2017

10 Ways I Keep Our Grocery Budget Under Control (And You Can Too)!

Feeding a big family isn't always easy. Sometimes people wonder how we do it, especially since it can seem impossible even for a "normal" family. Costs always seem to be going up, don't they? Well, today I'm going to share a few of the ways I keep our big family's grocery budget under control.

#1. Shop Sales

 This is my first step every week. When the sale flyers for local grocery stores start coming in the mail (or on apps I keep on my phone, for those that are in the neighboring town), I scan through them to see what's on sale for the coming week. I open my notebook and make a list of the items I'm interested in. This isn't a grocery list that I'm committing to buy, just a reference point as I compare sales and make my menu plan for the coming week. Which brings us to #2. . .

My current planning system.
#2. Plan, Plan, Plan

I cannot stress enough the importance of a weekly menu plan when it comes to keeping your food costs down. We can (no joke) cut our budget in half with a
little forethought, compared to deciding daily what's for dinner and going to the store for just those ingredients. Don't forget, when planning dinners, to have a plan for breakfast and lunch as well! Your plan doesn't have to be precise. I simply plan 7 dinners for the week and decide as I go what to have on each day. But make a plan!

#3. Use Up Leftovers

You know that meal plan? If you're making something you know you're likely to have leftovers of, have a plan for those leftovers. Will they be lunch the next day, reheated? Will they be morphed into something else later in the week (or next week)? Will they be frozen to reheat and eat later in the month? I'll write a separate post later with more details, but there are certain meals I make knowing that they will give us another meal or two later in the month.

#4. Buy in Bulk

This one has two applications. One is, when possible, buying more than you strictly need this week when something is available for a particularly good sale price. The other is buying in larger quantities when the cost per pound/ounce is lower that way. For example, I can often save up to $1 a pound on ground beef just by buying a ten pound package vs. a one pound package, then dividing it into quart freezer bags (one pound each) and freezing it. For a family that uses anywhere from 10-20 pounds of ground beef a month, that's a significant savings. However. . .

#5. Only Buy What You Can/Will Actually Use

Watch yourself on those sales and bulk buys. It can be tempting to buy things we don't need just because the price is a good deal. If you would never have bought it without the sale price, chances are you didn't actually need it, and it's still money better spent elsewhere. It can also be tempting to buy that ten pounds of hamburger (or bulk quantity of whatever) without a concrete plan of how you'll store it, only to realize half of it went bad before you could use it up. Don't let this happen to you! Buying in bulk is only a good deal if you actually get to use all the product you purchased. Also. . .

#6. Watch Per-Unit Pricing

You may want to take a calculator along or use the calculator app on your phone until you get the hang of this one. Some stores show their per-unit pricing on the shelf sticker; others don't. And even in stores that do, I've found that they're sometimes calculated wrong, or in a way that makes comparisons difficult (for example, one might be calculated by the ounce, while another is calculated by the piece, making it hard to accurately compare the two). The point of all this is to remind you that the larger package, while often the better deal, is not always the better deal. Sometimes sale pricing makes a smaller package cheaper by the ounce. Other times, there's virtually no difference, meaning you might as well just buy the size that's most convenient for your family.

#7. Cook From Scratch

 If you're willing to invest the time, this one suggestion can offer substantial savings. Convenience always costs. Whenever we have spaghetti for dinner, my
family enjoys garlic bread with it. If I purchase the frozen garlic toast they like, it costs me $3 a box, and we eat 2 boxes. That's $6 just on garlic toast! OR, if I plan ahead and invest the time, I can make garlic breadsticks, which taste suspiciously like those served by Olive Garden, for little more than some of my pantry staples. The cost is negligible, and a fraction of what I pay for the more convenient option. If you'd like to try making them for yourself, you can find the recipe here.

#8. Think Outside the Box

Sometimes savings can be had just for a bit of unconventional thinking. I sometimes like to make pork chops for my family, for example. Pork loins (especially if you buy whole or half loins) are frequently on sale in my area for around $1.79-$1.99 per pound. Chops? Never! Yes, sometimes they're on sale, but usually for around 50 cents (or more) per pound extra. But if you have a sharp knife and a reasonably steady hand, you can save that money and still have pork chops. Just buy the whole or half loin, and cut your own boneless loin chops! Depending on the size of your family, you could even cut off a few chops and still use the remainder as a roast for another meal.

#9. Buy Generic

I realize this doesn't work for all people or for all products. We cloth diaper, and one area I refuse to compromise is laundry soap. When your baby routinely poops on something, it absolutely, positively HAS to come clean, EVERY time. But if you haven't tried generics, you're probably missing out on a lot of money saved. Many generics are virtually identical to their name-brand counterparts. Some are noticeably different, but still quite good. You might even find, as we have, that you prefer the generic version of certain foods. My husband is the one in our family who tends to have what I call "brand hang-ups," but there are a few products he actually favors the store brand of over the name brand. You might wonder how a product that's so much cheaper can be just as good (the phrase "You get what you pay for" comes to mind), but what you are likely paying for is the name-brand company's advertising budget.

#10. Use Apps

You have to be careful with this one, because sometimes it's easy to get sucked into buying something you wouldn't have otherwise bought, but rebate apps like Ibotta (my personal favorite) can be quite useful at saving you a few cents here and there, which adds up in the long run. I also use a handy tool on the Wal-Mart app called Savings Catcher. You can enter up to 7 Wal-Mart receipts per week, and the app will track what's on sale at area competitors and give you back the difference if a better price is found. The only caveats are that it works using UPC codes (so no store brand comparisons), and you can only get the money back on a Wal-Mart gift card. I find myself shopping at Wal-Mart enough that that's not a problem for me, personally, and there's no limit to how much you have to accumulate before they'll let you cash out. I also use the store apps for grocery stores in the next town over to access their sale flyers, since those don't come with my weekly paper.

Bonus: Aldi!!!

I added this one as sort of a bonus suggestion, as I realize not everyone has access to an Aldi store. (My deepest sympathies if this is you.) Aldi is sort of my secret weapon as a mom who's trying to feed a large family on a (relatively) small budget. They carry mostly their own brands, and cost savings aren't that substantial on the few name brands you'll find there, so you have to be able to let go of those brand hang-ups I mentioned earlier. However, I haven't tried a single thing from there yet that my husband (the picky one, remember?) has asked me not to buy again. If you've never gone before, you'll find that they do things a little differently than most grocery stores. You'll have to bring your own bags (or buy some for a few cents), bag your own groceries, and return your own cart, but the cost of paying someone to do all those things for you isn't rolled into your grocery prices, which adds up to some pretty amazing savings at the end of the day. If you have one nearby, I highly recommend checking it out!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Garbage Rolls

Y'all, we had something new for dinner last night. And they were so good (and Jon liked them so much) that I'm putting them in the blog, if only so I have somewhere to look to remember how I made them for when I want to make them again! Anybody else out there do that? Seems like it happens to me all the time. You make something for dinner, and you didn't use a recipe. Maybe (like me) you were trying to use up leftovers by turning them into something else, or maybe you were just creating dinner out of what you had on hand. And it. was. AWESOME! But then a couple weeks (or months) later when you want to make it again, you can't remember how! So frustrating. One of the biggest lies I tell myself is, "I don't need to write that down; I'll remember it." Haha, yeah, right. Once upon a time, I had a mind like a steel trap. Now, it's more like a steel sieve.

And so, even if you never make these enchiladas (because that's what they are, but "Leftover Enchiladas" sounds too much like enchiladas that were left over, not enchiladas made from leftovers), I'm going to share with you how I did it, and in so doing, share how to do it with my future self.

The first thing you're going to need is some specific leftovers. The first is taco meat, which we've been making recently with a ratio of 3 pounds of hamburger to 2 cans of small red beans, and 4-5 packets of taco seasoning (I don't remember, ok? Use what suits you.), because it saves money by stretching the meat, and the family still likes it fine. In fact, I have one son who actually prefers it this way. But I digress. The second leftover you're going to need is some ham and beans, though not necessarily the ham part. Say 3-4 cups, though I really just scooped some out of the bowl until it suited me. If you don't have the leftovers, but you still want to make these rolls, I'd recommend using 1-2 pounds of ground beef, a can of red beans, and 2-3 cans of pinto beans, plus a couple envelopes of taco seasoning (and the water called for on the taco seasoning packet). Just brown the meat, drain the grease, add the beans and the seasoning, and smush the beans up a bit with a potato masher. Voila, that should do it.

 Next, you need tortillas. I like to make my own when I can, using this recipe I found courtesy of Pinterest. If you've never made your own tortillas, I highly recommend giving it a go. It's pretty easy, and fresh tortillas are better than store-bought any day. Plus, it hardly costs anything and uses ingredients I pretty much always have on hand. Win. If you'd rather buy yours, you'll need about a dozen soft taco size flour tortillas. They come in packs of 10, if I'm not mistaken, so that'd probably do. Don't overthink this and buy 2 packs of tortillas, ok?

To finish it off, you need some shredded cheese (probably 2 cups; cheddar, mexican blend, or colby jack are all good choices) and a large can of red enchilada sauce.

Got all that? Is your beef and bean mixture warmed up in a pan somewhere close by? Good. The next thing you want to do is pour a little of the enchilada sauce in a 5 quart glass baking dish (or a couple 9x13 cake pans; really, work with what you have). Just use enough to make a thin layer on the bottom, and spread it out with a spoon. Now take a tortilla, and put a line of cheese down the center, then spoon your beef and bean mix down the center on top of the cheese. Roll up the tortilla around the filling and put it in the dish. Repeat with the rest of your tortillas, and then pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the rolls. Bake at 350℉ for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the cheese you have left over the top and put your garbage rolls back in the oven for about 10 minutes or so--just long enough to melt the cheese.

Sorry I didn't get pics of the process, but you're going to end up with something that looks kind of like the picture on the right. Of course, this was taken after my family had devoured half of them, lol.

Now, for most of you folks with normal, average-sized families, this is going to be a "potluck" type dish. Feel free to cut it in half if you feel that will work better for you. Or, make the entire thing, split it between 2 (or more, depending on the size of your family) pans and freeze the extras.

If you do decide to make it, I hope you like it as much as we did!


Leftover taco meat and ham and beans
1-2 pounds ground beef, 1 can red beans, 3 cans pintos, and 2 packs of taco seasoning

10-12 flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese
Large can of red enchilada sauce

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Playing Catch-up

The other day, my husband and I got an unexpected package on our front step. The return address showed it to be from his mother, but we were still slightly baffled, as she hadn't called to inform us she was sending anything. But then we opened it, and the confusion disappeared. It was a beautiful album of our wedding photos (she was our photographer), lovingly put together as her gift to us! (I'll share some in a separate post, so those of you who saw them already on Facebook can avoid scrolling through endless wedding photos if you'd prefer.) :)

 Yes, dear readers, almost 3 months ago, after 3 years of untangling red tape, planning, and preparing, we finally were able to tie the knot. And I look at my list of posts, and I realize it's been nearly six months since I published an update of any sort. Shame on me.

Life with a big family will keep you busy, I suppose, especially during the summer months, when all of them are home from school and bickering with one another (seemingly) non-stop. But school recently started up again in our district, and I'm looking forward to a few things, among them having the house stay tidy longer than 2 minutes, and spending a bit more time developing the ol' blog. I keep
First day of school! Don't they look excited?😜
hearing rumors it's possible to make money from that sort of thing. And well, who doesn't like the idea of earning a bit of extra cash? Especially when your ability to do so in the traditional way (you know, like getting a job) is sort of limited. Can't afford to shell out for hosting on the more "professional" blog sites at the moment, so I'm sticking to good old (free) Blogger for the moment as I work on developing content and seeing if it actually starts to gather enough of a reader base to worry about migrating to a more professional platform.

So, friends, here's the part where you get to make suggestions. I already have a few ideas for categories posts could fall into:

Large Family Life Hacks
Meal Planning
Saving Money
Grocery Shopping
Cloth Diapers/Wipes/Pads
Sewing Tutorials
Decorating on a Dime
Catholic Corner
Funny Things Kids Say/Do

Perhaps you have some other ideas. What might you like to read about? Which of the categories above seems most interesting? Do any fall flat for you? Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Why I Veil for Mass

Well, it finally happened.  A friend I attend Mass with regularly asked me why I wear a veil. And since the reasons are varied (and often interconnected), I wasn't sure how to answer her, at least not in a brief and concise way.  So I sat at my computer, and I attempted a blog post on the topic, because we all know I express myself in writing far better than I do when speaking.  And it was too complicated, largely because I'm aware that a significant percentage of the ten or so of you who read my blog posts aren't Catholic.  Some aren't even Christian.  And so I found myself trying to explain the history and Catholic theology behind every point I was trying to make.  Can we say "headache?"

So I'm going to begin again.  And this time, I'll try to keep it simple, and personal.  If you don't have a basic understanding of Catholic theology and history to begin with, you may want to skip this post.  If you choose not to, questions are welcome, but I simply can't foresee and address them all in the body of a blog post.  I should know; I tried already. :P

To begin with, I'll say that women wearing a veil or some form of hat or headcovering in church was the norm in the Catholic Church (and most Protestant churches) throughout most of Christian history.  Besides history, the practice is rooted in sacred scripture, specifically I Corinthians chapter 11, verses 3-16.  In 1917, the first official Code of Canon Law was promulgated by the Catholic Church, and it enshrined the practice in Church Law, stating that women were not to enter the church building, and most especially not approach Holy Communion, with their heads uncovered.  (Men were also forbidden to do these things with their heads covered, but for some reason, no one talks about that.)  In 1984, a new Code was published, omitting any mention of headcoverings.  Some contend that this is not enough to do away with centuries of tradition, as new codes must be interpreted in light of old ones.  Others say that the notation in the new Code abrogating the entirity of the old is evidence that veiling for women was, in fact, done away with, or at the very least, no longer required.  Still others believe that while the new Code removes the legal requirement for women to wear a hat or veil, it remains a worthwhile devotion, and pleasing to the Lord.  A good comparison to this would be the fact that Canon Law does not require any Catholic to pray the Rosary; however, it is still considered a very worthwhile practice that pleases our Lord.  I'm not a Canon lawyer, armchair or otherwise, so I'll leave the picking apart of such things to those who are.  My personal beliefs place me in the third group, but I'll not insist my view is the correct one.  In doubtful things, liberty.

The practice fell out of favor in Western culture, particularly, with the rise of feminism in the 1960s.  A protestant-influenced (and perhaps poorly-catechized) culture insisted that the veil was a symbol of woman's oppression by man, and as such, it needed to be done away with.  And if one reads the above-noted scripture passage, it's easy to see where they're coming from.  The passage from Corinthians, along with a corresponding one (in my opinion) in Ephesians (5, 21-33), has often been used by men to justify mistreatment of women.  The correct relationship between men and women, particularly man and wife, would be an easy side street to get lost down, but I'm going to do my best not to do so, because while related, it's not really the topic of this post.

The veil has many potential meanings, and Catholic thought doesn't tend toward seeing one meaning of something as correct and all others as wrong.  A few examples:  The veil is an imitation of the Blessed Mother who is rarely (some insist never) seen without her veil.  The veil signifies women's status as sacred (all sacred things in the Church are veiled--the vessels before the consecration, the ciborium inside the tabernacle, the altar itself) and as bearers of new life (the very "life" of Christ is veiled in the tabernacle, or in the monstrance if no one is present for adoration).  There is a great deal of thought to be found on the topic if one cares to go looking for it, but I do recommend Catholic sources, as Protestant sources tend to focus very heavily on the modesty and submission to one's husband dimensions.

To insist, however, that the veil is not about submission at all (as I've seen some try to do) is dishonest.  Scripture clearly points out that it is.  This is, in fact, the point that places me in the third camp noted above regarding the legal status of veiling.  If veiling is an expression of submission (which, one must remember, is actually considered a virtue in our faith, and not only for women), then requiring it by law under pain of sin or threat of censure is to offend the heart of the matter.  For something to properly express a spirit of submission, it must be offered voluntarily.  However, to see the practice of headcovering as being solely, or even primarily, about women's submission to men, or even wives' submission to their own husbands, is, I believe, to largely miss the point.

Christian theology, and Catholic theology in particular, teaches us that the relationship between husband and wife is properly understood as an image of the relationship between Christ (the Bridegroom) and His Bride (the Church).  In the sacrament of matrimony, the husband and wife give themselves, freely and without reservation, as a gift to one another, much as Christ gave Himself for the Church and the Church (made up, let's remember, of individual Christians) gives herself to Christ.  And so, if husband and wife are an image of Christ and the Church, then the veil, properly understood, also signifies the Church's submission to Christ.

So why do I veil?  In summary, I would say that I veil out of reverence for Christ, present in the tabernacle and on the altar at every Mass.  I veil as a sign of my personal submission to him, and for my part in expressing the submission of the Church as a whole to her Bridegroom and Savior.  I veil because, while the Church no longer requires it by Law, scripture and history teach us that it is still a practice that is pleasing to our Lord--and if I can please Him by such a simple gesture, why would I not?

I would like to offer, as a postscript of sorts, that the Vatican still requires (or at least strongly encourages?--someone may be more up to date on current practices than I am) ladies to wear a veil for an audience with the Pope.  If you would veil in the presence of the Steward, how much more appropriate is it in the presence of the King?