Four Frugal Ways to Build Your Library

Last week, I shared a growing list of our favorite picture storybooks. Stories that are worth reading and re-reading. Stories that I think are worth owning.

Because I’m a frugal minimalist and terribly picky about what books I want to read aloud 157 times, I usually borrow books from a friend, check them out from the library, or take advantage of Amazon’s awesome preview feature before adding them to my wish list.

Once a book is on the wish list though, here are four frugal ways to add them to your personal collection.

Four frugal ways to build your family library

Paperback Swap

Paperback Swap is a huge, online book-trading hub. You list books you no longer want, or you have duplicates of, or you picked up at a yard sale but don’t need, etc…. When another member requests one of your books, mail it, and earn a credit for a book to be mailed to you.

Books we received include Make Way for Ducklings, Chanticleer & the Fox and hardback copies of the Winnie the Pooh series. (I’ve mailed out a lot of good ones too!)

Click here to joinOnce you list ten books to trade, you’ll receive two free book credits to start building your library immediately! (Plus, I’ll get a credit too, so we BOTH get to build our libraries. Win-win, right?) Thanks Bekah

Shop Yard Sales or Thrift Stores

You really never know the treasures you might uncover by glancing through the books when you’re at yard sales or thrift stores.

Even if you don’t find books you want personally, you can often pick up like-new books to list on Paperback Swap to trade for books you do want!

Shop Your Library’s Used Sales

My friend Abigail, who is a queen of children’s books, has scored many great finds at our local library’s bi-annual used sale. When the library receives duplicate books as donations or retires older copies from its system, they get put in the used library sale. The prices are great and the selection is often overwhelming.

Plus, many of the older classics (the books I want my children reading!) end up here.

Give Books as Gifts

As I find books I love, I add them to a running children’s book wish list for birthday and Christmas gift ideas for myself or grandparents. Normally we give each child at least one new book for each holiday. With multiple children, it’s a slow but sure way to build the stock of good books in the home.

What are your favorite ways to build your library? 

  May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeHealthy 2Day ,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Our Backyard Flock

Last week the kids and I went to a local hatchery and became proud owners of six adorable baby chicks. Now the soft chirp of baby chicks mingles with the morning songs of the numerous wild birds that flit about our backyard. 

I haven’t owned a pet since I was ten, so the fact that we have pet chickens is taking a little while to sink in. But after months of the children begging us to get a pet (and ruling out a dog because I don’t want to train one and/or have one ruin my garden) we decided to buy baby chicks, raise them, and hope to have chickens that double as pets and egg-layers.

Joshua spent two Saturdays building the most adorable chicken coop ever. My in-laws and friend Elissa have graciously answered the dozens of questions I’ve pestered them with. All the chicks have survived so far [insert deep sigh of relief] and have provided many giggles already.

Isn’t the coop ADORABLE?! Two of Joshua’s brothers stayed up late working on it with him. Don’t you love the chicken cut-out Jay made? (Thanks Jay and Sam!)

When the chicks were just two days old, a moth made the misfortunate decision to fly in front of their brooder lamp. Instantly the chicks scrambled over their feeder and around the waterer trying to grasp a hold of it. Three times the silly moth escaped but flew right back into the chick’s home. Finally, one of the Barred Rocks grabbed it in her beak. 

Now the real struggle commenced. The moth tried frantically to escape her grip while the other chicks chased her around the pen trying to grab the moth from her. The Barred Rock raced with all her might while trying to swallow the poor moth and fend off the others with her tail feathers.

It was quite the spectacle. Finally the Barred Rock succeeded in swallowing her snack and the chicks settled peacefully down for the night.

Despite a bit of nervousness, given my lack of animal experience, I am so excited to have our own little chicken flock and have spent hours and hours researching how to care for and raise our backyard flock naturally and frugally. It’s going to be a fun adventure!

9 Reasons to Shop at Aldi (Besides Saving Money)

After four years of the nearest Aldi being almost an hour away, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have two Aldi stores within fifteen minutes of us. If I were a millionaire, I would still shop at Aldi. I much prefer shopping there than at other stores.

Shopping at Aldi saves money. Lots of money. But that’s only one of many reasons why I love shopping there. 

  1. Shopping at Aldi saves brain power. There’s only one brand of diced tomatoes and one choice of dried basil. Instead of staring at rows of canned tomatoes and trying to decipher the differences (or determine if there are any) between twenty varieties, there’s just one option. Take it or leave it and save your brain power for more important decisions.
  2. The store brand is generally good. There are a few items we don’t like, but for the most part we can’t tell a difference or like Aldi’s brand just as well as other brands. (Though most of what I buy is not processed.) Try the Aldi brand. You just might like it. If not…
  3. They offer a double-back guarantee on most food items. If a product is not satisfactory, they’ll replace it AND refund your money. You can’t really lose with a guarantee like that.
  4. Their produce sales are amazing. It’s hard to beat avocados for 19¢ a piece or a pound of mushrooms for 79¢! Apparently some Aldi stores regularly have sub-par produce, but I’ve been as happy with the produce from the Aldi near us as I have with other grocery stores (though of course it can’t compare to a farmer’s market or fresh from the garden!) You do have to check the produce and be selective, but I do that no matter what store I’m at. ( To help minimize pesticide consumption, I try to purchase items from the “Dirty Dozen” list organic or grow them myself.—on that note, our Aldi recently started carrying organic spinach. Yay!)
  5. Their “special-buy” items rock! Besides the regular food items, Aldi carries “special-buy” items that change regularly. In the spring it was garden goods. In late summer it was back-to-school items. I’ve been tickled with how often just the item I needed shows up in the “special-buy” aisle at Aldi. A few of my favorite finds include a garden spade (that was much nicer than the more expensive one from Lowes), a heavy-duty magnifying glass with an LED light (batteries included) for the same price as a cheap school kind, a cute white hamper, and beautiful trellises for the garden. Not only are the items a great deal, I’ve consistently been surprised by how good quality they are. (And, if they’re not good quality, returns are easy.)
  6. The store isn’t huge. I like walking, but prefer to get my exercise in the great outdoors. Thanks in large part to reason #1, you don’t have to walk a mile just to get your groceries. Of course this also means that Aldi doesn’t carry every single thing we need, but I can usually shop there weekly or every other week (if we get our milk locally) and then only go to Wal-mart or Target occasionally for the other items.
  7. The customers are friendlier. Maybe it’s because they’re saving so much money, maybe it’s because they don’t have to spend all their brain power wading through too many choices, but whatever the reason, customers at Aldi tend to be much more friendly…at least at the Aldi we go to.
  8. The cashiers are lightning fast. 
  9. Last, but certainly not least, EVERYONE puts away their cart. Not-putting-away-carts is a pet peeve of mine. Add a 25¢ incentive and voila! Problem solved. (I try not to believe that this says something rather sad about our country.)

Do you shop at Aldi? Why or why not?

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking RedeemedGraced Simplicity, & Proverbs 31 

8 Uses for an Old White Sheet

There’s something so fun about turning an item that was bound for the trashcan into something useful! We recently changed bed sizes so I had several non-necessary, good-quality, but somewhat stained white sheets to play with. Here’s a few ways to up-cycle an old white sheet.

  1. Plant coverings. Cut the sheet into various-sized plant covers. Use the covers to protect tender seedlings from an unexpected late frost.
  2. Plant shades. Did you know that even plants can get sunburnt? I didn’t let my little seedlings harden off quite long enough and learned this the hard way. Old white sheets make excellent plant shades until the seedling has adjusted to life in the sun.
  3. Cotton slip. This was by far my favorite use for an old white sheet. I passionately dislike polyester/silk slips, especially in the summer, but almost all of my summery skirts really need a slip. The solution: turn an old sheet into a cotton slip. Just cut a rectangular piece of material that’s a bit wider than you want it. Sew the side and hem the bottom. Fold over the top twice for a piece of elastic or ribbon and sew. So easy. This really is a “1-hour project” (or less).
  4. Lining for curtains, quilts, or other projects: sheet material is generally softer and better quality than the cheap lining fabric.
  5. Dress-up hats, aprons, etc.: I made Rose a vintage looking nurse outfit for her third birthday using an old white sheet to make her apron and nurse’s cap.
  6. White bedskirt: Sewing projects that involve straight lines are about all I have time or patience for these days. This simple bedskirt didn’t take much skill but cutting it took longer than I thought. It was fun to make something for the kids’ room, but probably only worth the time if since I happened to have a series of lectures I had to watch and wanted to do something while I listened—and the ironing happened to be caught up!
  7. Drop cloth: If you decide to paint with three little “helpers”, chances are you’ll have a spill! Even if you paint alone, a good drop cloth is very important.
  8. White curtains: straight lines again, yay!

Have you up-cycled any items lately? If so, please share!

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityProverbs 31 & Natural Living

Ebates Review (or Why Didn’t I Join Sooner?)

[Normally I shy away from posts encouraging you to sign up for this or that great deal because I don’t want that to be the focus of this site. Occasionally though I get a deal that seems too good not to share with someone. Today, you are that someone! Lucky you, right?]

Have you heard about Ebates before? I’ve heard about online cashback sites like Ebates for a long time but honestly didn’t think they were worth the trouble.

Until today.

I had a fairly large online purchase I needed to make so I thought why not check out Ebates

Get a $10 gift card, plus earn cash back when you shop online!

photo credit

I clicked on Ebates and was greeted with one pleasant surprise after another.

First, if you’re new to Ebates, you get to choose a $10 giftcard to Wal-mart or several other major retailers OR a $5 giftcard to Ebates after you make your first $25 dollar purchase! (How painless is that if you have to place an order anyway?!) 

To make the deal sweeter, Ebates offers 6% cashback on orders from Kohls (where I had to make my purchase). 

It took all of 45 seconds to sign up, enter my address for them to ship my $10 Wal-mart gift card to, and click on their Kohl’s link. No credit card information or profile information required. It’s simple, painless and fast. 

Ebates offers cash back on hundreds of online stores, usually ranging from 3-8%. Next time I make an online purchase all I have to do is sign in, click on the store I’m ordering from, and earn cash back! I’m guesstimating a 15 second time investment tops. 

3% to 8% may not be a ton, but it sure adds up, especially if you do a lot of your gift shopping online! It’s so painless I’m wondering why on earth I didn’t sign up with Ebates sooner!

Want to give it a try? Click here to get started and earn your $10 giftcard!

Then, if you find it as simple and worthwhile as I did, you can share it with your friends and earn $5 for each friend who signs up.

[Full disclosure: Links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Stop! Don’t Squash! (Encourage Good Bugs to Keep Bad Bugs at Bay)

Rose and I were planting peas last week when she suddenly stopped and said, “Mama look!” Beside her on a tulip sat three scary-looking bugs with spines on their backs.

My first instinct was to squash immediately, but sometimes the scariest-looking bugs are garden heroes. So I resisted the urge, grabbed Good Bug, Bad Bug and flipped quickly through the pages. There on the ladybug page was a picture of the ladybug larva.

photo credit

These larva are ferocious… at least if you’re an aphid, mealybug, or other garden pest.

Part of me really likes the sanitariness of pesticides. Just spray and kill all the bugs. Good as well as bad. Then you don’t have to worry whether that bug you see is eating your tomatoes or eating the bugs that want your tomatoes. Then you don’t have to risk seeing a spider busily at work in your garden or risk having a ladybug larva land on your arm.

Doesn’t that sound a bit appealing?

The problem is it would defeat one of my main purposes (and that of most home gardeners) of having a garden: growing fresh healthy food that isn’t covered in pesticide residue. Plus, it completely messes with the beautiful and intricate natural controls that God created to help our gardens.

As I’ve been reading about the bugs that make their homes in our gardens and the beautiful flowers and herbs we can plant to attract the good bugs and scare away the bad, I’ve been struck once again with wonder at God’s amazing creation.

For example, the beneficial hover fly won’t lay eggs on a non-infested plant. If the plant is infested, how many eggs a hover fly lays depends on the pest population. Isn’t that amazing? Beneficial bugs even communicate with one another by leaving a chemical mark on pests that have already been dealt with! (from Good Bug, Bad Bug)

One of my gardening goals is to create an environment that fosters all the beautiful (and ferocious) beneficial bugs.

I still have lots and lots to learn, but here are the steps I’m taking this year.

Learn to distinguish between good and bad bugs: 

If spending an hour playing with bugs wasn’t exactly your idea of fun as a kid (it sure wasn’t mine) then this can be a bit more of a challenge, but it’s proved to be quite exciting. When the kids or I come across a new bug, we’ll look it up in Good Bug, Bad Bug or The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control (two new favorites!) before we decide whether to encourage its presence or squash on sight from now on.

Grow flowers and herbs that attract good and discourage bad bugs: 

Marigolds, of course, are renowned for their ability to deter aphids and other bugs from around your vegetables (plus marigold roots clear the ground of microscopic nematodes that can reek havoc and the good effect lingers for up to three years!)

There are so many other amazing flowers and herbs to plant too, like nasturtium which “trap” bad bugs (and are edible), pungent herbs whose scent both confuses and deters bad bugs, and a vast variety of flowering plants that provide food and shelter for the good bugs if the pest population drops.

Create an environment that fosters good garden creatures: 

Previous owners of our home planted lilirope as a border around the little front gardens. The lilirope filled out into a big bushy mess that I really don’t like. I started clearing it away to replace with a rock border when I noticed beautiful blue-streaked skinks darting into the lilirope for cover. I was clearing away the home of the cute little lizards who feed on snails, slugs, grasshoppers, roaches and even small mice.

Before I clear away the other half of the lilirope, I want to be sure the skinks have another home by planting perennials they can overwinter in and hide from predators.

Many herbicides for treating weeds are toxic to lizards, frogs, and other small garden guests. Avoid using them if possible or seek a child and “pet”-safe natural alternative.

What are your favorite ways to make your garden a haven for good bugs? 

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Garden Beginnings

After four years of renting (and being gone for 1-3 months each summer) I am garden obsessed this spring. While I’m waiting for the weather to make up it’s mind that spring is really here, I’ve been busy reading, planning and gathering supplies.

Gardening books from the library–One Magic Square is my favorite so far! 

Start small and keep it manageable, I keep having to remind myself (especially since we’re expecting a baby this summer). I’d gladly dig up half the yard right now, but probably wouldn’t have the energy or desire to weed and water it all come summer’s 100 degree weather.

This year I’m focusing on growing on our top favorite vegetables that are high on the dirty dozen list and/or are fairly expensive. Plus, we’re putting in a few berry bushes. (Happy squeal!)

 

Tomatoes, mini bell peppers, and herbs

I’ve never started my own tomato or pepper seeds before, but when I opened a copy of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, how could I resist? You get a greater variety to choose from, ensure they’re heirloom seeds, save money, and get to play in the dirt sooner.

We made cute little newspaper pots that you can plant straight in the garden following Jacquline’s, from Deep Roots at Home’s, easy tutorial. They were fun to make and even Rose and Will were able to help.

Once the seeds germinated, I needed a mount for the grow light that was adjustable. Duplos were the perfect solution.

 Lettuce and spinach peaking up behind the rose bush

The backyard garden plot isn’t ready yet, so my little sis and I dug up part of the existing bed in the front and tucked spinach and lettuce seeds behind the rose bushes.

A removable screen door (perfect for cute toddlers who can’t remember to close the door–and their mamas!) 

If you have busy little garden helpers and no screen door, a removable screen “door” is amazing! I found this one at a yard sale, but you could order one from Amazon or easily make your own too from a tension rod, netting and magnets.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedOur Simple Country LifeProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

 [Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

How (& Why) to Propagate Houseplants

If you’ve been impatiently waiting for the snow to leave and spring weather to stay so you can get outside and play in the dirt (like I have), propagating your houseplants is a great way to use the time.

photo credit 

Houseplants are amazing. As studies by NASA scientists confirmed, common houseplants make the air in your home healthier. They remove dangerous chemicals and dramatically increase air quality. Plus, they’re beautiful.

In his book, How to Grow Fresh Air–(read my review here), Dr. Wolverton lists the very best purifying indoor plants and recommends you have at least one plant per 100 square feet. That’s a lot of plants.

One of the easiest ways to grow your collection is to propagate the plants you have (or beg cuttings from your mom.)

Not only is it fun to add a new plant to your collection and watching it grow, I consider it plant insurance. My brown thumb is bound to kill at least some of my plants. This way, if the mother plant dies hopefully the daughter will survive.

 Heartleaf Philodendron–one of the easiest houseplants to grow

There are two very easy ways to propagate houseplants that have multiple trailing stems, like ivy.

Water Method: Just cut back long stems right above the leaf node (where a new leaf grows). Trim the bottom few leaves and place the stem in a glass of water.

In a few weeks new roots will emerge and you can plant the stems in a fresh pot with good drainage. Water well after transplanting.  

How to Propagate Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew— I killed the “mother plant”. The one on the left is a four-month-old “daughter plant”. On the right is a three-week-old “granddaughter plant”

Moist Dirt Method: 

Cut off stems above the node. Strip off the bottom few leaves. Place the stem in a pot and keep the soil moist. In about 3 to 6 weeks, new roots will grow and the plant will send out new shoots.

How’s that for easy?

Want to make it a really frugal project? Look for beautiful pots at garage sales (often they’re practically free!) I’ve even found some lovely healthy plants at yard sales for a dollar or two.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWild Crafting WednesdayWalking RedeemedProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

The Three Purposes of Money

Sometimes when we focus on being thrifty, it’s easy to get so caught up on the nitty-gritty aspects of managing our homes that we lose sight of the purposes of money: provision, generosity, and enjoyment.

At least it is for me. Stepping back and looking at the purposes of money helps me to put my job as the manager of our home in the proper perspective.

As Christians, we're not supposed to be scrooges or profligates. Understanding the three purposes of money helps us wisely use it.

 photo credit

The Three Purposes of Money

Provision

Work is a good thing. One of the primary purposes of work (and a paycheck!) is so men can provide for their families. God said that if a man doesn’t work to provide for his own house, he’s “worse than an infidel.”

What about us stay-at-home moms? As homemakers, it’s our job to manage the household wisely and sometimes, like the Proverbs 31 woman, to actively contribute financially.

Though we’re not supposed to “lay up treasures on earth” it’s pretty clear that providing for the family is not just limited to today’s pressing needs. Proverbs 13:22 says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” We’re supposed to think multi-generationally, even about money.

Generosity

In the Bible it talks quite a bit about “tithes and offerings.” A tithe is the ten percent God laid down in the Old Testament for His people to give, not because He needs our money, but because all we have comes from Him and giving back a portion of what He gives us acknowledges that fact. The offering was gifts beyond the tithe that God’s people willingly and freely gave.

Christians have differing views on whether we still “have to” tithe. We personally still believe it’s a command, but either way, it’s abundantly clear that Christians are called to be generous. To give to the work of the Church, to support the poor and needy, and to care for the sick and widowed.

(I often wonder if the Federal Government would be so active if Christians faithfully gave and Churches faithfully cared for the poor and widowed.)

Enjoyment

A while back we were doing a study on money. When our pastor asked what the purposes of money were, “enjoyment” did not pop into my head. I tend to be rather tight-fisted when it comes to spending money for pleasure. Thankfully, Joshua is much better in this area and reminds me that God has “given us richly all things to enjoy.” God wants His people to enjoy His goodness and bounty to us with gratitude, because He is a good God and a generous Father.

Did you know that in the Old Testament God commands His people to keep a feast in which they set aside money to spend “for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.”  Deut. 14:26

This doesn’t mean charging a new boat to a credit card. It can be as simple as enjoying an ice cream date together or extravagant as a trip to lovely London.

It's easy to fall into the ditch of being to scrooge-like or profligate with our money. Understanding the three purposes of money helps us wisely steward it.

The Christian Purposes of Money

The purpose of thriftiness is not to hang on to every last penny with a clenched fist. God has called us to be wise stewards of the gifts He has given us as we provide faithfully, give generously, and enjoy His goodness to us.

Leaves, More Leaves, and a Microwave

There are few things quite as exciting as exploring the world with your children. But I have to admit I was a bit nervous about teaching my children science. It isn’t exactly my strongest subject and I don’t want my limitations to hinder them.

When I told one of the dear older moms at church how excited, yet nervous, I was (since, ahem, I had to review the difference between a maple and oak leaf!) she told me to stop worrying and overanalyzing. “Just go outside and explore nature together, she said. “Look things up and learn with them.”

It has been so much fun.

Last week, using this great coloring page as our leaf guide, we went on a leaf-hunting walk. Rose had so much fun picking up leaves to see if they matched the leaves on her page.

When we got home, Will and Rose sorted our pile of leaves and picked their favorites.

Then, they used the leaves as guides to color the pages. At least Rose did. I am pretty proud of Will for almost staying in the lines though!

While they colored, I worked on making our very first wall decor for the schoolroom: framed leaves.

Did you know that you can microwave leaves to dry them?

Just place a leaf between two pieces of paper towel. Set a plate or bowl on top to keep it flat. Then microwave for 30 seconds. If it’s not dry, move the leaf over to a dry spot of paper towel and microwave a few more seconds.

For a glossy finish that will help preserve the color, you can wax the leaves.

To wax leaves, turn the iron to its lowest setting. Place leaves between two pieces of waxed paper (make sure the wax side is toward the leaves!) Iron for 30-60 seconds, or until the wax has melted onto the leaf. While the paper is still warm, carefully pull it back from the leaves.

(Wipe iron with a damp cloth to make sure there’s no wax on it before ironing your husband’s favorite dress shirt!)

I have grand ideas for our school room, but so far, it’s just an empty room with a bookshelf, two houseplants, and a chest of toys. So, it was high time to at least get something on the wall.

I found this picture frame at a garage sale and repainted the banged up wood white. Then all I had to do was arrange the leaves we’d found.

To add a bit of depth (and because the leaves were simply to gorgeous not to display) I taped extra leaves to the edge of the frame. Professional  huh? But at least our school room has something on the wall.

…And now this Mama can not only distinguish between an Oak and Maple leaf, but between a Japanese Maple and Norwegian Maple. Considerable progress, right?