Lunch Box Surprises

I pack my husband’s lunch every day.

Not only is it cheaper and healthier – it’s also faster for him.

That gives him time to call me every noon.

Ulterior motives. 🙂

When I’m really on top of things I get his lunch ready in the evening so I just need to pull it out and put it in his lunch pail in the dim light of early morning.

It’s when I’m not with it that things get interesting.

Like the time I grabbed a container from the freezer thinking it was left-over lasagna. It wasn’t.

My poor husband got a frozen hunk of left-over pinto beans.


But even when I have things prepared – my mental capacity isn’t always the best first thing in the morning.

I few weeks ago I had his lunch prepared – but I grabbed the wrong container. I sent him a frantic text at noon when I opened the fridge and saw his main dish was still inside.

I asked him what he had for lunch.

His response – the yogurt was good.


In recent days I’ve sent him an over ripe banana, stale pretzels, and the container of left-over smoked turkey meat instead of the smoked turkey sandwiches I had made for him.

But the one he really laughed about was the plastic container of dry, uncooked noodles that I grabbed from the cupboard in the haze of early morning thinking they were peanuts.

Poor guy.

And he never complains. (Well – except for the pinto bean incident!)

He should get a medal, that man of mine.

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Have you tried the Greek yogurt that’s all over the store shelves now?

I must admit that I’m really addicted!

But buying Greek yogurt can be pricey – at least double the price of regular yogurt.  Talk about budget busting.

DSC_0004So when I discovered that the fancy pants Greek yogurt in the stores is actually just plain yogurt with some of the whey drained off – I started researching ways to make it myself.

I could buy a large container of plain yogurt and strain it – but that would only save me a few cents. I wanted a lot of yogurt -cheap.

Like $1.39 gallon of sale milk – cheap.

And easy, too!

And I found it!

All I needed was a heavy bottomed pot, a thermometer, 2 quart sized jars with lids, a small cooler, a strainer, a bowl and a dishtowel.

So far – so good.

The actual yogurt is just 8 cups of milk – any kind. Whole milk makes a really rich and creamy yogurt – but everything works right down to skim.

And 4 tablespoons plain yogurt with live and active cultures.

That’s it. No fancy weird stuff you can’t pronounce.

Put the milk in the heavy bottomed pot and heat to 180 degrees, stirring regularly so that it doesn’t scorch.

As soon as the milk comes to temperature, take it off the heat and let it cool to 110 degrees.

Then add your plain yogurt and whisk well.


Pour this mixture into two quart jars and screw on the lids. Place this jars in the small insulated cooler and pour 120 degree water into the cooler until the jars are submerged nearly to their lids.

Then close the cooler, set it aside and don’t touch it for at least 6 hours. (The longer you leave it in the cooler the more tang your yogurt will have.)

Viola! Six hours later you can remove the jars and have 8 cups of perfectly set plain yogurt.

Now – to make it into Greek yogurt – place the dishtowel in the strainer and set it over a bowl. Pour the yogurt into it and put it in the fridge for several hours. (I have left it on the counter before and it was fine – but don’t tell anybody!)The whey will strain out leaving you with a thick delicious Greek style yogurt.

DSC_0003Whole milk will have less whey and leave you more yogurt while the skim will reduce up to half but will be the equivalent of the 0% fat Greek yogurt you buy at the store.

The longer you let it strain, the thicker the end product.  I’ve heard that if you let it go for 24 hours you will get a product with cream cheese consistency.  You can add a little salt or spices and spread it on a bagel.

I normally go 4-6 hours, depending on when I remember it.

Some people use the whey in their cooking – but I choose to turn it into pork chops and feed it to the pigs. 🙂

So easy!

Heat the milk. Cool the milk slightly. Mix in the yogurt as a starter. Put them in jars. Incubate in the cooler. Strain. And bingo – you just saved yourself some serious cash.

Happy day!

Paper Bag Popcorn

brown bag popcornI love popcorn. I mean, I really, really love popcorn.

I could eat it every day and sometimes do!

My favorite way to make it is on the stove in coconut oil with my vintage white mountain popcorn popper. Then I cover it in melted butter and popcorn salt and indulge.

Sometimes I even share. 😉

But – let’s admit – this way of popping popcorn does leave a bit of a mess and is slightly caloric. 🙂

While we love the ease of microwave popcorn – they are pretty expensive and I’ve heard some talk about unhealthy preservatives.

My solution? Brown bag popcorn.

I saw this on Pinterest and was skeptical – but trust me – it really works.

And it’s so simple!

Just take a brown, lunch size paper bag and pour 1/4 cup of popcorn in it. Fold over the end and put it in your microwave on high for 3-4 minutes. Just listen carefully for the popcorn to stop popping.


I told you it was easy!

Of course my kids always pour their popcorn into a bowl and cover it with melted butter and salt And then they pass the bag on to the next kid in line – because one bag can pop multiple batches of popcorn.

I just bought 100 brown paper bags for less than $2.00. With several batches per bag – that sure beats the price of regular microwave popcorn! And there’s no popcorn popper to wash.

And that my friends is a winner!


Homemade Laundry Soap – Powder Version

Washing Soap

I’ve been making my own homemade liquid laundry soap since March – and really like it.

So when my friend Kimmer sent me a recipe for a powdered laundry soap a few weeks ago – I was curious.

I noticed right away that this recipe included many more ingredients than my first one.

Which got me thinking –  so what was really necessary to get our clothes clean?

I did some research on line (at Pinterest of course! ) and found that a basic laundry soap includes just three things – Borax, Washing Soda, and a bar soap (the  most common being Fels Naptha or Zote, but some even use a regular bar of Ivory soap or even a store brand).

The most basic recipe for powdered laundry soap is simple:

1 (4lb. 12 oz.) box of Borax
1 (3 lb. 7 oz.) box of Washing Soda
28 ounces of soap grated finely (this is 2 Fels Naptha bars)

Mix them together.

That’s it. Super simple. Use 1 tablespoon for a small load, 2 tablespoons for a large one.

Now – if you want to get fancy – you can also add:

1 (3 lb) Container of OxyClean- This will help with stain removal and will keep your whites whiter (I added it in this batch – and got a handy dandy scoop as an added bonus!)

1 (55 oz) Bottle of Purex Crystals Fabric Softener This will help your clothes feel softer and smell wonderful. (I did add it to this batch – my girls love the smell. It’s a nice touch if I have it on hand.)

The verdict – it was super easy to make – once the soap is grated you just have to stir everything together and you’re ready to use it. Our clothes smell clean, look clean, and there are no soap marks or detergent residue that I can see.

(Although I should admit that I have only used it in warm water loads – people claim the soap dissolves even in cold water – but I’m still a little skeptical.)

I still have my homemade liquid laundry soap on hand – same three basic ingredients, it’s just a little more involved to make it and I’m sure I could always add the Oxy-Clean and Purex Crystals to each batch if I want to.

So the big question is – liquid or powder?

Bottom line – I like them both.

It’s simply a matter of personal preference.

They both cleaned my laundry and saved me money.

And that’s what works for me!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

SoapOkay – I’m  jumping on the band wagon.

While I’ve seen recipes for homemade laundry detergent all over cyber space for some time – I never quite got my act together to make some.

Until now.

Yes – this country gal finally found the right ingredients – had them all on hand at the same time – and made a batch of laundry soap.

Believe it or not – it was easy. And uber-cheap.

My friend Kimmer sent me this recipe. She got it from her friend Cindy – who found it at Thy Hand Hath Provided.

Homemade Laundry Soap
This recipe makes 5 gallons of concentrate which equals 10 gallons of ready-to-use laundry detergent. 

1 five gallon bucket (clean and with a tight fitting lid)
a long handled spoon
an empty (used) laundry detergent container (or juice or vinegar container, clean)
hot tap water
1 Fels-Naptha Laundry Soap Bar
1 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)
1/2 cup borax

Grate the Fels Naptha laundry soap bar we used a cheese grater (Well, actually, it was Buddy who used the cheese grater. This was the most time-consuming part of the entire process making it the perfect job for an 11 year old boy. If you don’t have one – you could borrow mine- but he does eat a lot.)

Add the grated Fels Naptha to a medium sauce pan along with 4 cups of water.  Heat over medium high heat while stirring occasionally until the soap has melted completely. (The funny thing is – the grated soap looks like amazingly like grated cheese – causing some puzzled looks since we heated it up as we were making lunch!)

While it’s melting, fill your five gallon bucket half full with hot tap water. (At this point your house will be smelling very – well – soapy. Pedro commented that our house hasn’t smelled this clean since Matt got the air freshener for graduation!)

Once the bar soap has melted, add it to the bucket along with the washing soda and borax.  Stir it well until everything has dissolved.  Add hot tap water to fill the bucket and stir again.

Cover tightly with the lid and let sit overnight to thicken.  Stir well (it will gel and separate a bit).  You have just made concentrate.

When you’re ready to use it, stir the detergent well, then fill your empty detergent container half full with the concentrate.  Fill the rest of the container with water.

Shake before each use.  Use 1/4 cup per load for a front loading machine and 5/8 cup per load for a top loading machine.

 I must confess that I had trouble mixing the concentrate the next morning. It was pretty globby (is that a word?!) and I finally gave up on using a spoon and used my hands to squish the globs.
Finally I measured out enough to half- fill my empty laundry detergent container into a large container, added that much water and used my immersion blender to mix it up. Perfect!
Also – if you are needing a good bucket and lid – I would highly recommend using a 5 gallon bucket and a Gamma Seal Lid . These plastic lids fit tightly on the top of the bucket but easily screw on and off. I love them!
Happy washing!

Frugal Christmas Costumes

Things are gearing up for the children’s Christmas program at church with our performance Sunday night! 🙂

This year’s program takes place in Bible times – which means we needed period costumes for all the kids.

Dagmar decided it was time to retire the motley collection of plaid bathrobes that had served as costumes for several decades – and step things up a little.

But that wasn’t going to be cheap. Have you seen fabric prices lately?!

There was no way we were spending hundreds of dollars on costumes that would be used once a year for a couple of hours – especially when they are children in the world going to bed hungry tonight!

It was time to get creative!

We did find a great costume pattern with multiple looks and sizes on sale at Michael’s – then we started the hunt for material. Trust me – we left no stone unturned!

We raided Nana Shirley’s cupboards which yielded a few nice pieces and some great trims! Lorine, our resident seamstress at church, also found us some good stuff.

Then we started shopping garage sales, thrift stores and bargain bins.
White with PurpleOur best bargain? The plain white cotton sheet. They were cheap and pretty easy to find – and a little Rit dye turned them into whatever colored we needed!
King Herod
A shiny plaid piece from a garage sale made a great costume for King Herod, especially when topped with a vest made from a fake red velvet bed spread we found for a dollar at the local thrift store!


The shepherds were really fun! A ratty old blanket turned into a great vest and an old bathroom rug with a hole in the middle became a sheepskin to throw over a shoulder.

Red with a bagWe used sheets, blankets, table cloths, curtains, table runners and even bed skirts to find the material we needed.

When she ran out of trims, Dagmar started used contrasting threads and played with the fancy stitches on the sewing machine to finish off the edges.

Aunt Julie came for a weekend to help her sew and put the finishing touches on everything.

The final result?

Some great looking and versatile costumes for a little bit of money.

And that works for me!

I’ve linked this post with Works For Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.

Let’s Talk Turkey

let's talk turkeyMost people think of turkeys as just a Thanksgiving food.

But not me.

A turkey can be one of the best meat values around – if you watch for the low price and stock up.

From now till Christmas grocery stores will be having some great turkey prices, and I’ve been filling the freezer.

I found it works well to put them in a row at the very bottom of my chest freezer since I don’t use them often. They are out of the way there and help push everything else closer to the top.

I just have one of the kids hold my ankles when I go in for one!

Often during the winter months we will roast one for a meal, complete with potatoes and stuffing. Then we take the leftover meat off the bones and put them in bags in the freezer to use in a variety of casseroles in the weeks to come.

(Did you know that you can substitute cooked turkey for any casserole that calls for cooked chicken?)

The bones will be put in the crock pot on low with celery, carrots, onions, water, and sage leaves to cook into the most amazing broth.

Just thinking about that turkey broth in a turkey-noodle soup is making my mouth water!

Other turkeys we will smoke or do a “mock-smoke” and use for sandwiches. It’s a great, inexpensive way to feed a large group of people.

I know it won’t work for everybody – but stocking up on cheap turkey now sure works well for me!

I’ve linked this post up with Works for Me Wednesday at We are That Family.

Buzz Top Buddy

It was time for Buddy’s summer haircut and like every other year since he could talk – he begged for a buzz cut.

I don’t know why it’s been hard to buzz this kid. His older brothers routinely got a buzz the end of May every year until they were old to just say no.

But Buddy – we’d cut short – but never buzz.

This year though – he asked me once again after a week of extreme heat and humidity. The ticks were terrible and I had spent several minutes every night checking his head for the tiny varmints.

I caved.

We got him all set up outside with the clippers before  I realized that I had never given a buzz cut before. Jan’s dad, a retired Air Force colonel, is our usual barber and not only does a wonderful job , but saves us lots of money.

But Buddy had complete trust in me – or else he was desperate.

A few anxious minutes later – Buddy was buzzed.

He grinned from ear to ear.

Mom cried.

His sisters told him it was cute and every time he walked past them they would rub his head – which annoyed the kid so much that in desperation he resorted to…

hats…2 hats and a hoodie.

Hmmm… now tell me son, how does a buzz cut keep you cool in the heat when you keep it so well covered?!

A Green Thumb Revived?

When my former college roommate visited a few years ago, she commented on my lack of house plants.

She reminded me that in college I always had plants with me. Every fall I would haul them to our dorm room and every spring haul them back home.

Somehow over the years I have lost my green thumb.  All of my nurturing skills went into my children and little by little the plants died off.

I’m rather embarrassed to admit this – but they were replaced by –  plastic plants. I know they can be tacky but I still needed some green in my life – especially during those long cold winters.

Now that we’re in the new house with this amazing sun room that is screaming for some live plants  – and the children are older – I’m feeling like it might be time to try it again.  I even asked my mom to start a few plants for me.

Then we went to a garage sale on Saturday and the lady was selling these.

Plants 004Beautiful, healthy, large plants – for a buck a piece!

Plants 010 Yes! I paid a dollar each for these beauties!

Plants 017Including 2 big luscious ferns that fit right as if they had always lived here.

Plants 032I feel like I got a part of myself back.

But the big question remains – can I keep them alive? (Mom- go ahead and start those plants – I may need a back-up plan!)

Once a green thumb is neglected, can it be revived?

Stay tuned!

What’s With the Dead Plants?

Mostly Dead Plants Just look at what I got at the grocery store!

What? You’re not impressed?

My husband wasn’t either – until I told him they were free! 🙂

You still might question what possessed me to bring home some mostly dead plants – even if they are free.

I’m so glad you asked!

First of all – they’re perennials. That means that they will come back year after year from the roots.

These have already blossomed for the year and have died back – leaving behind seed pods full of seeds – which is the second reason I grabbed them.

So not only can I plant the roots, I can harvest those seed pods and plant them as well.

And plant them I will – all of them!

My plan is to plant some of them in my flower garden, and the rest of them – and all the seeds I can gather – will be planted and sprinkled into the deep ditch in the front of the house.

This ditch is too deep to be mowed safely, so I’ve been trying to get wildflowers started in it. Ideally – the plants will naturalize and I will have my own beautiful wildflower garden.

But for now – I am thrilled with my free plants!

Sometimes a little knowledge can  turn what others see as trash into a real treasure!

I’ve linked this post up with Works For Wednesday over at We Are That Family.