Who Are We Really?

Can you really define the Mr. and I in just one or two words? This evening we were trying to figure out what word best describes our lifestyle. In the end we really were not sure what word describes us the best.

So we are asking our loyal readers for help. Please tell us what you think. It's driving me nuts. What am I?!?!?

Am I an environmentalist, a homesteader, thrifty, a minimalist or did I miss the boat all together?

If you are new to the blog here are some pointers to help you answer the question.

  • We live debt free (minus a small mortgage) on one modest income
  • Catholic/Christian
  • Cloth diapers
  • Cloth napkins
  • Grow most of our food
  • Backyard chickens
  • DIY's to the max (using greenest materials we can afford)
  • and much more as you can tell by our blog
I can't wait to hear from you!

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Saving some Green this Easter

In general Easter is not that expensive of a holiday but we always to try to keep expenses as low as we can. If you are looking for ideas for how to save money this Easter check out what will be gracing our girls' Easter baskets.

  • Books- Each girl will have two books and one coloring book. They all cost between $1- $1.35 each.
  • Homemade Dress- I made each girl a dress from vintage fabric that I already had in fabric stash (received fabric for free). Cost was zero.
  • Tutu- I made a tutu for each girl. The fabric cost about $5 each and had the ribbon and other supplies.
  • Chocolate Chicken- Chocolate bunnies don't fly at our house. Our Max and Ruby fans love their Chocolate Chickens. So each year I make one Chocolate chicken for each of them. That's the only candy they get in their basket. The grandparent's give them plenty for Easter! Cost is maybe $2 each at the most.

That's it! Each girl's basket will be filled to the brim with things they will love and will not add to clutter and cavities. The total cost per basket is $10. Not bad for such great stuff!

What's filling your frugal baskets this Easter?

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Lies the government told you by Judge Napolitano

Did I just get your attention? We normally did not get into our political views on our blog but when I saw this title I know I could not pass up this book review opportunity.

Lies the Government Told You by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano is jam packed with facts not personal opinion. He covers every political issue from guns and drugs to government bail outs. There is no issue that he doesn't dive into. For each topic he includes lots of information from court rulings, the constitution, and current amendments. In fact, there are so many facts that the notes section is 22 pages of fine print! This might sound like a tough read but it was actually very easy to read and understand. He doesn't hold back in this book as he points out the lies told by both Democrats and Republicans alike.

I really liked this book a lot. In fact I found it extremely hard to put down! Some of the information that is presented I already new a little about but it was extremely helpful to learn the full story and go into details of the different topics he covers. He made topics that are typically hard to understand very easy to follow and grasp. I liked the book so much that I think that everyone should read it. The information is not the "perfect" history that is taught in our public schools today. It covers the not so nice truths and helps you to get a better understanding of our government. I truly believe that I will be able to make better decisions the next time I vote for an elected official.

So no matter what your political affiliation is, as an American, you should read this eye opening book. It will help you to understand the constitution and what the founding fathers of our country meant by freedom.

Have you read this book? If so what are your thoughts on it?

This book was provided by BookSneeze.com in exchange for the review. No other compensation was received and the opinion stated above is my own.

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Shampooless Adventure

Over the past year I've been reading about other mom's trials and errors with going without shampoo. Now, I know that this might sound gross to some of you, but it really is not as bad as it might initially sound. What most people do is use either baking soda or apple cider vinegar instead of chemical filled shampoo.

We have been using all natural shampoo for about 4 years so I'm not worried about what I'm putting in my hair, but I'm concerned about the cost of the shampoo that we use. To help save a little more money I thought that it would be worth giving "poo free" a try.

I just completed my first week of using baking soda water in place of shampoo. So far, so good! I've actually been surprised by how well my hair feels and the amount I need to use to obtain a good cleaning. If you are wondering, I personally diluted 5 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water. Then I let it set for 2 weeks. I refilled my empty shampoo bottles with the solution.

One week down, many more to go. I'll keep you posted as my body adjusts and the seasons change. It's great to feel like you can buy one less product and save some money too.

Have you tried to go shampoo free? How did it go?

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Sharing Your Faith

As a Catholic mom I feel like it is important for me to make sure my children understand their faith. Sending them to a Catholic school and having them attend Mass every weekend is not enough. They need to be learning everyday what it means to be a Catholic. To help accomplish this I was looking for just the right resource to help me with this learning process during the upcoming summer break.

I found just the right book for the job! The Treasure of My Catholic Faith 1 by Circle Press Scholastic is at the right level for my first grader. It is full of colorful pictures and worksheets that will help to open the discussion of several different topics. This book is the first in a series of 6 books. It covers all the basics from creation, Jesus's birth to his death. One of the lessons that I will actually do before this summer is lesson 5 in chapter 2, I am a Child of God. This lesson covers Baptism. It walks the child through what takes place during the sacrament along with discussion about the specific day they personally were baptized. In just a few weeks her cousin will be baptized. This lesson will help her to have a better understanding of what is going on during the ceremony.

By the end of the book your child should have a good understanding of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit along with the basics of the Catholic faith that are age appropriate. The only thing that I do not like about the book is that the pages are not perforated. I personally like to be able to take out just the pages we are working on at the time and not give my daughter the whole book since she likes to try to work ahead. Overall I would recommend this book to any other parents looking for a good Catholic educational resource. You can purchase this book here.

This review was sponsored by Tiber River. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

I wrote this review of The Treasure of My Catholic Faith - Book 1 for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

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Penny Pinching Clothes

There are lots of ways to save money and blow money. Clothing is probably the easiest way to blow money without even trying. However, it doesn't take a master's degree to save money on clothing either. Here are some of the ways that we save money on clothing at our house.

  • Garage Sales- The bulk of our clothes comes from garage sales. There is nothing like buying almost brand new Hanna A. clothes for $3 a piece. Not all garage sales are good so take your time and set a spending limit.
  • Friends and Family- If you are one of the lucky ones, take advantage of your friends and family's leftovers. It never hurts to ask to borrow their kids outgrown clothes. This is a great way to keep your kids dressed without costing you a dime.
  • Remake It- I realize that not all of you reading this can sew and that's fine. BUT, if you can sew use it to your advantage. Take your kids out grown clothes and make it last a little longer. Take your husband's t-shirt and make a dress for your toddler. There are countless ways to take clothes you don't wear and make it into clothes you love.
  • Uniform Sale- Our kids have to wear uniforms to school. If we had to buy all new uniforms every year it would break the bank for us. Instead I try to be one of the first moms at the school's annual used uniform sale. It always feels great buying a $55 jumper for five bucks!
  • End of Season Sales- Every season must come to an end. Retails usually have some steeply discounted items at the end of the season. If you can guess what size your kids will be in a year from now take advantage of the great deals on the hard to find used items.
  • Gifts- Don't be ashamed to ask for clothing as a gift. If your family or friends ask you what you (or your kids) would like for your birthday tell them the truth. I would really like a sweater, a gift card for T.J. Maxx to buy a new dress, Timmy needs gym shoes, etc. I would rather give a gift that would be used then another plastic toy that will be broken and unloved.
  • Pass on the Trends- As much as I'm drawn to the trendy items in the store I remind myself that it will be out of style in just a short amount of time. I try to buy clothing that will not be out of style when my youngest daughter wears it 4 years after her big sister.
  • Needs vs. Wants- This is the biggest one really. Only buy what you need. It keeps your closets and drawers from being over stuffed and you save a ton of money. It's sometimes hard to pass up a good deal at a garage sale on clothes, but really, how many pairs of jeans can I really wear?
So those are my secrets for affordable clothing. What do you do to keep your clothing budget in check?

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Sap to Syrup

We took the plunge this past weekend! Ever since we moved to Michigan we wanted to try tapping our maple trees and making our own syrup. Since it takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup it seemed a little daunting, well, along with the whole sugar shack or sugaring kettle thing.

This year we decided to set our fears aside and give it a try. I have to admit that it was a lot easier then I thought. The season lasts four to six weeks and are only 5 days into it so we will see if we make it the whole season. Even if we don't we still had a lot of fun and will enjoy the several quarts of homemade maple syrup that we did get.

Here are some photos of the process.

Has anyone else tried it?

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Eggs anyone?

This winter was our first winter having chickens. I was sure that our 4 laying hens would slow down the number of eggs they laid. Boy was I surprised!

They didn't slow down at all. Unless it was below zero they were outside most of the day. They even got around in the snow really well. It was neat to see how well the chickens adjusted to the winter weather. The interesting thing they did do, was hide their eggs. They found some interesting locations to start laying. One of them was in a window well that had a hole in the cover. It made it into a nice warm little spa area for them. Our "independent" chicken who always gets out of the backyard decided to start using the cat house as a nesting box. I found that quite humorous personally.

And yes, this is what it looks like when you finally find the nesting spot! Tons of eggs. Two chickens had been laying in that spot for about 2-3 weeks.

Despite where they laid the eggs we got one egg per chicken every day accept for when they molted. Four eggs a day is a lot for our family to go through so we have been selling the extra to friends. The money I make from selling the extra eggs is being put in a separate envelope. I'll use those funds to buy feed and other items the chickens need. It's nice having a pet that makes you more money then they cost!

How did your chickens do this winter?

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How To: Build Raised Garden Beds

The Mrs. loves to garden. Rating slightly above her garden is the delicious organic vegetables that come from it. So why was her garden such a source of stress in her life in past years? Let me count the ways:

  1. Weeds - This garden sat unused for 2 years before we bought the house. During that time, the weeds took over and it has been a battle ever since.
  2. Moles and other varmints - The sections of the garden that were weed-free, were riddled with mole tunnels. Root crops were hit hard. Our outside-cat helps, but she can only eat so many.
  3. Invasive blackberries - The blackberry bushes were well established and produced great berries. But they spread as fast as the weeds and are twice as difficult to deal with.
  4. Mosquitoes - Those blackberry bushes became a haven for them, and God help you once you had them stirred up.
  5. Deer - We had been marginally successful in fending them off last year. Then we thought a 10-day vacation might be a good idea mid-summer. We returned to find that they had eaten all the pepper plants and all 45 tomato plants.
  6. Hornets - Late summer, a couple swarms of hornets took up residence in our garden - one in the long-term compost, and one the dirt just inside the grass line. We had plans to eradicate them, but the risk of being stung just wasn't worth it. Knowing that they would die off come winter, we waited them out.
  7. Baby - We love her, but having an infant is not so conducive to garden work. Naps don't last long enough and slings too uncomfortable (for baby) for all the bending, reaching, digging, picking, planting and hauling.
Late in the summer, she gave up. I couldn't blame her. I still would dart in to harvest the unstoppable zucchini and squash plants - dodging hornets, and swatting mosquitoes. But that was about it. This year, the top three items are coming off of the list with the addition of raised garden beds. Here is how we built ours.

The Mrs. divvied up the space we had to work with. A few measurements one evening and a bit of graph paper work yielded a plan.
  • 9 beds - each 4 feet wide and 18 feet long.
  • 4-foot wide walking paths on all sides.
  • A fence of some sort
  • A 3-foot wide boarder around the entire plot filled with deer repellent plants.
  • Some space on one end for compost and our chickens

For this project, we used:

  • Power miter saw
  • Cordless drill - with spare battery
  • 4-lb sledge
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit level
  • Tin snips
  • Pliers
  • Lumber - we used red cedar
  • 3" Stainless Steel screws
  • Mending plates - if your beds are longer than your lumber
  • Short screws
  • Poultry staples
  • 1/2" mesh hardware cloth
  • Zip ties
  • 3' painted steel garden stakes
The beds were quite easy to build. We bought 2x6 red cedar boards from a guy on Craigslist. Well below retail, but a fair price to the seller who had no use for them. First I prepped all the lumber and cut them to length.

Lumber typically doesn't come in 18-foot lengths, so I used mending plates to join them. The claw hammer wasn't much help here.

3" self-tapping, stainless steel screws hold them together at the corners with no pre-drilling.

In our garden, we have two types of beds - normal, and root vegetable. The normal beds were easy. Once the box was built, we simply flipped it over and tacked on the hardware cloth using the staples. We used rolls 48" wide, 50 feet long, in the 1/2" hole size. These were the biggest rolls we could find, and we needed 3 of them and then some.

The hardware cloth will keep the digging varmints out while allowing moisture, worms, and roots to pass through. It's galvanized so it won't rust and should last a long time. Initially we placed cardboard under the beds as a weed block. very few go through, if any.

The root veggie beds were a bit tougher.

Wanting these to be deeper, we first dug out the beds to be 8-10" deep. After leveling and squaring up the corners, we laid the 48" wide cloth into the bed to form the bottom, leaving extra to fold up at each end.

We then split a roll of 24" wide cloth to give us 2 strips of 12". Those became the long sides in the trench. The sides were attached to the bottom with plastic zip ties. Then, the wood box was slipped over the ends of the cloth sticking out of the ground and tacked on with poultry netting staples.

For all beds - Mark location, place, double check location, level, and hammer in stakes. Then all that dirt you dug out - has to go back in.

We also added a provision to certain beds for trellises. Totally optional. I'm not sure at this point if this was the best way to do it, so feel free to devise your own plan here.

Beds in place and filled with soil mix. (note: number 9 already had potatoes and onions in it, and had to wait)

a few months later - now with mulch and cardboard down for the paths and vegetables going nuts.

A few tips after building 9 of these:
  1. Survey your area. It's worth a little extra effort to spend a little time making sure the beds will be square with the world around it.
  2. Tin snips work great for cutting hardware cloth.
  3. A 4-lb sledge is a good way to hammer in mending plates, as well as a great work out.
  4. Stainless steel screws, while rust resistant, shear-off fairly easily. Apply firm pressure to your screw gun.
  5. Hardware cloth is a bit like fencing and you can use some of the same techniques when working with it. If you get bubbles, use pliers to shrink. Best part is this doesn't have to be pretty as it will be covered in dirt.
  6. Cedar is a great choice for this project. It's naturally rot resistant, light weight, and is easy on your tools. It also smells nice with working with it.
  7. If you garden is massive like ours, you'll need a lot of mulch and soil. Many home improvement stores discount open bags.
Built beds before? Have pictures or tips to share?

Join us on DIY Day at ASPTL.

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Stress-Proof Your Marriage

When I saw that the Catholic Company had a book called "Stress-Proof Your Marriage" and it was a 30-Minute Read my first thought was 'How can you go wrong?'. Thirty minutes of time and 61 pages later I knew I would not be out much if the book was a waste.

Let me start by saying that I feel like I have a wonderful marriage. Like all marriages it has its ups and downs but we work hard to keep it strong at all times. We don't have any "issues" or major stresses right now. However, you always need to work on your marriage even when everything is going good.

This book is a great read for when you are in either a good place or just need a little fine tuning. It helped remind me of the basic things that keep a marriage strong. Sometimes its the little things that make a big difference. Since this is a Catholic book it did a great job focusing on God, prayer and worship as a centerpiece to a healthy marriage. Always important to remember!

You can read this book either separately or together. Don't feel like you have to read it as a couple if you spouse is not a big reader or it's hard to find the time to read together. The book is broken up into chapters like Talk, touch, share, etc. This helped me personally fit it into my schedule. I just tucked this small book into my purse/diaper bag. When I was waiting in the car line at school I could pull it out and read it.

I give this book two thumbs up!

My disclaimer about the book: IF you and your spouse need more then a little fine tuning this book is NOT for you! Personally I would recommend going to a Marriage Encounter weekend (excellent experience) or if you are considering divorce attend Retrovaille.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Stress-Proof Your Marriage.

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