Category Archives: Frugality

Grocery Shopping for Our Large Family

I noodled around several different title options before picking one because I didn’t want it to be misleading. This post is not about THEE cheapest way to shop if you have lots of kids. Or about coupon clipping. Or about the best, most filling meals for the least amount of money.

Elements of most of those things are in here, but more than anything, I’m writing this post in response to several questions I’ve received about what the process of feeding a family of 9 looks like.

And they are:

1. How often a week do you shop?

I do one big haul a week–usually on Saturday mornings. And then, we supplement as needed with a quick stop or two throughout the week. The “big haul” day has rotated through the week throughout the years (we even went together as a family immediately after church for a while there), and historically, I’ve had ALL the kids when I go (many moons ago, when the kids were all smaller and much less helpful, I used to stop on Monday evenings…after teaching two hours of classes at the gym. Because, apparently, I’m a masochist??). Lately, I’ve been heading to town on Saturday mornings for a free Cross Fit community WOD (workout of the day) and then shopping immediately after. NO KIDS. Because the oldest ones are mature enough now to do basic younger sibling maintenance (Honor’s down for a nap) while Shaun does projects around the house.

Are there words to adequately describe the sheer joy of grocery shopping alone? I’m not sure there are. But “bliss” comes to mind.

groceries1

Shaun’s been traveling a fair bit recently, so the kids were with me on a random Tuesday. We always have two baskets and take up a fair bit of space, but they are genuinely helpful (I don’t load the belt or bag groceries) and definitely know the drill after years and years of tagging along. My favorite thing about this picture is that, as I was looking at several that I took from my phone, the lady with the white hair in the back is staring at us with that same bemused expression in every single one. Ha!

2. How much do you spend?

This is the one everybody wants to know, right? I mean, we’re feeding 9 people. Surely, we must be spending a fortune. Of course, with 4 (almost FIVE!!!)-year-old twins, a 2-year-old, and a newborn, half of my people don’t actually consume that much in terms of volume yet. But the amount feels like it increases on a weekly basis, which makes me nervous.

Our typical bill for the “big haul,” including some non-food items (so, a package of toilet paper, or a box of diapers) is about $190. Obviously, there are some weeks that all of the extra stuff comes “due,” and the bill is considerably higher.

If we were to stick to that every week, that would be a pretty incredible budget for such a big family. But we always end up stopping at least one more time to grab a rotisserie chicken + fruit + milk, etc. Most weeks, we spend another $50 at least.

groceries

This particular load was about $135. I usually get more of most things (like bagels and yogurt), but we were still stocked on those from a previous trip. 

3. What do you eat every week?

I’m sure this is true of most folks, but we eat basically the same thing every week. Cereal, bagels, or eggs for breakfast, yogurt and fruit for snacks, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, and an ever-repeating rotation of about 20 dinner options that use a lot of the same ingredients.

My go-tos are:

  • Turkey spaghetti (my kids would eat my spaghetti–you can find the recipe for my sauce at the beginning of my lasagna recipe–every single day). For reals.
  • Turkey burgers + homemade sweet potato fries + homemade guac (one of my fave meals ever that I eat without a bun and with all the fixin’s on the side).
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Taco Soup
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Turkey Burritos
  • (Chipotle-style) Chicken and Rice Bowls
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta
  • Steak + Scrambled Eggs + Roasted Seasoned Potatoes
  • Greek Chicken + Rice + Veggies
  • Turkey Meatloaf + Mashed Potatoes
  • Pot Roast
  • King Ranch Chicken
  • Quiche
  • Chicken + Veggie Stir Fry
  • Chicken + Veggie Pasta
  • Chicken or Steak Fajitas
  • Chicken + Squash Grill
  • Salsa chicken (in some form or another)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Chicken Lettuce Wraps

We don’t do much in the way of prepacked foods, but neither do I make complicated meals.

4. What ingredients are you never without?

You’ll pretty much never find us out of: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, limes, cilantro, avocados, OTB Corn Chips, cheddar cheese, black beans, onions, tortillas, raw chicken, and raw ground turkey (obviously those last two get cooked quickly, usually in batches for the entire week).  We are a Tex-Mex family, apparently, and I make homemade salsa (it takes 5 minutes and is SOOOO good) and guacamole on the daily. If I’m in a pinch for dinner, we’ll probably be eating burritos and black bean salsa or spaghetti that night.

groceries2

Bonus points if you can a) spot Theo or b) figure out why Nola looks so distressed (probably, she just heard that we weren’t having “her favorite spaghetti” for dinner that night). 

5. How much do you eat out?

In the past, not very much. We still don’t do tons, but we’re a little “looser” than before. Shaun and I have a “date night at home” every Thursday night when my mom has Ezra, Simon, and Della at her house. We get the four littles in bed by 7:30 and settle down on the couch with takeout Thai food to watch an episode of Fixer Upper or Vera (British crime show).

Once a week (usually on Fridays after I teach Combat or a Tuesday night if Shaun’s out of town), the kids and I will have lunch or dinner at Chick-fil-a. And we usually eat out lunch on Sundays. Plus, we go pick up the big kids from my mom every Friday night, and she fixes dinner for us + my brother’s family. So, I typically cook (or at least prep some kind of food) 5 nights a week, with Thursdays and Fridays off.  If I moan even a little bit about cooking on Sundays, Shaun orders pizza. :)

5. Any brilliant money-saving tips?

I used to religiously scout out the sales in the local ad papers and then take them to Walmart for price matching. My mom just told me that Walmart isn’t honoring competitor ads anymore, but I haven’t done this for a couple of years anyway. I did save a fair bit sometimes, but I also found that–outside of a $0.99/lb sale on grapes or some other produce–most of the things we buy regularly at Walmart were pretty comparable to the sales I usually saw.

We also used to shop at Sam’s Club, but we’ve been in such a busy season of life for so long that the extra effort of driving out there (it’s a ways from our house) and spending at least an hour grocery shopping–usually on a Sunday–just wasn’t worth it to us. We may renew our membership in the future, but for now, we’re keeping it simple.

As to coupons, I just don’t. I know I could save a lot of money, and, of course, I use the ones they include on the yogurt packages, etc., but I don’t actively buy items based on whether they have coupons available.

I think my best way to keep our food bill decent is to buy inexpensive, simple food and do a fair bit of cooking. Cheaper AND better for you!

So, there you have it, folks! What grocery shopping for 9 looks like around here. I know this will continue to evolve as the kids get older/eat more. I’m seeing lots more beans (and flatulence…) in our future.

What does grocery shopping look like at YOUR house?

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Mama Life Hacks {#23}: Easy (YUMMY) Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

As I sit here typing this, my stomach is rumbling in the worst way–mostly due to the fact that it’s late, and I really should be in bed, which means it’s been a while since I ate. But also because I just made a batch of the most delicious, moist, flavorful chicken EV-AH. And it smells SO good. I just had to pop on and share the “recipe.”

My sis-in-law actually turned me onto this idea when she brought multiple meals over for us during the craziness that was packing/getting the new house ready/moving…because she’s awesome like that.

So, is your pen poised yet?

Here’s what you’ll do:

Place a package or two of chicken (breast, thighs, whatever) in a crock pot and cover with enough jars of the salsa of your choice (I just use the mild picante style) to completely submerge the meat. I usually add a dash of chili powder, granulated garlic, and cumin, but the salsa adds plenty of flavor on its own.

Hit start on that bad boy and let it go until your kitchen is filled with the slightly torturous fragrance of melt-in-your-mouth, fall-apart chicken goodness.

That’s IT!

Once the chicken is cooked through (it could go all day on low, but I usually have mine on high for about 4 hours), shred it using a couple of forks, making sure to retain all of the juices and get them nice and mixed through the meat.

Trust me: you will LOVE this stuff. All of my kids do. Most of them prefer it in easy “chicken roll-up” form (flour tortilla, shredded chicken, grated cheese…heated…BOOM). In fact, everyone who’s had it in this form has gone nuts for it (I took it to a family potluck, and everybody was raving and asking me for the recipe, and I was almost embarrassed to admit how easy it was).

But Simon and I prefer it on top of THEE best nachos either of us has ever tasted.

chicken

Seriously. Just the chicken, cheese (we use sharp cheddar), and chips (On the Border, baby) are delish, but add you some tomatoes, purple onions, cilantro, and avocado, and it’s out-of-this-world good.

It would also make a great base for Chicken Tortilla Soup, enchiladas, or a taco salad. You really can’t go wrong.

Plus! If you’re like me and trying to eat clean (it’s a process, y’all; definitely not perfect), as long as you pick a salsa that doesn’t have any sugar, there’s literally nothing objectionable about the chicken itself.

Anybody else ever done this easy crock pot hack?

Got any more for me? I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump lately, and, as much as this staple is saving my bacon, er, chicken, I’d welcome any other easy, healthy suggestions you have.

P.S. I have a “grocery shopping for large families” post in the hopper. Get excited!

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Mama Life Hacks {#14}: Batch Cooking Chicken Breast

So, there are times that I hesitate to post something because all I can think is: EVERYBODY already knows this, Abbie. It’s just too, too obvious.

And for many of you, today’s #mamalifehacks tip will be. My apologies ahead of time. Feel free to click away to the weather or something equally scintillating.

But I’ve had enough of a, “Why didn’t I think of that!?” reaction in both real life and blog life to this idea any time it comes up that I figured it was worth posting at least once, especially considering the fact that there are a good number of you participating in our healthy eating/drinking challenge.

So, WHAT IS IT, Abbie? Enough blathering, for the love!

My big fat (skinny?) tip for today is to cook chicken breast in big batches at the beginning of the week so that, on those days when you’re stumped/too tired to think about dinner, you don’t really have to.

Because SURELY there’s something you can make with pre-seasoned, pre-cooked chicken breasts!

Off the top of my head, I can name: chicken + veggie stir fry, Chipotle-style chicken + rice bowls, chicken pot pie, ANY kind of chicken + pasta, chicken fajitas, chicken lettuce wraps, King Ranch chicken, chicken salad…

Get the idea? If it has the word “chicken” in it, then you can probably use chicken breast from your pre-cooked batch to make it.

Of course, this hack isn’t just for those weeks when you haven’t planned ahead. There have been puh-lenty of times that I have planned 3-4 of our family dinners around the fact that I am cooking a huge batch of chicken at the beginning of the week.

As we’re doing our 14 day cleanse,  (Y’ALL! I’m so proud of all of you for jumping in like you did! This is so fun! The Facebook Page is hoppin’! If you’re still interested, don’t hesitate to join in!) it’s really important that I have healthy options on hand so that I don’t get discouraged or distracted or just plain devour-some (sorry, not a word; I didn’t want to ruin the alliteration).

But, whether you’re adhering to a special diet or not, I think all of us busy women could use a little help in the meal-planning department.

And I’m here to tell you that, if you’ve got 30 minutes on your Monday (only 5-10 of those have anything to do with prep; the rest is oven time), then you can get yourself set for the week with delicious, pre-cooked chicken that is SO much cheaper and better than that grisly, rubbery stuff they sell in bags in the freezer section.

So, what do you do?

Hope you have  a pen and notepad ready because it’s super complicated.

No, it’s not. And that’s the beauty!

::STEP 1::

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

::STEP 2::

Butterfly your chicken breasts. Note: this step is totally optional, but I always do it because it means that my meat cooks more quickly and that there’s more seasoning on each piece.

::STEP 3::

Arrange butterflied chicken breasts on a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with a lip) and sprinkle generously with Lawry’s Perfect Blend Chicken Rub (I buy mine in the huge containers from Sam’s, but that link is for Amazon).

batch chicken1

::STEP 4::

Cook for approximately 23-26 minutes or until juices run clear and no pink remains in the meat. This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to use a meat thermometer, and YES! You totally should. TOTALLY. But…I don’t. So, there’s that.

batch chicken2

::STEP 5::

Allow chicken to cool on pans, then place in gallon plastic bags and store in the fridge. Mandy did a really similar post to this one ages ago, and she freezes hers and says it still turns out great when thawed.

::STEP 6::

Pull out of fridge and dance with it around the kitchen when you realize that you forgot to plan dinner but you have cheese in the fridge and tortillas in the pantry, so…QUESADILLAS FOR EVERYONE!

Shoo husband away when he sticks head quizzically in the door to ask why you’re so excited about quesadillas.

High-five yourself on your super-mom levels of preparedness.

batch chicken

Ahem.

Just me?

Okay. I’m good with that.

And for all my clean-eating homeys…don’t get any ideas about cheese and tortillas. BUT! This hack will still serve you well on your clean-eating quest.

No go eat some lettuce!

Got any #mamalifehacks to share with me? I’m listening!

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A Tale of Two (well, technically three) Couches

For as long as I can remember (well, at least as long I’ve been interested in decorating and design), I’ve had this thing for tufted furniture. We’re not going to call it an obsession or anything cray-cray like that, but I was always inexorably drawn to every tufted wingback at Goodwill, no matter how battered. My knees get a little jelly-ish at the sight of a worn-in tufted leather sofa, and my DIY Tufted Ottoman is still the most pinned item I’ve ever made.

It’s real love, folks.

So, you can just imagine how my heart went pitter-patter when I did a rather lazy craigslist search for “Tufted Chesterfield sofa” one day–expectations extremely low–and an entry popped up that looked–if not promising–possible.

couch

It was a dark, grainy, ugly-McAwful picture of TWO linen tufted Chesterfield sofas in a drab furniture store showroom. But despite the picture’s ick factor, I could see the potential. Especially when I looked them up and discovered they were the well-reviewed Gordon Tufted Sofa, 32″HX91X38″D, NATURAL LINEN that Amazon carries for $1,200.

The furniture dealer was only asking a little over 1/3 of that price, and the listing was 2 weeks old, so I was sure it was already sold, but when I called, it was still available.

HUZZAH for terrible, dark, grainy, ugly-McAwful pictures that had most assuredly scared off all of the other potential buyers!

We emailed back and forth and exchanged a few phone calls, and that Saturday evening, after we had attended a birthday party for Shaun’s family, halfway to Dallas, we ended up driving the rest of the way up there to see the couches in person.

couch1

The showroom wasn’t much better in person than it was in the pics. It was in a strip of “furniture outlets,” and I couldn’t quite tell what I thought of the couches at first because their surroundings were–ahem–not quite my style.

When I’d first called, I had discovered that not only did he have the two full-sized couches, but he also had one matching love seat.

Sadly, when we got there, we discovered that the love seat had two little slits in the right arm from careless box-opening techniques.

Not that that was going to stop me.

And so the haggling began.

couch2

In the end, we got both the couches and the love seat WITH TAX AND DELIVERY (two hours away, mind you) for less than the cost of ONE of the sofas on Amazon.

BOOM.

I was ecstatic. I hadn’t been planning on replacing our couches, which were comfortable and hid stains like a toddler hides the remote. My tufted linen Chesterfield sofa dreams had been just that–distant maaaaaaaaybes if I happened upon a good deal at an opportune time…one day…possibly.

couch4

{Can you spot the thing that I forgot to hide in this shot?}

And then, within two whirlwind days, I had sold my old sofas (y’all, proper styling is everything. I used pretty pictures from my blog, and people on a local FB site were clamoring over those perfectly fine but certainly not super-exciting gray herringbone couches like I was selling some sort of prized heirloom for 95% off), and my dream couches were in my living room.

And I do mean dream couches, people. Because, not only did they look about a trillion times better once they exited that cluttered “showroom,” but they’re a) comfortable b) well-made and c) a HUGE bargain…which means that, even if (when) they don’t stay pristine, I won’t feel sick to my stomach for dropping $2,700 on one little ol’ couch. (Because, yes, that’s what the fancy versions of this couch cost, and no, I was never going to go there).

Have I scotch-guarded the daylights out of them? Yes. Do I keep a blanket draped over the one that sits in the main thoroughfare between our kitchen and living room, much to my husband’s eye-rolling amusement? Mmm Hmmm. Have I already had to wipe up a few marks and greasy spots? Yup. (They came right up, in case you’re wondering, thanks to this magical cleaning solution).

couch3

But you know what? As I told a reader who was wondering how in the world I would cope with light-colored furniture and so many kids, I would rather have furniture I love with a few stains than stuff that I really don’t like with the very same stains…that you just can’t see.

As long as said loved furniture doesn’t cost very much, of course. ;) (I’ve already paid for my couches by clearing a few more items that I didn’t need out of my house. Feels SO good).

Oh man, does finding exactly what I’ve been looking for for at a tiny fraction of the price make me giddy!

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Mama Life Hacks: Easy Chick-Fil-A Knock-off Breakfast Sandwich

Most Tuesday nights, you can find us in the (torturously long) Chick-Fil-A drive-thru line. (Side note: did you know that “tortUous” is a word? It means “windy,” “twisty,” or “complicated/confusing.” I just learned that today).

It’s our favorite family fast food restaurant (pretty much our only one, actually) (say that five times fast, by the way), and Tuesday nights are kids eat free nights (one kids’ meal for every adult meal ordered), which means that we can feed our entire family for $20.

Our tab is usually a bit higher than that, though, because I almost always order an extra sandwich or two to bring home.

Shaun likes his sandwiches best cold for breakfast (such a sweet, handsome weirdo, my husband), but one morning, I got a brilliant idea to make “his” sandwich stretch a bit further so that everybody could enjoy some Chick-Fil-A yumminess for breakfast without a) another trip into town and b) the expense of buying individual sandwiches.

It was such a big hit that it’s fast become our Wednesday morning breakfast routine.

Here’s what I do:

First, I scramble about a dozen eggs in my usual way (a good splash of milk, generous salt and pepper).

Then I chop up the chicken from a Chick-Fil-A sandwich into tiny chunks and toss it into the eggs fresh off the stove (the hot eggs warm the chicken through in no time).

chicken eggs

I’ll serve them to my kids in bowls (everyone except Simon absolutely LOVES them; not sure what his problem is since he like scrambled eggs and Chick-Fil-A chicken separately). But for me and Shaun, I’ll toast the bun from the sandwich + whatever bread we have at home with a little cheddar, and then pile them up with what we have now dubbed, “Chicken Eggs.” (We’re creative geniuses. Next thing you know, we’ll be naming a baby, “Girl,” or, better yet, “Human”).

Paired with a little Chick-Fil-A sauce (and I do mean a little…that stuff is a heart attack in a tiny plastic pouch), the result is two ridiculously delicious breakfast sandwiches + enough eggs to feed the rest of the family (usually with leftovers) for about $6.

Of course, when you just so happened to have gone to Sam’s the day before and, moreover, just so happened to have let your kids talk you into bringing home a giant box of even more giant croissants…

Well, let’s just say that breakfast this morning was especially decadent.

breakfast sandwich

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes, just something small like an especially yummy, restaurant-style breakfast (and the knowledge that I did it on the cheap) is enough to start my morning off on a really good note and keep it rolling all day long.

What about you guys? Any fun restaurant hacks to share?

Or any other little tip or trick to make Mama-life a little easier (cheaper!) and more manageable?

I’m all ears!

P.S. Don’t forget to tag your tips in social media with #mamalifehacks so I can feature YOU!

P.P.S. Have you entered our fun Younique giveaway yet? Entries close TONIGHT!

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Mama Life Hacks {Tip 3}: $1 Magic Spatula

Confession: I turned off the email notifications on my phone the second I pressed “post” on my “Choose” blog.

Not because I doubted a) that I was supposed to write it or b) that God’s word would stand, but because it’s really hard to get those little “comment notification” dings on your phone all day long after you’ve written a hard post and open them, one a time, with one eye squinted half-shut and your chin tucked in, not knowing whether it’s going to be an affirmation or an attack.

Honestly, I expected a lot of the latter. Anytime you talk about truth, especially of the Biblical variety, they’re bound to come.

Except this time, apparently.

Out of 80+ responses here and on social media, I received not one hateful comment.

Yesterday, I looked at my husband said, “Um, did I do something wrong?”

And he leveled this look at me that kind of said, “I’m sorry, but are you actually complaining about the fact that people aren’t yell-typing at you?”

Anyway.

It’s probably a good thing that I don’t know most of you personally because, as much as I’m not usually a big huggy type, after reading all of the lovely, encouraging, downright inspiring things you wrote in the past few days, I’d probably be all up in your grill, making us all 50 kinds of uncomfortable.

So, all that to say: Thank you.

I am just as convinced as always that I have the nicest, awesomest readers ever, and I am thankful to God for each of you. Truly.

Okay. Moving on…

What if I told you that $1 could change your life? Or at the very least your kitchen habits.

magic spatula

Yup, that rather streaky little fella there has been a bit of a revelation in my kitchen since Mandy gave it to me for Christmas (don’t worry; that wasn’t my entire gift).

But before you go diving for the comment section to give me suggestions for how to get the streaks off of it, let me expound upon this unassuming little tool’s many virtues.

First, it is THEE thing (I just borrowed that spelling from the hilarious Grace of Camp Patton because, well, I just like it) for getting even the gooiest, stickiest, most baked on cookies of them all off of the pan in one neat swipe.

Seriously. This may sound kind of minor, but, take it from a woman whose favorite chocolate chip cookies include bake-directly-onto-the-pan-and-never-come-off toffee bits…this is kind of a big deal.

Also?

It’s an excellent stuck-on-food scraper for anything from burnt cheese to dried on eggs to…whatever.

Speaking of eggs, if you ever wanted to make yourself thee (there I go again) best fried egg with no broken yolk…yup. This little miracle can do that too.

And, perhaps best of all, it makes for an incredibly effective butcher block and floor scraper.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we eat a lot of Raisin Bran around here. AKA g.l.u.e.

Seriously, that stuff gets so stinking stuck on, well, everything. But especially wood and tile. But this little spatula doesn’t even blink an eye. It just goes to town, peeling all of that gluey, bran-flake mess off of any surface I’ve yet to tackle with it.

So, there you have it, folks. My (and Mandy’s–she has been to known to rave about its qualities as well) pick for this week’s Mama Life Hack.

Get yourself on down to your nearest Dollar Store and grab ya one. No thank you notes necessary.

If you’re thinking of sending chocolate, however, my address is…

Oh, whoops. I just remembered what my husband would think about that idea. :(

ANYhoo, now it’s your turn to tell me about YOUR favorite kitchen tool. Or how to get the streaks off of my magic spatula. Or…anything else that might make all of our collective Mama-lives just a little bit simpler and more manageable.

P.S. Don’t forget to tag your tips out in social media land with the hashtag #mamalifehacks. I’ve already gotten several I’m going to feature soon.

P.P.S. Y’all pretty much cleaned me out on my last closet sale, but I’m about to post another round of cheap, cute closet goodies, so if that’s your thing, head on over to @mifmcloset on Instagram (for some reason, that link is not going to the instagram account, but if you search for @mifmcloset, the account will show up) and follow along for the best deals!

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Game of Love Basket {Valentine’s Day Gift Idea}

I promised last week that I’d have a few practical ways to get the kindness ball rolling in our marriages, so that’s what I had intended to do today.

And since I am far from the fountain of all marital wisdom, I had planned to share a few ideas from the book The Love Dare–which I had picked up at our local Christian bookstore when I was there about a month back, scouting out some homeschooling materials.

Problem was, it had disappeared. I finally found it in my husband’s office, but when I tried to take it downstairs, he snatched it back. I gave him “the look” and said, “Hey, Mister, I bought that for me.”

He started to hand it back to me, then hesitated and said with a sheepish expression: “But I’m in the middle of it.”

Well, as you can imagine, I dropped it like a hot poker. Sharing marriage tips with you guys is great and all, but ain’t no way I’m going to get in the way of my husband’s reading a book on the subject. I love y’all. But…ain’t no way.

ANYhoo, in lieu of tips from the experts, I thought I’d share what I’m getting Shaun for Valentine’s Day, just in case–like me–you sometimes struggle to come up with a meaningful and specific gift that you know your hubby will love.

This is basically a twist on the “Favorite Things” basket that I made him for Father’s Day a couple of years back.

This time, though, the theme is: Game Night.

Why? Because for the last several years, it just hasn’t been convenient or–let’s face it–worth the effort to go out for Valentine’s Day.

Sure, it’s fun to get all gussied up for a night on the town, but when you’ve got a newborn to feed, and every dress you try on is far from nursing-friendly, it feels a bit tedious. Even without a newborn, sometimes it’s just too much trouble to make reservations, find a babysitter, fight the traffic, pay the inflated prices for the “Valentine’s Specials,” and on and on.

So, we’ve had a lot of fun the last several years staying home and cooking a fancy meal together, love songs on repeat in the background. (This Ed Sheeran gem is, by far, our favorite right now).

This year, I thought it would be even more fun to jazz things up with a game night basket for Shaun. He loves board games, card games, word games–really any sort of competition. And so do I.

game of love

I was inspired by a trip to Marshall’s, where I scored that basket, the “Bulls and Cows” game, the wooden target game, and this (which wouldn’t come close to fitting in the basket)…

valentines1

…for $35.

They had all of their “guy-themed” Christmas items on major clearance. Otherwise, even at Marshall’s prices, the Bingo set alone would have cost $50.

valentines4

Of course, considering that it’s made of real wood and is really good-sized (hard to tell, but the metal ball tumbler is over a foot tall), I thought $20 was a steal!

All three of the games I bought were two-player-friendly, and I made sure to include lots of his favorite snacks from our local Whole Foods-esque grocery store.

valentines

Pictured here: Virgil’s Black Cherry Cream Soda, Murray’s Ginger Snaps, Deep River Olive Oil and Rosemary Kettle Chips, Kettle Popcorn, and–to top it all off–Marish English Toffee Caramels (pretty much THE BEST chocolate/toffee/carame I’ve ever tasted).

Of course, these are all tailored to Shaun’s specific tastes, but I can picture all kinds of creative options like a poker-themed basket with lots of–ahem–chips. Or, if you want to get super-creative, a carnival-themed basket complete with water pistols, bean bags, targets, and cotton candy.

Even if your husband isn’t all that into games, I bet he can be persuaded for at least one night by adding the all important word “strip” to the description of any game (okay, maybe not Monopoly, unless he’s got the patience of a saint).

After all, it IS Valentine’s Day.

Just sayin’. ;)

What about you guys? Any big plans for V-day?

Do you struggle to come up with great Valentine’s gifts? Or do you guys skip the gift exchange?

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The 30 Minute Goodwill Challenge {Round 7}

Welp, it’s that time again. Time to run around Goodwill like a mad woman throwing shirts that might be grand but could be disastrous in my cart, all while shoving snacks in babies’ mouths and praying for zero diaper blowouts.

Oh, wait. You mean, that’s just me? Well, all right then. I guess you’ll just have to experience all the “fun” vicariously!

So, about a month ago, I got the chance to go to Goodwill for the first time in ages, and I “just” had the babies with me, so I figured I would issue myself a 30 Minute Goodwill Challenge (you can catch up on rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), in which I give myself 1/2 an hour to find as many complete and completely thrifted outfits as I can (it takes me longer than that to try them all on).

I’m not going to show you each “try-on” outfit one at a time because, quite honestly, this was a really good trip, and by the time my 30 minutes were up, you practically couldn’t even see the twins under the mountain of clothes I’d heaped on my double stroller.

But I am showing you a quick look at some of the outfits that I threw together with what I had to work with in the dressing room.

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You’ve probably noticed that I’m not wearing any shoes in these shots.

That’s because my Goodwill, which formerly had been thrifting shoe mecca, is now an abysmal home to all things synthetic, dingy, and questionable. I used to have to make myself put shoes back because, really, how many adorable $3 shoes should one girl own? (Don’t answer that). But now, I barely give it a cursory glance as I fly by with the stroller.

Not sure what happened, but it makes me sad.

ANYHOO.

I came home with quite a haul at ridiculously good prices (several things inexplicably rang up much cheaper than the tag said) and have worn pretty much everything at least once (and several things a lot…those green shorts, for example).

So, here’s a look at the “real-life” outfits I made from what I brought home and what I already had in my closet.

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Not that this is a much better picture than the Goodwill dressing room one, but I snapped this quick shot in the gym locker room as I got ready to take the kids to a movie. It’s almost impossible to tell in this photo, but there are pink flamingos on my shorts. (Oh, yes, there sure are).

 

flowy top

Another blurry mirror shot. This one is in my mom’s bathroom, and I’m wearing a cute flowy top (don’t remember the brand), and my fave “new” AE skinny jeans that are crazy-soft and ripped in all the right places (both from this haul).

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I consider this to be one of my most awkward pictures of all time, semi-wet hair and all, but you get the idea.  I wore this outfit to dinner at my friend Jolinda’s house (aren’t her flowerbeds insanely gorgeous??), and the top is from this challenge.

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This Target dress was a fun little $4 find. It’s completely sheer, and my husband was teasing me about the fact that I was wearing a complete outfit (white tank plus a lace skirt) under my other outfit, but hey, sometimes, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to be able to wear her new thrifted dress!

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This next top was a favorite with y’all when I did some real-time Goodwill Instagramming, but if you look up at the outfit I actually took a picture of in Goodwill, you probably won’t be surprised that several folks were pulling out the Snow White references.IMG_3851

In real life, I wore it with some mint green skinnies and colorful wedges on a breakfast date with my honey.

 

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Next, we have the most awkward picture runner-up (I really should not be photographed when my hair is only half dried), which took place on a hot Friday night date to Lowe’s (with all the little girls in tow, of course).peasant top

Those are those same AE skinnies + a fun peasant top, a thrifted Fossil bag (from Clothes Mentor), and my Noonday necklace.

Funny story: see that SUV pulling up behind me? It turned out to be some friends of mine from church who were out on a MOPS scavenger hunt! I got the privilege of taking their picture for one of their items.

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And then we have Exhibit What-in-the-world-am-I-doing-wearing-a-sweater-and-jeans-in-July-in-Texas?????

I wore this little ditty on a trip to Plato’s Closet to take a crack at their $1 clearance rack. Sadly, I left with zero, zilch, nada, but Mandy was considerably more successful.

Speaking of Mandy, this is what I wore for a girls’ night out (which equals dinner plus trips to Target, Marshall’s, and Ross, all before 11 PM).

green shorts

Those LOFT shorts are my absolute fave right now. They’re slouchy and soft and just the perfect shade of green to go with tons. I wear them at least twice a week.

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So, there you have it, folks! Another round of the 30 Minute Goodwill Challenge DONE. I’d definitely call this one a success!

Now, if only I could convince my Goodwill to show me where they’re hiding all the good shoes…

Linking up with Lindsey.

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A trip down the junking rabbit hole…

We have a local Facebook Swap and Shop that’s actually quite good. The people that run it are a wee bit militant about the rules, but, really, that’s a good thing because it makes everybody a little jumpy that they’re going to get kicked off the forum and miss out on some killer deals.

It’s not perfect, certainly, and sometimes wonky stuff happens (I’m still mourning the loss of an amazing deal on some Leapsters for my kids due to a random—or maybe not so much—deletion of a post I was first in line for). But considering that I started selling in earnest on it last week and am 6 for 7 at my full asking price with zero no-shows, I’m going to say it’s a better use of my time than Craigslist.

Last Thursday, I posted this chair to FB and IG, noting that I was taking pictures to sell it but was having second thoughts.

chair

I love that chair. But after two years of shuffling it from room to room in my house without finding a good fit, I had to face the truth: my home wasn’t itshome, and it was just taking up valuable space. Several of you expressed outrage that I would part with it, and one of you even volunteered to have a relative who lives close to me pick it up after you paid me via Pay Pal.

Alas, it was too late. I posted it to the swap and shop, and it sold in 4 minutes (I’m thinking I miiiiiiiight have priced it a bit low) with a long line of “nexts” almost immediately.

The lady that bought it private messaged me arranging to meet and asking if I had anything else to sell. I said yes, took a few pictures to send her, then went on with my day. The next day, we were supposed to meet when I was in town running errands and hanging out with a friend, but she couldn’t because she had met another woman to get more things, and her truck was full. That revelation cemented my suspicion that the woman buying my chair was a professional junker, probably with a shop or some sort of resale business.

I told her that I could meet later, but it would probably be much later since I didn’t want to curtail my time with my friend, Lindsay, just to run off and do a furniture meet. Her response? “That’s fine. I’m a night owl.” It was settled.

But then I texted her around 9:45 PM and told her when I’d be headed her way, and she responded that she was tired and didn’t feel well, and could we possibly meet the next day? I had already told her that was a no-go because I was experiencing something extremely rare–a van full of furniture instead of children. Its usual occupants would return the next day, so the furniture had to go. I told her I would deliver the items to her (it wasn’t too far out of my way).

And so, at 10:30 at night, I drove to a complete stranger’s house, the directions to which went something like: “Last house on the left at the bottom of the hill” (I texted Lindsay: “Does this sound like the directions to a serial killer’s house, or is that just me?”).

As I pulled up in her driveway, I could see that my suspicions had been correct (the junking suspicions, NOT the serial killer ones!). There were old this and thats scattered across her driveway, and her cars were parked outside a sizable garage, which told me that it too was full of loot.

The lady approached and introduced herself: “Ann Drew.” (Say that out loud).

I unloaded my stuff and started to browse through the items laid out on the driveway, my pulse quickening as I realized that this was junker’s paradise! Ann picked up on my interest immediately and proceeded to give me the grand tour of several outbuildings, all of which were overflowing with every type of vintage doodad and furniture imaginable. Before long, I was picking up an item here or there and asking, “How much for this one?”

I am in purge mode at the house, so I forced myself to limit my questions to things I was already looking for to fill a space or a specific purpose. It took considerable willpower to ignore oodles of amazing…stuff, but I managed, despite Ann’s repeated teases of: “Don’t you just loooooove this? Can’t you just see it in your house?” Sometimes, the answer was, “Yes and yes.” But I stood strong.

Here’s the craziest part, though (well, almost the craziest part; that one’s coming): whenever it occurred to me to ask if she had something specific, she always did—usually in triplicate. It was a bit mind blowing just how.much.junk this lady had accumulated.

Of course, my mind didn’t actually completely blow up until Ann had me walk down the road to a cute little manufactured building on their property where she had “some designer purses.”

And then she opened the door to reveal a 900 square foot space crammed to the gills with every possible rendition of Dooney and Bourke and Coach bags. Every color. Every style. Every year. My mouth sagged open, and my nostrils flared as they inhaled the smell of expensive leather. We stood in that temple of temptation for at least an hour minutes, chatting about her various purse purchases as she attempted to sell me on one model after another. Thing is: I’m just not into designer purses. In fact, I kind of have a thing against them, so it wasn’t nearly as torturous as a room full of beautiful chairs or fabric that I wanted to buy but didn’t need would have been. Two things did tempt me, though. A vintage, pristine condition Dooney and Bourke bag that was utterly unique and much less ostentatiously emblazoned with the company logo than the rest…and a pair of fire engine red, 4 inch wedge Coach wellie ankle boots. They had patent leather tassels, y’all. They. were. gorgeous. And crazy impractical. And $150.

Obviously, I passed. But only after I tried them on. And choked back a little sob.

The entire time we were standing there chatting, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow managed to stumble down a junking rabbit hole, never to resurface, and when Ann said something about owning 300 designer purses (that she intended to sell but just hadn’t gotten around to yet), I had to literally pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t actually at the mercy of my thrifting-obsessed subconscious.

Turns out, I was awake. Which is great since I have yet to wake up and find out that I’ve managed to score a bunch of awesome deals in my sleep.

Ultimately, I don’t actually know if I’d call all of the deals that I scored “awesome” (because they weren’t the rock bottom prices I can find at my Goodwill),  but I did find several things I’ve been looking for at very good prices, and that makes me happy.

So, what did I actually buy?

junking haul

{Pardon my not-so-great cell phone pics; I’m organizing the contents of a hutch that I sold and have yet to find my traditional camera battery charger}

Globe: $15

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{The globe was perfectly ordinary, but it was in pristine condition, and this same ordinary globe on Amazon costs $40 new}

Large wire shelf (I’m going to paint it and use it for storage in my craft room—probably my favorite find of the night): $38

Heavy, nice quality glass cake plate dome (I have 4 cake plates and nothing to cover them with): $8

Decorative wire basket (this one was an unnecessary splurge, but I carried it around the whole time and still wanted it at the end, so I went for it): $7

Heavy decorative mirror (she originally wanted “only $10” because it needs cleaning up something fierce but then said I could have it for free since I’d delivered the furniture to her house): $0

Small white vintage mirror: $7

junking haul 2

{Love the filigreed details; it actually has a really nice weight to it = one of my better “deals”)

Pair of end tables: $35

 junking haul 3  

{Love the scrolly details of the legs and can’t wait to paint them gold; she couldn’t find the glass at the time, so I’ve got to go back for that. Darn :) }

My total? $110.

What I actually paid her after she bought the furniture I’d brought for her: $40.

So…$40 for things I really wanted/needed and some unnecessary items cleared out of my house? I’m calling it a win.

All told, I spent about 2 1/2 very enjoyable, slightly weird hours down the junking rabbit hole, and I emerged with nary a designer purse. I call that winning too!

I will say, though, that as nice (if eccentric) as Ann was, I still had one more brief “serial killer” moment when, after we had loaded the van and everything was settled but payment, she said, “Okay, I need to go inside. I’ll be right back.” And walked off with no other explanation.

I stood there shivering in her driveway at 1 AM thinking, “All right, this is it. She’s coming back with her shotgun.”

And then she reemerged with a pen and a pad of paper to write everything down. Phew! That was close.

So, that, my friends, is how this thrifting Alice managed to find her way to junking Wonderland.

Have you ever fallen down an unexpected junking rabbit hole? Any great scores?

Have you ever gone somewhere that made you nervous to go alone? (I promise that I would not have gone if I had felt like I was in any genuine danger, but when I stepped away from the situation and looked the location and time of day like a movie scene, I had to laugh at how easily it could translate to bizarre horror movie plot line: Young mother’s body is discovered under a pile of Coach purses with a vintage candlestick clutched in each hand).  

What are your thoughts on designer purses? Would it be hard for you to be in a room full of beautiful bags at a discount and not buy anything?

 

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Project Elephant—Reupholstered Chairs + Family Gallery Wall

Well, I promised to keep the Project Elephant updates coming…

And then I had a weeklong relaunch celebration (which I totally should have put on my Project Elephant list so I could have crossed that off). And that threw me off my groove (again).

I’m so glad our Project Elephant motto is: it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress.

Because progress I have made, even if it wasn’t exactly the progress that I had in mind.

Here’s what my updated list looks like now:

project elephant checklist2

To be completely honest, the “gallery wall” that I finished wasn’t the one that I mentioned in that list. But I’ve been wanting to do it forever, so it will suffice. Want a look-see?

Okay, but let’s look at what this space looked like before:

living room old

I like it, minus the really bad lighting (hooray for better pictures now).

But it was time for something different, so I printed out some 11X14 black and white shots of our family, framed them in Dollar Store frames that I spray-painted white, and hung them in the place of the “love” letters (which I have a plan for).

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Of course, those pictures aren’t the only changes. If you recall from this living room tweaking session, I also changed out the curtains and rug and, many moons ago, kicked poor old Emmeline to the curb in favor of Frenchie, the yellow linen store-bought ottoman (oh, the shame).

What’s that you say? I missed a little detail?

OH! You must mean those gorgeous wingback chairs against the wall. Silly me. How could I forget?

The story: I’ve been hunting for cheap, good-sized wingback chairs in decent condition for reupholstering for…ages. But every time I would find something that looked like it would  work in my price range on craigslist, it either sold immediately  or was so far away that the cost of gas would negate the good deal.

Thank goodness for Mandy, who is the kind of friend who keeps an eye out for the things she knows you’re looking for. I had all but given up the hunt until one day, she emailed me a pic of two wingback chairs and asked if I’d found any yet.

They were in perfect condition and half-off at a local consignment sale, bringing them down to $40 each. STEAL!

I asked her to get them for me (she even hauled them to her house and didn’t say a word when I forgot to pay her for, oh, a good month at least).

I thought long and hard about recovering them myself, but I decided that, instead, I would cook for my family, do the laundry, and—oh yeah—keep my sanity.  So,  I took them to a great, super reasonably priced reupholsterer instead, knowing that the finished product would be more than I normally (read: ever) pay for chairs but still much much cheaper than anything I could hope to find in a store or even a consignment shop. Plus, I got to pick the colors/fabric myself. (In addition to a wannabe stylist, I think I’m also a wannabe furniture designer; remember Della’s chair? The same lady redid it).

I ordered this yellow outdoor/indoor Volary fabric and then chose a contrasting aqua linen (which I already had), and I absolutely adore the bright cheeriness of the color combo with the big graphic floral blooms and birds.

Ready for the money shot?
before and after chair pic

It’s hard to believe they’re the same chairs, isn’t it?

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Be still my fluttering heart.

Oh, and here’s a panned out shot of the wall with the bench included.

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I went more neutral with the wall decorations because of the bright pops from the chairs and ottoman, but the honest-to-goodness truth is that the chairs won’t be staying here, even as great as they look in this space. I always had them in mind for upstairs in our “big room,” and as much as I’d like to keep them here and design something else for upstairs, custom furniture—even when you score awesome deals on the chairs—ain’t exactly cheap.

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I eventually want to replace the frames for the black and white family photos with some thicker/prettier versions, but I couldn’t find anything I liked in the 11X14 size for less than $20 each. And I couldn’t exactly justify $80 worth of frames, when I could spend $4 and be happy enough until I find something perfect and budget-friendly.

Any suggestions for places to buy nice, big frames at a decent price?

Oh, and a thrifty tip for you: if you, like me have been known to stack frames in a closet, only to come back one day and discover the glass cracked (or maybe you find one at Goodwill without glass), there’s a quick/cheap fix. Head to your local dollar store (the kind where everything really is one dollar) and pick up a frame in the size that you need. You’ll have replacement glass for one measly buck. Holla!

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I smile every time I look at this wall now. Speaking of things that make me smile…

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Remember this $7 8-foot-tall (slight exaggeration) Goodwill lamp? I’m still loving it with its black and white, floral Target shade, although I did banish it to the corner when I added my glass, bubble lamps to the sofa table.

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Just in case you were wondering (because I get asked this every time I do a living room post), the color on the walls is Sherwin Williams Sea Salt. It may be my favorite gray/blue/green neutral.

And because I haven’t bombarded you with enough pictures yet:

room reveals

I found spot for my painted pumpculents, and I’m still more than a little enamored with Geoffrey, the giraffe.

But it’s the bottom left picture that I really want to talk about. Here’s the deal: the chair legs are a bit beaten up, but I really don’t mind too much and would totally keep them this color if these chairs were to stay downstairs, since the color matches the floors, and the nicks can definitely be passed off as “character.”

However, the wood will clash with something I have in mind when they migrate upstairs, so I want to change them. And I’d love it if you’d help me decide.

So, here’s a little poll for you. What color do you think I should paint the chair legs?

chair poll

C’mon! Help a sister out!

Oh! And don’t forget to brag about your own Project Elephant updates here in the comments (you can attach pictures or leave me links to blog posts) or on social media with the hashtag #projectelephant

P.S. Our Pleated Poppy, Jo Totes AND Jones Design Mombassadors giveaways all end tonight! Don’t forget to enter! I’ll announce the winners to all of the giveaways tomorrow.

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