5 Must-Haves for My Frugal Household

On our way back to Orlando from sheltering at my parents’ home in Mississippi last fall–to escape Hurricane Irma–I read a book called Faithfully Frugal (and blogged about it here). It provided much encouragement to keep pressing on with frugal living–but, more than that, it pointed me to the heart motives and reasons for maintaining a frugal lifestyle.

painted egg

And one of my 2018 goals is to continue in the journey toward faithful frugality. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to items that help equip us for simplicity in the Lee house.

  1. A clothesline. This provides a savings of less than $100 per year for our family (which I estimated based on a few blog posts I read–it will vary from household to household). But the money saved last year by using a clothesline covered the cost of the shoes I bought to run a 5K with the boys. I appreciate using the sunshine and breeze to accomplish the work (for free) that our clothes dryer would otherwise do. This process is good for the environment, too. In our townhouse–where clotheslines were disallowed–we used a few folding dryer racks instead.
  2. A library card. This gives our family access to free books, movies, and e-books–vital for a home schooling family. We do own a number of books, but the library offers a plethora of resources–and my children are learning to use the library. One of Garfield’s favorite things to do is sit in the reference section of the downtown library perusing guidebooks of collectible toy cars.

old books

3. Cloth napkins. We don’t buy paper napkins. Well, maybe once every couple of               years…for a birthday party or Scout event. We’ve received lots of beautiful cloth              napkins for gifts, and last year we bought a set at Kohl’s with our $10-off-anything-in-the-store coupon–because the set we’d bought with a gift card (received as a wedding present) had finally worn out after almost 15 years of use.

4.  Castile soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (currently the lavender-scented variety) in a number of ways:  for homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher gel, and foaming hand soap. I ordered this 3-pack of foaming soap dispensers in January–so far, so good. I think the recipe for liquid hand soap that accompanies these dispensers calls for 80 DROPS of essential oil–for one batch of soap! Too much. I leave out the essential oil entirely, because the castile soap already has a scent. The dispensers are reusable (no need to buy bottle after bottle of Soft Soap or the like for your bathroom counter), and the fact that the dispensers cause the soap to foam means less soap gets used with each hand-washing. I’ve even used castile soap in homemade toothpaste. 

colored eggs in nest

5.  Hair clippers/scissors. We received a set (pair? just one?) of Wahl’s hair clippers as a wedding gift from Mike’s parents almost 16 years ago. To add to our hair cut supplies, we purchased a pair of hair cut shears (about $14) from a beauty supply shop, along with some oil to keep the clippers in working order. This small investment pays off every month. 

Hopefully, these simple-living tips will inspire you on your own path of money-saving ventures that fit your life and family.



At-Home Haircuts, After All

Well, he did it:  Garfield acquiesced to another at-home haircut. After the last (horrendous) haircut session–filled with fears and tears–we’d discussed taking him to a salon for a professional haircut the next time around.

However, after about 6 weeks (during which time I gave Mike 2 haircuts), when I mentioned we needed to get haircuts done again, he told me he preferred to have me do it after all. Perhaps the known factor won out over the unfamiliar.

shoes hanging from wire

I promised him that I’d be extraordinarily careful about his ears and about staying patient. We prayed and then, making my voice as calm as I possibly could, we started in on the task.

And together, he and I made it work. No tears, no fuss, no muss. There’s no guarantee that next time will be smooth, but I hope one truly peaceful haircut will help set a new pattern. For us both.

calvin new hair cut
Garfield, sporting a new haircut at his first soccer practice of the season.

I tried an approach with Garfield that I’d read in a midwife’s memoir. In her book, she mentioned coaching women in labor with what she called P.E.P. Here’s what that means:  P = Progress (“Look how far we’ve come! Every snip of the scissors gets us that much closer to being finished.”) E = Encouragement (“I see how still you’re being; that really helps me get the job done.”) and P = Praise (“You’re being so cooperative! I know it’s not easy, but you are really hanging in there.”) 

Success! Giving the boys their haircuts was, no kidding, one of the highlights of last week. I’ll be considering other aspects of parenting where I can apply some P.E.P.

wilson new hair cut
Woodrow with his new haircut.



When Hospitality Gets Messy

My family and I walked into our house to find a mound of damp, sandy beach towels–our own–piled on the kitchen floor, near the laundry closet. The closet doors were open, and the ironing board took up the kitchen floor space not covered with brightly-colored dirty towels.

sweet home bouquet

We hadn’t just returned from a trip to the beach–rather, we’d just gotten home from visiting Mississippi (and attending the finals of a scholarship program with which I volunteered for many years). The family staying at our house, one we still hadn’t met at this point, had left the towels tossed on the floor–which surprised me, particularly since I’d let them know we’d be returning home that night.

I had chosen “hospitality” as my word of the year that year. I felt weak in the area of hospitality, and if you’d asked me to explain that, I’d have said I didn’t love going to the effort of having extra people over for dinner. So, for that year, I aimed to be more intentional with hospitality and to do so in ways that would stretch me.

welcome to our home sign

Months earlier, I’d read in our Cru online newsletter that a family (formerly connected to Cru) would be returning  from overseas and needed to find a place to stay for about a week. This family of 4 needed to be housed in our part of town so as to be close to a family member at a nursing home. The specific dates they needed temporary, free shelter–for 8 days, according to the online ad–coincided with the dates our family would be out of town. Brilliant. We could open our home, help meet a need, and not be too crowded in our townhouse while 4 extra people lived there.

I began corresponding with the wife, who’d submitted the ad, and later learned that my husband had met her years before, although they weren’t friends. We worked out the details:  where I’d leave a house key, pool entry key, etc. I would make sure clean sheets covered the beds as we left.

However, not long before their house stay was to begin, I wrote the mom to confirm. Finally I got word that their stay was going to be longer by 3 days, the dates would be different than first stated, and they would overlap us for some time. Surprised she didn’t ask if this would be OK, I adjusted. We set up an air mattress in our bedroom for the boys, while the 2 teen daughters slept in the boys’ room and the mom and dad took the guest room/home office.

basket with books

The dirty towels left on the floor weren’t the only reason I mumbled to my husband that this family was treating our home like a hotel. They also left a bag of trash in the hall, along with a sack of clothing, on the early morning they left. I kept the clothes for several months, wondering if they’d ask me to mail them somewhere, before finally delivering them to Goodwill. They left dirty sheets on the beds, along with a note that thanked us for letting them “crash at our pad.”

This wasn’t my first foray into letting strangers stay in our home while we were out of town. Years before, while pregnant for the first time, I read another ad in the Cru newsletter requesting short-term housing for a family visiting for a wedding. The contact person, a Cru staff woman, sought housing for this family in our neighborhood, and Mike and I planned to be gone (again for the scholarship program–this time I was judging) over that weekend.

The day before we headed out of town, the contact person came to look over the house. She told me that, instead of 2 couples and a baby (which I thought were the ones visiting our home), there was a couple, a mom with her baby, and a single man. Hmmm…How was I going to make this set-up work in our 3-bedroom townhouse that, at the time, contained only 2 beds?

black and white throw

I scrounged extra sheets and set-up our pull-out sofa, not the most comfortable option. Everything was ready as Mike and I left town. Our only requests for this group were not to wear outdoor shoes inside, not to smoke inside, and not to use the master bathroom (there were 2 other options). When we returned from the weekend, we discovered a battered box of slightly crumbly candles left as a thank-you gift–and the toilet paper roll from the master bathroom removed.

I suppose they’d run out of t.p. and, instead of going to the store down the street, they’d simply removed the roll from the bathroom they weren’t using. I’d have rather they kept the candles and sprung for a four-pack of toilet paper instead.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His followers about taking in strangers–and how performing this act of service is, in essence, serving Him. I wanted to serve Him. 

blue and yellow doors

I got over the dirty towels and missing toilet paper, and later we housed a mom who needed a place to stay (on her own) for 13 nights. Ellen (not her real name) spent the days with her family at home but needed a place to sleep for that time period. She was the most grateful house guest we’ve ever hosted. We’d first met Ellen when our church sponsored some families from the school where we held services. When Ellen contacted our pastor for help, it seemed natural for us to open our (not well-decorated) door to her.

And this is what I learned..Hospitality is more than entertaining people, more than hosting in a beautifully-appointed home. Hospitality is offering a welcome place of shelter–for a meal or for a week–to one who might need some nourishing. 

I hope when I meet Jesus face to face, He says, “Hey, I noticed you took in those strangers! Well-done, you. And don’t worry; I have plenty of toilet paper here.” 




Something New Saturday: Homemade Biscotti

For the first Valentine’s Day that Mike and I spent together, we stayed in. My roommate graciously (and without being asked) vacated our apartment, and Mike came over and cooked dinner for us. I covered the dessert:  chocolate mocha bread pudding. I even dusted each serving with powdered sugar and topped it with fresh raspberries. I myself don’t care for coffee, or foods that contain coffee flavors, but Mike loves coffee–this mocha-flavored dish was part of my gift to him.

valentine rocks

Mike had tried to make reservations for us at an Ethiopian restaurant that year–we both like to eat adventurously–but the restaurant had closed. So we opted for a night in, and we both enjoyed it.

Valentine’s Day this year also found us enjoying a night at home. Mike picked up Indian food for us–and a Thai iced tea for me–and we spent time together after the boys went to bed. Not time spent on to-do list items or catching up on emails, but intentional time spent with each other.

This year, my gift to Mike was something else baked. But instead of what I cooked for us 16 years ago, this time I created homemade biscotti (for the first time). And we both enjoyed it–the boys did, too, but I made them ask Mike for permission before they could eat one since I had made the biscotti as a treat for him.


I used this recipe, leaving out the peppermint flavoring (substituting vanilla instead), since it’s not Christmas. These biscotti contain chocolate chips, and I dipped most of them in melted chocolate, too. I found these treats easier to make than I expected.

Garfield, who’s never met a biscotti (biscotto?) he didn’t like, mentioned that maybe we should always have homemade biscotti in our house. I think he finds something heartwarming about having baked goods in our home; I have to say I agree.



A Funny Thing Happened at the Amusement Park…

I like to search the Internet in hopes of finding odd holidays each month. I discovered one for March:  “I Want You to be Happy Day.” I cannot attest to whether this is a legitimate celebration, but let’s just go with it.

yellow stuffed animals

Today happens to be “I Want You to be Happy Day,” so here’s my unselfish gesture in hopes of making you smile today–an embarrassing story from my teenage years. I have affectionately titled this one “The Rides of My Life.” Names have been changed to protect the innocent, because this story might not make them happy, and it’s not “I Want You to be Unhappy Day.”


One dull afternoon during the summer before my freshman year of high school, I got a phone call from my friend Rita. Her older sister Shelly had offered to drive her, our friend Lola, and me to an amusement park for the afternoon. Not only that, but she’d agreed to let two of our guy friends join us. Rita’s call felt like cool rain quenching the parched soil of my teenage summer day.

ferris wheel

Since my mama was out grocery shopping, I couldn’t ask her permission to go until after she got home (remember the days before cell phones?). But I wanted to ensure that Mama would say “yes,” so I started cleaning our house like the woman on a mission that I was. By the time Mama arrived, the house was noticeably cleaner, although she didn’t seem so impressed with my work once she learned I wanted to ask her for something. I practically hopped from foot to foot explaining our plans to her. She gave me the thumbs-up, and I rushed around getting ready, packing my purse.

All five of us kids plus Shelly crowded into her little tan hatchback, and I don’t think anybody wore a seat belt. There weren’t enough to go around. With the windows rolled down to keep cool (since the vehicle had no air conditioner), we played “Truth or Dare” while Shelly sped us away from our small town and toward the city on the coast where we’d play at Fun Time USA.

vintage radios

Once we arrived, the boys went in one direction, the girls in another, and I have no recollection of where Rita’s older sister went. Rita, Lola, and I enjoyed the Tilt-a-Whirl, laughing and screaming the whole time. When that ride ended, we jumped off and made our way to the next one. Later we caught up with the boys and had some fun with them—I’m not sure we actually spent much time with the boys that day, but simply having them on this trip elevated the adventure in our boy-crazy minds.

As the sun began to set and our time at the park came to a close, Lola, Rita, and I wanted to take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl one more time. We were the only passengers on this ride, so we asked the operator if we could go several times in a row. He agreed, so we piled into one of the bowl-shaped seating areas ready for some fun. As our bowl spun round and round the platform with the other seat compartments, and then spun individually at the same time, we squealed and begged the operator to make our bowl spin faster. He gave us our wish. The ride stopped and then started again; then stopped and started for a third time. At some point, my shrieks of glee turned to desperate groans.

colorful teddy bears

When the ride ground to a halt, the three of us stumbled out of our seats and shuffled our Keds tennis shoes off the platform. We all complained of feeling queasy. I quickly realized my feeling was turning into action, and whatever had gurgled around in my stomach during those repetitive rides was making its way back up.

Horrified, I confessed to my friends I had to vomit. They followed me to the public restroom, where I retched while they waited for me. One of the other girls threw up later in the parking lot of a mall near the amusement park. I begged my friends not to tell the boys who had come with us. I was actually the oldest of our little group that day (not counting Rita’s big sister, of course); Rita and Lola and the two boys were only entering eighth grade, while I was going into HIGH SCHOOL. The thought that those boys might find out I couldn’t hold my Tilt-a-Whirl rides embarrassed me to no end. I’m not sure if those boys discovered my secret, although I think they suspected it. We played some more “Truth and Dare” on the drive home, and I’ve never stepped foot on a Tilt-a-Whirl again.

For almost eighteen years, that afternoon at the park would remain the last time I threw up. And it all could have been avoided if we’d been content with just one—or even two—rides on that old Tilt-a-Whirl. As my daddy says, it was too much candy for a nickel. Or, in this case, too much fun at Fun Time USA.


Suffering and Redemption: The Lumberjack’s View

Last year, I stumbled across this quote by the poet Rumi:  “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I cried when I read those words.

Also last year (thanks to a Facebook friend), I read an article about a tree–yes, a tree–that grows near Pike’s Peak. This 2000-year-old bristlecone pine has survived centuries of storms and fires and possesses “a long-suffering beauty that can come only from the beauty of suffering long.”

I wept when I read about that tree, too. Wounds and suffering, light and beauty–how intertwined they all are. 


The topic of suffering surfaces frequently in Christian circles:  the reluctance in our American culture to embrace it; the redemptive powers of it. One of the pastors at our church preached about it earlier this month and shared this illustration:  A bird, soaring through a wooded forest, lands in a tree and begins to build her nest. Along comes a lumberjack, sympathetic to this bird, and knocks against the tree until the bird flies away. He knows the trees in this forest have been marked for cutting, and he doesn’t want the bird to make her home in a tree that will soon be destroyed.

She flies to another tree in the same forest, and the lumberjack follows her, again banging on the tree trunk until she abandons that one, too. Over and over, the tenacious lumberjack disrupts the nest-building of the tenacious bird–until she flies out of the forest to find a better, safer home for herself and her yet-to-be-hatched babies.

And yet the bird didn’t have the lumberjack’s insight; she only knew what she felt–the aggravation that the lumberjack’s harassment caused. But his interference in her life protected her, provided for her.

old chalkboard

When every tree in this life is coming down, God wants to use that suffering to drive us to make our home in Him. In some form or fashion, we all have our own stories of suffering. And I benefit from reading the stories of others who’ve walked their own paths of wounding and found redemption it. Sometimes it simply helps to know others have asked the same questions, or wrestled with the same despair, or nursed the same broken hearts.

Here are some of those stories that have encouraged and challenged me.

  1. Ruined:  A Memoir, by Ruth Everhart. Raped by a stranger at a Christian college, Ruth Everhart essentially loses her faith. She questions God, wrestles with shame, and ultimately experiences both freedom and a renewal in her fellowship with Christ. I appreciated how honestly and vulnerably she exposed her struggles.
  2. Every Falling Star:  The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea, by Sungju Lee. Aimed at a young adult audience, this book is a young man’s “pain into power” story. His endurance and resiliency are astonishing.
  3. Hope Heals:  A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love, by Katherine and Jay Wolf. Katherine, young wife and mother, suffers a debilitating stroke that shatters many of her dreams and changes her family’s life. This husband and wife team tell their story with all the raw edges left unhemmed, and their faith in the midst of such trials is humbling.

vintage books

4.  Called for Life:  How Loving our Neighbor Led us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, by Kent and Amber Brantly. Kent Brantly served as a missionary doctor in Liberia, along with his wife and children. After the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, his family–despite precautions and protections–was personally impacted by the disease. This book deals both with suffering and with watching a loved one suffer, all the while seeking God’s grace and a perspective of faith.

5. The Bite of the Mango, by Mariatu Kamara. After rebels attack her rural village, Mariatu Kamara stumbles alone trying to survive. She begs on the streets, lives in a refugee camp, and bravely puts together the pieces of her broken life. Mariatu now speaks as an advocate on behalf of child victims of war.

broken windows

6. From Depths We Rise:  A Journey of Beauty, by Sarah Rodriguez. I don’t think I’d have made the same choices as the author makes in this story, but she gives us a powerful example of clinging to God’s promises as she faces one ordeal after another:  loss of a loved one, illness, fearing for her child’s life. Her book–and her little family–truly tells a tale of God’s bringing beauty from ashes.

7.  Walk to Beautiful:  The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid who Found the Way, Jimmy Wayne. Country music fans surely knew of Jimmy Wayne’s story long before I did, but after reading a short interview of him in a magazine–about his work to support children in foster care–I felt drawn to this singer/songwriter’s life story. He endures a mostly wretched childhood, but–loved by an older couple who take him in–he discovers purpose and hope and a vision for his future. Now Jimmy Wayne’s efforts on behalf of foster kids (and those aging out of foster care) are fueled by his own redemption experience.

God is writing a story with all our lives, and–as my best friend Lynn frequently declares–He is in the business of redemption.

Do Everything in Love–How?

One phrase I frequently use around our house with my children is this:  Do everything in love. It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14. A couple weeks ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper (well, on the back of a piece of paper that had printing on one side–we like to reduce, reuse, recycle around here). Then I taped it to the side of a kitchen cabinet, where it remains visible throughout our days (and supper times, too). It’s very basic, and Woodrow–the artist of our family–would have produced something much more creative. But it gets the point across.

lamp in pine tree

So if a constant refrain in the instructions I give my children is Do everything in love, how do I give them a framework of what that actually is? What do I mean by Do everything in love?

I decided we needed to dig deeper into this, so I brought my Bible to the supper table one night–I have a captive audience there, so it seemed an appropriate time.

First, I surfaced the topic of doing everything in love. I asked why they think I give them this instruction, and why this is a high value in our family. From there, we could reflect on the verse from which this command comes. As a family, we could remember that we want to hold to this instruction because it originates in God’s Word to us.

vintage keys

After asking how we know what love is, we read Romans 5:8…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is ultimately our frame of reference for love:  Jesus Christ surrendered His life for us, and the Father sent His own Son to die as part of His great rescue plan.

So how do we live out that kind of love–a love that puts others before ourselves? For this part of the discussion, we flipped over to 1 Corinthians 13–the oft-quoted Scripture at wedding ceremonies for generations.

ice cream cones

We read…Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. And so on. We also discussed the words in this chapter that remind us we can perform great feats and have deep knowledge (or even give all we possess to the poor) but still not have love at the root of our motives. The boys cottoned to the idea that we are simply making noise if we exercise great faith or great abilities without love. They tried out some of that “clanging cymbals” and “resounding  gong” racket the apostle Paul mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

Now I hope that, as we continue to remind each other to do everything in love–and to confess to each other when we don’t–we’ll grasp what doing love truly involves.