Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Frugal Tips - Can Store Brands Save You Money?

In trying to eliminate waste out of our monthly budget, sometimes it feels like there is nowhere to cut.  A car payment is what it is, as is a mortgage payment.  One big black hole of my budget is grocery money.  I feel like we are always going to the grocery store and once there, we spend, spend, spend!

National brands vs. store brands

I have read about trying store brands to save money but thought, “If it is that much cheaper, the taste is bad or it’s made with lesser quality ingredients.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that I was WRONG!  This past year I started experimenting in using store brands and I am impressed with what I found.  Here are some specific products that are definitely worth trying as generic or store brands.

1.       Condiments like ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise, try these, I can’t tell any difference in taste at all.
2.       Infant Formula – there is no difference in nutrition between national brands and store brands of infant formula due to the Infant Formula Act, a federal law in place since 1980.

3.       Precut Salad Mix or Produce - fruit and vegetables should be purchased based on your sense of smell, sight (no bruising/discoloration), and size, not by name brands.

4.       Cleaning products – save plenty by buying generics, the markup on national brands is obscene.  Better yet, it is cheaper to make your own.  See this blog post DIY Tips.

5.       Staples – Sugar, flour, salt, spices, again there is no difference between a generic bag of flour and one of the national brands except for the money you pay.

6.       OJ and milk – the generic version of these products may be better as it probably is processed regionally and therefore it may taste fresher than a national brand.

7.       Cereal – national brands are so high priced, it would be crazy to not try a similar store brand and save $2.00 a box.  If you kids object, disguise the store brand in an empty box of their favorite cereal.

8.       Medications – as a nurse, I can tell you that generics are the chemical equivalent of name brand medications at a fraction of the cost.  Always ask your doctor to write your prescriptions for the generic equivalent.

9.       Canned goods – many times the same canning facility is churning out store brands as well as the national brands.  The only difference is the label and the price.

10.   Make up and personal care products – doesn’t amaze you
how expensive make up is for such a small amount of product?  Forget the hype and buy the less expensive stuff like Cover Girl or Maybelline, your eye lashes will still look long and dark with Maybelline mascara.  As a matter of fact, the majority of make-up artists use Maybelline mascara on their clients!

Most stores will honor a full refund policy if you are unsatisfied with a store brand purchase, so you have nothing to lose by trying to reduce your grocery bills by using generics and store brands.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Review of Huckleberry Summer by Jennifer Beckstrand

This series, The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill is so much fun. There is plenty of humor in this series as well as delicious romance, conflict, and character growth.  I loved book one, Huckleberry Hill and this second novel, Huckleberry Summer was a delight.  I know you will enjoy both as well.

Isn't the dog adorable?


Jennifer Beckstrand has another winner with Huckleberry Summer (Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing), book two in The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series.  This book combines wonderful character development with humor, a dog, and unique subject matter in the Amish genre, to deliver a can’t-put-down novel.  This book stands alone perfectly as is, but readers may want to start with book one, Huckleberry Hill, as it is a fun and interesting read as well.  Readers will want to continue the adventures with Grandma Anna and Grandpa Felty as they find matches for their grandchildren on Huckleberry Hill, Wisconsin throughout this series.

The summer begins with grandson Aden and his dog, Pilot, arriving on Huckleberry Hill from his Amish community in Ohio to help his grandparents on their farm and get himself straightened out.  Aden is a vegetarian Amish man that has been arrested three times back in Ohio while being an environmental activist.  Aden feels he has lived his whole life as a man of peace but somehow his peaceful efforts stir up trouble.  Grandma Anna has picked the perfect Amish girl for Aden to help him settle down and invited her to work for the summer helping in the kitchen.

The perfect Amish girl is Lily and she is the exact opposite of Aden.  She is fearful, timid, obedient, and well behaved.  On Lily’s first day helping Anna, she is greeted by Aden’s huge dog, Pilot.  Lily has been frightened of dogs ever since she was bitten at age 8 by a dog.  This sets up Lily’s love-hate relationship with Aden’s dog, Pilot.  While it is not love at first sight for Lily, she does begin to appreciate Aden’s good looks, caring heart, and easy manner.  This is in sharp contrast to Tyler, the man that Lily’s father has picked for her.  Tyler is a godly man and good provider but doesn’t stir up any romantic feelings in Lily.

Lily and Aden go on several adventures while getting to know each other better and finally Lily reveals the reason for her fear of dogs and her strict obedience to her father.  The author gives excellent character development throughout the book.  You can almost feel Lily trying to break the chains of childhood and become her own person.  Unfortunate timing and circumstances interfere with her ability to make her own decisions.

Aden’s growth is more subtle but just as apparent when he finally decides to surrender his will, Gelassenheit – yielding to God’s will.  Aden is the perfect man, always doing good deeds, thoughtful and loving, good looking too, but nothing he does will ever win over Lily’s father.

Huckleberry Summer is a romantic novel, filled with humor.  Readers will appreciate the author prominently including a young woman with special needs, Treva.  Treva is sensitively portrayed with dignity, value, and inclusivity.  Jennifer Beckstrand’s writing is simply beautiful, ranging from at times humorous and uplifting to emotional and melancholy.  Huckleberry Summer will be available on June 3, 2014.  The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series continues with Huckleberry Christmas, releasing in October, 2014.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Understanding Amish Dress

I came across this article from and found it fascinating.  It provides an interesting background and reasoning for why the Amish dress the way they do.

Amish Clothing Symbolizes

Separation And Identity

Amish clothing provides the plain people with an instant means of separation from the world. From the way Amish dress, you can tell at a glance that they are Amish.

Jakob Ammann, the father of the Amish movement, was a tailor by trade. He observed first hand the influence that clothing had on people. Dress identified a person's station in life. He saw that success and individual accomplishment were proclaimed by personal appearance.

Ammann's religion is based upon separation from all that is worldly. So it is only natural that he recognized the need for Amish clothing to be simple and non-conforming to the world.

The Amish uniform would symbolize their separation from the world.

In the 1690's when Jakob Ammann split from the Mennonites, most of his followers were small farmers that leased their land from large landowners. So the early Amish dress was simple and functional. The Ordnung, which is the Amish culture's unwritten guideline for living, stressed a very definite dress code of simple clothing that did not conform to the world.
In the 1730's the Amish began migrating to America along with Mennonites and other groups in search of religious freedom. Along with this freedom came the right to own land. The Amish work ethic, frugality, and farming skills blossomed in this environment and they prospered.

Through the years the Amish have continued to prosper and thrive. They have steadfastly continued their tradition of distinctive Amish Clothes. This has helped them maintain their identity in the ever-changing modern world.
Today in the huge Amish settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, affordable farmland has become scarce. This is forcing the Amish men to find other means of making a living. Factory and construction jobs have forced the Amish to work among outsiders. Amish girls work in restaurants and retail stores. These exposures to the outside world pose a threat to their culture and way of life.

Their Amish dress is a means of separating themselves from the outside world in which they now must work. Amish clothes are considered to be an expression of: 
  • obedience
  • separation
  • humility
  • simplicity
  • non-conformity to the world
Since they do not conform with the world, the Amish must conform with the society in which they live. Plain and simple clothing is a badge of solidarity. When everyone conforms to standard of dress, emphasis is placed on the group instead of the individual. It is a sign of unity.

Most things in the Amish tradition are designed to hold the Church together. The Amish believe that clothing should not be used to distinguish the individual from the group by making that person more "attractive" over others. The person who places emphasis on the individual is much harder to control and more likely to stray from the group. The whole Amish culture is based on placing group over the individual.

It is remarkable that today, Amish clothes remain very consistent across 1700+ local congregations, even though the churches are not connected by any central governing body.

Every year each congregation independently reviews its Ordnung, the unwritten guideline to living Amish. It covers every facet of Amish life including each congregation's Amish dress code. Still, in any community where they are present their appearance makes it is easy to identify the Amish.

Amish attire has an effect on us outsiders too. In today's fast paced world, the thought of a culture that isn't caught up in the rush to personal growth and individual accomplishment is appealing. Whether it is true or not, admirers attribute this trait to the Amish culture. Amish clothes evoke this attitude.

For example, Old Order Mennonites have most of the same conservative beliefs that make the Amish lifestyle so appealing to many outsiders. 
Mennonite women might wear dresses made from small print material and  though they wear head coverings, they still paint a picture of modern culture when compared to the Amish women in their plain dark homemade Amish attire.

You can test this effect yourself. When you see a small Amish child dressed in miniature adult Amish clothing how do you react? How do the other people around you react to this child? You pass cute kids everyday with maybe a brief smiling glance. But these Amish kids stir a sentimental emotion. Many people react as if they are looking at a living museum piece from our simpler, more peaceful past.

Wearing separate Amish clothing serves an additional purpose of indoctrinating children into the Amish community. When children are dressed like their parents it reinforces the fact that they are different and separate from the outside world. They "feel" Amish. This early influence undoubtedly contributes to the fact that nearly 85 percent of Amish children grow up and join the church.

Amish clothing is a cornerstone of the Amish identity. Jakob Ammann was right. It is one of the glues that holds the Amish culture together and keeps
it strong.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Week Ahead April 28 - May 2, 2014

I have some exciting and interesting blog entries for next week:

Monday – Understanding why the Amish dress as they do

Tuesday – Book review of Huckleberry Summer by Jennifer Beckstrand, I reviewed Huckleberry Hill a couple of weeks ago and this is the follow up in that series.

Wednesday – Frugal tip on reducing your grocery bill without sacrificing.

Thursday – Delicious Pork Tenderloin recipe, easy and so good! 

Friday – Book review of The Williams Guide to Amish Country by Kevin Williams, this is a must have for anyone traveling to Amish communities or just for the tidbits of information about the Amish.

Until Monday, have a lovely weekend!

Friday, April 25, 2014


A Plain Love Song is a fascinating read in the Amish genre, very different in it's theme of music. Since I read so many Amish novels, I appreciate it when I find novels that are a bit different from the typical Amish subjects.  It is not available until July, 2014, so I hope you put this one on your "to be read" list.  Here is my review:

Kelly Irvin has authored the third book in The New Hope Amish series, A Plain Love Song (Harvest House Publishers), and it shines brightly in the Amish genre.  The leading lady in A Plain Love Song is 18 year old Adah who is not your typical Amish girl from New Hope, Missouri.  Adah lives to make music and yearns to be a song writer.  She constantly hears music in her head and is scribbling down lyrics to the match the notes she hears.  Adah is able to listen to English music at the homes she cleans, but not at her Amish home where English music is forbidden.

Due to Adah’s overwhelming desire to make music, she has been shying away from Amish baptism which would require her to give up her iPod and the freedoms she enjoys during Rumspringa.  Unsettling to Adah, her special friend Matthew is taking his baptism classes and wants to get serious; he is ready to settle down and get married.  Adah has one foot in the Amish world and one foot in the English world, she can’t seem to decide what she wants.  Her inability to decide to take her baptism vows upsets Matthew and her parents.  Matthew wonders if he is a fool to pursue Adah when she won’t return his “I love you”.

While at one of her cleaning jobs, Adah meets an English boy, Jackson, who loves music as much as she does.  Jackson falls for Adah and knows the way to her heart is through their shared love of music.  He shows her how to play the guitar, they sing duets together, and he writes songs just for her.  Adah could not be more torn between her attraction to Jackson and her strong and comfortable feelings for Matthew.

Jackson convinces Adah to leave New Hope and run away to Branson, Missouri to begin a singing career with him.  Adah feels that Matthew has given up on her since she has not yet taken her baptismal vows.  She knows that she is disappointing her parents and family but feels this is her chance to follow her dreams to make music.  The book explores with several characters how far should one go to follow a dream.

Adah figures out what is important and necessary in her life and decides to pursue those goals.  She rediscovers the importance of her relationship with God and placing God first in her life.  Kelly Irvin has written a first rate Amish novel with a unique and more modern type of protagonist.  Kelly provides a fascinating romantic triangle and sweetly works out the problems that Adah faces.  A Plain Love Song reads perfectly as a stand-alone book within The New Hope Amish series, but readers will also want to read the first two books in the series to further their journey with Kelly Irvin’s skilled writing.  The book will be available July 1, 2014.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The BEST Macaroni and Cheese Recipe EVER!

I have to confess that I am not much of a cook, it has taken me many years to get to the point that I even have the courage to try to make new things.  But in the last few years I have started to experiment with new recipes, some successful, some failures!  Every once in a while I have come across a really successful, delicious new dish and this macaroni and cheese recipe is one of them.  It is creamy, cheesy, just the right amount of spice and heat, and a crunchy topping - what more could you ask for?  Best of all, it is not that difficult to make.  So let's begin!

For a more easily printable version of this recipe, try this link Best Macaroni and Cheese Ever Recipe which has no pictures to make it simpler to print.  And see this update to the recipe.

Start by reading the entire recipe, then butter a 9” x 9” glass pan, and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Gather the following ingredients:
Large pot of boiling water
8 ounces elbow macaroni (half of a 1 lb. box)

Cook the elbow macaroni in boiling water for approximately 7 – 8 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.

Cheese Sauce Ingredients:
Flour & spices
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
¼ cup of flour
A generous pinch of ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups half and half
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Mix together the flour, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, black pepper, and salt.

In a 3 ½ quart saucepan melt the ½ stick of butter over medium heat.  Add in the flour mixture and stir until it is smooth.  
Melt butter

Add flour mixture and stir
Stir until smooth

Add the half and half in small amounts, stirring well after each addition to keep the mixture smooth until all 2 cups is added.  
Slowly add half and half, stirring well.
Keep stirring while bringing the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  The mixture will thicken.  
Keep stirring until mixture boils.
Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for about another 5 minutes.  Take the saucepan off the heat and add the 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese.  Stir until the cheese is melted.  
Stir shredded cheese into the mixture.
Add your cooked, drained elbow macaroni to the cheese sauce, stir well, and taste for seasoning. 
Add drained macaroni to the cheese sauce.
Pour into your prepared 9” x 9” glass pan.
Macaroni and cheese sauce in 9" x 9" glass pan.
1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup panko bread crumbs

Stir the panko bread crumbs into the melted butter.  Sprinkle the mixture on top of your macaroni in the glass pan.
Evenly sprinkle the buttered panko crumbs on top the macaroni

Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes until it is bubbly and the top begins to brown.
The BEST Macaroni and Cheese EVER!

This dish tastes best when first served and should easily serve 6.  This dish is based on a recipe from

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Fascinating Look at How Amish Women Pin Up Their Hair

Here is an interesting article that I came across on on how the Amish women pin their hair up every day.  I hope you find it interesting too.

How Amish Women Pin Up Their Hair

Christina, an eleven-year-old Old Order Amish girl from Michigan, was kind enough to sit for a series of photographs while her mother, Mary, pinned up her hair. Like most Amish females, she has never cut or trimmed her hair. Amish women pin their hair into buns, and then cover their heads with a prayer kapp, following Paul's instruction to women in 1 Corinthians 11:5 to cover their heads. The idea is that one should always be prepared to pray, and one should be prayerful throughout their days.

Mary begins by combing out Christina’s hair. She pulls the hair back away from her face and behind her ears, then fastens her hair on both sides of her head with barrettes.
Amish mother combing out her daughter's hair.
Placing barrettes in an Amish girl's hair.
Amish girl's hair is pinned back with barrettes.
Next she binds her hair into a ponytail using a simple hair band. The ponytail must be tight and close to the head.

Getting a band ready to put hair in a ponytail
Wrapping a band around a ponytail
Wrapping a band around a ponytail
Wrapping a band around a ponytail
Amish girl with a ponytail
In order to get Christina’s long hair to fit under the kapp, Mary must double it over three times (this varies depending on how long someone’s hair may be). Once the hair is rolled into a “bun” it’s time to pin it up.
Folding the ponytail into bun
Folding the ponytail into bunFolding the ponytail into bun
Folding the ponytail into bunThe bun is folded against the head, ready for pinning
Two heavy-duty hairpins are used to hold Christina’s hair in place until the hairnet is on.

Pinning the bun
Pins are used to hold the bun temporarilyThe bun of hair should stay in place
Once the bun is stable, the hairnet is placed over the bun from back-to-front, then twisted and brought back from front-to-back.
A hairnet is used to keep the bun in place
First the hairnet is pulled from back to frontNext the hairnet is pulled from front to backFinally the hairnet is gathered at the back
The pins are pushed down through top, then back in toward center of the bun, grabbing some of the hairnet and some of the hair to make it stay. The first two pins that were used to hold the bun in place are removed, then replaced over the hairnet. A total of eight pins are used.

Time to pin the hairnet in place around the bun
Heavy-duty hairpins are used to secure the hairnetHeavy-duty hairpins are used to secure the hairnet
Christina passes hairpins to her mother as her hair is pinnedThe finished bun, wrapped in a hairnet
Amish girl with hair in a bun, secured by a hairnet
Once the bun is secured it’s time for the prayer kapp, which can be secured with either straight pins or bobby pins. Mary feels that straight pins look neater, but most often she has her young daughters use bobby pins because kapps tends to get dirty from oily fingers when pins are used. In these photos, Mary places the kapp on Christina’s head, then places two pins on either side, catching the hair beneath the kapp to hold it in place.

Time to put on the Amish prayer kapp
First the kapp is set into place on Christina's headThen her mother places straight pins through the kapp and a little bit of her hairStraight pins are placed on the left and right sides to hold the prayer kapp in place
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