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How I Became a Tightwad

Every once in a while, you get hold of a book that makes a difference in the way you live from that time forward.  You remember where you were when you read it, and you know your life is better for having taken the time to let the author speak to you. 

That’s how I felt after readingThe Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy DacyczynI was visiting a friend of mine in Pittsburgh one summer, and she had borrowed this book from a friend of hers.  This particular friend of mine was already a tightwad, in fact, I might have considered her a bit extreme in her tightwaddery.  I may have even called her “cheap” on one or two occasions. I, however, was not a tightwad.  Having been raised by thrifty parents, I wasn’t a spendthrift, but I was heading in that direction. 

The Complete Tightwad Gazette or TWG, as it is know among frugalites, is actually a compilation of newsletters written by Amy Dacyzyn over the course of several years. 

Amy Dacyzyn is a wife and mother of six who set out to prove to herself and to the world that it is possible to buy a home and raise a large family without dual incomes. 

She and her readers offered suggestions in the newsletters for taking frugality to a whole new level.


She advocated homemade lunches, yard sale clothing, reusing and recycling before it was fashionable, buying your kids cones not sundaes, and learning to enjoy the simple things in life.  She made a challenge of getting by on less so that she had time to live life more fully. 

I liked what I read, and I began to put into practice many of her suggestions.  I learned to shop to fill my pantry with frequently used items when they were on sale rather than shopping for the things that were on my menu plan.  I learned to divide a large jar of applesauce into small containers for lunches instead of purchasing snack size containers of applesauce.  I learned to cut Grandpa’s hair, turn a cereal box into a magazine holder, and to figure out the unit price of packaged groceries.  I bought Christmas gifts at yard sales and made Justine a cookie cake every year for her birthday instead of buying one.

All the while, as a family we were learning to enjoy the challenge of living on less and reaping the rewards of spending wisely and saving without feeling deprived. 

Sometimes I get out my copy of TWG and thumb through the pages.  I can still remember when I first read some of her ideas that sounded so strange to me at the time.  Some of the book is undoubtedly outdated, but if you want to learn about living a frugal lifestyle with joy, this book is still worthwhile reading.   I highly recommend it! 


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The Faces Behind the Chocolate in our Easter Baskets

Easter is fast approaching, and if you’re filling any Easter baskets this year, chances are you are including some chocolate candy.  My favorite Easter treat has always been Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs.  That is, until this year when I learned about the exploitation of children and slaves which make it possible for us to have reasonably priced chocolates readily available to us.

Previously, my knowledge of chocolate making was limited to what I had learned on a few trips through Chocolate World at Hershey Park.  That fun and informative ride doesn’t really tell the full story. Allow me to share with you a few facts about chocolate that you may not learn at Chocolate World.

Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast. The prices for cocoa, however, are set by big businesses rather than the farmers who grow the cocoa.  Because these big businesses want to buy their cocoa at low prices to maximize their profits, cocoa farmers cut costs wherever they can in the harvesting of their cocoa beans because they want to increase their profits, too.

How do these cocoa farmers keep their costs low?  One of the easiest ways to lower costs is to spend less on labor. Sadly, this mean that many people who work on these cocoa farms are not paid a fair wage.  Some of the work is done by slave workers, and thousands of those slaves are children, many as young as nine years old.

Much information is available online about the use of children and slaves in cocoa harvesting, but little is being done about the problem.  Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to know what to do.  A boycott of chocolate sounds like the best way to react, yet a total boycott would drive cocoa prices even lower with even less money going to the farmers.

For now, the best means we have of speaking out against child labor in the cocoa industry is to demand and to buy fair trade chocolates.  Unfortunately, fair trade chocolates are more expensive than other chocolates, and they are not as readily available as other chocolates.  That would change though if we all refused to buy chocolate that is not labeled “fair trade”.

If you’re not sure what to do, here are a few suggestions:

1) Ask for fair trade chocolates in the grocery stores where you shop.

2) Call or write to chocolate companies asking them to buy fair trade cocoa

3) Learn more by doing some online research about slave labor in the chocolate    business

4) Raise awareness by discussing these deplorable practices with others.

5) Keep buying chocolate, but buy fair trade chocolate.

I am just now waking up to the idea that the choices that I make have far-reaching consequences, not just for me, but for many other people, too.  I want to make the most responsible choices that I can make, speaking out with my words and with my dollars on behalf of every person represented by the faces behind the products that I buy.

My commitment to buy only fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolates is just the beginning of this journey for me.

Make mine Fair Trade!
Were you already aware of the plight of many who harvest cocoa beans?  What are you willing to do to ensure justice for those who are being exploited?
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World Water Day and Many Still Thirst

How much is clean water worth to you?   How much would you be willing to give to help one family have clean, filtered water for the rest of their lives?

I recently read of an opportunity being offered by Forward Edge International, an organization that is familiar to me and one whose mission statement I fully support.



Forward Edge International exists to share Christ’s love with those affected by poverty, disaster and sickness in the U.S. and around the world.


Because a special young lady from our church is a missionary in Nicaragua with FEI, and our church has partnered with FEI for youth mission trips, I am sharing their opportunity here.  (Just so you know, Grandma always advises you to do your homework about any charity or organization that is asking for money.  You want to be sure that you are investing in a charity that shares your values and wisely uses the money that you give. I trust FEI in both respects, but you can check them out for yourself here.)

This week leading up to World Water Day, I’ve been getting daily emails from FEI with a daily Water Fact.  I learned that a water crisis exists in our world, and thousands of people are dying each day from diseases that could be prevented by giving these people access to clean water.

The Water Facts weren’t all bad news though.  I’ve just got to share with you what I learned on Tuesday.  In the midst of all of these depressing statistics, here is a statistic that you don’t want to miss……

For $65, you can bring the #1 solution to the #1 problem facing poor families.

Did you catch that?  SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS!!!!!  Why, I’ll bet that many of us spend that much on bottled water, sodas, juices, and other drinks in a month or two.  Forward Edge is giving me the opportunity to help a Nicaraguan family with clean water for the rest of their lives!  A FEI health care team with hand deliver a filter system to a family and train them how to use it.  This one filter will filter harmful bacteria from one million gallons of water.  For $65!  I’m frugal, and some might even describe me as cheap, but that is what I call a deal!

If you’d like to check this out for yourself, here’s the FEI information where you can read all about it.

This water crisis is something that is not going to go away when World Water Day is over, and plenty of other organizations are also doing a lot of work toward making clean water available to all.  I’ve seen and heard of many organizations, both Christian and humanitarian, that are trying to do all they can do to end these needless deaths by bringing clean water where there is none.  I’m not trying to tell you how to spend your money, but I can tell you this, I feel pretty darn happy right now knowing that there will soon be one more family in Nicaragua quenching their thirst with clean, filtered water after today.

On Sunday during church, I copied down these words by Edward Everett Hale which our pastor quoted during his sermon:

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  The something I ought to do, I can do.  And by the grace of God, I will.

If you don’t have $65 to donate today, don’t be discouraged.  I’m sure there is something else you can do to help alleviate suffering in the world.  Be on the lookout for that one thing that you can do today, and by the grace of God, DO IT!

 image source



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What Is Fair Trade?

Perhaps you’ve seen this Fair Trade Certified symbol on some products in a local or online store.  Do you know what it means? 

Until last weekend, I didn’t pay much attention to this whole idea of fair trade products.  The only fair trade product that I was aware of was coffee, and the only thing I really understood about fair trade coffee was that it’s more expensive than regular coffee.  Sad, I know.  I was the proverbial ostrich with my head firmly planted in the sand.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I recently attended a workshop entitled Radical Justice for Today.  At that workshop I learned about the importance of fair trade practices.  I pledged never again to bury my head in the sand as a consumer.  My spending choices speak volumes, and I want to be sure that what my spending choices say is in harmony with my Christian values.

That is why today, I want to explain a little about fair trade in case there are others who are not aware of what it means.  Here are three very important benefits of fair trade products:

1.  Guaranteed minimum price which, though they vary by companies, reward the farmers’ hard work by giving them a decent living wage after covering the cost of production. (Many times this minimum price is DOUBLE the amount that farmers are typically paid by the buyers for the large corporations that bring us most of our food choices in our supermarkets.) 

2.  Fair treatment of workers include safe working conditions, no child laborers, freedom to organize, and having a say in the workings of the farm co-operative where they work.   

3.  Environmentally sustainable practices  protect the farm land and the quality of the food that is produced on it.

Sadly, these benefits are not readily extended to most farmers of exported products.  Child labor, slave labor, extremely low wages, exposure to harmful pesticides and dangerous working conditions are more the norm than the exception. 

The realization that each time I chose to buy an imported product (coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, sugar, etc.) that did not bear this Fair Trade Certified symbol, I was giving our money to businesses who exploit other human beings to increase their profits was enough to make me feel sick inside.   

I’ve recently done a lot more reading on this subject of fair trade, and I encourage you to learn more about it, too.  It is not a perfect system, but for now, this fair trade symbol is our best assurance that the people who grow and harvest the products we want are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

I encourage you to do some investigating concerning the products you are buying.  Is everyone who had a part in your purchase being treated in a fair and humane manner?  If not, it’s time we put our money to work to bring about the changes we want to see in the world.

(The above information about fair trade was gleaned from the book Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices which I would highly recommend.)

I would love to hear about your thoughts on Fair Trade!

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My Journey to Justice

This journey of mine began in January when our pastor began a six week series of messages based on the book The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision.  The subtitle of this book is What Does God Expect of Us?   God answers that question in Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?


As I heard the stories and statistics of the poverty and disease that are so common around the world, I felt uncomfortable.  I’m a sensitive sort, and I don’t really like to hear about the seedy side of life.

This book and our pastor’s sermons forced me to see the extent of the suffering that is “out there” and both the book and the sermons challenged me.  As I thought of what I could do, I began to feel overwhelmed as if nothing I could contribute would make a difference.

When billions of people are starving and dying for want of a cup of clean water, what is $10 or $100 or even $1000 going to do to fill their stomachs or quench their thirst?  The inclination to throw up my hands and do nothing, to put the pictures of those brown faces and scrawny limbs and bloated bellies out of my mind was tempting, and would have been easier to do than I care to admit. But that’s not what I really wanted to do.  I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what I could do that would make a difference.

This quote by Bob Pierce became my motto:

 “Don’t fail to do something just because you can’t do everything.”

When I feel overwhelmed with the vastness of the needs and with the complexities of the problems, I remind myself that justice and mercy and humility are personal. This journey to justice is about who I am.  Do I care more about myself than others?  Am I willing to sacrifice in order to see justice and mercy fall on those who are hurting?

This past weekend, I attended a women’s conference at a church in Ohio with my friend and her two daughters.  I enjoyed a fun time with friends, meaningful worship, challenging messages, and one very enlightening workshop about Radical Justice Everyday. 

I’m excited to share what I learned with all of you and with people around me.  I’m planning to begin by teaching the ladies in my Adult Bible Fellowship class about Fair Trade from a Biblical perspective.   Fair Trade is about so much more than coffee!  Fair Trade is about using our purchasing power to break the chains of slavery and exploitation.

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BYOB: Be Your Own Barista!

Okay, so I just looked up the definition of ‘barrista’ and it is someone who makes espresso based coffee drinks, but I’m using it today to mean someone who makes coffee. 

Do you like to go out for coffee?  Sometimes I go out for coffee with friends, but it’s more for the friend time than the coffee for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, but I’m not about to pay over $5 for an extra-special cup of coffee, at least not on a regular basis.

If fancy coffee is a splurge of yours, that’s fine.  There’s no harm in treating ourselves occasionally.  The problem some of us have is making these treats occasional.  Let’s say you stop for coffee every day on your way to work.  At a conservative $2 a cup, 5X a week, 50 weeks a year, you would be spending a whopping $500 on daily coffee!!!! 

With a little experimentation and an initial investment for a quality coffeemaker and a good brand of Certified Fair Trade coffee, you could be making yourself a very satisfying cup of coffee at home each morning saving yourself both time and money.


Specialty coffees, flavored creamers, sugar free and regular flavored syrups make it possible to recreate many of the varieties of coffee available at coffee shops and convenience stores. 

We love our Bunn coffeemaker that brews a pot of coffee in three minutes. We like to add some sugar free liquid coffee creamer and some half and half for a rich cup of delicious coffee each morning.  We have decided that we will now be purchasing Fair Trade coffee, but even at that, our monthly coffee bill will be under $30.   At that price, I’ll happily serve as our barrista each morning!


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Grandma’s Top 5 Gazingus Pins

A number of years ago, I read the book Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominquez.  The book is a real eye-opener about how much of our time we spend “earning a living”.  I’d recommend your reading the book if you haven’t already done so.

One of my favorite terms from the book is Gazingus Pin.  You’re probably wondering what a gazingus pin is. It’s not a new jewelry item or a sewing notion.  I’d be willing to bet that every one of you who is reading this HAS a Gazingus Pin or two.  No way, you say?

According to the authors, a gazingus pin is “any item that you just can’t pass without buying.”

Think about it for a minute …. maybe you do have a few gazingus pins lying around your house.  Maybe you’re already thinking of some things that fall into that category of unpassable items for you.   If you are, that’s wonderful because knowledge is power.  If we can expose the lure and promise of the gazingus pins in our lives, then we can be armed to stand against the temptation to buy more than we can use and afford.

Grandma’s Top Five Gazingus Pins

1.  Plastic Containers –I know, it’s crazy to be crazy for plastic containers, but I just love   ’em! I have so many of them, that I sort them by shape and size in my cupboards.

2.  Dinnerware–I do love dishes!  At one time, I had a set of dishes for every season of the year.  Finally, when the bottom of my hutch was bowing under the weight of them, I had to pare down my collection of sets of dinnerware.  When I’m shopping, sometimes I still wander through the housewares department in some stores to admire the different patterns. But I don’t buy.

3.  Office supplies–Mechanical pencils, pens, paper clips, Post-It notes, notepads, notebooks, etc.





4.  Fabric–Sewing is my business and my hobby, and like so many of us, it’s difficult to pass up more hobby supplies, even when our cupboards, shelves, and boxes are overflowing.




5.  Sewing Patterns–While fabric is a real weakness of mine when I’m shopping, patterns are even more dangerous for me.  Patterns = Possibilities, and I love to have an endless supply of possibilites!

That’s my list of Gazingus Pins.  Once I recognized my tendency to overspend on these items, I was able to curb that spending.  Sometimes I still pick up a gazingus pin here or there, especially if the price is right, but now I’m aware of what I’m doing.

Please leave a comment with your top Gazingus Pins.  Recognizing them here may help you to say no to them at the store.

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Tees to Totes

My friend is not a T-shirt wearer, but that doesn’t stop her daughter from picking up cute T-shirts with animal designs that her mom would like. 

My friend’s daughter knows that T-shirts aren’t just for wearing.  Sometimes they are just begging to be transformed into a purse or tote bag.  That’s exactly what happened with this “Mother Hen” T-shirt!

This is not my first Tee to Tote project, so I knew what I needed to do.  The first step is to find fabrics that coordinate with the T-shirt fabric color and the embroidered design. 

Naturally, I wanted to go with chicken themed fabric for this bag. When choosing fabrics, remember the wise words from Stacey and Clinton from What Not to Wear.  The fabrics don’t have to match, they just have to go together.

After I chose the fabrics, I cut out the design from the shirt and stabilized that square with woven fusible interfacing.  I then began to build the front of the purse, adding cuts of fabric until the rectangle was the correct measurement for the pattern I had chosen to use.

When the pieced rectangle was finished, I added Pellon Fusible Thermolam Plus to the back and quilted it using the “stitch-in-the-ditch” method as you can see here.

I had a difficult time deciding on thread color, so I used a light tan thread except for the stitching around the T-shirt piece where I used a matching shade of pink.

Now that the piecing was finished, I constructed the purse per the pattern instructions.  I was using the Baja Traveler pattern from Quilts Illustrated, and the only change I made was to add a zippered pocket on the inside of the bag.  I often add a zippered pocket to purses that will have a magnetic snap closure.  The zippered pocket offers a secure place for a wallet or money.

The other side of the purse is lined with pockets making organization easy.  The pocket and base fabric that you see here was from my fabric stash.  It was not part of my original plan, but I like the way it coordinates with the T-shirt fabric.



For the back of the bag, I used just two prints:  my favorite yellow fabric with the chickens which is a Robert Kaufman print and the egg print. 

I like the way these two prints look together, and I really like the egg print for the handles.  I try to stay away from directional prints like this yellow one for handles since I don’t like to have the chickens upside down or lying on their sides.










This purse with its cute Mother Hen would make a dandy Mother’s Day gift for my friend.  One thing is for sure …. She will get a lot more use from this bag than she would have gotten from the T-shirt. 

This Tee-to-Tote method of constructing a purse offers lots of great options. Why not leave a comment and give me your suggestion for a great Tee-to-Tote project?

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Hand Smocking Is Not a Dying Art

I remember when a Polly Flinders brand smocked dress was the baby gift of choice for baby girls in the 1960s and 1970s when my older sisters were having children.  Though the Polly Flinders company is no longer in existence, a hand smocked dress is still a treasure that every baby girl should own.

I remember twenty years ago seeing a little girl at church wearing a dress that her mother had smocked and sewn for her.  I knew then that this was an art form that I wanted to learn.  That mother invited me to her home and gave me a few smocking lessons, and I was hooked!

This round necked style is called a bishop, and it is my favorite dress for a young baby. 

The smocking frames the baby’s face and combined with a smocked bonnet makes a lovely gift for any new baby girl.



The other most popular style for smocked dresses is this basic yoke dress.  These dresses have a straight yoke and usually a Peter Pan collar.  These dresses are adorable, and the color combinations and smocking designs are endless! 

One of my favorite techniques is to use a solid color for the dress front and back and a contrasting print for the sleeves and collar. 



This very basic geometric smocking design is very pretty with the added flower accents. 

This particular dress was made for a toddler, and this style is perfect for that age and older. 

Hand smocking may not be as prevalent as it once was, but it is not a dying art by any means. 

I do some custom hand smocking work, and if you are interested in a hand smocked dress or bonnet for a special little girl in your life, please contact me for more information.

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Fabulous Fleece: No Sew Sofa Cover

Fleece is such a versatile fabric!  Because it is made from 100% polyester and will not ravel or fray, it makes a great choice for no-sew projects.

I have two dogs, and for several years, I have been using fleece fabrics to protect our furniture from dog hair and nails. Both dogs love to lie on the back of the sofa to look out the window, so I keep that covered.

In the above picture you can see the sofa cover that I made from one yard of fleece.  This particular snowman print is a discontinued print from Debbie Mumm Designs.  If you look in any fabric store, you will find a vast selection of prints and solids in the fleece department.  Fleece fabric is 60″ wide giving you lots of fabric for your money.

For a sofa cover, I take one yard of fleece fabric in a print that works with my decor–or just a print that I like since I’m not all that concerned about my decor.  I trim the selvage edges from the fleece with shears. You will recognize the selvage edge of the fabric because of the tiny holes that hold the fabric on the rollers and the curling of the edge.  Some selvage edges also have the designer’s name printed there, so you will want to trim that off.

Next, I take my scissors and cut fringe on one of the ends of the one yard length of fabric–not the selvage edge.  The fringe isn’t absolutely necessary, but I think it makes the piece of fabric look more like a cover rather than just a piece of fabric.

In this picture, you can see that I used a floral print with spring colors in it.

One great thing about fleece fabric is the selection of prints and colors.  Here I used a dog themed print for my sofa cover.

You can find fleece prints for your favorite sports team, you favorite baby, your favorite season or holiday. The selection is endless.


If you’ve got a place in your home that needs a protective covering, consider a piece of Fabulous Fleece.

In my next couple posts, I will show you how I have made some quick and easy sewing projects with fleece.