A Family of 9 Living on Costco for a Year

Over a year ago, I began a little project for the blog which I labeled “Costco”. It consisted of saving our weekly receipts and tallying all our food purchases. The project began the first week of October, 2017. So after our last grocery shopping trip in September, 2018, I enlisted a helper and a couple of calculators. Thirty minutes later, we had the grand totals of what a family of 9 spends at Costco for groceries and non-food items in a year.

For some of you our expenditures will seem like an exuberant amount, and for some it will appear to be ridiculously low. The point of this little project was not to point out the frugality or over-spending of anyone, but to sincerely reveal to you and myself what we tracked in a year for either reference or curiosity.

Here are a couple of things that have jumped to my mind as I’ve pondered on our trends in purchasing at Costco and about what we could do to be more efficient:

1. Natural Foods

If I look for patterns in the food we eat, I’m sure that eating healthy is cheaper. Eating healthy can be harder, though, because it usually means more non-processed foods with shorter shelf life. This means that it only helps our budget if I plan ahead. We always plan our meals at least a week in advance. Knowing what we’ll be cooking ahead of time means we can take one weekly trip to the store (which also saves on gas). But most importantly, we can plan ahead for how to use up any leftover ingredients to ensure nothing goes to waste.

2. Food Storage

We have a small chest freezer, and we use it to stock up on cheap meats and sale items. We also take time to cook and freeze in bulk, or simply make extra whenever we prepare a meal and then freeze the leftovers.

3. Eating Out

Since we are a homeschooling family, all of our meals are done at home. Nathan always takes leftovers, which he actually prefers to a sandwich. We never eat at a restaurant, but we do pick up 2 Little Caesar’s pizza ($5 for a large) or doughnuts on the weekend for a special treat sometimes.

4. Feeding the Troops

During this past year, we did some traveling and packed all the meals to take with us. The receipts saved throughout this year reflect our trip out east to Boston last fall, a ski trip in January, camping in late spring, and our end of summer visit to Washington DC.

5. Stuff Costco doesn’t Carry

We shop at Costco once a week. On some occasions, we stop at a smaller grocery store for herbs, ice cream, and random items that Costco doesn’t carry plus we rarely need. This could be candles, cosmetics for me, or a specialty ingredient before hosting a meal. We probably spend about $50 a month at the local market or Trader Joe’s.

6. Hospitality

Our family makes meals for friends or has friends over often which we needed to consider as additional food from Costco. On average we extend hospitality (hosted a meal) once a week throughout the year.

So….drumroll….from October 2017 to September 2018, we spent $6,090 on groceries!

For non-food items, we spent $1,714 at Costco. This total refers to:

pajamas

underwear

paper goods

ziplock bags

athletic shoes

shorts

athletic sweatshirts

batteries

socks

dish soap

laundry detergent

diapers

baby wipes

hand soap

flannel shirts

razors

shaving cream

deodorants

toothpaste

toothbrushes

cold medicine

band-aids

jeans

vitamins

probiotics

protein drinks

indoor and outdoor plants and bulbs

Do you shop at a bulk warehouse?

If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, I’d love to hear your opinion!

With love, Damaris

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Family Currents: August Abundance

August has been lambing season! We had marked the week on the calendar as to when the two ewes were due, but the exact day would be a surprise. On the last evening of our trip to Washington DC, we got a little text from a friend who was coming to count the barnyard animals once a day. We were in the outdoor hotel pool, and everybody was out of the water so fast to see pictures of the new addition. By the next week, the second ewe had her lamb, and now one cannot tell the lambs apart. We were surprised at how fast they are and how soft they are. Pure white little beauties!

Our mature pig Holly is due to have her litter in early September! Did you know a female pig’s gestation is 3 months + 3 weeks + 3 days?


Nathan found a swarm of bees in the work shop this week and rehomed them into a hive box. We’ll give it a couple more days to call it a success! Hopefully they like their new home. Then we’ll move the box to join the other hive. This will make a third hive. All of the mid-summer honey has been bottled! Feel free to email us, contact us through this post, Facebook, or Instagram if you’d like to enjoy some raw, unfiltered honey.


We love to go blueberry picking! This U-pick farm has a high bush variety which makes it very easy to reach and fill your bucket without bending low to search for the little fruit. It was a later in August than peak season, so we were left with smaller berries and fewer clusters. We ate our fill while picking and still gathered 8 pounds of blueberries! We enjoyed them all weekend and froze 6 quart bags with the rest.


Samuel’s birthday was mid-August, and it was so much fun to celebrate this sweet baby boy! We cannot handle all his sillies! You can read about his special day here. Since chocolate is his favorite food in the entire world, Eva baked this delicious cake. He was so tickled to open presents with trains, tools, and tractors!


A couple of weeks ago, our family went on a road trip to Washington DC where we attended the Bible Family Conference, visited nearby Arlington Cemetery and Mount Vernon, and of course enjoyed the national monuments, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of the Bible. Wrote about all the trip adventures here. We can’t wait to go back and learn some more! It was a great place for families – and large families too : )


The first Saturday in August always gets marked on the calendar early in the year. Our family doesn’t want to miss the Highland Games! It is such a summer highlight for us! The St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit puts on a full day of Celtic dance competitions, scone and shortbread shops, kilts, swords and traditional jewelry booths, Border Collie dog races, Shetland Sheepdogs and long-haired cattle for petting, caber toss, tug-o’war, hammer throwing, and other traditional Scottish games. We came home with a dozen lavender-lemon shortbreads that were Mmmmmm.


Farm fresh produce are available every day at the farm stand. We pick heirloom tomatoes by the bushel. The dark purple eggplants, sweet corn, okra, bell peppers and jalapenos are glossy and gorgeous. The spaghetti, buttercup, and butternut squashes are perfect, huge, and at the stand. All restocked daily. We also have real maple syrup and raw, unfiltered honey for sale at the farm stand. Come stop by the farm!

with love. Damaris


Traveling to Washington DC…with Kids!

Last week, our family returned from a fun trip to Washington DC. I asked for all the family members’ feedback on the places that we visited and their favorite things in hopes that you could gain some perspective on what is worth doing in the large, busy capital with kids.

During the weeks before our trip, the children helped pick the places they wanted to see during our stay in DC, and we were so pleased to go and learn more about the history of each of the places that interested them.

We were staying in Arlington, VA just across the river from DC. The evening we drove in, we walked to the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. At the cemetery, we saw several memorials, notable gravestones, and we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We found it interesting that the children had so many questions about showing honor and respect and maintaining silence while were walking through the memorials.

Most of the children found the White House to be the best part of the trip. We went there first thing the next day. Because of security, one can only get a pretty narrow view of the White House, and that from quite a distance (across the road). We got a couple good pictures, and allowed them to enjoy the hype about their visit.

We also saw most of the monuments and spent time at the Smithsonian. There are many museums (all of the Smithsonian ones are free), but we only went to American History and Natural History. Both were perfect for children.

The next day, we took the subway around 8:30am from the nearest station to the Museum of the Bible. We were worried about rush-hour traffic, but it ended up not being as bad as our experience in Chicago or Boston. The children loved the ride and it was overall an easy way to get downtown. There was a station just over a 10 minute walk from the hotel and on the same block as the museum. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Museum of the Bible. The building has so many bathrooms, so many places to sit and wait or rest, and was very spacious for strollers and our large family to get around : )

In the late afternoon, we took the subway back and jumped in the van to nearby Mount Vernon. Buying tickets in advance and doing a quick search online for discounts saved us $30-$40! It is a gorgeous place, and well worth the visit. We underestimated how much there was to see with there being a museum/educational center and all the grounds + buildings on the estate. We stayed until they closed, and made plans to return the next day. They validated our tickets so we could do that.

The next two days were spent at the Bible Family Conference enjoying lots of good break-out sessions from great pastors and speakers as well as wonderful fellowship.

One of the nights, we drove across the bridge back into the city to get a night view of the monuments. Even though most of the kids were already in jammies, it was well worth staying up late for!

The sidewalks in Washington DC are very wide and everything is spread out and open, so getting around with children on foot was not difficult nor stressful. The staff in all the buildings and sights were so nice! Everyone took time to congratulate us for the pregnancy, recommend a favorite children’s attraction, and share something that would be of interest to the little ones. We packed all our meals for all of six days (including the travel to and from days). Except for one breakfast. I knew that Nathan would do something special one of the days : ) He did some research and found a fun donut shop in-route home. It was a treat to let the kids pick the toppings to their hot donuts!

Almost 30 weeks pregnant and 92F with humidity that felt like 99F didn’t necessarily leave me feeling like the energizer bunny, but lots of water and good shoes certainly helped. Everyone had a terrific time, and even the children have thanked God in prayer for the opportunity to visit Washington DC and have that time together as a family.

Did I say the hotel had an outdoor pool? Fist time ever, best thing ever.

with love, Damaris


Family Currents: Niagra Falls, Birthdays, Doll Making

My cousin’s visit from Spain was undoubtedly the highlight of the month of June. Before he came, we had given some thought to what fun things he may have never tried or seen before, so we ate hard shell tacos, s’mores, had a bbq night, and roasted hot dogs over the fire. We took a short trip to Niagra Falls which will be memorable for everyone.

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Both Nathan and William had birthdays in June. We usually celebrate at home and let the birthday boy or girl pick a favorite meal and dessert.

William picked this cake from a Pinterest picture, and it was delicious! Here’s the recipe if you want to make it for your crew.

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Nathan’s mom came over a couple of days and taught the girls some basics of the sewing machine and a few stitches. Their diligent labors produced these beautiful dolls! Thank you, Grandma for teaching, helping, and guiding the girls!

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In the last few weeks, I also found a little bit of time to work on a couple projects. These outdoor ticking pillows and the linen throw brought be so much joy to make!

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Watching all the plants come into their full glory with big bright blooms and tiny vegetables brings us whoops of joy. We’re enjoying delicious kale salads, but nothing else yet ready for harvest.

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There are 20 new young pine tress on the farm! Ten are Norway spruce and ten are white pine. They’ll be replacing dead ones and being added to the perimeter of the pasture.

with love. Damaris


The Best Summer Reading Series For Families

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

–Marcel Proust

As we mentioned in an earlier post, structured schooldays have ended, and we now fully embrace the new pace of summer. I confess that welcoming wide perimeters of time for each individual’s curiosities and pleasure is the sweetest gift to me as a homeschooling mother. It is satisfying physically, mentally, and emotionally for all of us in our home to rest from new lessons and long academic days. While we seek to maintain simple structures of chores, meal times, piano practice, Bible reading, family read-aloud, and bedtime, we’ve exchanged formal lessons for copywriting (from classic, favorite books that they each select) and Bible memorization. One of the ways we continue to learn is through reading which is truly the most longed for summer delight. We fill our baskets with books and also pick a long book series to listen to.

Our family loves audio books for many reasons, all of us bond with the characters, share laughs about the stories, and enjoy retelling them long after the series has been returned to the library. Sometimes the audio versions are read by the author (my favorite), or they might be dramatized. Sometimes we listened to them while the children built Legos. Sometimes we all climbed on my bed and folded laundry while enjoying the stories, but mostly we listened to the book series in the car. We took the CDs with us on road trips, to brunch, farm milk pick-up, and to the grocery store. Nonetheless, we’re never found without the next CD!

The first 7 titles that I have listed are book series that we listened to in audio form in the order in which we listened to them over the years. We listened to one series per summer. The last 3 have been recommended to me, but we have only listened to the audio book of the first in the series. We haven’t read the sequels (some may be for older children than mine are at this time).

Alexander and Eva wanted to write a short review on these book series! Here are their words:

The Magic Tree House

Jack and Annie (bother and sister) take us on countless adventures in the past. Through the 55 small books that make the series, it’s a fun way to learn history! -Eva

Ramona

The book series begins when Ramona is a very little girl and grows with her. She’s very mischievous and it’s written through her perception of life. There are 8 books in the series. -Eva

Little House in the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder in the series of 9 books tells about a little girl and her family moving from the woods of Wisconsin to Iowa to Minnesota to North Dakota. It seems to be mostly autobiographical. -Alexander

The Indian in the Cupboard

Fantastic series of 5 books! A boy named Omri gets a small medicine cabinet for his 9th birthday from his brother. He thinks it’s a boring gift until he discovers the magic. -Alexander

The Boxcar Children

Four children are left orphans. The Alden siblings are afraid that their grandfather is a mean old creep. In the story, they realize otherwise. Many books have been added to the series. -Alexander

The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis wrote the most popular children’s series (selling over 150 million copies). Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in order to escape the bombing of London during WWII move to a rambling country estate where they discover the secret land of Narnia in a wardrobe. There are 7 books in the series. -Alexander

Redwall

An intricately woven story with endearing characters. Brian Jacques’s realistic depiction of the animal’s stories is why the author has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien. 22 novels in the series (we have not read them all). -Alexander

The Penderwicks

A father and four daughters take a vacation in a gardener’s cottage in Connecticut and have daily adventures with the son of the lady who owns the manor house on which the gardener’s cottage is situated. A series of 5 books. -Alexander

A Wrinkle in Time

Overpowering the evil brain with love, Meg is able to save her family from the magic’s grasp. Interesting fantasy book! 5 books in the series. -Eva

Ann of Green Gables

Ann was a girl adopted at age 11 who finds a bosom friend. It’s full of tales of dangerous dares. 7 books in the series. -Eva

with love, Damaris


Hiking Essentials

Treading Where There Is No Path

I grew up camping and spending lots of time outdoors in the summer. Although we lived in a 9th floor, four-bedroom flat in bustling Barcelona, we went north to the hilly country during the hot summer weeks. Nathan also grew up with a passion for the outdoors by taking many trips to the mountains in Colorado. It’s important to us to share the love for camping and hiking with our kids. We always find that it’s a wonderful time to connect, regroup, refocus, and recharge.

You may remember our trip west – the kids having the run of the mountain, everyday spent outside scrambling up boulders, and climbing the trails. We recall the details of it as if it was just a few weeks ago! While in the car road-tripping back to Michigan, we made a list of all our hiking essentials. It was all fresh on our minds, so we hope you find it to be very thorough. Just a couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed a short trip and lots if hiking at a state park, which, of course, did not require as many essentials as the compiled list below. During this last trip, we were always on the park’s trails and had a map of the miles between points. Hiking in the wilderness is the best, but requires a little more preparedness.

Our favorite days in the Rocky Mountains were spent in the wild. We left the cabin after breakfast with lunches packed and ready backpacks. Since are family grows by one more every other year (we love it!), we required two backpacks to fit all of the essentials. We have found that poor quality backpacks are not worth it. We go through them quickly (they get torn at the seams or zippers break), and they hurt one’s shoulders and back. Good backpacks are full of compartments and pockets and have a chest strap to help distribute the weight.

In this list I don’t mention the obvious such as water bottles and packed lunches/snacks. When we go on hikes, we always have with us:

  • bug spray (too many times stumbling into a swampy area has taught us a lesson!)

  • sunscreen (especially with babies that don’t keep their hat on)

  • first-aid (nicely compact)

  • survival kit

  • cigarette lighter

  • camera

  • watch

  • cellphone (even if there is no coverage, phones will call 9-1-1)

  • flashlight

  • compact knife

  • binoculars (if you would enjoy the view from the summit or side of a ridge)

  • high-calorie bars (we like these)

  • water shoes (unavoidably, there will be a spot for wading)

  • topographic map

  • hats

  • chap stick with sunscreen (this one worked great this year)

  • air-horn and bear spray (if you’re trekking in bear country)

  • a pack of tissues (runny noses or inevitable potty break)

When we arrive at the cabin, the children are all to wear a small whistle hanging around their necks. We also learn to watch for changes in the clouds and feel for the wind. Both of these could mean impending storms which are quickly upon you in the mountains.

So next time you’re headed out, I hope you’ll let us know what was indispensable on your hike!

with love. Damaris


Hocking Hills: Camping Trip + Fireside Peach Pie

Last week, we got away for few days to Hocking Hills. We had never heard of it until a couple months ago, and it’s a spectacular state park in southeastern Ohio. Hocking Hills is only a four-hour drive for us, and so we were bound for the perfect camping trip! The rock formations and waterfalls make it a scenic wonderland.

The cool of the deep gorges was a nice respite from the sun, although the trails were also mostly wooded and shaded. We hiked through forestland framed by spectacular sandstone rock recess and caves. I was surprised at how potentially dangerous the deep cliffs were! The names of the trails are so mysterious. How could we leave without making it through all of them?! Old Man’s Cave, Conckle’s Hollow, Whispering Cave, Devil’s Bathtub, Ash Cave, Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, and Cedar Falls did not disappoint.

We each had a favorite hike, but mostly the children can’t stop talking about the wading in clean, clear water and filling their canteens and water bottles at the many springs and waterfalls. We were surrounded by what seemed like a jungle. So much moss and fern made everything feel exotic and tropical. Can you tell one of the kids had just finished reading Jurassic Park?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a camping trip without roasting marshmallows and a late-afternoon fishing. Nathan grilled our hearty suppers over the fire. Burgers and brats never tasted so good!

As we made our way back home through gentle hills and rolling emerald pastures, we shared our blessings and the joy of spending time together. Having breakfast and Bible reading, the girls learning to pack lunches (waaaaay too much mayonnaise), and encouraging each other on to keep going as we all felt tired (6 hours of hiking each day) are some of the sweetest memories of our camping trip. Kudos to Nathan who carried Samuel in the back-carrier for all of it!

Fireside Peach Pie (Nathan’s creation – yum!)

  • peach pie filling can

  • white sandwich bread loaf

  • butter

  • Cinnamon sugar

Butter the bread slices, and add two or three spoonfuls of pie filling to one of the unbuttered sides of the bread. Top with the other unbuttered side. Sprinkle each buttered side with cinnamon sugar. Place pie in the cast iron sandwich maker (here). Cook for 3 or so minutes over the embers or until golden (grilled cheese looking). Enjoy the warm pie!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: Early Spring at the Capitol

Some of you might have heard of the program called TeenPact. We were able to take Alexander this year. It is a civics program for junior high and high school students hosted at state capitals around the country. He participated in the one day political communications course and loved it so much. The students get to practice writing bills and resolutions and defend them in debates.

While we were in Lansing for Alexander to attend TeenPact at the capitol, Nathan came with us, and we spent the day with the other children at Impression 5 Science Center. The kids loved creating, experimenting, and discovering. The hands-on experience took all day with a little break to eat a packed lunch.

Nathan, his Dad and the boys boiled over 70 gallons of sap on Saturday! It was a gloriously sunny day and cold. They bottled the maple syrup, and it’s been going to happy homes. They’ll continue to make more maple syrup for the next few weeks, boiling as the collection tubs fill up. Later this month, we will have a full post on the beautiful and interesting process of making maple syrup.

We’ve been doing Whole30. We’re more three weeks in and living our best life…Who am I kidding?? It’s not any kind of fun without pizza. I’ll be writing a post very soon about the whole family’s experience, what we ate, and must-haves for survival.

with love. Damaris


Paths Not Forgotten

A few weeks ago, our family road tripped to the East Coast (read about it here). Everyone had so much anticipation for visiting New Hampshire and walking on Nathan’s childhood paths. He had not forgotten even the slightest details of the centennial rock walls or the trees or the thick moss carpets of the New Hampshire woods! It was magical for all of us to walk behind him, listening to his every memory and sigh. It far exceeded our expectations that these were dreamy woods to be lost at play in, listening to The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe read aloud, and playing games of pretend. In this great quietness, where he could dwell in stories of his own, Nathan was so happy. Staying curious and full of wonder in these woods of New Hampshire. Here is where he breathed the magic and beauty of childhood -unrushed. As the children and I walked behind him, we collected leaves of all shapes and sizes with the most brilliant colors. We counted one for each of the nineteen cousins and giggled at all the fun we would have pressing and laminating them as little tokens of our love. All around us, the naked oak trees were so old and laden with acorns so big that we gathered handfuls from the mossy floor to decorate our table with back home. We will plant a couple of them too!

The quiet treading in the woods all ablaze, inspired me to push against the busyness and the pressures, and be intentional about simply creating together, learning together, making together and keeping the beautiful childhood magic alive. As a former child myself, I believe childhood should be full of laughing and sunshine, running and climbing, and all the wanderlust. Looking up, enchanted by the sparkling waving leaves, having visions of greatness so overwhelming that one’s soul hurts. We should be training them to experience and know true happiness – not pursue it for a lifetime. This means that sometimes I make myself get down on the floor and play, sometimes I get under the covers with them and tell dreams. Simply looking kindly into their eyes and knowing them, or pressing their head against my chest till their breathing and my heart are in sink fuels my vision for the wonder of childhood. It’s a wonderful gift to share these short years with them, and prepare them for joy-filled ones to come!

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place

where colors are brighter, the air softer,

and the morning more fragrant than ever again.

– E. Lawrence

with love. Damaris


Autumn in Olde Towne

Is it too soon to be planning our next trip to Boston!? If you have been there, you know how charming it is! We walked, and we walked. We learned, and we were awe-struck.

Nathan had a work conference in Boston, and we had been making plans to go with him. We prepared meals and packed 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 6 suppers allowing for a seafood dinner- which did not disappoint! We stayed in a suite-style room with a small kitchenette and two rooms. The accommodations were perfect for our family!

Boston was not rushed, giant, nor overly touristy which made it perfect for our family of nine to enjoy and soak-in the history. Of course, it wasn’t me driving us in and out of the city everyday- hehe! Since it was founded in 1630, we enjoyed learning about events, people, and the charming architecture of one of the oldest cities in America! We are studying U.S. history this year, and so many of the places we visited on the Freedom Trail were fresh in the children’s memories from these past few weeks of school! The dramatic events that took place in Boston are certainly more real and meaningful to all of us now. Climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, Fort Independence in Castle Island, JFK Presidential Museum and Library, playing on the pebbled beach, Boston Commons and the Public Gardens, and getting aboard the WWII destroyer Cassin Young and the USS Constitution (war of 1812) were each of the kids’ favorite sights in Boston.

For me, it was the weathered facades, the tree-lined avenues, and the glistening city lights reflected on the Charles River. The highly symmetrical Georgian architecture, the row-houses with pristine glossy front doors, and the lovely people that charmed me. If you asked, “Why was it so magical, Damaris?” I would very matter-of-factly admit that being raised in a metropolitan city did something to my soul from which I can’t escape. When city air fills my body, it makes my eyes open wider and my heart beats faster. It makes me feel more alive.

And if you live there or have visited, would you share your favorite places in Boston? I would love to hear your recommendations!

with love. Damaris