Your Questions Answered – August, 2014

 Posted by on August 7, 2014  Add comments  Tagged with:
Aug 072014

I receive a lot of questions, both in comments and by email, and sometimes on Facebook. I always wish to offer a thoughtful response, so I have an unfortunate habit of reading and “filing” them away to be answered when I have more time. Sadly, I have a knack for “misplacing” questions that I’ve intended to answer. I’ve collected all that I could find since my last Q & A post (a year ago), and I will answer them to the best of my ability in this post. I know that I’ve answered a few of these individually, but I wanted to share them because I thought the answers may be beneficial to other readers.

If you would like to ask a question, or if you have asked in the past and I have not yet answered, please leave a comment below and I’ll answer in a “Part Two” post tomorrow. Thanks!


Are you planning on doing your “Annual 3-Day Kid Room Clean Up” before school starts?

This long-time reader (and friend) refers to this post, which I wrote all the way back in 2008, about the thorough clean, sort, and purge I do in the kids’ rooms, every year before school starts. I’ve done this ever since Bee started preschool at age 3. It’s nice for the kids to start the school year with clean, organized rooms because it makes the morning rush less hectic and stressful for all of us when they can find what they need. I also firmly believe that children can concentrate better on schoolwork when their environment is neat and orderly. So, the answer is yes, I am planning to do this with the kids on Saturday, but I’m not looking forward to it. I can think of lots of things I’d rather do.


Have you done a post about Bee babysitting her siblings? I’m curious because I’m wrestling with myself about periodically leaving mine for short periods of time. Most likely for an hour or less. I’m sure this is a hot topic with lots of differing opinions.

I haven’t written a blog post about Bee babysitting yet, mainly because it’s a can of worms I haven’t wanted to open. Our state does not have a law requiring children to be a certain age in order to stay home alone, or to babysit (though some states do). Both those decisions are left up to parents, and if something goes wrong parents are, of course, held responsible. Bee has taken the Safe Sitter course offered by the Red Cross, and she is, in general, very mature for age. I see no problem with her babysitting her siblings for a few hours, but if we do leave her in charge it’s usually only during the day. I don’t feel that she’s old enough to stay alone at night yet.

A couple weeks ago, I allowed her to babysit the younger kids at the public pool, and this was a tough call. There are many adults working there, and lifeguards stationed everywhere, and Bee had strict instructions to stay in the shallow end and never leave DJ unattended. Even so, I worried. Every time I let them have a little more independence, I fret over it. I’m not sure it ever gets easier.

All this to say, I think the decision to leave kids alone really depends on the kids, where you live, and whether it’s legal. For example, in Illinois it’s against the law to leave a child under the age of 14 home alone, and I feel that this is excessively cautious. However, in North Carolina the minimum legal age is 8, and I personally feel this is too young. In other states like ours, there is no minimum age law at all. Bee will be 12 in October, and I started babysitting at age 11, so I’ve kind of used my own experience and comfort level as a guide. We do live in a small town where most people know us and we know them, so I feel far more comfortable than I would if we lived in a big city (though of course, I know that bad things can happen in small towns also, but you get my point). Also, I think it’s very important to give kids brief trials. After Bee passed her Smart Sitter course, we started by leaving them for 30-45 minutes while we went across the street to the fitness center, or for coffee. We gradually worked up to a couple of hours. The longest she’s watched them has been for an afternoon while we went birthday shopping for DJ.


What are all your subjects in your HMG? Just a brief overview in one place that we can get the basics, then click and look further in your web to see how you go into detail over it.


I’m wondering if you have the Home Management Guide available for purchase? I would really like to have a hard copy of this, I have been searching for something this thorough and have found the schedules to be very helpful. Thanks for helping so many of us honemakers out.

When I originally wrote about about my binder system of organization back in 2008, I explained it in a series of posts, with the intention of walking readers through the process of making their own binders, step by step. I did this because setting up a Home Management Guide (or HMG, as I call it for short) is a lengthy process that can be overwhelming. However, I have since condensed all of this information into a single post, which can be found HERE. I don’t have anything available for purchase at this time.


Someone tell me how to take care of yourself and have an idyllic , productive day with three kids, two and under and none of them are twins. Also, how to keep a 3000 sq ft house, yard work, and place nice too. My husband works sometimes over 80 hrs in one week on a regular basis, and then picks up on several of his days off. Also, I work one day per week, but it also helps me get out…I have little support as my mom has health problems and is 70 yrs old and my MIL has back problems. I’m 31 and I don’t think I’ve slept in three yrs. trust me, my husbands work schedule is the biggest bone, my husband and I have to pick . Now I’m starting to hire a girl to help me …I try to keep a basic schedule….it is very hard to on some days!

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. I can hear the frustration in your words, and believe me – I understand. I’ve been there. I urge you and your husband to examine your priorities and make thoughtful, honest choices about the kind of life you actually want to live. You can overhaul your life, if that’s what you genuinely wish to do. It’s not easy, and it takes time, discipline, tenacity, and dedication, but it absolutely can be done.  13 years ago, my husband and I decided that the life you’ve described was not what we wanted, and we gave up a lot of material things specifically so we wouldn’t have to work 80+ hours a week anymore. Instead we choose to live in a 1500 square-foot house on one modest income. We swapped consumerism and payments for used cars bought with cash, garage sale….everything, and a daily life of active frugality. We’re extremely happy and content with these choices because they give us more of what we want most: time. Time together, time with our children, time for what really matters to us. Time is the most valuable commodity any of us has.

I began writing this blog in January of 2008, 6 months after my husband and I paid off our home mortgage, and achieved total debt freedom. I’ve written several posts that may help you understand more about this process, such as Want What You Have – From A to Z. You might also be interested in Our Total Money Makeover, How We Remain Debt Free, and my interview.


My kids are similar ages to yours (12, 9, 6, 3), and now that we’re past the diaper bag stage, I struggle with knowing how much to take along on little outings and day trips. I don’t want to pack half the house and end up with a 15 pound backpack to tote around, but I also want to be prepared with wipes, band-aids, water, sunscreen, spare clothes, etc. I’ll bet you have a great system for that! I’d love to know how you organize your purse for daily life as well as for days out, whenever you have time!

Well, this is embarrassing. I actually don’t have a great system for that! I keep a basic first aid kit and a package of wet wipes in the glove box of the van, and the kids each have a water bottle they can bring in the car. I also always have a notepad and pen, flashlight, and phone charger in the van. Beyond that, if we’re going on a day trip, I throw my wallet, camera, phone, and a bottle of sunscreen in a canvas bag (I don’t even carry a purse!) and we’re on our way. Now that my kids are older and nobody is in diapers anymore, I don’t get too concerned about spare clothes, but I do remind the kids to always bring jackets because the two little ones complain of being cold constantly, no matter what time of year it is. They have no body fat to speak of, and the A/C in some public places is set at practically arctic levels.


*The following questions pertain to my copycat recipe for Belvita breakfast biscuits, which has consistently been in the top 10 most popular posts every day since I posted it nearly a year ago! I’ll also update the original post with this information.*

Looking forward to trying these. What size cookie scoop did you use? 1 or 2 oz?

I used a 1-ounce cookie scoop.

Would this also work with other flours, perhaps such as a chickpea flour? Thanks in advance. This looks amazing.

I honestly don’t know. I’ve never experimented with other flours in this recipe.

Why do you use butter and oil? Could you just use oil? If so, would you use the combined amount of butter and oil or just the oil amount already in the recipe? Could you use just regular Quaker oatmeal (not the instant, but the kind in the red/blue cardboard canister that you cook in a pan)? Also, on all your dry ingredient measurements… do you pack it down then level or just dip in and level?

I use a little bit of butter just for the rich flavor. You don’t have to do this. Just use an equivalent amount of oil instead. You can certainly use regular Quaker oatmeal, and when measuring dry ingredients, the only one you would pack is the brown sugar. For the rest, just scoop and level.

I noticed at the grocery store there are two types of these, a soft baked version and I guess an “original” version, the soft baked version look like this recipe but the chocolate ones I know are the thinner and crunchier “original” so I did know for sure if we are all talking about the same ones?

This recipe makes a crisp cookie.

Thanks for this recipe! I could find anything when I googled it either! How would you suggest altering the recipe if I wanted to make the chocolate flavor?

I haven’t had the chocolate version, but based on other chocolate cookie recipes I’ve seen, I would suggest adding 1/4 cup cocoa powder (I like Dutch process) to the dry ingredients. You’ll need to reduce the flour in the recipe to 1 1/8 cups, or even slightly less than that so the dough isn’t too dry. You will also definitely need to increase the sugar by another 1/4 cup to offset the bitterness of the cocoa, and I would omit the pinch of cinnamon, unless you like the taste of cinnamon and chocolate together (I don’t, but that’s just personal preference).

I don’t have pastry flour on hand… I don’t know the difference between that and regular whole wheat flour. Could I make them if I add something else?

Pastry flour is a low protein flour, so it creates a light texture in baked goods. You can try substituting regular whole wheat flour or even all-purpose flour, but the cookies will be more dense, and will not have the same light, crisp texture.

Hey, I was wondering what I could add them to keep them soft instead of getting crunchy? Any ideas?

As another reader suggested, adding a beaten egg with the wet ingredients will make them softer and chewier.

Whew! It’s crazy how popular this recipe is. It’s been viewed 33,000 times, and pinned on Pinterest nearly 600 times!


I have been trying to find some picture albums to put our family pictures in and haven’t been able to find any for 8×10 except the ones that have a sticky page and plastic cover. I like what you did and it’s exactly what I was looking for. May I ask what brand they are and where you found them. I would love to purchase some! Your children are precious!

This reader refers to the photo binders in this post, and here’s a link to the exact product I purchased, for anyone else who may be interested in them.

We R Memory Keepers Classic Leather 3-Ring Album – 8.5 x 11 inch, Black

I’ve been very happy with these. They’re affordable, and the quality is very nice.


Just curious — for what do you use the tea tree oil?


Heather, do you dilute the tea tree oil? And do you use it all over or just on pimples? I am excited to try this as benzoil peroxide is so drying. Thanks!

These readers refer to my Typical Day post, in which I mentioned that I use Pharmaceutical Grade Tea Tree Oil as an astringent. I use it only on my nose and forehead, which is where I generally have acne issues. I have found it to be significantly less drying than commercial products, and it clears up pimples very quickly.  I do not dilute it, but I would do a test patch before you slather it all over, especially if you have extremely sensitive skin. I know that some people find it to be too strong if it’s undiluted. I like it because it makes my skin feel delightfully tingly.


Hi Heather, do you have recipes for your cleaning solutions that you’d be willing to share? I’ve made several versions of AP cleaner, floor cleaner (we have laminate), and laundry detergents but can’t seem to get the right mix together. Thanks much, always a pleasure tuning in!

You can find my favorite recipes for all-purpose cleaner and window cleaner in this post (my husband LOVES the all-purpose cleaner so much. He tells everyone about it). I have hardwood floors, and I use a gallon of water with 1/4 cup of white vinegar and literally a drop of Dawn. This combination gets them super clean and shiny. However, I cannot recommend a homemade laundry detergent recipe because while I used to use this recipe, I don’t use homemade laundry detergent anymore. I use All Free and Clear almost exclusively.


You’ve discussed your challenges with finding affordable healthcare, so I thought you might of some insight on this. Our premiums are now more than our mortgage so I’ve started looking into christian healthcare ministry (medi share). Have you heard anything about it? Or know someone who has used the ministry? I’m reading mostly positive reviews but I would love to hear some first hand accounts.

The health insurance marketplace has been of great benefit to us because we were able to purchase a plan with better coverage than we had before, and a savings of approximately $600 a month! (I’m dead serious). It was endlessly frustrating when the marketplace first went live because it did have plenty of bugs that needed to be ironed out, but I tried to be patient and stick with it until I was finally able to enroll. I’m so grateful because we now have some financial breathing room again. I don’t think most people realize how much self-employed people have to pay for health insurance, and how difficult it is to afford it. I hear people griping and complaining about healthcare reform all the time but I, for one, am thankful for it. That said, I do know about programs such as the one you’re describing, and I also know people who use them. I’ve heard mixed reviews, and I don’t feel that I’m in a position to comment on them at length because I don’t have enough information, and I have no personal experience. If you’re considering joining a program like this, please keep in mind that they’re not subject to any regulatory requirements or consumer protections offered under state law.  They are entirely self-regulated, therefore they require that you have a great deal of faith in your fellow man. I personally do not feel comfortable with them and do not consider them a viable option, but that is simply my opinion.


Hi Heather, my oldest daughter, age 12, is a very advanced reader like Bee. I’m wondering if you’ve found any good, age-appropriate books at her reading level. When the Scholastic book orders come home, I’m concerned by the number of vampire and post-apocolyptic themed books, and the lack of much that appears to be wholesome. A little Hunger Games now and then probably isn’t the end of the world, but I’d like my girl’s mind to be filled with some sunnier thoughts too! The books these days sure aren’t like what I was reading at that age – Babysitters Club and Little House on the Prairie!

I agree, this is tough. Bee really enjoys the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket, and she’s reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time Series now (these were mine when I was a kid and I really enjoyed them). Also, she liked Anne of Green Gables (but not the subsequent books in the series). Her favorite authors are John Green (she loved The Fault in Our Stars) Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Laura Peyton Roberts. These authors write for both tweens and teens, so I usually skim the books she checks out. I don’t mind if the characters have boyfriends, but I don’t especially want her reading about premarital sex, particularly in 6th grade. However, at her age, I was free to choose any book from the library that I wanted to read, and I try to give Bee that same freedom to expand her mind and explore her interests…within reason, of course. She has a good head on her shoulders, and she does ask me about certain books to see if I think they’re appropriate. For example, I wouldn’t allow her to read The Hunger Games when it first came out because I thought she was too young, but this summer she asked if she could check it out and I said yes. I have taught my children that God does not want us to fill our minds with evil things, but to focus instead on things that are good and virtuous (Philippians 4:8), and so Bee does seem to naturally gravitate away from books involving horror and the occult, knowing that I would not approve. 


I am thinking of baking my family’s bread. Although I am not super domesticated and I am not sure it is something I can stick with. However, I am thinking of giving it a try. Do you have any recommendations on a good, but affordable bread machine? Thanks for your help.

I do. I own a Sunbeam 5891 2-Pound Programmable Breadmaker and use it weekly, and I’ve had nothing but good luck with it. However, I purchased it new at a garage sale for $2. Also, I do not use it to bake because I prefer to simply use the dough cycle and bake the bread in the oven, so I cannot comment on it in this capacity. I always tell people that if they’re unsure about whether they’ll stick with regular bread baking, they should check their local Goodwill or thrift store. I often see multiple new-looking bread machines at our thrift store for $10-$20.


Just catching up on reading your just recent blog posts and wondering how you manage to keep DJ in his room for the hour during nap…how does he know when to come out or do you get him up when nap is over? I have a son a few months younger than Josh and while he is transitioning off his nap, I also believe in rest time every day. Would love to know your thoughts especially since it was your sound advice that finally potty trained said boy a year ago!!

Ah….but I don’t, you see. DJ comes out quite often to ask if he can get up yet. I always give him a warning the first time. The second time, I add 5 minutes to his nap. The third time he loses a toy. Sometimes this works, and sometimes nothing works. This summer he rarely slept during nap time at all, and one day I made him go to bed immediately after supper because he came out of his room sooooo many times. I had warned him, but it didn’t sink in obviously. Unfortunately, this is all just part of a frustrating transition period!

Tomorrow….part two! Be sure to leave me any additional questions in the comments.