Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Repainting Metal Furniture: Easy as 1-2-3

We’ve had our little bistro set for a long time– at least 7 years. It began life black, and a few years ago I repainted it this light green color. One of the legs came loose, too, and Mr. Sunshine welded it back for us. (You can see the ring holding it together if you look closely.) Anyway, it was really showing its age… (As you well know, “As we age,” all sorts of things begin to fall apart lol!)

repainting metal patio furniture

repainting metal patio furniture

So I got some rough sandpaper and smoothed over the worst of the bad spots.

repainting metal patio furniture

Then I used an old shower curtain to protect the porch, and prepared to spray. I used a spray primer just on the unpainted spots.

repainting metal patio furniture

Read your directions carefully. Both the primer and paint I used said you can repaint in 15 minutes. (or, oddly enough, 24 hours!) I used Rustoleum, and both the primer and the (hammered textured) paint covered a lot more than I expected. I used only a small amount of the primer, and a little over a can of spray.

To repaint metal patio furniture:

  • Please just buy some cheap work gloves. I didn’t and had to clean up with whatever I had on hand, which was paint THINNER (not remover) and foot scrub. Just about rubbed the skin off my hands! For the 2nd coat I stuck by hand in a grocery bag and held the can. It kept my hands clean but was awkward to work with!
  • Spray with light coats to avoid drips.

1. Use sandpaper or a steel brush to loosen up rust, then clean surfaces.

2. Use primer on rough spots. (Even if the spray paint says “use directly over rust.” It also says “Better results will be obtained if you clean and prime.”)

3. After you think you’re finished, go back and look again. Re-spray “holidays” if you find them. (Those are uncovered spots, where the painter took a holiday!)



Cute, huh?


A Merry Heart– June 2

A merry heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

Auntie Em has been working in the garden during every spare minute. School will be out in one more week, and I’m looking forward to being able to write a bit more– in the meantime, let me share my garden with you! It makes my heart merry; hopefully it will do the same for yours!

Some pretty flowers– black and blue salvia (spreads by underground roots, so if you have good soil, be vigilant about keeping it in its place!) and giant iris. I love blue in the garden!

In the garden- black and blue   image

Easter lilies that waited till Mother’s Day to bloom– but when they did, it was pretty spectacular! And I was inspired by Pinterest to make a shade pot– I love the way it turned out.

In the garden-- Easter lilies In the garden- shade pot

Mr X moved a baker’s rack that was holding junk in a junk room/extra bedroom, and I straightened up the front porch. I also made a sun pot and gave a hibiscus a buddy.

image image

I cleaned up a front bed after buying some time planting potatoes, and am halfway to having it done. I’m putting a few things in the front, then laying newspaper and mulching. Don’t the hydrangeas look happy?

In the garden- hydrangeas image image image

But the veggie garden has been taking up most of my time. Before long it will be brutally hot outside and I want to get as much as possible done before that. We have planted asparagus, corn, beans, lettuce, and herbs in existing flower beds around the house.

In the garden - veggies in the flower bed image

But because we have all this dirt, and one of my rules is Be Frugal, I started talking about expanding. Mr X took the ball and ran with it, mowing and bagging leaves, raking them up for mulch. He built a beautiful sturdy trellis and walkways with treated lumber, and we’ve added a lot of space to plant. It’s not all planted yet but the newspaper and leaves are killing the grass, making a wonderful topsoil that will be great when it does get planted.

New garden bed image New garden bed image




Use It Up! Fun with Crescent Rolls

I’ll let you in on a little secret– I’ve  never had good luck making yeast bread of any kind. Many years ago (like, about 30!) I attempted a recipe for homemade yeast crescent rolls. FAIL! They were hard as a rock and about as heavy. My brother-in-law still teases me about my “Elly Mae biscuits.” (That’s a “Beverly Hillbillies” reference for you young folk; Elly Mae couldn’t cook a thing.) From that time on I realized that no crescent rolls are so good as the kind Pilsbury makes in the “whomp can.” (You know, the kind you “whomp” on the edge of the counter to open.)

Letting food go bad in my refrigerator is probably where I’ve failed at “using it up” the most. Do you do this too? Here’s one way to help with this problem.

Using crescent rolls is a great way to turn leftovers into a Second-Generation meal instead. Drain some juice and wrap up your meat and veggies and turn your soup into meat pies. Use leftover pie filling (or cut up an apple and sautee in butter and cinnamon a few minutes) and put a bit between 2 crescent rolls and have a baked fruit pie. (Think of the calories you save by baking instead of deep frying!) Leave enough room around the outside to crimp the edges closed, then bake at 375. Make a glaze with about 4 TBS of powdered sugar and 1 TBS milk. (Add vanilla and seasonings to complement whatever fruit you use– like cinnamon for an apple filling.) A quick and VERY easy dessert!

20130205-063622.jpg 20130205-063610.jpg 20130205-063550.jpg image

It’s just like me to start with dessert, but I also made a meat pie out of soup, which was probably a roast in its first life.

20130205-063604.jpg 20130205-063558.jpg image

What can you wrap, enclose, or cover with Crescent rolls today??


Use It Up…

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

In keeping with my “Enough” and “Keepin’ it Real” posts, I’ve bought a little less than usual, making a point to look in my pantry, freezer, and deep in the closets of extra bedrooms first! I’m reminded of the slogan featured in the WWII poster, which I first heard long ago from my mother-in-law. She also says, “It’s foolish to throw something out the back door if you will have to go out the front door and buy another one!”

Early in January Sheila Gregoire wrote a good post called “Use What you Have.” The new year is a great time to think about this kind of thing, but we need to be careful to stay in the mindset. I’m still using food out of my freezer. I tend to buy multiple large cuts of meat when they are on sale– like large enough for my whole extended family– but since we more often get together in bits and pieces, I don’t pull the 6-pound pork loin out! But I did just that last week and made it down to a Third Generation meal before it became leftovers. It’s still good, though today I will see how much is left and maybe put the rest back in the freezer in its cooked form.

Now if you bought something and discovered that you hate it, and you can afford to buy something you like better, by all means, do! But get rid of the other– giving it to Goodwill is my standard way to recycle things. Having lots of partially-used products cluttering up your home is not conducive to a peaceful life.

How much money can you save by using what you have instead of buying something new?


Take Care of Your Pennies

take care of your penniesA wise man once told Mr X, “Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.” Mr X worked for this man all through high school and held him in high esteem all his life, so that line has always been a guiding principle for us. You can save money on your home purchase a couple of times in your life, on your cars once every few years, but you can take care of your pennies every day. We have spent a lifetime taking care of our pennies, and it has always paid off!

Let me tell you a little about our financial journey, and what I’ve learned. If you have trouble in this area, I think I can help you!

When we got married, at ages 19 and 21, Mr X was working in a machine shop making $5/hour (but with unlimited overtime!) and I had 12 piano students at $25/month. Not a lot of money, even in 1980 dollars! We had no long-term plan. (Dumb) Our expenses were low, though, and thank You, God, my parents were paying for my college. He had dropped out after 3 semesters. We had already dated 5 years and very quickly I was desperate to have a baby. Mr X said we had to buy a house first, so we began saving as much money as we could. In about 16 months of marriage, we saved $7000! I can’t tell you how, except to say we had a goal that was very important to us.

I laid out of school about a year after Sis was born, until my FIL asked when I was going to go back; that it would be a shame to be so close and not finish. I started back immediately. (Note to self: The words you speak have great power; you never know how much impact they might have on somebody!) I graduated 3 months before the Boy was born, then had Sunshine 16 1/2 months later.

During that period I continued to teach piano lessons and play an occasional wedding. Mr X began working as a carpenter and eventually started his own contracting business, but money was very tight for many years! Here are some things we did that I would advise anybody to do:

  • Tithe to your church before you pay anything else.
  • Buy less house than you can afford, and do repair and decorating work yourselves.
    We bought a small, older, frame house for $25,000. Our down payment was almost 30%. (Dave Ramsey says don’t buy a house unless you can pay at least 10% down.) Do you remember the interest rates in 1982? 17%!!! I’m pretty sure Dave would have said wait a while lol! We refinanced when the rates went down, and paid extra when we could. We gradually painted and wallpapered, replaced flooring, and in a large project expanded the original 900 or so square feet to 1200, replaced the siding and put insulation (there was none), replaced the roof and windows. We did almost all the work ourselves and didn’t borrow any money.
  • Take anything free that anyone offers you. If your pride rears up, remind yourself that you are being so environmentally responsible! Don’t be picky– just take it! You can pass it on if it won’t work for you, but if you say no, they might quit offering.
    I probably didn’t buy any new clothes for my kids! My sister’s 2 girls are right ahead of mine, and friends had kids older and younger. Then I passed them on to friends with smaller children. We just passed them around.
    When we had a church dinner and there was food left, the kitchen helpers would often ask if we wanted it–and of course we did! Even if its more than you can use now, freeze some for later. Grow some yourselves– a great activity for the kids, too!
  • Don’t be picky about gifted furniture and big stuff.
    We were given a table and hutch, a living room set, and a 1/2 ton truck from non-family members! Relatives passed on vacuums, a dining room set, and bedroom furniture, plus some family heirlooms from grandparents: a roll-top desk, a cedar chest, and 2 rocking chairs.
  • Buy as good quality as you can afford in things that will last.
    Mr X was in the construction business, and he relied on his tools. He learned quickly that it was smarter to spend more for better quality, and he has kept that philosophy forever, whether its kitchen equipment, cameras, or tools. Clothes are an area where you have to decide what you want— if you enjoy shopping, or being trendy is important to you, then it makes sense to buy inexpensive clothes. I hate to shop, so when I find a pair of black pants that fit my short body, I snatch them up and almost don’t care what they cost. Almost. A good rule of thumb is $1 a wearing. If you’ll wear those $50 pants 50 times, that’s okay. And when you’re like me and have clothes older than your students, you are in good shape! Mr X encourages me to get clothes or shoes in more than one color when I find a style and size that works.
  • Borrow or rent what you can if you don’t really need or want to own something. Netflix gives you innumerable movies for the price that one might cost. Your library is free, and many libraries offer inter-library loans so they can get books even if they don’t have them on their shelves. If you are tiling your kitchen, using a tile cutter is a good idea. If that’s all you will do, buying one is not.
  • Share the cost of high priced items. Mr X and his dad have a mutual-mooching agreement whereby they can use each other’s tools and equipment. *NOTE I understand that the “bro-code” is very particular about sharing tools, and please be extremely careful if you go in together with someone else to purchase something. Be clear about storage, maintenance, loaning, usage, etc. Saving money is not worth losing a friendship.

If you’ve never read any of the Tightwad Gazette books, let me recommend them! They helped me figure out my philosophy.


Save Them For Later

I’m the world’s worst at buying a container of something– mushrooms, for example– using them in one dish, then letting the rest go bad sitting for weeks in my refrigerator. (Bad planning!) But this year I was proud that I thought ahead, plus had some down time during my Christmas holidays, and fixed them where I can use them later.

Your freezer is your BFF for this. Chop your mushrooms, fill ice trays about half full with them, then top them off with chicken broth or oil. Freeze and put in freezer bags. Ready to use! (Just don’t forget they’re in the freezer!)


I also like to make chicken broth any time I have chicken bones. After I roast or boil the bone-in chicken and remove the meat, I boil the bones again. If you don’t have time right then, you can put all the bones, or the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, in a freezer bag to do later. The yummy broth you can get is worth the trouble! If you are chopping vegetables, put the scraps in the pot too, for extra flavor. Put the bones in a large pot and cover with water; salt and pepper if you like; and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for a few hours. Cool then refrigerate. (A straight sided pitcher is handy for this.) The fat will rise to the top and can be spooned off. *NOTE: If you have a lot of bones, like a whole turkey carcass, the broth will have the consistency of jelly. This is because of the marrow in the bones– don’t worry; it will liquefy as it heats up.

Then pour in ice trays (good for adding a couple of cubes for flavor to rice or small dishes) or larger containers and freeze; remove from containers and put in freezer bags for use in soups, gravies, and anything else that needs a shot of extra flavor.

boiling hen DSC_610320121223-084212.jpg

Ice trays are also very handy for freezing bits of fresh herbs (in oil or broth) and lemon or lime juice. Think of the most common amount you require of any of these, whether it’s a tablespoon or a cup, and freeze in that quantity to make it easy on yourself.

Don’t let those fresh yummy goodies go bad in your refrigerator, wasting money– put them in the freezer and save them for later!




In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content– whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. Philippians 4:12

This post has been rattling around my brain for a long time now. Talks about the “fiscal cliff,” trying to choose Christmas presents, finding homes for the new Christmas presents, and New Year’s resolution planning have brought it to the front of my mind again.

In my First World Problem post, I touched on the problem that Mr X and I have trying to store all our stuff in our 4 bedroom, 3 bath house. You probably have a similar problem, no matter the size of your house. We tend to accumulate more and more stuff until it’s packed so tight that nothing else will fit.

How much is enough?

How many pairs of shoes do I need? Costume jewelry earrings and necklaces? Blouses, dresses, and pants? Sets of dishes? Pots and pans? Christmas decorations?

Around Christmas and birthdays, my mother-in-law (Granny) sometimes opens up her cabinet doors and lets us pick some glassware treasures. This year I got some pieces of pineapple floral depression glass. The creamer and sugar belonged to one of Mr X’s great grandmothers and the bowl to another. I have several dishes that belonged to his ancestors (mine too) and I treasure them. But what will my great grandchildren have from me? Of all the stuff I have, what is special enough to become heirlooms? When you have so much, all of it can lose its special-ness. I’ve been to so many estate sales and wondered how the family could let some of the things go, but there’s just not room to keep everything. So they keep the things that are inherently valuable and expensive, or else the things that meant a lot to their loved one, or evokes some memory of that person.

I feel the need to begin to accumulate less and treasure more.

I never knew any of my grandparents, but from what I’ve read, I’ve gathered that back in the day, ladies oftentimes had *A* church dress and *A* pair of dress shoes. They were probably relatively more expensive than the ones I buy on sale at Cato or Dress Barn, and great care was taken to make them last.

Does having all that stuff make us any happier than our grandmothers were? And what price are we paying for it? Are you unable to do money-saving activities because your job saps too much of your time and energy? I am. Do you feed your family fast food meals because you are too tired to shop and cook? I do. Are we working so we can eat out, pay for child care, and pay for our work clothes?

What would happen to our nation’s economy if we bought only as much as we needed? I’m not saying don’t buy anything but necessities; I’m stressing the QUANTITY, not whether something is a want or a need.  Could we be satisfied with, say, 10 pairs of shoes instead of 20? Five pairs of really good, well-fitting slacks, and a couple of pairs of jeans instead of twice that? Instead of buying (and storing) books and movies, rent or borrow them?  If we find something we like better than what we have, and decide it’s worth the cost, fine! Buy it, but then give the replaced item away. I think our need to accumulate new and reluctance to let go of the old is a symptom of some sort of spiritual problem, maybe a lack of trust that God will take care of us.

What if we decided that we have enough? Less would need to be produced and sold. People would require less money for consumable purchases, freeing up money for savings, giving, or building. We could pay off our debts. Maybe we could quit our jobs and stay home!

What a lifestyle change!

  • I will have to reign in my tendency to buy something that’s on sale and only “okay,” and instead buy only what I love.
  • Shopping can’t be a pastime, because I know when I go I’ll see something that I never knew I needed till I saw it!
  • I’ll have to recognize advertising for what it is, and pay attention to the items advertised (is this something I’ve been looking for?) instead of the message behind it- I’m not good enough, happy enough, pretty enough without this item, but once I get it– and I DESERVE it!– my every need will be met.

I’m in the process of cleaning out closets, drawers and cabinets. A local lady is sponsoring a garage sale to benefit the families of the Sandy Hook shooting, and I’m donating. And then I’m going to be very selective about what else I bring in my world.

What the Bible says about the accumulation of stuff and finding “enough”:

Those who love money [possessions] will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! Ecclesiastes 5:10

If you find honey, eat just enough–too much of it, and you will vomit. Proverbs 25:16 [I realize this is not about material goods but I think the concept probably applies– be satisfied with enough.]

Better to have little, with fear for the LORD, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil. Proverbs 15:16


Auntie Em’s Open House

I used to wonder why some stores would have a grand opening several weeks after they had been in business. Now I get it- they want to get situated, get some kinks worked out, see what sells and what doesn’t. So, 6 weeks after the first Auntie Em post, you’re invited to Auntie Em’s Open House!

Since it’s a virtual, and not a flesh-and-blood open house, I’ll build my virtual house for all of our enjoyment!

Come on in! I’m so glad to see you! A few weeks ago, I examined myself and came up with some principles that I believe have helped me have a successful life, and I am only too happy to share what I’ve learned in hopes that somebody else can “read the textbook” and not have to “take the field trip!” A blog is the perfect medium to share, and I’ve had lots of fun, good mental stimulation, some serious Bible study, and I’ve met new friends. I’ve discovered that these bloggy friends are such nice people!

Please, come get someting to eat, then you can look around. I’ve borrowed my friend Carolyn’s gazebo and china service specially for today.

Courtesy of Carolyn at Aiken House and Gardens

My first post was Auntie Em’s Guide to Life, in which I gave a few guidelines that I at least TRY to follow! Now, finally, I have posts that elaborate on all those guidelines!

Be honest.

Examine yourself.

Know your rules; Know THE rules; Know the difference.

Be frugal.

Decide what YOU want.

I bet what you really want right now is to go for a little dip in the pool? Then we can get to the rest.

Let things go.

Extend grace.

Be kind.

Use real butter.

Plant things in places they will be happy.

Amend your soil and use mulch, and your gardens will flourish. (Again, both literal and figurative use applies here!)

Ask your husband what you can do to make him feel loved, and do it.

Make your husband your first earthly priority.  (not your kids)

Get a board of directors.

Read your Bible.

And that wraps up our tour! Thank you so much for dropping by, and this is the one time I will ask you to share this post with friends you think might like it; go “like” Auntie Em’s Facebook page if you haven’t already; follow me on Twitter and Pinterest (buttons are on the side) and follow my blog if you have enjoyed your visit! Leave a comment below saying hello and where you are from, please! Help me spread the Auntie Em love all over! And here is a little something for you to take home…


Always use real butter

Along with the reigning Queen of Butter, the Crown Princess Auntie Em is a believer in real butter!

Not only real butter in the literal sense, but the figurative sense too: You should consider its intended use, and buy the best quality that you can afford. A mattress and your tires come to mind. You use them every day. Your back comfort and your very life depend on them, so don’t pinch pennies there! Mr X used to be a carpenter/contractor, and he taught me this principal that ties nicely into my “Be frugal” rule. Now at first sight, the idea of spending more money might not seem like a frugal thing to do, but Auntie Em says look at the whole picture, not just the price tag. In the case of Mr X, he was making our living with his tools. They had to be dependable and long-lasting, so it was smart to spend the extra money on heavy-duty tools for his everyday jobs.

When I cook, I want it to taste GOOD! Many times you can get good food for less money– store brand milk and canned veggies are normally just as good as name brand– but Velveeta and Little Debbie are the only brands I’ve been happy with for cheesy goodness and snacks, so no off-brand for me there!

For clothes, you can apply this principle by considering how much wear a garment is going to get. One of Sis’s friends said she gives it the $1 rule. She can buy a $50 pair of pants if she will wear them at least 50 times. (I’ve had black pants that I’ve worn at least that many times!) Staples, like solid pants and skirts, especially ones that fit really well and are well-made, are good investment pieces. For trendy pieces and accessories, get them on sale for a little of nothing.

Now shoes are in a category all by themselves! I find that the older I get, the more crucial it is to have comfortable shoes. Gone are the days of buying inexpensive, trendy shoes to match an outfit; I’ve got to have some serious support, so I buy more expensive shoes less often.

If you need something NOW, like a dining table or car, and can’t wait till you can save up your money to buy a higher quality one, I suggest buying the CHEAPEST dependable one you can find. Ask around! Sunshine got a dining table and matching chairs from a friend who works for Bill Clark, when one of his customers was getting a new set and wanted to give away the old one! Or… swallow your pride… and drive the Mawmaw car with 10,000 miles on it but is definitely not cool! Then save your money till you can get exactly what you want.

Where you are willing to cut corners will be determined by you, and everyone might not understand your reasoning. That’s okay. Figure it out for yourself, what’s important to you! As always, I recommend visiting Dave Ramsey’s website and reading his books to help you formulate a financial plan.


Dinnerplate Hibiscus- and a Ridiculously Excited Auntie Em

I know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but I think of all the beautiful flowers in my garden, I love this dinnerplate hibicus best! A friend gave it to me when I was teaching her son, about 10 years ago; it had sprouted up beside hers. She told me that these are very persnickety about propagation and rarely make babies.

So last spring when I saw this little baby peeking up near the big bush, I held my breath and waited…

When it reached about a foot tall, I dug it up, potted it to grow a bigger root system, kept it over the winter, then gave it to Sis this spring for her garden. She kept me updated and we were so excited when it finally bloomed! Here it is:

And another unusual thing happened last summer- Since I will reuse potting soil if a plant “bites the dust” (HA- usually that’s exactly what happens; I don’t water enough and it dies of thirst!), sometimes random plants come up in newly-potted plants. I sometimes recognize what they are; sometimes I debate whether they are weeds or something desirable, and wait it out; and sometimes I have no idea! Last summer I had 2 babies which looked like hibiscus come up in a pot. I posted the picture to Facebook and asked friends what they thought it could be– hibiscus? Watermelon? I hadn’t planted any dinnerplate seeds in a long time… a few years back I had, but they never germinated.

What do you think?

I put them in separate pots and kept them alive all through our horrible drought last summer, then this spring planted them in the ground.

One died. But one thrived. I kept watching, holding my breath, and hoping it would be a dinnerplate… and finally… TADAAA! I was so excited you would have thought I’d have bred a Kentucky Derby winning horse!

Such is the life of a frugal gardener!


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