Thursday, October 18, 2018

Shopping Goals: October 2018


Yeegads this is late!  I was kind of hoping to have this posted about two weeks ago, but life has been so hectic I just haven't been able to find the time or energy to do much other than what needs to be done.

Anyway, back to shopping goals.  At the moment we only have one more package to pick up from the postal annex and then everything should be in from Amazon.  So far the only supremely epic screw up on their part was the lemon bar mix, so at least that's a positive.  Since the box I have to pick up at the postal annex has a big bottle of olive oil in it...I'm nervous, let's just put it that way.  Hopefully they packaged the box well.  My faith in their ability to package things logically is shot at this point, but I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

I was hoping to pick up the package yesterday after getting the son to therapy and then dropping him off at school, but instead I ended up with both kids home sick, and I mean sick.  Alvah picked up a stomach bug and was plain miserable all day while I followed him around with a bucket.  I woke Armina up to get ready for school yesterday and realized her eye was swelling up on her.  We've had this happen in the past and all we have been able to get is that an undetermined allergy causes it to happen as it is completely random when it happens.  Her eyelid will start to swell and if you don't catch it in time her eyes will swell shut on her in record time.  I immediately got her some Zyrtec and while in the past that worked to take care of the problem, this time it didn't.  I ended up having to give her another dose of Zyrtec at night and Benadryl every four hours on top of that to stop the swelling .  I am playing it by ear today to see how she does and if she is still having major problems I'm taking her to the doctor to see if we need to get her on a different type of medication.  Hoping she's better today as on top of the eye thing she's gone full neurotic about missing school two days in a row and is obsessing about make up work and things, so she's throwing her stomach condition into a tizzy as well.  This on top of me trying to get over this virus completely and as families go we're a hot mess this week.  Sigh.

So, let's get to the shopping list for this month.  We've still got a bit more to get that I'm figuring on picking up slowly as by this point both the husband and I are completely burned out on spending money and really just want to get back to saving money versus spending it.

So, onto the "master list".

Carrs
  • 20 boxes angel hair pasta (got these on a personalized price of .69 per box at Carrs)
  • 12 cans of Hunt's tomato sauce .  I got this on top of what I bought previously from Amazon as I'm finding we are eating spaghetti about once every two weeks minimum, so I wanted to get some tomato sauce ahead...I actually need to get some more cans to have enough to last us for all the pasta I make anymore, but this was a decent start.
  • 20 lbs sugar (got this on a personalized price and was able to get it for 11.00 and some change for 20 lbs, which was cheaper than going to Three Bears)
  • 50 lbs medium grain rice (actually about the same price as I would have spent at Three Bears, but I got fuel rewards for buying it there, which made it worth it)
  • Canned peaches, 12 cans (.89 per can with a personalized price)
  • Canned pineapple, 2 of each type (crushed, chunk...only got one as that was what they had, and rings).  .89 each with personalized price.
  • Bulk bags of apples, 3 (had a personalized price on them for 4.12 per bag.  Even found Honeycrisp is in the bulk bags right now so was able to get Armina some small ones to snack on for about 2.00 per lb.  Not bad).  I would still like to pick up more apples and just kind of stock up the one drawer in the fridge with apples as we love them around here, but we'll see how money, and sales, go.
  • Freezer Bags, 4 boxes (Carrs brand bags come in a package of 28 bags and were on sale for 1.99 per box, max of four.  The bags are good quality as well, so totally worth getting them cheaper than buying the bulk box of Ziploc freezer bags at Three Bears).
  • Generic Windex refill bottles on sale B1G1.  Got 2.
  • Halloween Candy (got Tootsie pops and Starburst so far.  Going to Fred Meyer for the rest, however as they are a lot cheaper price-wise on candy)
  • Vitamins (were on sale B1G1 on certain brands, so were able to stock up for decently cheap...for vitamins anyway)
  • Beef.  This is an ongoing quest to find it cheap enough to make it worth buying over the course of the month.  We were able to get a container of hamburger (on reduced 30% off, so worked out to be 3.00 per lb about after sale and reduction), a package of thin cut steaks (7.00 for three steaks) and a few London Broil roasts (those were on sale B1G1 last week at Carrs).
  • Chocolate Chips, 6 bags (they sell peanut free certified ones)
  • Halloween Pumpkin

Fred Meyer (still need to get)
  • Mop
  • Broom
  • Scrub Bucket

Three Bears (still haven't gone to get this stuff yet)
  • 2 Gallons Distilled White Vinegar (these are usually sold in a box of 2 gallon jugs for about 5.00 and some change)
  • 2 Gallons Apple Cider Vinegar (same as the distilled white vinegar)
  • Hershey Chocolate Bars (for husband's acid reflux)
  • Maple Syrup, one jug

Amazon.com (no links as that would take FOREVER for me to do)
  • Junket Ice Cream mixes (I got 2 strawberry, two chocolate and two vanilla in a variety pack.  They are safe for the son's peanut allergy.  Buying flavored ice cream that is safe for him is pretty much impossible, so I was thrilled to find it)
  • Garlic Willow Ear Oil (bought on a recommend from Brandy at the Prudent Homemaker in that it has helped keep her kids out of the doctor's numerous times by curing ear infections)
  • Salt Free Mustard (we bought one to try out)
  • Bottle Brushes (desperately needed them and they were on the one place I could find them)
  • Curel Itch Defense Lotion (squeeze container to put in back packs and things)
  • Kindle Charging Cord, braided cord, 6 ft length, 2 pack (the son wrecked my charging cord, so this was definitely on the "need" list)
  • Black Cannon Printer Cartridge (needed this for the upcoming TEFRA novel I get to fill out and send back to our care coordinator).
  • Coffee, 3 containers (I got two bags of New England Coffee company Breakfast Blend coffee in big bags for 7.00 per bag and then I got a big container of Chock Full of Nuts coffee for 8.00 and some change after a coupon and the Subscribe and Save discount)
  • Pioneer Baking Mix, 40 oz boxes, pack of 10 (this is basically Bisquick, but made in America by a small mill outfit and it is cholesterol free, so I was sold on it with that alone.  It's a LOT of baking mix, though, so I'm definitely going to be making more biscuits and things in the coming year :)
  • Cheetos, small packages, pack of 40 (for the son's lunches)
  • Olive Oil, 68 fl. oz
  • Crest Toothpaste (3 packs), total of 3 for a total of 9 tubes of toothpaste.  Hopefully this will last us a while as the son loves to get into the toothpaste and while I have some sample sized toothpastes, we were completely out of the large tubes.
  • Children's Chewable Ibuprofen, 2 boxes (they have orange flavor available, which my son takes a LOT easier than trying to get other Ibuprofen down him).
  • Cascade dishwasher detergent pods (way cheaper through Amazon than the store)
  • Stayfree pads, 2 types (these are no longer available on Subscribe and Save, so I'm glad I got them when I had the chance as it was WAY cheaper buying them that way.  This will hopefully be enough pads to last me quite a while)
  • Hormel canned turkey, 12 cans (way cheaper than buying it at the store)
  • Hormel canned chicken breast, no salt added, 12 cans (again, way cheaper than the stores)
  • Afresh Dishwasher Cleaner, 6 tabs
And there you go folks.  My "basic" shopping list for this month.  Believe it or not this was on top of our regular shopping we had to do.  It's been so long since we had money to spend that it felt good to add to our stockpile by even a little bit.

How about you all?  Having to buy things this month?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap


First, to those who have e-mailed me the last bit, I'm sorry for not getting back to you and I know some of the replies are SUPER late getting back to you and I'm sorry.  I WILL reply to e-mails, hopefully soon, so don't give up on me.  I've just been dealing with the odd twists and turns that life throws at me of late.

The big thing that happened this last week was I contracted some type of skin virus (the best guess we've gotten, anyway).  I started to break out late last week in what we thought were hives.  I took some Benadryl and went to bed and awoke the next morning to the welt type bumps spreading.  I ended up going to the doctor's for the welts as they just weren't going away (even after taking multiple showers, changing bedding, washing things in hot water to strip any allergens off of them, etc), weren't hives and we were just baffled to what was causing it, but were definitely worried and alarmed. The bumps kept spreading out in a localized area and resembled bug bites in their welt type of look, but didn't act like bug bites (they'd burst and seep fluid and do that for a while and then scab over, hurt like mad and then finally start healing).  After about three days the bumps stopped spreading (yay) and they are finally starting to finish up their life cycle it seems and starting to heal up and go away, but my legs (the place where the majority of the bumps ended up hitting) are kind of a mess still. 

But, yeah, I've been an itchy, exhausted (the biggest thing next to the welts with this bug was how tired I have been...fatigued doesn't even BEGIN to cover it), hurting, cranky mess the last little bit.  I'm finally starting to feel better.  Still really tired, but more of a normal type of tired versus a "I can't move even if I wanted to" type of tired.

So, yeah, I parted with 250.00 for a doctor's visit this week, which was actually the cheaper Urgent Care option available on a Saturday.  Yippee (my excitement knows no bounds...sarcasm...it'll get you through ;).

Right, so let's get to the rest of the week.

1.  On the "bad" end of the spectrum this week, Amazon finally ticked me off so badly that I actually called and went off on them and I wasn't nice.  At all.  I am proud of myself, though, in that I did not swear and I did calm down and apologize to the woman who was on the other end of the phone and told her I wasn't mad at her and such.  Luckily, once I explained why I was SUPER upset, she totally understood and told me to vent away as she would have too.

See that baggie in the picture up top there?  The one from USPS saying, "Sorry for the state of your mail"?  See what is in it?  Yeah, it's a box of lemon bar mix.  Did said mix fall out of a box somehow and still get to me?  Nope. YES, Amazon slapped a shipping label onto ONE BOX of lemon bar mix and threw it in the mail and seriously thought it would get to it's destination in one piece, didn't think that it was the least unsanitary to do anything like that, actually thought it was a legitimately good idea and went with it.  To top off that bit of "I can't even" the lemon bar mix was supposed to be a pack of SIX, not one lowly box, so the screw up was multiplied. 

So, of course, logic would dictate that throwing a thin cardboard box into the mail with a freaking shipping label on it would make it NOT get to it's destination in one piece.  The mail service actually did everything in their power to get the package here.  I stand by that one and applaud them for the effort.  They put pieces of packaging tape on both ends of the box as the thing got crushed by machines and things and tried their best to keep the box together to get it to it's destination.  They finally put it in the baggie when the sides started splitting apart.  Man, I'm STILL mad about that mess.  I finally found a lemon bar mix that is okay for the son's peanut allergy (King Arthur Flour lemon bar mix, for those who might suffer from peanut allergies, has no cross contamination with tree nuts), ordered six boxes so I could make some on and off and send them to school with him to try new textures out and things (he likes lemon Starburst so I was hoping to work the lemon flavor into more real types of food) and THIS was the result.  The gal I talked to gave me a refund on my order (as, of course, the six pack of lemon bar mix is no longer available) and then gave me a 10.00 credit on top of it, but just...ugh!  This is the second Subscribe and Save order they have messed up in a ROW for me.  I'm seriously going to think twice before ordering anything food related from them again anytime soon.  This was bottom of the barrel screw up type of levels and I'm seriously not comfortable with their quality control at ALL at this point.

But, yeah.  That happened.

2.  This is more of a sidebar to the actual post, but I just wanted to pass this along as I know some folks head right for the numbered points and skip introductions. 

I want to thank the folks who have been e-mailing me Instant Pot recipes and other electric pressure cooker recipes to help me out with managing time and/or just hoping to make my life a little easier.  Mary Elizabeth, if you read this, I've tried to e-mail you back a couple of times now, but my e-mail hates your e-mail and I can't get the messages to go through, so I'm hoping you read this here.  I REALLY appreciate the e-mails and recipes, I really do, but...well...I gave my Crock Pot Express away to someone who needed it a lot more than I did to help them out in a bad situation.  So, while I appreciate the recipes, I can't really use them since I don't have the machine anymore and I really hate for you to continue to e-mail me all kinds of cool Instant Pot resources when I can't really make use of them (I have converted a few of the recipes to the crock pot, though, so thank you for sending the recipe ideas).  If you have any recipes for traditional stove top pressure cookers, though, I have several of those, so feel free to send me those :). 

3.  The other thing in the photo at the top of the page is my big purchase for the family (well the son, really) that I took money from the dividends to get.  I call her "Sputnik" as she's about the size of a small satellite (she's currently residing on my freezer until I can figure out where in the Heck I can store her at) and she's a 5 quart air fryer.  I bought it for exactly one reason.  To cook french fries in it.  French fries are a major part of the son's diet and he loves deep fat fried french fries, so I figure if I can make really good french fries in this thing that taste like fried french fries?  It'll pay for itself in  no time and I'll be thrilled that Alvah is eating a little bit healthier.  I haven't had the energy to try it out yet being down with this bug, but am hoping to try it out this weekend or something.  Here's hoping!

4.  I took advantage of a personalized deal from Tiny Prints for 10 free holiday cards  (including envelopes) with a personalized free shipping code.  I used some cute pictures of the kids from last winter to make the cards.  It'll be nice to be able to send out a few Christmas cards this year :).

5.  I roasted a chicken this week.  Nothing extraordinary there, but I've found a new to me method to bake them that works great.  Brandy, The Prudent Homemaker recommended cooking chickens upside down as the juices will then flow down into the white meat as the chicken cooks and it basically self bastes itself as it cooks.  I've done that with the last couple of chickens I've cooked and they have turned out awesome both times.  I'm definitely doing this in the future!  I just need to figure out how to carve a bird upside down now as I have to flip the bird over to carve it and it looks kind of weird, but small price to pay for an awesomely moist bird *laugh*.

6.  My husband found a really nice Halloween pumpkin when we went to the store last.  I wanted to get the jack o' lantern pumpkin as pumpkins were on sale for .59 lb, which is as cheap as they ever get.  I was even able to use a 1.00/1 pumpkin when you buy two party size bags of Doritos coupon (yes, that was the coupon on the Doritos bag...I'm baffled too *laugh*) to get the pumpkin cheaper yet.  When I got home I treated the outside of the pumpkin with alcohol and then coated it in Vaseline to help the pumpkin keep until Halloween (I read this method will help pumpkins keep longer, so I figured it was worth a shot) and then parked it in the pantry.  I've been checking on it regularly to make sure the mice, are indeed, still gone from the pantry and so far so good *knock on wood*.

7.  I ended up looking up some Amazon original series that we get to watch with Prime this week since I wasn't up to doing much, especially at night (should have been sleeping, but instead was up itching and not able to get comfortable) and ended up binge watching the first six episodes of "The Dangerous Book for Boys".  The series main plot is that the dad has recently died and the family, who are kind of an odd bunch, are just trying to get on with life as well as they can with him gone.  Having lost my dad seven years ago I was actually rather surprised how profoundly some parts got to me when watching the show, although I think a lot of that was just because I was exhausted and not feeling well.  It's amazing how loss sticks with you, no matter how much time has passed.  My dad was even kind of like the way the dad is portrayed in the show...an oddball genius eccentric type of person.  That pretty much described my dad to a "T" *laugh*.

8.  I sat down with the daughter and tried to come up with a plan for her Halloween costume this year.  She wants to be a sorceress, but finding things in her size that aren't overly "kiddie" (she's tiny for her age) is turning out to be a challenge.  I'm praying to feel up to near 100% here soon so we can work on her costume as I'm thinking it's going to be rather more elaborate than I've made before and I'm going to need time to get it done.

9.  The son got to go on his yearly bowling field trip last week and had an absolute blast.  Both of the kids also did AWESOME in swimming last week and are finally starting to get swimming a bit better and are able to swim a bit on their own.  I'm proud of them both :).

10.  The heater in my truck decided to die (of course right when the weather started getting colder and you needed said heater).  My husband was able to fix it just for the price of parts, which saved us labor costs and he was even able to fix it while we were sitting in the parking lot of the parts store.  I am so thankful to be married to a man with skills.

And there you are folks. Some of the adventures I got to go through this week.  How about you?  How did your week go?  Well, I hope?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

Be prepared for getting two posts today.  I'll post up my Shopping Goals for the month later today, I hope, so that I have everything written down.  It's been crazy and haywire around here.  Between the termination dust creeping down the mountains (it's an Alaskan early warning system that we have letting us know winter is coming...the snow starts coming down the mountains in the distance from higher elevations.  Once it hits the tree line you are pretty much assured winter is imminent), the colder weather setting in and PFD's coming in this month...it's been a crazy rush to get things done around here. 

I don't know what follows qualifies as "frugal", since I spent more money last week than I have in years (well kinda..this was the first year in forever where we could decide where the money got to be spent versus having to just slap all of it onto a chunk of dental bills and just being immediately broke again) and gave myself nervous hives doing it (no seriously, I broke out...I have issues spending money anymore, I really do...I've been driving my husband a bit batty obsessing about it this last week).

As previously mentioned it was dividend time this last week.  They came in late last week and while not as much as we should have had (darned governor and legislature), it was still enough to pay off the one chunk of dental bills we had (the spacers and the one tooth my husband got capped last year), pay the dishwasher off (plus a little extra) on the Sears card and with the sleep center gone as well...it feels good to have that accomplished!  I was even able to pay for the next session of swimming lessons for the kids (they are both doing so well we just couldn't bring ourselves to quit...Armina is finally starting to have fun in swimming and Alvah is so close to swimming on his own now.  I think the husband enjoys helping in the pool as well).  I'm hoping to roll the money over that I'm saving each month from paying off the sleep center and the care credit onto the Sears card first, which should pay off the remainder of the bill in a few months and then I want to continue to roll that money over onto the house account to start to pay that bill down.  I'm really hoping, for a change, the Good Lord will be okay with us having some forward momentum and we can start actually improving financially versus being in a near constant state of panic about finances.  That would be a nice change of pace versus how it has been for years now.

I then dragged my husband to the store that morning, as soon as I paid the bills that we wanted to pay, and we got groceries and pantry items (I'll list that stuff on the Monthly Shopping Goals as I still have a few small things to get yet), being careful to just buy what I NEEDED versus what I thought looked good or what I thought we MIGHT need later on (okay, so I bought one container of the Pillsbury limited edition Pumpkin Spice sweet rolls to try, but that's it).  We loaded up the truck with some of the bigger trash that was in storage and/or around the yard (old mattresses and box springs for the most part that had been accumulating for years as we didn't have the money to haul them away before now) and took that to the dump.  I worked on making sure that I could put everything in the pantry that I had bought, all the while trying to be careful to try not to over clutter the pantry so that the cats had free reign in there as much as possible to keep the mice away.

Between that and the kids being sick with allergies or other issues most of the week, I spent most of the weekend running around the house like mad trying to get the housework caught up.   And then yesterday we had the daughter's first concert of the year for orchestra (which they are doing great so far!  I was really impressed :). 

I'm not really sure what kind of money saving things I can list this week, honestly.  We mainly spent money on paying bills.  Frugal, I suppose, but for satellite projects I didn't get much done.  But, I'll list the few things I did do :).

1.  We had fondue one night last week for fun.  I used a cheap cut of beef and sliced it super thin, which worked well for dipping and also made it tender enough to eat.  I also saved the end pieces from the loaves of home made bread I made, staled them (husband's suggestion) and we used those as dipping bread pieces as well.  It was fun, yummy, and actually a pretty cheap (and balanced) meal when it was all said and done.

2.  Instead of doing the majority of my PFD shopping at the bulk store or Amazon, I went to the actual store and if the items were close in price to Amazon (and I knew I couldn't get them way cheaper at the bulk store) I just bought the items there.  This will hopefully save me some trips to the postal annex (last year it started getting nuts come October, so we want to keep trips to a minimal this year if possible), help support local businesses and, most importantly, we got the fuel rewards for shopping there so my husband was able to get a tank of decently cheap gas.  Nice benefit :).

A word on the postal annex since I've had a few questions about it.  I'm not sure about the rest of the state, but in a lot of areas around where I live in Alaska we have a few lock boxes for packages, but no curb side drop off for postal service.  So, if a package is above a small box size it gets kept at your local "postal hub".  This can be your local post office if you live in a city center, or if you live outside of the city limits (which is a LOT of areas around here) your packages get kept at the postal annex...which is basically a big warehouse with postal packages in it.  Combine a lot of people getting routed to the postal hubs for packages everywhere around here and the fact that Alaska depends on a TON of stuff getting shipped in (like say, Christmas gifts) and you end up with a two hour line to wait for packages from Halloween till probably about February (because people use their gift cards after Christmas too), if not sooner (which Amazon started shipping more and more through USPS versus UPS starting last year, so the lines at the postal annex got even longer than normal and even sooner than normal).  So, yeah, I try to get shopping and waiting done before the end of October for the sake of my sanity.

3.  I don't use many checks, but was down to one check in my checkbook and I knew I was going to have to get another book of a checks after writing the check for the kid's swimming lessons.  I decided to look through my desk to see if I could find one more book of checks instead of having to order a new box.  I managed to find one book of checks that was duplicate numbers (the bank messed up years ago when they were reordering checks for me) from a previous book, but since I use so few checks I knew the out of order numbers weren't going to matter.  So, I saved myself the price of having to buy another box of checks this way.  If the previous book is any indication, I should be good for another five years or so with this book *laugh*.

4.  I was thankful for recipe sources like Pinterest and All Recipes and things the last few weeks.  I just plain didn't have any time to sit down and figure out anything resembling a menu plan, so scrambling and going online to figure out something to eat for dinner was saved by having those sources at my fingertips.

5.  While the son was taking therapy I was able to find enough time to get some embroidery worked on, which was a nice, and relaxing way to pass the time.

6.  The husband and I went to Sears while the son was in therapy one morning last week and, after a mess of a time getting accounts figured out (turns out we have two Shop Your Way accounts due to me having started mine back when they used to have a kid's club and the husband starting a Craftsman's Club account a few years back before they terminated the kid's club and rolled it into a regular account...long story, like everything with Shop Your Way it seems), where I ended up going online on my phone, looking up the account I had, figuring out my pin all the while the guy who didn't really understand English too well tried to communicate with my husband over the phone, we were finally able to redeem some of the points we had to spend this month.  We got the husband two pairs of jeans and a screwdriver that my husband wanted, all for free.  We still have some points left (free cash points and things kicked in when we checked out, which messed up the total I thought we had, so we still have like 18.00 to spend), but we're not sure what we'll spend them on yet.  We'll figure it out.  Glad we were able to get jeans in the husband's size, though.  So, yeah, we got through the experience and everyone lived ;).

7.  We bought a couple more favorite programs of the son in digital format.  I bought the programs in SD versus HD and saved more than a few bucks in some cases.  I always tell my daughter about watching programs on the old black and white analog controlled TV when I was a kid and tell her so long as she can tell who is talking, what is going on and there aren't lots of lines going across the screen, the kids will survive just fine watching things in SD format.  So far the kids haven't complained *laugh*.

8.  My husband and I were exploring Prime video and found that they have some Rifftrax movies on Prime that we can watch as part of our Prime membership for free.  It's actually been entertaining to watch the movies without having to worry about purchasing them separately through Rifftrax and we've watched some movies we never would have purchased, but that we ended up watching an enjoying just  by exploring what we could watch for free.  It's kind of fun :).

9.  I had to renew the virus scan/internet security program for our computers.  I like buying the program this late in the year because I end up spending 30.00 versus 80.00 for a virus scan key code.  We really like the program we've had the last three years, so double bonus is that we just input the keycode and don't have to worry about re-downloading the program.  When I renewed the program, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the program we use have now started to roll over the time you had left on your subscription onto your renewal, so I was able to gain seven days onto next year's subscription by them doing that.

I'm sure there was more, but I'm going to call it good there as my mind is going blank I'm so tired.  So, how did you do last week? 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap


Late again!  Busy again!  It's overcast today and boy I'm feeling the weekend at this point.  Hard to get out of my own way today.

Note to anyone who has e-mailed me within like the last week.  I haven't really checked my e-mail except to do official paperwork things (I'll get to that in a minute), but I know I have some e-mails to catch up on and I will definitely reply to your e-mails as soon as I can (hopefully tonight or tomorrow).

I would have posted this post up yesterday, but I had both kids home sick.  The daughter's stomach cycled all weekend (poor kiddo even missed church with grandma, which she's been getting a kick out of going, so it was kind of sad to see her doubly depressed about not feeling well).  Alvah's eczema on his feet just made him miserable ALL NIGHT LONG on Sunday, so yesterday he was home with lots of moisturizer slathered thickly like jam all over his feet and then his feet were wrapped in plastic wrap and socks were put on over the plastic wrap.  After doing that all day, having a quick bath last night and deep cleaning every knook and cranny of his bed (he's allergic to mold and things, so I have to be REALLY careful to make sure things stay clean for him), he slept better and seemed okay going to school this morning.  Here's hoping.

We had a super busy week last week, but in a good way for the most part, so that was nice.  The biggest and proudest event of the week was definitely my daughter winning student of the month at school!  This was after the week before we got her mid-term grades and found that she's doing really well this year so far academically, so doubly proud of her!  We got to go to the school, have a pizza party with the other winners and families and had a lot of fun.  Armina even got some school swag to hang up in her locker and bring home with her.  She was, justifiably, proud!

The second biggest thing that happened this week was I took a bit of a financial hit, but I paid off the sleep center a month early.  I offended the gal in billing greatly when I paid the bill over the phone (so that we knew for sure the cents and everything were correct on the payment) and I told her that I expected a receipt saying in nice big letters "Paid in Full" and if I don't receive that within two weeks I'll stop in at the Valley office to make darned sure I get one.  I would not put it past an outfit like that to fabricate up another bill just to try and suck more money out of someone, so I am doing my due diligence to make sure that doesn't happen.  It's been a long two years, but I've never been so glad to see a bill paid off in my life.

And the third biggest thing that took up time last week was canning and food processing, so let's get to that and money saving things that happened last week.

1.  So, I found that I can add my rhubarb plant that was down in the yard that never produced much to the list of "The Breakening".  It doesn't even look like it popped it's head out of the ground at all this year.  I'm theorizing it finally just gave up as it never did grow well, no matter what I did to it, although we had so much rain this year it just might have plain old drowned.  At least I'll be able to split my rhubarb plant that is doing REALLY well in a couple of years, so if I can keep that growing well I'll be alright I think.

Once I realized that I wasn't going to get any rhubarb from that plant, I went and finally harvested the rest of the rhubarb (I left a nice smaller rhubarb plant growing there and mulched around it nice and heavy with dead leaves and grass to help protect it this winter though as I want it nice and healthy next year :) off of my monster plant.  I had a freezer full of rhubarb and every recipe I tried on the husband and daughter they didn't like, so I tried to think of something I needed that I could use the rhubarb to make.  And it dawned on me.  BBQ sauce.  I bought some East Coast style BBQ sauce which the husband and daughter both hate (I don't mind it at all, but it must just be me), so I kind of needed something to pad out my BBQ sauce stores.  There was a recipe I made a couple of times from the Ball book of Home Preserving for "Victorian Barbecue Sauce" and we did like it, but I had forgotten about it over the last few years as we didn't have enough rhubarb to make it.  Not so this year!  So, I made two batches of BBQ sauce.

I ended up with two jars breaking in the canner, two of my ancient canning jars I'd bought when my husband and I got married (those jars nearly got "Taps" played for them as they gave me SO many years of great service).  Fun fact, the reason I know they are that old?  I had put some commercial labels on the jars to note what they were all those years ago and those labels have NOT come off in nearly two decades...those labels are nuts!  My son was distracting me really bad when I went to put those jars in and I don't think I let them get acclimated to the hot contents enough before they hit the boiling water.  It was a mess, I lost two pints of BBQ sauce, but I got my act together and was more careful after that and got the rest done just fine.

I was also able to get some pints of just regular stewed rhubarb, canned up and ready to go for desserts later on (I got about 3/4 of a pint in the fridge since I didn't have enough to fill the jar completely.  I think I'll make some scones and I'll thicken the rhubarb and we can have scones and rhubarb pie filling with them for breakfast fare later in the week) and I got two quart bags full of rhubarb sauce (like applesauce, but with rhubarb) put up in the freezer to eat later in the winter as well.  Overall, from one harvest of rhubarb this year...I could not be happier.

2.  I also canned up the rest of the coleslaw.  Just in time, as a matter of fact, as the pepper was starting to show signs of age, which was sad since I'd only bought it about three days before.

I have to say that with the two pick ups and drop offs with school each day, the therapy schedule we have and swim lessons for the kids (as those are continuing) and things...trying to fit everything else in on the weekend is tough.  Worth it, but tough.

Putting all of the home canned goods I've managed to make the last couple of weeks up in the pantry, through, felt good and a bit relieving.  It was nice putting something back INTO the pantry for a change instead of having to throw this or that away due to mice.

3.    Shopping went REALLY well this week!  I had some awesome personalized prices on things this week and between that and 5.00 Friday (and getting my flu shot which netted me a 10% off coupon for my grocery trip), I got some really good deals that were on my list of "stock up" items that we needed, so that felt good!

I was able to get cooking oil for 2.50 each as part of 5.00 Friday, so I got four.  I found looking at the "sneak peek" ad for Carrs for next week (the ad starting tomorrow) that they are going to have cooking oil on sale again for this price, so I hope to get four more containers of oil.  That should last us quite a while, I hope, which is a good feeling.

The biggest awesome that I had this week for shopping though was I had a personalized price for 5 lb bags of all purpose flour for 1.17 each!!!  I got 30 lbs of flour for  just over 7.00 and was able to fill my second five gallon bucket with all purpose flour.  This should be enough all purpose flour to last us a year between it and the other bucket that is nearly full (if past experience holds true) and I was able to get it for less than I could have gotten it for at the bulk store.  So that was definitely a score!

I was also able to get a cantaloupe for 2.50 as part of 5.00 Friday.  Unfortunately the perpetual problem on melons definitely held true when I was picking one out (especially true when they are on a good sale):  You had a choice of either green or starting to rot it seemed.  I found one that was green, but still smelled a bit like cantaloupe on the end (a trick I learned from Good Eats that actually does seem to work), so I stuck it in the fridge and we'll have it for dessert tonight.  Here's hoping it tastes okay.

I also had a personalized price on Romaine lettuce hearts for 2.77 for a bag, which is unheard of cheap for those, so I grabbed a bag to make salads with this week :).

I was even able to get some beef on reduced for a change, which we haven't had much in the way of beef in the house for a while (MAN that stuff is expensive anymore), so I was able to get a three pound chub of hamburger for 9.00 and some change after discount and was able to get some thin cut steaks for less than 10.00.  I am slowly trying to stock back up on hamburger as really it's the one beef cut I can afford on a regular basis and I use it a lot.  So, it's nice being able to add some of that back to the freezer.

4.  We got a lot done this last week on our "this needs to get done before winter" list.  The husband got some of the garage cleaned up, we dropped off the big truck load of cardboard we had to the recycling center (who just asked for a 2.00 donation in return if you were able to do it, which we did), we got clunky-grindy out of the kitchen, cleaned up the floor underneath and the husband put in the new spiffy dishwasher (which has a stainless steel tub in it!  The display model at the store had a plastic one, so I assumed that is what we were buying, but ours has a stainless steel tub!  Yay!).  It's wonderful having the cardboard gone from the garage, having dishes come out of the dishwasher clean and seeing the garage look less cluttered.

5.  Right this one is so confusing I felt like creating one of those wall boards with the strings going from one point to another to link it all together so you don't get lost.  Shop Your Way points.  They seem like a great idea when you get the e-mail promotion, but if they don't apply them right or the system misses appropriating those points?  Good LORD it's a real mess to get it right!

So, when we bought the dishwasher we got it on sale and if you spent 200.00 or more on appliances you were supposed to get 200.00 back in points, spread out over six months (which should equate to about 33.00 a month, give or take, to spend at Sears).  I kept checking our Shop Your Way account and saw nothing in the way of points being added, at all, for the dishwasher.  Finally, when I realized the dishwasher order was showing NO points being added to our account from the sale, I called Sears.  They were as helpful as a screen door on a submarine, so I e-mailed the Shop Your Way folks, explained my dilemma and waited to see what they say.  Got a response back saying that they had adjusted the account and the points should be correct now.  No such luck.

I go and check the account and realize that they had awarded us 25.00 per month, not 33.00 per month and adding up the points I found we would be short changed 50,000 points (the equivalent of 50.00).  I e-mail the company, again, and explain what I find.  A gal e-mails me back, apologizes for the flub up and says she had adjusted the account again and this time everything should be right.  Wrong.

Go and check the account and we're a month short.  E-mail them again.  Get another response which says the adjustment has been made and it should be alright now.  Wrong.  Go and check online and the amount they adjusted for that month is 833 points, not 8334 points (the latest person just added points onto the 25,000 points from the first guy to get to where we needed to be points-wise..confused yet?).  Back to the e-mail.

Finally get the 7501 points added onto the account early (since it was October that was all screwed up) and start to sigh in relief thinking, finally, that it's all over, until I realize that we're missing the 25.00 we're supposed to get as our second installment on our mattress and box spring purchase.  E-mail them one last time and they fixed that.

This was the most messed up situation to fix something that should have been easy to fix that I've ever seen in my LIFE!  I didn't have one person mess up, nope, I had like five, in a row.  It was nuts.  At least it's right now.  I hope.  Honestly at this point even if it was wrong I don't know if I'd know anymore.  It was that screwy.  I figure if nothing else we'll be close enough at this point.

After all of this Sears had BETTER have my husband's size in jeans in stock or I think I might resort to doing something I'll regret later *laugh*.

6.  Alvah has been in this super destructive mood the last little bit with no reason for it happening that we can discern.  Talking to his teacher it sounds like all the kids in his class have been that way, including one of them not even being mad and just throwing her laptop on the floor and breaking it yesterday (thank goodness Alvah was sick so I didn't immediately have to ask, "It wasn't Alvah, was it?").  But, at home, it's been a struggle keeping him out of things like medicine cabinets and things and then he just looks at one of his favorite movies to play right now, "Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie" last night and just seriously breaks the DVD clean in half.  I was dumbfounded and really upset that he'd do that.  Luckily for him, since he'll want to see said movie and not realize that breaking it in half would, you know, wreck it, I had found a spare one randomly at the used store last week and decided to pick it up "Just in case" as he's been so bad about randomly killing DVD's of late.  Since to replace that thing on Amazon is currently in the 40.00 range (seriously, what the Heck?), I was doubly glad I had picked up the movie for 2.00.

7.  Another thing broke this week on top of having a DVD broken in half by the son and the two jars.  My Polder remote probe thermometer and timer broke this week.  It's been dying for a while.  The screen would randomly flip out on you, the thing would just go dead at weird moments, would suddenly decide to count down a new time you hadn't programmed in, etc, but this week it went blank and didn't want to do anything but go blank as soon as you hit any buttons.  Tried changing the batteries twice and nope, nothing worked.

I felt like I needed another moment of silence for something that died as that timer/remote probe has been used at LEAST once a day for five years straight, most days it was actually used multiple times and now a days has been being used for the daughter to count down minutes for her violin practice and reading time and things as well.  It is seriously one of those kitchen items I can not live without I use it so much.  I ordered a new one from Amazon when I realized that it was quickly dying on me and was super lucky that the day it completely died was the day the replacement one came in the mail.  By the way, if you are looking for a good, reliable remote probe thermometer and timer you can get a Polder for about 17.00 on Amazon, it works great and is a really good value for the money.  No associate links involved or anything (obviously by the lack of links in the post), but a shameless plug for a product I love.

8.   I got a random packet of paperwork in the mail with no cover letter from the State of Alaska that was, from what I could tell, to prove that the son was still disabled, but I couldn't figure out what it was for (thought it might be for TEFRA and the son's insurance, thought it might be something we had to fill out for Medicaid for ABA therapy...I had no idea).  I was utterly confused on what the paperwork was for since TEFRA doesn't start renewal processes until this month, so I called my care coordinator confused as all get out on what it was for and left a message asking if she had any answers because I was baffled with the lack of a cover letter.  She called me back and explained about how confused EVERYONE was when they'd get the paperwork, explained what it was for (basically you have to prove your child is still disabled to get services through the state...got to love working with the system) and told me when I was done to not mail it in to the state, but instead to send it in to her electronically, she'd attach all the back up source material and send it in electronically to the state so we would have it all time stamped (I only had till the 10th to get the paperwork in via the letter I FINALLY received in the mail on Saturday).  I did exactly that and was happy that I had someone who knew what they were doing to read it over, make sure I had answered the questions correctly and could send it everything right to keep the trains running on time.  Yay for care coordinators!

9.  After I got done canning I spent all of yesterday cleaning the house (which looked like about five tornadoes hit it after a weekend of me being busy canning and the son running around) while juggling the kids at the same time and somehow managed to make it work.  Cleaning.  It's for the most part free (okay, so cleaners can run you some money and things, but you get what I mean...it's really 99% labor) and it feels so GOOD when it's done.  For the five minutes you can enjoy it before someone makes a mess again *laugh*.

And, yeah, I'm going to call it good there.  I'm sure there is more, but I'm battling a headache today (lack of sleep I'm sure) and my brain is about the consistency of pudding right now.

So, how did your week go?  Well, I hope?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Frugal Friday (Okay, Monday): Money Saving Weekly Recap


Delayed again!  In this case, though, I was primarily busy, so I'm not going to complain.

A lot happened last week to make up for all of us being sick for basically two weeks straight.  This week is another week where there is going to be a lot going on.  Fall is usually a harried time of running around, long nights and long days trying to jam everything in that needs to get done on top of normal everyday things that need to be done, and so far this year is shaping up to be no different.  I can hear the tick tock of the time slipping away as winter creeps, not so slowly, towards us.  I've got tons to do still around the house to get ready for winter, as does my husband, so we're both trying to get stuff done before the snow flies.

And so let's move onto what happened this week!

1.  Probably the most fun and frugal thing we did this last week was we went to the Special Edition of the Fall Festival at our local U-Pick farm.  I absolutely love this event as special needs kids get to go and have fun like other kids and parents get the comfort in knowing that there are a LOT less people at this event compared to the normal one that goes on the day after so you can keep track of where your child is a lot better, it's a lot less high energy and the kids can just go and have some fun.  We even ran into one of my son's classmates and we got to hang out with her and her mom, which was fun and I got to meet someone new.

By far the most favorite part of the event for the son was the tractor rides (always, ALWAYS a huge hit with him as they take you on a hay ride around the farm.  And it's pulled by a tractor, which Alvah loves machines, so double huge fun for him) and they had these giant orange balls that they decorated to make look like jack-o-lanterns that kids could climb into and roll around in.  The son was in heaven as not only could he climb into the ball and find zen (which he did numerous times...he didn't want to roll around, but he had a blast lying in there), but he could also get out, put his shoes on and push the huge balls around the field.  Since he loves to slap balls and roll and spin things, this was probably the closest he'd come to his most favorite thing ever.  If they loaded that sucker up on a trailer and took him on a ride around the farm in that ball...I don't think we would ever be able to top that *laugh*.  A pic of him pushing the pumpkin ball around is seen up top there :).


2.  I harvested rose hips a bit earlier and was about as disappointed in them as I was trying to harvest raspberries this year.  We just got so much rain that the rose hips were definitely mushy, some of them were rotten on the bushes even.  Normally if you are a real super berry picker up here you pick rose hips after the first frost, but by the time the first frost gets here there won't be any rose hips to harvest at all, I'm thinking as they are just nearly too far gone to pick now.  After scrounging around everywhere I could find, I finally found a quart of rose hips.  Not a lot.  I threw the bag in the freezer and wondered what I could do with the rose hips.  And then one of our blog readers suggested a book to me from the 80's called "Alaska Wild Berry Guide and Cookbook", I ordered it as soon as she suggested it and it came in this week (which was fast!) and I was thrilled to find a recipe I could use my meager amount of mushy rose hips for:  Rose hip ketchup.  I took the Ball book of home preserving that I have to make sure that the processing times and things were right on the ketchup (15 minutes versus 5 to 10) and made sure the materials would work okay to can and went to town making the ketchup.  I did end up making a more thin ketchup than the recipe (and Ball) called for, but the first time I ever made ketchup I totally screwed it up by cooking it too long (it went gritty) so I took the cautious way and just made it a bit thinner than I thought ketchup should be.

3.  I then perused the Carrs ad for this week and was THRILLED to find that they had cabbage on sale for .69 lb!  That's unheard of cheap.  FINALLY, a produce sale that I could afford to get some food preserving done this year!

I have plenty of sauerkraut left in the pantry (thank goodness) as the mice weren't able to get to those jars, but the canned coleslaw I made last year got destroyed, so I decided I definitely wanted to can more of that as last year's batch the flavor was good, but since I had to use the outer leaves of the cabbages (as that was all that was left after the moose got through with them) the coleslaw was tough.  I definitely wanted to can plenty of it to be around this winter, so I went and got enough to make a double batch of the coleslaw.

I even had a personalized price on green bell peppers of 1.25 each (that's cheap up here) so I grabbed two of those (versus the red ones the original recipe recommended) and made canned coleslaw yesterday as well as the aforementioned rose hip ketchup.

From one quart of mushy rose hips I was able to get four 8 oz jars, so I am calling that a win.  And from one head of cabbage I was able to get five pints of coleslaw (I have one more head of cabbage to go, but didn't have room in my fridge to salt two heads of cabbage at one time, so that's going to have to wait until hopefully tomorrow...if the son sleeps tonight), which I thought was pretty good, really.  I did make the first batch of coleslaw less sweet than the original recipe called for.  Even though I always drain the coleslaw before consuming it I wanted some options on the sweetness front, so I halved the original sugar called for in the recipe.  The second batch I make I'll keep the original sweetness level to try and bribe the daughter to eat her vegetables this winter.

The recipe I used for the canned coleslaw by the way is on Chickens in the Road and I actually found it through a canning group on Facebook I'm a part of which is VERY careful on making sure that recipes are safe to can before letting them get posted, so hopefully that'll make you feel better about pickling cabbage.  After I fill the jars with the brine, I put the full jars into hot, but not boiling, water for a few moments to get the jars more up to temperature before putting them into the hot water bath canner.  This is to help alleviate my fear of breaking jars due to thermal shock, but do what you will.

4.  My daughter came out to meet me after school on Friday all kinds of upset as her jacket zipper wasn't working.  As soon as I got time I took the jacket and tried to figure out what was going on with the zipper and if it could be fixed, even temporarily, until winter jackets could start going into rotation and I would have more time to figure out how to replace the zipper.  It turned out that the zipper had a loose tooth in it, probably from her forcing the zipper up past fabric jams in the zipper over time.  After trying to bend the tooth back to where it needed to go, I figured out that it was a losing option, so I just pulled the loose tooth out of the zipper.  Luckily, it works fine now, although I warned the daughter a LOT that the zipper was going to be weak in that location and to nurse it along until I had time to install a new zipper.

5.  It was a good week at the used store last week.  The biggest find was I found a beautiful vintage colander.  It had everything I wanted.  Small holes, feet (so water would drain down the sink and not just pool around the colander), solid handles and everything riveted together.  For 2.50 it was totally worth it!  I've already made pasta in it about three times now (the son loves his pasta) and the angel hair pasta might slip through the holes a little bit, but not enough to actually fall out of the colander and it works beautifully.  It's not dish washer safe (I'm pretty sure), so I just hand wash it after I drain the pasta out of it and hang it back up.  Easy peasy :).

I stopped by Target earlier, but couldn't find the colander that one of our blog readers recommended that was cheap, so I was so happy to find a colander that would work great, would last and was, indeed, cheap :).

I also found a ice cream storage container in brand new condition for 1.00, which was neat as I've had one of those in my Amazon cart on the "save for later" function for years.  The Tovolo containers are supposed to be good for keeping home made ice cream concoctions fresh, which is good since it seems that ice cream is going back to the production lines where all I can find it vanilla that is safe with the son's peanut allergies, so if we want chocolate chip ice cream or something it's up to me to make it.

I also found some really good quality fondue forks for 1.00.  This was kind of a "I don't really NEED this, but it's so neat" type of purchase as I have a fondue pot, but the fondue forks I have are really cheap, and I mean CHEAP, quality.  I'm hoping to get a kit to make cheese fondue soon and try out the fondue pot I have for a night of fun with the family, so these were a nice addition to those plans :).

Last up I was able to find a few Corelle serving platters for 1.50 a piece and I bought a Corelle cereal bowl to replace one that my daughter accidentally broke earlier in the week.  It was kind of funny when it happened as she was so upset and horrified that it happened and I kept telling her that it happened and I knew it was an accident and to not worry about it.  She did learn the valuable lesson that if you drop Corelle JUST right that it not only breaks, it shatters into millions of pieces.  I kind of shocked and thrilled when I found the used store had the cereal bowl AND the platters that day as it's not an everyday find at the used stores to find Corelle there.

I was even able to find some short glasses to replace ones we've broken the last three weeks or so.  It's just the season of things breaking and it was time to replace some things.  The daughter would put the glasses into the sink wrong and they'd break, one of them broke in the dishwasher (good old clunky grindy) and one of them I just plain dropped when I was picking it up to load it into the dishwasher and I broke it in the sink.  The glasses were .50, so I was okay picking up four more glasses to add to the cabinet.

Funny enough when they rang everything up there was a sale going on, so everything all together only cost me 8.00 and that included a few tools my husband bought as well.  I was definitely okay with that :).

6.  I got some freebies this week.  One of my friends sent me some coupons and one of the coupons was for a free 8 pack of Arrowhead sparkling water.  And while checking Just 4 U last week I found a E-Coupon for a free can of organic diced chiles, so I grabbed both of those when I went shopping.

The water especially came at a good time as I didn't QUITE have enough water to last the daughter for two weeks for school lunches (the husband and I have been grabbing water as we need it too, so it went down faster than I was hoping it would), so this will get her through until pay day (and the bottles are MUCH better quality so they are great to refill at home with regular water and save us yet more money that way).

7.  I got my latest mission from My Magazine Sharing Network, which came with a free small bag of dry cat food and a two pack of individual wet cat food to try out.  Belkar wouldn't get her fluffy butt out of the way for me to take the photo (she REALLY wanted to try the cat food), so enjoy the photo bombing cat *laugh*.

The cats liked the gravy out of the Meow Mix and Belkar liked the Blue Buffalo dry food.  So, I would say it was a success of a mission.

8.  I mended a pair of my husband's jeans (okay, so I sewed a button back on, but I'm counting it anyway ;).

9.  I tried a new recipe to use rhubarb in creative ways.  I made Rhubarb Pork Chop Casserole.  I had mixed feelings on it.  The stuffing had good flavor, but the fresh bread crumbs made the stuffing gummy and library paste like after it got done baking and while the two parts were kind of underwhelming apart the pork and the stuffing together worked quite well taste-wise.  I liked the dish really as I like rhubarb.  The husband and the daughter weren't overly impressed with it.  So next time I'll try something else.  But, yeah, if you want to make the dish I'd mix the rhubarb mixture in with the pan drippings and things to combine it all together and then just mix in some dry croutons or something to make the stuffing to keep the mix from getting too gummy.

10.  I ended up really messing with my phone last week as it kept getting slower and slower to the point it wasn't functioning very well at all.  I'd been playing a bubble pop game while waiting for my daughter to get out for the day but found out when exploring my phone that it took up a pretty substantial piece of phone memory.  I just deleted the app and then went through and started removing anything that I didn't use and couldn't see myself using, removed the e-mail function from the phone (it took up a lot of memory and never worked right when I'd go to check the e-mail anyway) and things like that.  The phone is working much better now, the battery is lasting a lot longer as well.

To compensate for giving up my favorite time waster while waiting for my kids, I instead decided to just start re-reading some of my favorite books.  So this last week it was rereading Victorian Farm, which has been fun.  I'm looking forward to reading more books in the coming months while waiting for the kids.  During therapy I'm hoping to start working on embroidery projects again, so hopefully I'll start that this week as well.

11.  I watched programs on YouTube and other free services this week, like always :).

And there you go folks.  Some of the things we were up to last week.  How about you?  Your week go well?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Food Storage and Disaster Preparedness in Alaska (An Import's Perspective)


First a head's up that the "Frugal Friday" post this week is delayed or may not happen until next Friday.  Main reason for this is because the husband got sick last week, the kids were still sick and so between having sick kids home a couple of days (the daughter even missed a day of school) and the husband not sleeping nights because he was sick, the result for me was that my cold came back with a vengeance and I ended up just feeling awful all week long.  The fatigue and the aches were awful.  If not for the lack of a fever I would have sworn I had the flu.  I barely got the kids to and from school everyday, let alone got anything productive accomplished.  I'm actually worried about popping down into the yard to see if there are any rose hips on the bushes at all at this point.  I'm hoping I didn't miss my chance to harvest them.  We shall see.

Right and now onto the actual post.  Food Storage and Disaster Preparedness in Alaska.  Why do we feel we need it up here, how much food should we store and why sourcing food locally is a challenge.

By the way, enjoy the picture of the fall foliage in my back yard up top there.  I wasn't sure what to show for a picture for a post like this, so I thought that was a good one as fall is always the "oh my Gosh winter is coming!!!" type of panicky season for me when it comes to making sure we have adequate food stored, so I thought it would work for this.

Section One:  Circumstances Impacting Food Supply Lines in Alaska

I just want to put forth a disclaimer here.  I was not born in Alaska.  I was born in Maine and spent my childhood years there, lived in Pennsylvania for my teen years and only moved to Alaska when I married my husband.  So, my perspective is going to be skewed by that, of course because I'm an import (as Alaskans call it *laugh*).  Now, on the other hand, my husband is a fourth generation Alaskan and has lived his entire life here, so I've picked his brain a bit for this post.

Living in Alaska, versus living in the Lower 48 (which is what we call the contiguous 48 states by the way), is different.  That's both an understatement and the absolute truth of the matter.  Alaska has a lot going on over a large area and is unique in a lot of ways.

First, let's start with the size of the state.  We like to kid that if we cut Alaska in half than Texas could be proud to be the third biggest state.  Not far from the truth.  Alaska.org has a good graphic showing this.  

Now, combine the sheer size of this state with a few other issues.  One:  We are completely detached from the Lower 48 because of where we are.  To drive to the Lower 48 we HAVE to go through Canada to get there and it'll take you a few days to get there at LEAST (and that's if you really push it, have alternating drivers, don't get behind campers going 10 miles under the speed limit and the weather and roads are good).  All of our groceries are trucked, barged or flown in pretty much (mainly trucked or barged).  We do have SOME locally produced food, but not much.  We have one dairy I believe (I think the one in Delta Junction finally closed a few years ago), some locally grown produce (which with the exception of potatoes, cabbage and carrots tends to be spendy because things like fertilizer, seed and other items farmers need to grow food costs more up here, so the final cost on the products has to be more as well) and if you can afford it you can get some locally produced meat (like if you want to travel up to Delta Junction you can buy a half of a cow for a reasonable, by Alaska standards, price and you can fill your freezer with beef).  Our local Ag community is wonderful, and determined, to get Alaska grown bigger and more affordable but, it's a long and slow process.

There's also the issue that a lot of our state is owned by the Federal Government and consists of National Parks.  This makes building roads a problem (that and the substantially long distances to travel from one place to another), housing prices get ridiculously high (because of lack of land to build on), manufacturing and industry are downright non-existent (other than oil and commercial fishing...which our waters are so over fished I'm not sure how much longer that's going to be around) and as a result we have one road that connects most of the state and that's it.  So traffic jams are the norm anymore during anything resembling rush hour and if the one road should get closed due to a natural disaster?  Well, Anchorage and the Valley could become cut off from each other very easily and Fairbanks could be on it's own for quite a while if somewhere in the loonnnnnggg stretch of road between North and South gets cut off for any length of time.  We have towns that will get cut off from the outside world by an avalanche, rock slides, flooding...lots of things.  

Next there is the issue of our population.  Alaska, the entire state, has a population less than most cities in the Lower 48.  The last time I checked we're standing at about 666,000 people as of last year (and more people are moving out all the time due to the screw ups our legislature and governor have made the last two years).  This population being so small is also spread out throughout the state and each pocket of population is different in attitudes, cultures and everything in between.  However we do have major pockets of population in some of our major cities.  Anchorage, the Valley (Wasilla and Palmer and surrounding areas) and Fairbanks are some of the examples.  Box stores love this as the population having to congregate to the major population centers to shop leads to great sales numbers for them.  For instance, Sears and Wal-Mart in Wasilla are regularly the highest sale stores in the country.  People who live in the bush communities tend to have to fly to the nearest town and they don't do that very often, so when they fly in they stock up on EVERYTHING to take back with them as buying things in the bush stores is insanely priced.  

So, if you want cranberries for Christmas or Thanksgiving?  Better buy those early, preferably as soon as the stores get those in, or you will be out of luck if you want to try and buy them a week beforehand.  Vegetable stock sells out about a month before Thanksgiving and MIGHT get back into stock before Christmas.  Might.

The biggest thing with the population centering it's shopping in a few major cities as well as our remote location...well it leads to different issues with food and not just things selling out fast and being out of stock for quite a while (which, as stated above, is an issue).  When I first moved here for YEARS I would not even look at produce unless it was apples or some other well storing vegetable.  The majority of produce wasn't worth looking at or eating as it would be at least partially rotten and expensive and that was primarily due to the long shipping times for food to get here.  The supply lines in this regard have gotten better over the years (kudos to the store chains for that), but I still find you have to buy produce in season up here and you still need to be willing to look through a lot of produce to find a good specimen to find.  I regularly go through at least 15 containers of strawberries at a time to find a container that looks okay and not containing a bunch of rotten berries.  Fresh Raspberries and blueberries at the store...forget it.  They are really expensive and the quality is still terrible (after four years or so, I got to admit that I just gave up on buying those up here...now it's frozen out of season or I pick my own as much as I can).  

Grapes are great in season if you are lucky enough to get to a sale early enough as the stores will sell out within days of starting a good sale on something like that.  During the winter grapes are just out of my price range.  They quickly jump up to about 5.00 per pound during the winter (sometimes more).  Bananas are .89 at the stores regularly, so I will buy those during the winter months.  Storage apples (the bulk bags) tend to remain stable in price through the winter so I get those for the daughter to snack on (as the bulk apples go up to about 2.49 lb during the winter or more while the bags of smaller apples tend to go for about .84 to 1.08 lb instead depending on if I have a personalized price on them or not) and lettuce tends to be reasonably priced (IF you can find it as the stores will run out of stuff up here and be out for a while).  We also get mandarin oranges (the fresh ones!  I didn't even know you could get those fresh growing up *laugh*) in around Christmas so I try to buy some of those for a fresh burst of vitamin C in our diets when I can.  

But, yeah, during the winter, variety is limited and even more so depending on your budget.  And the rest of the year what is available at the stores depends on what the stores get in and what they can get in that isn't rotten by the time it gets here.  For instance, cucumbers are REALLY sporadic on availability and if they are you are hopeful that they are at least KIND OF good versus squishy.  For instance, more than a few times when I've wanted to make gyro sauce (I'd try to spell the exact sauce type, but I'd slaughter it right now) I've had to say "forget it" as cucumbers were completely unavailable or a few times I've had to buy the pre-cut bowls of cucumbers the stores would sell for veggie trays just so I had the cucumbers I needed (at a higher price point than if I could have bought an actual cucumber)

Stores have a logistical nightmare going on when ordering things up here.  We are five weeks out on ordering because we depend on trucking to get the items up here.  Grocery stores, I believe, have a bit better ordering window, but I doubt by much.  And if you order something from corporate?  Well, you might or might not get what you ordered.  Alaska tends to be dead last on the list of worries for companies, so a lot of times we'll get basically the seconds or even thirds when it comes to produce and things, especially during busy high volume sales parts of the year (like the holidays).  I remember for three years in a row I would look for bags of mixed nuts to crack myself (figured it was the best way to make sure the nuts were safe for the son's peanut allergy) around the holidays and could find NOTHING at any of the stores...it's still sporadic if we can get the in-shell nuts in up here for the holidays.

So, if you find a good sale on seasonal produce where the price is good and the produce is good?  By God you jump on it and you preserve that food anyway you can!  That is if you want the joy of having a food that is so much better for you than commercially canned foods (less sugar and put up at peak ripeness) and tastes SO much better!

There's also the matter of price of shipping things up here and how it effects the prices on day to day items.  People who visit Alaska go into sticker shock pretty fast when it comes to things like fast food.  A meal at McDonalds will run you about 10.00 and a meal at a restaurant...well it depends on the restaurant, but eating out at Red Robin, for instance, will cost us about 38 to 50.00 for my family of four and that is with one kid who just eats french fries.  We do not have anything resembling Dollar General, the Dollar store or anything like that.  We've had some dollar plus stores come and go over the years, but they seem to finally fail.  By the time they add the mark up on items for shipping costs they just can't keep the items under a dollar for the most part and by the time the price is raised people tend to say, "forget it" and go and shop at Wal-Mart or Target.  We don't have anything resembling an Aldi, an Ikea, a Whole Foods, a Harbor Freight...the list goes on.  

And you are lucky if a company will ship something up here at all and if they DO you're lucky if you can find an outfit that will do it for a reasonable price and if you do you stick with them like glue.  There have been MANY times I'll go to order a small item, like say something that could easily fit into a mailing envelope, only to quickly shut the tab when the shipping cost of 40.00 or more pops up on the screen.  It's like our own game of Russian Roulette when we are on a site that advertises "free shipping" to see if it is, indeed, free to Alaska or if they ship to Alaska at all.  You type in your zipcode with baited breath and wait to see where the wheel of fate will fall.  Which is one of the reasons I like Amazon in a way, and get annoyed with them in another.  For instance, I pay the same amount for Prime as everyone else in the country.  But I do not get Prime Pantry, Amazon Fresh, a whole ton of items (including things I had previously ordered before many times) won't ship up here at all, and if they do ship up here you pray that there isn't a catch when it comes to the shipping costs.  And we do not get faster shipping with Prime up here, well unless you pay out the nose for it on an item, so we pay the same for faster shipping and still get it shipped two weeks after ordering it.  The reason I buy Prime is because we like the variety of movies and shows we can watch with Prime and, most importantly, the ability to order one item at a time versus 50.00 (or it might be up to more for all I know) to get free shipping on an order.  That, in itself is worth it, for now.  If Amazon raises the price of Prime, I'm not sure where the break even point will be for me.

Shipping costs at the regular stores get passed onto the consumer up here as well.  Be prepared to pay 1.00 more per item of clothing, fuel costs are high up here (believe it or not) because we pay to ship our fuel out of the state, refine it and then ship it back in and the list goes on.  So, when you can find an outfit that will ship things from the Lower 48 for cheap, it's totally worth ordering items in.  Thus why I use Subscribe and Save on Amazon so much (I cancel my subscription as soon as I get my order in, however, as they don't grandfather you in at the price you paid, so the next time you are set to get that item you might pay 40.00 where you only paid 4.00 six months before).  It just saves me money to buy in bulk and then I have reserve amounts of items I use as well.

Some of the things we just learn to deal with up here that impact day to day life. If a truck gets delayed, especially in the winter due to bad weather, you are looking at stores running out of eggs, milk and other essentials for a few days up to a few weeks on some things.  In some cities like Fairbanks, they will lose power and can be without power for a few days at a time, so they always have dehydrated foods and things on hand in case they will need to use them.  We also worry about dock worker strikes (even though I guess there is a Federal law now that prohibits them from cutting off Alaska and Hawaii from necessary food items and things) as when my husband was younger there was a dock worker's strike in Washington state and Alaska was completely cut off from getting in supplies for quite a while.  My husband's family celebrated Christmas very late that year as items that had been catalog ordered got delayed due to the strikes and they didn't have anything to celebrate with.  My mother-in-law talks about the stores being out of toilet paper and other items for quite a while during that time.  Now, while today we don't have to worry about strikes messing with supply lines so much (in theory anyway), we do worry a lot about something like an Earthquake hitting Idaho or Washington.  If something bad happens in Seattle it will be like a major artery to Alaska gets cut off and that could lead to us not having essentials for quite a while until supply lines get worked out and running again.  We don't even like to contemplate another 1964 magnitude quake hitting up here as that could really mess with supply as well (and, of course, a magnitude quake of that scale is just terrifying to think about anyway).

We also have our own sets of natural circumstances to deal with.  We, of course, have the aforementioned earthquakes and even if a really bad one hits off in the middle of nowhere you can still feel it in other parts of the state (for instance the first big quake I experienced was the 2002 Denali quake, which by the way gives me a MAJOR phobia of earthquakes to this day *laugh*) and can make some major damage to roadways.  We have high winds, especially in the Valley that will go for days at a time and can make trailer trucks tip over in some cases, blow greenhouses around, knock down vines and plants (which is why I haven't attempted to grow grape vines yet, even though I have found a few varieties rated for my growing zone) and just generally wreck havok.  On one radio station I was listening to while travelling to work in high winds years ago (I believe they clocked in at 90 mph) one guy said that living in Alaska was like finding a natural disaster and wrestling with it for fun.  At the time I agreed with him.   We also have long winters, dark winters, so when roads get icy they tend to stay that way, and with one road going everywhere in the state...road plowing and things just is NOT what it is down South (in Anchorage the last few years plowing has been absolutely non-existent).  I quickly learned one thing living here.  This state shuts down for nothing, and I mean nothing, and you are going to have to drive through any weather to get to where you are going or you aren't going to get there.  I still draw a line with the weather and refuse to leave when I consider it too much of a risk, a absence from school be darned, but I know many people who grew up here who will literally drive through any weather or condition without a second thought (I will never be one of those people...it's just not my nature).  

So, when growing a garden or installing a greenhouse you have to consider the wind and other weather and also with the dark during the winter we have an exceptionally short growing season (about 80 days), but we also have sunlight in the summer which approaches 24 hours of daylight in June, so we do have a short, but fast growing season because of that.   We actually have naturally mutated trees and underbrush that have learned to deal with the light cycles up here and grow much quicker than in the Lower 48 and for reasons that they are still trying to figure out our berries are super mutant berries with MUCH higher levels of nutrients than those that grow down South.  

And then we have the wildlife, can't forget them.  We lack some of the smaller animal problems up here that the Lower 48 has (so far).  We don't have skunks (not sure about down South in Alaska, but I know we don't have them up here), snakes, raccoons and some other problems, but we have moose coming out our ears, bears (they have become a huge problem in Anchorage and have killed people in recent years), lynx (I actually have a family of them that wander around my house in the winter and live around here, not seen at all often, though, as they are people shy), wolves and other...well bigger problems to deal with.  If you put in a big garden a 12' electric fence with fencing at different levels is kind of a necessity if you want it to survive to harvest (moose) and if you keep chickens or other small livestock you have to put in planning the consistency of the Normandy invasion to keep everything that could kill your animals out and if you want your feed to survive.  I went years with the moose not bothering my garden because it was a small garden in a slim corridor of space since our camper pretty much butts up against the garden space, but that has changed as of last year, so we're trying to figure out how to put in a greenhouse next year or do something differently as putting in an electric fence where the garden is just isn't a viable option (for one my husband has to haul the garbage through there to take it to the dump).  

Section 2:  The Necessity of Food Storage in Alaska and Personal Circumstances

When it comes to food storage in Alaska, it is actually not only recommended but also a necessity to be prepared for various things cutting off our food supply for a length of time.

For instance, the State of Alaska itself has sought to store food for 40,000 people for seven days.  Even they knew that the amount of food wouldn't help everyone, but it was better than nothing.

Some people who move up here from the Lower 48 and move into city centers just don't get it until we have a truck get delayed and suddenly the bananas are gone for days, but I haven't met anyone who has lived up here for very long who decides to settle here and raise a family who doesn't have as much food storage as they can realistically store safely in their particular home or living environment.  It is just something we do.  It's just like changing the oil on your car or pulling out your winter clothes in the fall.  It's just something you DO without thinking about...almost a knee jerk reaction type of event.  If you are smart you have at least one generator, a store of gas for that generator (which unfortunately those have become prime targets for thieves in the last couple of years) and a good store of water that you can access just in case on top of the food, but the food is something that goes without saying.

To try and get an idea of exactly how much food we should store in Alaska, I called my local branch of the Cooperative Extension Service and just asked some questions.  They actually pointed me to Utah for a good idea on how to calculate basics for food storage.  The Mormons really are the authority on this issue and have done a lot of research on foods and what their storage life is and the things you would need for basics to live in.  Now, the Mormon church itself recommends having a year of food storage as a good amount and a minimum of three months.  This is in the event of a bad economic year, job loss, a bad natural disaster, etc, you'll have the basic foods you'll need to live while waiting for things to get better.  The Cooperative Extension Service recommends a minimum of three months of food be stored for families in Alaska, more in the more remote locations, to make sure you can survive in the event of a natural disaster that cuts off the state from Anchorage or shipments form the Lower 48.  

You can read more and get links to food calculations and things HERE.

Now there is also personal circumstances that impact how much food you store.  For instance, my husband and I both knew what it was like to be poor in our childhoods and it impacted what foods our families had to eat, my husband's family more so.  So, we tend to make sure we have foods we like to eat stock piled almost as much as basic food stuffs just because if given a choice between noodles with say just plain oil on them or having the choice of having noodles with oil on them or spaghetti with tomato sauce, we prefer to have the spaghetti option.  I keep cake mixes around for this purpose as sometimes just having something sweet that you can make with basic ingredients around the house just cheers up a just dreary money situation.  I've kind of expanded the canned goods I like to keep stock piled the last few years, mainly because after having a few bad economic years and being down to eating green beans as a side with dinner ALL WINTER LONG one year (I still don't like to eat green beans very often because of that), I consider it a personal goal to make sure we have more than green beans in the house, preferably having as much variety as I can afford to choose from.

My biggest worry when putting together emergency supplies is Alvah.  I don't have the option to keep an emergency supply going of his monthly medications as things like Risperidone are tightly controlled which worries me to no end in case something happens to our supply lines for those things up here.  For instance we've been without epi-pens in the state going on eight months now with the epi-pen recall so you either carry around your expired epi pens or do without for the time being.  They're back ordered, but back orders in Alaska can get LOOONNNNGGG, so I just keep calling the pharmacy every couple of weeks and asking if they have any news yet.  Storing foods like Cheetos is cumbersome to say the least and you can't really keep 3 months worth of Cheetos around as they'll get stale by the time you get to eat them if you are not careful.  So, I try to keep the few basic foods Alvah will eat that I can store, pasta, Coke (yes for him that is a basic food) and white rice primarily  and then I try to buy the shelf stable milk and rotate it out as needed to try and at least keep a emergency supply of milk around for him (he will not do evaporated or dehydrated milk).  When it comes to Alvah and food...I worry, but when it comes to contemplating getting cut off from his favored foods or medicines...I panic a bit inside and just swallow it down and pray.  I can only do what I can do, so that's what I deal with.

So, I aim for a year's supply for canned goods, pasta (at least 52 boxes of pasta, preferably those 52 base boxes being angel hair or thin spaghetti as we go through at least a box a week of it with the son), bread flour, all purpose flour, sugar, rice (never makes it, but I buy 50 lbs when dividends come in and try to make it go as long as possible...once again it's a son preferred food), milk (evaporated or dehydrated and shelf stable every three months on average going with the expiration date on the milk), bullion and other staples and then I build up from there to put satellite items like vanilla, corn starch and things like that into the pantry as well.  I aim for at LEAST three months, but hope for a year's worth as there have been many a lean year around here and having a good amount of food storage has cut down on our grocery bill when we absolutely needed to save every penny we could get.

Section 3:  Conclusion

So, after taking into account all of that, would I consider food storage a necessity for everyone?  Well, yes, I would as it's just smart to keep extra food around in the short term in case you run into problems and can't afford groceries one week, or are laid up and can't get to the store for a few days with a twisted ankle or something (or have no money coming in because of that), or even for a snow storm hits and you don't want to risk your life to go to the store for a gallon of milk.  

Long term food storage is a smart move in case you are laid off or work dries up (which has happened to us more than once in the past with my husband working in the construction field with variable income circumstances being a norm) or you suddenly find yourself just not being able to work, let alone a natural disaster cutting you off from things for any length of time.  In Alaska, though, it is not only smart, but necessary really, so you can ride out the uneven ebb and flow of food supply up here let alone something major happening.

And there you go folks.  Some of the unique challenges living in Alaska and why we consider it necessary to keep a decent amount of food storage around.  I hope you found it useful or at least interesting to read *laugh*.

And now I'm off to work on my shopping goals, which I've redone about five times now, so far.  Hope you are all having a good day :).