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. 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 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'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'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 :).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

Well, okay, so it's Monday, but I'm calling it close enough for this week plus a few days.

We all ended up losing the battle against the cold that Alvah brought home with him this week, so I was down for most of last week (and am praying I'm finally getting over it) along with Alvah and then poor Armina got it over the weekend and the husband went down like the Titanic today.  So, it's not been a lot of fun this week with health.

The worst downside for Alvah on the cold front is that his eczema went nuts when he was sick and so he has nasty cracks on the bottom of one of his feet, cracks (but not as bad) on his other foot and hands and he's pretty much broken out all over.  Even his face hasn't been spared with this flare up :(.  He's been limping around on and off, missed school Friday to keep him off his one foot and I've been blowing through plastic wrap and Vaseline trying to keep his feet wrapped and moisturized to try and help the nasty cracks heal before he ends up with a skin infection again.

Between him being miserable with his skin and his cold, Armina's stomach flaring last week making her miserable and then her catching the cold over the weekend and's been rough for the kids the last few weeks, but we're getting through it.

We celebrated the son's birthday this last week.  The birthday was a simple affair for the most part (I was sick at the time), but he had a great time with birthday celebrations at school, we went out to dinner with the grandparents and he actually had a really good time on his birthday and following days.  We ended up, inadvertently, celebrating his birthday week versus his birthday only.  He got two movies in digital format for his birthday that he'd like, he got dinner out with the grandparents (and had a blast, which was nice to see), got cake for dessert the next day (and had a blast blowing out the candles over and over again, which I'll never get tired of seeing as it took him so long to figure out that skill :), and then as the topping on sundae I finally got a comforter made for him (seen up top in its done glory) as his final late birthday gift from me.

 After finally getting to work with high loft batting, I've decided that I never want to work with it again.  MAN it's a pain to work with compared to the lower loft batting.  I went through about ten bobbin fillings, I think, I totally blew through the rest of my white thread to quilt the batting down and I think I knocked the foot off of my sewing machine about ten times feeding the batting and material through the sewing machine. But, it is done.  Complete with about ten bazillion errors, but it's done and he'll know I made it for sure with all of the crooked quilting lines on it *laugh*.

And now onto the money saving things that happened this week so I can get onto working on the monthly goals for this month (I'm definitely behind due to being sick and everything).

1.  Shopping was pretty much non-existent this week due to it being our non-pay week and trying to conserve as much money as we could to help pay for things.  We had some unforeseen expenses.  For instance our dishwasher, after many years of sub-par service (things have just been slowly going on it over the past two or so years), finally died on us pretty much this week.  It no longer will get the dishes clean no matter what you do  (I just stopped using the top rack completely the last few loads I've done and have to wash the bottom on the high temp super long wash to get anything on the bottom close to clean) and the husband was pretty certain that the pump was going on it.  So, we went in with the Sears card on a a super Labor Day sale they were having and got a new dishwasher (the husband still needs to install it, so I don't have a picture the meantime I'm just using the "screeching and grinding like it's being tortured" dishwasher in the meantime).  We'll get 200.00 back in Shop Your Way rewards over the next six months as part of the sale (you get like 33.00 a month every month for six months), so the plan is to go in with the rewards every month and just get my husband a pair of jeans as Sears is the one store that sells the jeans he likes to wear or socks or whatever he might need (and we shall pray that Sears remains open for those six months and actually has some inventory to speak of). 

We got so much off of the dishwasher due to using the Sears card to pay for it (it was like 5% off), the dishwasher we got was 40% off as part of the sale, we got the 200.00 in rewards back, and we used up a bunch of Shop Your Way special deal thingies on it as well so we got it for a decent price when it was all said and done.  I'll pay off the dishwasher next month when PFD's come in and such (because the amount on our Sears card between the dishwasher and the bed is giving me hives of anxiety right now), but the sale was good enough to take advantage of this month and it is definitely a comfort to have the new dishwasher ready to go in on the fly if the other one just grinds to a halt (which I'm honestly waiting for that to happen the way it is working).  I did end up getting the dishwasher in black because it was the cheapest option that was in stock (I was NOT going to pay another nearly 200.00 for stainless steel), but I think it will look alright in the kitchen, and hey it will work, so it is completely worth it!

I'm just hoping that for the time being things are done breaking around here.  Let us pray.

Right, but back to shopping.  We just got essentials this week and ended up spending about 30.00 on groceries this week, part of that being some plastic wrap I had to get to help wrap the son's feet at night as I'm blowing through it at a rapid rate.

2.  I started to take an in depth inventory of what we had in the way of canned goods and such and started to make a list of things I needed to get to pad out the pantry. 

Total side tangent here, but I am working on a post about Alaska and our unique set of circumstances up here when it comes to food storage and such as I got some curious e-mails after the mouse invasion as people were asking about how Alaskans figured out how much food to store for winter with our lack of cheap fresh produce and stuff.  I'm going to work that into shopping goals and things for this month...I'm still working on how to do the post, but yeah...I'm working on it :).

Back to the post...while working on the list of things I needed to get, I started thinking about it and decided that I could help pad out my stores just by harvesting the few things I had around here that grew this year and that were free to me to harvest.  So, I went out and harvested a ton of rhubarb from my monster plant.  I'm not even at 50% taken off of the plant so far, but I'm running out of freezer space.  I went online and looked up tons of rhubarb recipes and have decided that we're going to learn to really like rhubarb this winter.  Once I explained my reasoning to the husband he totally understood and agreed to give it a shot (rhubarb isn't his favorite).  I'm looking forward to the challenge and think that I can use the rhubarb to help make food stretch this winter for sure.

I am also planning on harvesting rose hips this year again, but I'm just going to stew them to get the juice and then freeze it the juice quart bags as the rose hips are pretty ripe at this point and are I'm sure kind of mushy, so drying them without the middle seed would be really hard to do.  This way I can just throw a bag into a pot and heat it up for tea over the winter, make some syrup or candy with it, etc.  I'm sure I can figure out different ways to use it up.  I do NOT need rose hip jelly as I still have plenty left over from last year, which is good as I really like it :).

3.  I explored Amazon music this week while working around the house and was thrilled to find that one of my favorite singers for years, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 (and later a solo career) had a new album out and that Matchbox 20 had two new albums out since the last time I really kept track of them.  I was able to download all of the albums for free to listen to them and I am SO glad I was able to do that for free.  I didn't like the new Rob Thomas album at all, the first Matchbox 20 album had like three new songs and tons of redos from their other albums (which the new songs weren't to my taste) and the other new album, North, was okay and I enjoy some of the songs on it, but I wouldn't have liked it enough to justify buying it.  So, by screening the albums for free, I saved myself a bunch of money I would have probably ended up spending at some point if I didn't have that option and ended up feeling ripped off.  So, yay for having the ability to listen to music for free with Prime on Amazon!

4.  I watched a lot of Bob Ross and Victorian Farm this week when I couldn't sleep because I wasn't feeling well.  It really did help me to relax and I think gave me a better quality of sleep when I was able to sleep.

5.  We finally got a Michaels in Wasilla this week, which is great as it's a lot closer than driving an hour to go to one in Anchorage!!!  Their grand opening was on Sunday.  I didn't go and I probably won't for a while, but I was thrilled as I'm looking forward to going in around Christmas to take advantage of some of their Christmas sales for the daughter especially as she's really into art and I'm thinking she might like some crafty things now a days too :).  I went and downloaded the app onto my phone so I will be up to date on coupons no matter when I go.

6.  I made the comforter for the son's birthday with materials I had on hand.  I ACTUALLY had planned on doing a completely different comforter with a construction themed sheet I had found, but the previous owners had stored the sheet and used it with folds around the edges that were there for so long that the sheet developed holes on the folds, so I would have lost a good three to four inches off the comforter having to avoid all of the holes.  I'm thinking that I might turn it into a center panel, much like his race car quilt, and give him a construction themed quilt as part of his Christmas gifts, but we'll see if I can run into some batting cheap and such.

7.  Our cat Prince has been making us proud by going out and killing mice left and right, so I'm hoping by doing that he might just scare off the mice from around the house.  I can dream anyway *laugh*. 

8.  I emptied out another video shelf (well nearly) by grabbing some empty containers out of the garage that were just sitting around waiting for me to store them in the shed or something (shows how bad I can be at procrastinating).  I then took my cookbook collection out of the china cabinet and put it in some of the empty shelf space (which I'm still working on arranging things in the china cabinet with the linens to work better now I have more space) and also emptied out the top shelf of the son's closet that housed a bunch of children's books and put those out in the living room too.  I do like having the books all in one place now and by emptying out the big top shelf in the son's room I'll hopefully also have room for some of his many comforters and quilts and I can get them out of my closet (he blows through so much bedding that we have quite a collection to make sure he's got something on his bed all the time).

9.  We hung up our Halloween decorations as soon as September rolled over.  My husband loves Halloween as much as the kids love Christmas (well...nearly...Alvah has actually been trying to take down the Halloween decorations so I can put up Christmas's kind of cute that he's gotten into the Christmas holiday so much the last few years :), so we try to put up the Halloween decorations as soon as we can and keep them up for a while.  I still have a pile to hang up from the Halloween decorations Alvah made with his class last year, so I'm hoping to get those up this week, but it's fun hanging up the decorations the kids have made since preschool.  Completely free, ends up making the house look neat, and the  kids love it too :).

10.  I took out a chicken carcass, my carrots (which were rotting on the ends...I've never had that happen before...I've had them dry out or sprout roots, but not rot like was upsetting), what sad little bit of celery I had left, an onion and some freezer dried chicken (not too terribly bad, though) and made a BIG pot of chicken soup.  I froze the soup in portions without any noodles in it and will add noodles as I pull the bags of soup from the freezer to stop the noodles from being mushy.  I actually ate quite a bit of the chicken broth and things this week when I was sick and I as definitely happy to have the soup available.

And there you go folks.  Some of the things I did this week.  How about you?  Your week go well?

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap (Times 1 1/2)

It's been a long week and a half and it's been kind of a roller coaster of stuff going on, so be prepared (for instance, the above picture will be explained in more detail).  This post is probably going to be super long.

First and foremost I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart that chimed in with words of empathy, encouragement and advice after my last post.  I needed every last bit of positive vibes that I could get. 

One person chimed in with advice on getting the carbonation out of the champagne by putting it into another container (in this case I used a my 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup) and stirring the Heck out of it.  It worked!  I finally have flat champagne to cook with.  By the way I made baked fish with it this week and it was really, really delicious!  My husband and I were impressed and made jokes about aging some more champagne *laugh*.

I had people chime in with advice on storing canning jars with lids on and off, which I appreciated as I do not claim to be a canning expert and am always open to learning.

I had a LOT of people tell me horror stories of mouse and other vermin invasions, which on one hand made me sad and horrified for them, but at the same time made me feel so much less alone in my struggles.

So, thank you.  I really do think those two words sum up the best what I am feeling at the moment.  Thank you!

A lot of people gave advice on how to keep mice out of the pantry (speaking of advice people gave) by using metal since mice can't (or don't like to) bite through it and I definitely ran with that advice.  I used a combo of aluminum foil on the interior walls (which I should have taken a picture of as it looks pretty space-agey) and then steel wool jammed into the crevices on the outside walls as seen above.  I let the cats have full reign of the pantry for a good week before I would put anything back into the pantry and then finally the larder beetles started coming back (okay, so I got two adult larder beetles showing themselves in the span of three days and I freaked a bit) to the point that I knew I had to get the house cleaned and so I carefully put the pantry back together so it'd be functional, but hopefully safe from vermin potentially returning.

I did end up spending some of our disposable income (which I was blessed with enough money to have some disposable income, which I was very grateful for) to go and buy peaches at Three Bears this week.  I would normally wait, but I had  a good reason for rushing out and doing that.  When I told my daughter that the 20 pints of peaches I had in the pantry were gone, she burst into tears as she LOVES home canned peaches the most, but peaches in general are her favorite side with dinner.  We go through at least two jars or cans a week (I was rationing out the home canned jars of peaches to make them last longer), so I knew that what little we had in the way of canned peaches weren't going to last us.  Three Bears, oddly enough, didn't have any flats of canned peaches at all (I've heard it was a bad peach year, so that might be part of it) but I did find that they had regular jarred peaches (the Kirkland brand ones from Costco) that came in a three pack.  So, I bought a couple of the multi-packs of jarred peaches to help band-aid the loss of the home canned peaches for Armina.  I'll work on buying a bunch more canned peaches as sales pop or something.  I'm still working on the fine details on the how and where.  I'm still trying to figure out the whole replacing of the stuff we lost, thing and am just doing it a little bit at a time. 

I threw out everything that needed to be thrown away after the mice got to it, cried a bunch of tears, got through that.  I managed to get the pantry cleaned with a lot of crawling around with a hand broom, a bucket of bleach water to sterilize the floor (the son is very allergic to rodents, so I was trying to be super careful when I was doing that), a roll of free aluminum foil (to bunch up and stuff into the gap at the bottom of the drywall around the bottom of the interior walls) and a bag of steel wool out of the garage (which I told my husband I have an IOU to get him another thing of steel wool as soon as possible).  Then I went through, took inventory of what I had left, washed and sterilized all the canning lid bands (and washed down the outside of every jar with a sanitizing solution just to be safe) and dried them out.  I put the bands on all of the jars, stored what was left of the bands in my pressure canner, put the jars that I had left by type into containers to help make stacking them and things easier and got to work.

So, let's take a quick tour of the post-mice pantry.

Right, so here is the entrance to the pantry.  You'll notice that a lot less 5 gallon buckets sit along the walls at the moment.  I wanted to keep the pantry as cluttered as little as possible so the cats could have access to as much as they could, so those buckets are located elsewhere.  The five gallon buckets under the shelves are rice (closest to the door), sugar, all purpose flour and bread flour.  In the Rubbermaid tote on the other side of the door is just some miscellaneous things that I wanted to keep protected like manicotti noodles and things.  On top of the tote I put pans that I wanted to keep off the floor, my manual grain mill and my french fry cutter and a few odds and ends.

The baskets that previously housed crackers and things now house some dried cherries that survived the onslaught (in jars) and the freeze dried strawberries that I had sealed with the food saver mason jar attachment and had managed to survive the ordeal.  In the bottom basket are just some empty plastic containers, so nothing there to attract anything.

Also by the door I put jars of jam that I figured we should use up first since they are getting a bit old.  It's working quite well doing it that way, so I figure that is what I'm going to do from this point forward to make sure the first in first out rule is applied to the jam and jelly inventory.

Next up is the first metal shelf.  On the bottom I stored all of the commercially canned/tinned fruits and vegetables (well except the peas, I put those in another spot, which you'll see in a few here) and put the overflow on the top shelf.  Then I put the applesauce, sauerkraut, jarred cherries and cherry pie filling (as well as a few jars of jams and jellies) on the top shelf as those things are used the most often out of what was left.  I put some of the old shelves from the put together DIY shelves I had and used those as side guards for the top shelf so that I don't lose any jars to an ill timed earthquake.  I kept the shelf out from the wall enough that the cats can fit completely behind said shelf and watch for any mouse invaders (and I can shine a light back there to make sure the steel wool is still nice and secure to the wall).

I then took the other metal shelf and put it facing the other way.  This was done with good reasons in mind, mainly so I could fit myself into the gap between the shelves to watch the outside wall for any potential rodent problems.  This one is pulled away from the outside wall enough that the cats can watch the outside wall.  The shelf is pushed against the inside wall, but under the shelf is completely bare so I can shine a light under and make sure the steel wool is, once again, secure.

I stored the #10 cans of emergency food storage on this shelf, mainly to keep it off the floor to provide less mouse hiding places.  On top of the cans I stored whatever flat boxes I could find to store the jams and jellies to keep them up and safe.  On the one side of the shelf I did stack up the flats of evaporated milk I have, the canned peas (we don't go through many of those around here) and the sweetened condensed milk cans.

And here's the shot of the home made shelves stacked up with odd and end cans, condiments and anything that was on the floor of the pantry.  The bottom shelf that is on the floor is completely empty to give the cats free reign in this area and the entire back of the pantry is empty.  The cats love it as they can run around in there like maniacs all night long.  Hopefully it will do what I want it to do and can keep the food stored and safe from vermin.

So, there you go folks.  The new pantry.  May it do well keeping food stored, safely, from this point forward.

After much inhaled dust (should have worn a dust mask), lots of back pain, knee pain, hip pain, everything pain, etc, it's done.  At least I have my house back again and can get the cleaning caught back up (made decent progress today).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I actually gained something this week!  A new mattress, box spring and pillows!!!  Sears is...well...not doing well business-wise (they went below 2.00 per share this last week from what I was reading) and so they are having some awesome sales to pump up their sale numbers.  And I took advantage of one this week. 

I got an e-mail advertising 60% off mattresses for their labor day event with free delivery and if you spend 50.00 you get 50.00 back in Shop Your Way points (which is basically cash back).  I kind of went on the site for a laugh, figuring there was no way I was going to be able to afford anything, but looking anyway.  And I stumbled across a deal that we couldn't turn down.  They had a mattress on sale for less than 200.00 (down from nearly 500.00), a box spring on sale for 130.00 and with my Shop Your Way points and deals I had from various e-mails I was able to get a mattress and box spring for 260.00 delivered!!!  We used our Sears card to pay for it (the only credit card we really have left) to get the free delivery and things and we got the bed delivered yesterday.  Then the next day I went online and found that the 50.00 cash back points we got would come in 2 installments of 25.00 each (or 26.00 and some change for what we bought) over two months and you only had 30 days to use each installment of points (which of course there's always a catch).  I used the first installment of points to order new pillows for our bed for free as my husband's and my pillows were FLAT and I mean FLAT.  While picking up the free pillows in store we went and got my daughter a white shirt for her orchestra concerts for 40% off, so it ended up costing us 10.00 and some change, which was definitely worth it.

The next big thing that happened this week is that my husband decided we needed to get away from everything (understatement of the year, really) that had been going on around here, so we filled up the truck and headed off on a road trip to Whittier and Portage.  It was a full, but fun day.  We went through the longest tunnel in the country to get into Whittier (fun fact for those who don't know) and went touring the town.  I hadn't been there in about 17 years or so, so it was kind of neat seeing how the town had changed in that time. 

We walked the docks (obviously from the above picture).  I was rather proud of that shot as it came out looking really good, especially for being taken with my Tracfone.

For once the weather was nice in Whittier.  Usually it's raining.  So, it was a really good day to walk around.  We parked in the free parking lot with a free two hour parking maximum and walked around the town, but before that we drove out to the outlaying roads and found one that was closed for construction that had a really nice view, so we walked along that road for quite a while taking in the sights from above.

Long shot of the docks from above.  I was hoping for a bit more detail in the distance, but it still came out looking pretty good.

After we left Whittier we stopped off at the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center in Portage and walked the beach (well rock bed) for a while after we took a quick tour of the visitor center itself.  We got to watch some tourists taking video from above with their drone, which was cool and ran into a couple who were picnicking on the rocks.  The kids had a blast throwing rocks into the water and my husband and I had a good time trying to teach the daughter how to skip stones.

I took a couple of shots of the surrounding glaciers from the shore.  Once again, I am impressed with how good of quality the photos were for being taken with a phone.  It amazes me how far phones have come  when it comes to things like this.
And shot two...
Okay, so both Portage shots look about the same, but they are still pretty, so I wanted to share.

My husband scoped out a few other places he'd like to take us to visit in the area from all of the free tourist maps we picked up, so that'll be fun to go back and revisit at some point.

After the visit to Whittier I've spent the last few days just trying to get caught up on housework as I was already behind with all of the masses of stuff stacked everywhere due to the mouse problem.  Yesterday the bed got delivered, so at least the downstairs looks good (after getting it all nice and clean for the delivery guys to walk through the house and also to make sure the new bed looked nice and was in a clean room *laugh*).

So, yeah, let's get down to the money saving things that happened this week that are more normal day to day stuff.

1.  My mother-in-law invited me over to pick raspberries when I asked if there were any ready, so when my son was in therapy one day I went over and picked raspberries.  My mother-in-law helped me find the ones that were worth picking as a ton of them were just plain rotten on the bushes due to the sheer amount of rain we've had this year.  The berries we picked were so water logged that my daughter and I gave up trying to eat them fresh as they didn't taste like much.  I sprinkled some sugar over them and let them sit in the fridge overnight and then tried them and they were better...more flavor, but watery.  I froze them to help break down the berries further and I'll pull them out later and boil them down into raspberry syrup to top waffles with one night. 

The weather is finally sunny and nice out (for like the first time in forever) for the next week (so sayeth the weather report), so I'm hoping the raspberries will rebound a bit, get nice and flavorful and I'll be able to pick some more to use fresh.  Here's hoping.

2.  Armina is interested in the arts and has been working to improve her drawing and painting skills, but doesn't really want to listen to me tying to teach her about perspective and things, so when she couldn't sleep last night I introduced her to Bob Ross via YouTube.  She was very impressed and really sat up to pay attention to what he was doing.  And, of course, she loved his personality.  I need to find her some of the episodes where he shows off his baby squirrel friends.  She'd get a real kick out of that :).

3.  To help celebrate the coming of fall (which has always been my favorite season), I took the last box of condensed mince meat I had in the cupboard, reconstituted it via the directions and made some mince meat tarts with it.  I got kind of fancy with the upper crusts on most of them (out of necessity as the half recipe of pie dough I made would only make it if I did lattice work for the tops *laugh*) and tried to do a quicky "Pinterest-like" autumn shot with the end result.  It didn't work as well as I'd hoped it would, but the tarts were yummy, so I was okay with that ;).

4.  I worked on decluttering more and while cleaning off the china cabinet looking for larder beetle larvae (better safe than sorry), I found some coasters my son made for me in Kindergarten.  I put them aside to use them more as I think he'll get a kick out of that and really I can always use more coasters.

5.  I found the hole the mice were getting into the house in, I think.  I found a hole under the front porch that followed the ground wire for the well pump.  It made sense since the hole went right through the foundation, into the wall where the mice were and such.  I stuffed the hole with aluminum foil (and later steel wool as I didn't want the copper wire for the well pump degrading the aluminum foil) and then placed a brick I had purchased a long time ago to use for pressing sandwiches (now a days I use all of my various cast iron pans to do that) on top of the hole.  My husband is going to use some duct seal (a plastic-like material used in ducting and things that makes things water tight) he has around the garage somewhere to seal up the hole later, which will hopefully stop the blighters from getting into the house that way.

It's amazing what weird things you can have on hand sometimes.  I mean, doesn't everyone just have a random brick lying around they can use to close up a hole nice and flat?  Of COURSE they do *laugh*.

6.  I harvested some of my monster rhubarb plant, sliced it up and put it into the freezer to make things with later on.  I got two big freezer bags full of sliced rhubarb and I didn't even dent the plant this year!  I'm impressed with how huge that plant has grown the last few years!  It's actually spreading down the hill. 

7.  My husband had a pot luck dinner at work.  I told him to sign up for a side dish and I baked a couple of loaves of bread.  I figure bread goes with pretty much any themed meal and for the most part people are usually happy getting home made bread.

And, yeah, I know there is more that happened, but I've been typing this post for a good three hours.  Alvah managed to come down with a cold over the weekend (we're definitely back to school now *sigh*) and isn't feeling well and is very demandy and the daughter is in and out on the not feeling great scale.  So, I'm going to call it quits and go and take care of them. 

How about you?  How did your week and a half go?  Well, I hope?