Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap (Times 2)

First, thank you to all of the concerned e-mails the past few days asking if we are okay and such because I hadn't posted the last few weeks.  I had planned on blogging a bunch this month, but it has been so insanely busy around here that I just plain couldn't seem to find the time to get it done.  Luckily, home school is almost done for the year (I still plan on teaching the son a couple of days a week all summer long just to make sure he doesn't lose skills, but it is going to be a lot less hectic), so I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to do things I WANT to do versus things I have to do soon.

Right, so what have we been up to the last couple of weeks?  Lots is the best answer.  Let's get to it!

1.  When meat packing plants started going down due to the virus, I knew that our already sporadic supply lines were going to suffer even worse and was getting worried about food security (panicky would actually be more accurate).  I also looked in our freezer and realized that the weeks and weeks of not shopping much had really eaten down our freezers to a point where I really did need to start figuring out ways to restock them.  Our stimulus payments came in and first I paid off what I could for bills and then I started to look into getting meat.  I looked to local sources, figuring that those would still be available, and I was right.  Now it was a matter of figuring out what to get and where to store it.

I really wanted to just invest in a half of a cow (which the remainder of the stimulus payment would nearly cover), but also knew that I wouldn't have the freezer room to do it unless I had an additional freezer.  I looked at our old small block freezer out on the deck and wondered if we could fix it somehow, but also decided to look into potentially getting just a new freezer if we could get it (contingency plan and all)...and I found out some depressing news.  Turns out that a major component in microwaves and freezers comes out of China and the stores were completely out of freezers and were wondering if and when they would get freezers back into stock.  So, that was a dead end.  I went out and cleaned up the small block freezer on the deck after talking to my husband about trouble shooting what might be wrong with it.  My husband looked at the freezer and wondered if the cord was to blame for our problems and the freezer's failure as he couldn't find anything glaringly wrong with it, so I pulled the freezer into the kitchen (our outside plug in/receptacle doesn't work, it turns out when I plugged it in out there) and plugged it in after bending the prongs a bit so it would plug in decently tight.  Sure enough it worked. 

So, my husband changed out the plug on the freezer with a replacement he had on hand (which is a LOT better and way more stable), stuck an amp monitor on it and we waited to see what would happen with it.  When it worked great for three days straight, I called up our local butcher shop and ordered a half of a cow beef pack.  It took a week (lots of meat and them being slammed with orders combined to create a bit of a wait), but we picked up the meat on Thursday and filled up the small block freezer with beef.  I had a plan when I ordered the meat so it would all sit pretty much flat and would stack well in the freezer  (ordered lots of steaks and only ordered roasts that I knew would cut pretty flat) and how I would stack up the huge amount of hamburger we would end up with from the cow and it all worked perfectly (I love it when a plan comes together).  Once the beef was completely frozen through and we were sure the freezer wasn't going to fail, I ordered some chicken and some pork and it is currently on order with the butcher shop.  I'm looking forward to getting the call to go and pick that up sometime soon.  Once we pick that up we should be pretty set on meat for a while, which will be a huge load off of my mind with how things are going lately.

2.  I also took some of the stimulus payment and purchased a CSA through one of our local farms.  For 12 weeks starting at the end of June I'll be getting a box of fresh produce every week.  So, even if the garden doesn't do well this year, I'll have a contingency plan (and really extra produce is not something I am going to complain about right now) and we'll have some fresh vegetables around here.

3.  I started actively searching through the freezer and pantry to use up ANYTHING that is a bit out of date and needing to be used up as we are not wasting anything if we can absolutely help it.  I used up some home canned cherry pie filling and made a cherry pie one night for dessert (I have frozen pie crusts to use up as well), made beans and rice with some moose hot dogs that a friend of ours had given us years ago and were sitting vacuum sealed in the freezer (the daughter liked it), used up some older vegetables that I had and threw them in with a pork roast when I pressure cooked it and other things.

I also made fondue with little bits of dried out cheese we had shoved in the back recesses of the fridge.  The fondue, due to the lack of moisture in the cheese, came out a bit grainy, but it still tasted good and we enjoyed it with free bagels (frozen from the Safeway Monopoly game) and vegetables dipped in it.

4.  Speaking of using things up, I ran across an older package of bacon buried in the freezer when I emptied off one of the shelves (like I said...we definitely have eaten down our freezers the last bit) and when I ran across a package of split peas in the pantry I knew what I would do with them.

I made one of my husband's favorite "survival" types of foods.  Erbswurst.  Overseas people can buy Knorr Erbswurst already prepared so you can take it hiking or whatever, but over here it is impossible to get unless you are willing to pay a pretty good amount of money to buy it and ship it to Alaska through a German online market or something. 

I made Erbswurst...geez...years ago for the husband to try and he loved making pea soup with it, especially when he was sick, but eventually the parchment paper coating on it went moldy and we ended up throwing a bit of it away.  This time I made it the right way.  For fat I used lard that I had in the freezer and I followed the recipe exactly.  For the casing I used some fibrous casings I had bought at our local sportsman's store a long time ago.  I had originally bought it to make summer sausage with, but had run out of frozen ground turkey that I needed to use up, so I ended up only using like one casing before putting the rest into storage for later use.  So, I used up some of the casings and made some Erbswurst and now my husband has ready made pea soup for when he needs a protein boost (that's the very green sausage seen in the photo above).

5.  I baked a lot the last few weeks to help stretch meals (and supplies really).  I made honey bran muffins (from a mix I had in the pantry), biscuits (to avoid making rice as I'm trying to make that stretch as far as I can), bread (for toast and sandwiches), cookies (for snacks) and lemon bars.  The biscuits lasted several meals as the daughter and I found we liked to eat them at breakfast with some jam or butter on them (I actually enjoyed mine with some ginger curd I had in the pantry :).

6.    I had a pile of Monopoly coupons that I hadn't put in the online codes for.  I pretty much gave up on the game when the virus hit as the idea of searching through the store to find this or that free item was not going to happen as I have been trying to avoid shopping and in the event I DO go shopping I am trying to get in and out as quickly as I can to avoid exposure to people and things people have touched.  But, I had the coupons, so I went online and entered my codes.  I then redeemed them all for gas rewards to use them up, which worked out great as with the cheaper price on gas as well as the fuel rewards I was able to fill up my truck for just over 20.00 (and I was running on empty).  I have to say that the oil industry tanking is rough because I know it is killing my state, but on a micro level I really am enjoying the lower fuel prices to fill up my vehicles.

7.  I sewed masks the last few weeks.  I made a couple for my husband for work (so far...I still need to make about three more) and I made a few for the kids and I.  I am hoping to sew more in the next couple of days. 

For anyone looking for a simple tutorial for masks I definitely suggest this tutorial by "Billette's  and Baubles" on YouTube.  I searched through many tutorials before I found hers and I hers was definitely the best, and easiest, one I found.  I ended up making my husband's masks with some bias tape ties instead of elastic (he has a big head the elastic wasn't going to work for him) but for the kids and I the masks work just fine.  I used materials I had on hand to make the masks, which definitely made them cost effective.

8.  The second round of Aerogarden lettuce is doing well and I harvested it a couple of times this last week.  I am happy that we have fresh lettuce to harvest already even though the threat of frost isn't past yet, so I can't really plant a garden quite yet :).  And, so far, the new spot on top of the microwave has kept the lettuce safe from the son, so yay for that!

9.  I had fun re-watching parts of both the "Wartime Farm" and "Edwardian Farm" series.  I'm actually finding that both have lessons that can be learned and applied to our current world situation.

10.  I found a few English muffins in the freezer that needed to be used up as well as a small baggie of tomato sauce.  Combined both of those with some frozen mozzarella cheese and voila!  I got to introduce my family to English muffin pizzas (a staple of my childhood).  The daughter really fell in love with them, which was nice as those are at least something she can make on her own to start on her cooking adventures.

11.  I made a menu plan for a few weeks when I had a free moment and managed to stick to it pretty religiously the last few weeks.

12.  My daughter's current (and probably last for the year) science unit called for us to find a microscope to study cells with.  Normally our home school would have those available to borrow, but with the schools closed that wasn't going to be an option.  Luckily, my husband and I have picked up educational tools over the years and my husband dug up a microscope we had.  The daughter LOVED using it and the unit as a whole and had a lot of fun.  One of the great benefits I've found from home schooling is being able to enjoy when the kids really actively love to learn something :).

13.  I gave the husband another haircut this week.  I ordered this (no associate link or anything, just sharing) with my husband's credit card rewards to help me gauge the length of hair as I cut (I'm terrified of ending up giving my husband a bowl cut looking haircut or something) and I went and studied some tutorials online on how to give haircuts on top of it.  We are going to cut the hair a bit shorter in a couple of weeks to slowly get the haircut to where my husband likes it, but so far he's happy with it, so I am thrilled that I didn't mess up his hair too badly *laugh*. 

My husband is really hoping I can get good at cutting his hair so that he can get haircuts more often.  With his work schedule and things it has always been kind of hard for him to find time to go and get his hair cut, so if I can keep his hair trimmed it'll save him a lot of grief, save us money in the long run and make us more self sufficient.  All good things.

14.  Spring/Break up hit, finally, and then the last few days it has actually been rather warm (nearly 60 F, which for us is summer like weather :). I've been able to open the windows and doors (and really upstairs it is necessary as it gets rather warm with the sun upstairs by the late afternoon) to let in fresh air and more importantly we've been able to turn off the electric heat during the day, which has definitely been a relief as turning those heaters off lets me see an immediate reduction in our electric bill.

15.  The husband was able to clean off a bunch of the broken things from our deck the last few weeks.  Not only were we able to fix the freezer (I say "we" but I mean "he"), but he was also able to haul off the old broken oven and such.  As a result the deck has so much more room now and I will have room to put a container garden out there now, which is good as the moose and rabbits can't get to plants out there :).

16.  Since summer break, for us, is imminent, I sat down and figured out a painting schedule for the other rooms in the house.  I am looking forward to doing the home improvements as the paint is already bought and all it will take is time and effort to get it done.

17.  My husband was also able to clean the garage more, which he was happy with as he's been trying to get that done for months and it seemed like he could never get time to do it.   He was able to get a new receptacle put in (one of the benefits of being married to an electrician) to work on a dryer he was trouble shooting and he'll be able to use later (he wants to get into appliance repair work, so he was happy to have the test receptacle for electric dryers and things installed :).

18.  I added water to a shampoo bottle that was "empty" and was able to extend the life of the shampoo by quite a bit.

And there you go folks.  Some of what we have been up to the last couple of weeks.  How about you?  I hope everyone is hanging in there!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap (Times 2)

It has been a rough few weeks around here.  I've been TRYING not to be obsessive about reading the local news as I know it isn't going to be good news.  Unfortunately, our legislature didn't disappoint and local folks up here are getting the federal relief and that is IT (and only the stimulus payments right now...a lot of bulk "relief" money the state is just plain pocketing and not passing on to those who need it the most).  Which with our cost of living...the federal stimulus payment doesn't go very far.  For some folks it won't even pay their rent so they are going to try and negotiate something out with their landlords so that they don't lose the roof over their heads.  It is BAD.  We are looking at a horrible depression up here when the smoke clears just from the virus, let alone the fact that our state government has cared nothing about expanding business interests up here beyond oil and now the oil industry is crashing on top of it.  The future is bleak, let's just put it that way.

Bright point for us is that my husband is an essential service, so he at least still has a job.  I worry about him going to work and such, especially since the virus is going crazy in Anchorage, but at least we still have a paycheck coming in and he is being as super careful as he can (as are the other people he works with).  I am also truly grateful that my half sister back East was able to fight off the virus *knock on wood* after one relapse and seems to be doing okay now. 

We lost a part of our barn roof during some high winds we were having and I've found we are losing more and more tar paper covering with every breeze we get, but at least my husband found the piece of roof that had blown off and it didn't hit anything other than the ground, so that was a relief.

I am reading all kinds of blogs where people are growing food already and I have to say I'm a bit envious.  I have tried to start seeds...my cats killed them with extreme prejudice.  Even though the starter pods were TEENY TINY the cats see dirt and that's that.  I need to see if maybe my husband can help me figure out a spot to start seeds that cats and kids can't get to, but in the meantime I am living vicariously through others.  I can't start seeds outside anytime soon.  Normally we are at least looking break up in the face this time of year, but the air still has a bite of snow to it and we have gotten snow a couple of times the last couple of weeks.  I actually let the kids stay out for a long time sledding the last week as the snow finally compacted down where sleds would go over it really well.  The daughter had a blast.  The snow that is left on the ground is melting very very slowly, so if this trend continues I'm thinking June is probably my best bet for getting seeds in the ground.

So, with everything going on with local politics and everything, I kind of panicked and I knew it was time to go full on self sufficient as much as I can.  Survival, even if it is survival until the economy recovers elsewhere and we move, is on my mind big time right now (and with the huge resurgence of people showing interest in Victory Gardens and things, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here).  So the last few weeks I...

1.  Ordered seeds. 

Right, so a LOT of seed companies are completely out of seeds right now or are not taking orders, which threw me when I went to just order seeds for a big garden (and hopefully some type of greenhouse) this year, but for those in Alaska we have another option and that is Denali Seed Company.  Denali Seed Company sell seeds tailored to our short growing season and they offer a range of seeds to grow in the ground, in greenhouses, in container gardens, etc.  So, I put in a big order with them and got my seeds in within a week.

2.  I ordered a wheat grinder. 

I have an emergency cast iron wheat grinder that I bought years and years ago, but it basically just has built in uneven metal on it, no burrs or anything that you can replace and my coffee grinder works to make a super coarse grain flour, but I can't get it beyond that.  So I went online to look for a wheat grinder.  Turns out everyone is sold out of those too, including the Mormon Church (they are out of food storage that you could order online too...my brain kind of melted when I saw that).  I found a commercial outfit that was still taking orders online, so I ordered a grinder.  I hope.  The website works funky and while I got a confirmation order via e-mail, I haven't heard anything since.  Since they are a commercial outfit, this doesn't really surprise me much, but we'll see if and when I get said wheat grinder.  I hope it all works okay as I have a ton of wheat that I can grind and with the way flour is completely sold out everywhere and such...well...fresh ground flour is healthy and with tons of wheat around, it is free, so I'm figuring that it definitely a good thing.

3.  Still debating on....

  • Getting meat rabbits going
  • Getting a few backyard chickens again (at least I feel more confident in my ability to take care of chickens now that my husband has worked at his job for a while and gotten into a more stable payment schedule).
  • Saving up to get another freezer and buying like a half of a cow.
  • Buying a CSA (to support local agriculture to help it survive and also to make sure I still have fresh food in case of things like moose wiping out my garden again).
  • Getting a wood stove so we have an additional source of heat and another way to cook food (I have NO idea what our utilities are going to look like when this is all said and done, but I can say it probably isn't going to be pretty...going off the grid as much as possible seems like more and more of a viable idea).
This is what I am using our government stimulus money for.  I've actually gotten chewed out by a few people I know that were like, "but you are supposed to go and buy stuff at box stores to boost up the economy" and I am trying to get across to them that the bigger picture is something I am focusing on hard right now and that picture is one where being self sufficient is not only a good idea, but might very well be a downright necessary one and keeping money local is really important too.  Especially up here.  And I am lucky in that the stimulus money, for us, can be used to help these efforts, where a lot of people are trying to figure out how to stay in their apartment even after that check comes in.

So, yeah, anyway, other than putting myself into debt to put myself into a better position to be as efficient of a homemaker as I can for my family, what else happened the last few weeks? 

Well, for one thing I got a bill from our doctor's office that charged for doctor's visits for my husband back to July of last year (they have had terrible problems with their billing outfit back East for a few years and finally just started doing in house billing this last year), so I had to put nearly 600.00 onto my Care Credit to get that bill paid off.   I'll pay it off either with the stimulus money when (if) it comes in or pay it off over the next six months.  We'll see how it goes.  At least this bill had the visit with the EKG and things on it, so I don't have to worry about that bill coming up later and biting me in the rear.

Right, let's move on to brighter things.  Onto money SAVING things that happened this last week.

1.  Our home school will pay for things like Raddish, Kiwi Crate and things if you want to supplement your lessons with them through your allotment money, although this year is done for purchasing and things since school ends next month for the summer.  I have been really intrigued with a few of the box subscription services for Alvah  the last bit (thinking interactive kits that are just HIS when they come in might really make him feel special and help to engage him more), but didn't want to just commit next school year for an entire year or something and waste the money out of the home school allotment if it wasn't at all great or Alvah didn't show an interest in it.  So, I went online and checked out a few outfits to see what I could find.  I found that Raddish will sell old kits that are discontinued on a one time basis, so I went through and found one I figured would be fun to try.  I used a 5.00/1 code for your first order and got the box for 19.00 shipped.  I also went to eat2explore and checked out their boxes as well.  I really liked that their boxes came with some ingredients, like sauces and seasonings, but am a bit concerned as they said that their stuff could be processed with peanuts in their packaging facility.  So, I used a one time 20% off code and got a one time box to see what it entails and what kinds of allergens we are dealing with (you can order a country as a one time purchase whenever you want through them, which was nice, but they also charge shipping on the boxes so it is a give and take there).  I figure if it isn't safe for Alvah to do the eat2explore box I'll work on it with the daughter, which will still be fun.

If nothing else it'll give us a new activity to do while we are staying at home.

2.  I started watching a channel called "Party Kitchen" on YouTube.  Some of the episodes are subtitled in English and some aren't, but I love watching the Japanese cooking videos and things that are subtitled.  The videos are so calming and she makes truly yummy looking food :).

3.  I started watching "The 1940's House" on YouTube again.  It is something that I find relatable to our current set of circumstances with the shortages and not knowing what is going to happen next.

I find that I really enjoy watching YouTube or Prime Video at night when I am waiting for kids to go to sleep and I have to keep the house pretty quiet. 

I have also not missed one video that Townsends has put out during this entire course of events.  He's making some really great content and is really trying to help people keep things in perspective, keep their spirits up and helping people learn history at the same time.  I love that channel :).

4.  I took advantage of some quarantine freebies for the kids.  Our Sea Life center down in Seward has been doing virtual animal tours and things during the week and while we are usually in the middle of home schooling when the things air they are available to watch later, so we have had fun looking at the animals.  We have also taken some virtual museum tours, which the daughter has gotten a big kick out of.

5.  I paid my bills online and switched a few things that I had missed over to paperless statements and things.  It helps to keep more paper out of my mailbox, saves some trees, and saves me having to throw more things away later on. 

6.  I went shopping last night to pick up some prescriptions for the son and to get what I could for groceries that we have eaten down the last month.  I was surprised how much the store had changed with the six foot markers and such and was also rewarded to find that they had milk.  Also found that I wasn't the only one who had avoided shopping as milk was marked down to 1.66 per gallon, so I got two gallons when I was only planning on getting one.  I also found some meat on reduced as well, so I was able to get a pack of chicken drumsticks, a package of thin cut steaks, a huge things on hamburger (2.49 lb!)  and some boneless chicken thighs decently cheap.  I was grateful to find those things in stock as the meat has been pretty much empty the few times I've been to the store since quarantine had started.

The store had a bottle of cleaner/sterilizer at the front of the store with paper towels for you to wipe down your cart, which I did and then I got a few clean towels and saturated them with cleaner and as I went about my business I sterilized items as I put them into my cart as well as wiping handles on coolers and things as I grabbed items.  I got a few thanks yous from older people that I was doing that and I noticed a bunch more people doing it by the time I left the store.  Hopefully if more people pick up that habit we can help flatten the curve just a little bit more.

7.  The son has been on a destructive tangent of late (which has not helped my stress levels), which helped to add to the "rough" that I was speaking of earlier.  I was so happy with how my Aerogarden lettuce was coming along and had even harvested from it a few times this last week.  I walked into the kitchen one night to find that the son had found the lettuce, thought it was a toy and had out and out killed it...uprooted it, the whole nine yards.  I was so upset for a little bit, but then took a deep breath and calmed down, harvested what lettuce I could that was left, moved the Aerogarden to the top of the microwave (outside of Alvah's normal play zone on the counter top) and started over with my last three Romaine pods.  They are just sprouting up this morning, so hopefully they'll grow as fast as the last batch did and I'll have fresh lettuce in a week or so.  Thank goodness I had taken pictures of the nice, huge healthy lettuce earlier that day to send in for work samples to the home school later as I had incorporated hydroponics versus traditional seeding methods into his learning plan (since we are studying the plant life cycle and farming methods).

But, yeah, the new Aerogarden spot is seen up top.  May it live this time.

8.  I made sure to use up EVERYTHING that I could and went through my rationing books and things to try and find more ways to not waste food.  I'm working on making sure things like potato peels and things don't go to waste.

9.  I baked bread and tried to make sure I ONLY made enough food to last for dinner and maybe a few days worth of left overs (making sure on leftovers days that the husband and/or the daughter would eat the left over food for lunches later on) .  I made some thin cut chicken breasts one night that came out kind of dry (I baked them on the fly as time got away from me, which probably helped that to happen), so I used the left over chicken in salad along with some wobbly celery.  We ate the salad for dinner one night and then I ate it for lunch for a few days as well.  It worked out and nothing was wasted :).

10.  I mended, yet another, tear in a comforter.

11.  I shopped from the pantry as much as possible, which I have to say when you aren't going to physical stores much at all, it is a really good feeling to have a well stocked pantry.

12.  Took advantage of Rifftrax offering a free rental of a new movie that has come out from the director of "Time Chasers".  No Rifftrax involved in it, but if it is anything like the guy's previous movies it sets the stage to be a hilarious entertaining film in its own right.

13.  I went online and printed off some free coloring pages and fact sheets about Vermont to supplement the son's new geography unit.

14.  I redeemed credit card rewards that were available on my credit card.  I used said card  to pay off some of my medical bills back in January and then paid the card off so I could get the rewards.  Since it was used to pay for medical bills I got extra bonus points for using the card to pay them off.  I redeemed the rewards for a 10.00 Amazon gift card and a 25.00 Red Robin gift card.   Right now with how crazy everything is and how normal schedules are all screwy, the son can find it hard to cope, so going to get take out from Red Robin is one of those things that makes him so happy that I was thrilled to get the gift card to help make a trip there for food affordable.

15.  My rice cooker completely died, finally.  The built in silicone sealing ring started to disintegrate from age and use and steam started leaking EVERYWHERE resulting in crunchy, unevenly cooked rice.  The son eats a LOT of rice, so I could not be without a rice cooker.  Luckily, though, I had my spare Zojirushi rice cooker that I had picked up at the used store a while back for cheap. 

I was worried about ratios of rice to water as it seems that every rice cooker can be a little bit different.  I had done a trial run with the rice cooker a while back and it worked okay, so I wanted to make sure that I added the right amount of rice to water and things to make sure the rice cooker would hopefully live a good long time (and give me good rice as trying to find rice right now is like trying to dig up gold in your back yard.  You MIGHT find it, but probability is against you).   So, I went online and downloaded the manual for the rice cooker and found, much to my delight, that my old rice measuring cup from my other rice cooker would work just fine, so that'll make my life easier.

And there you are folks.  Some of the things that have been happening around here.  Hope you all are well and hanging in there!  Keep the faith!