Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What we learned when we had to live out of our pantry - Part 1

I recently asked if anyone would like to read an account of the time we had to live exclusively out of our pantry with no shopping.  There was interest and I was asked to post, so I'll do that now.  I have to admit, it's a bit daunting to try and compress several months of our life - some of the hardest months we've been through - down into a blog post.  But I will do my best. 
 
In 2005/2006 my husband became self employed.  I very quickly learned that the figure of speech, "feast or famine" was very much truth for those who are self employed.  I knew this would effect our kitchen more than anything.  So I talked it over with DH and we agreed to start pantry stocking in earnest during the "feast" times in order to better weather the "famine" times.  We stocked up and planned and worked and brainstormed and stocked up some more where our pantry was concerned.  We had one small deep freezer we had been given when we got married and a large one that had belonged to my parents.  When we started pantry stocking we purchased another large one at an auction for $40.  So we had 2 large freezers and 1 small one.  We worked hard to get them filled up.  We took a spare bedroom and added a couple of shelving units to it.  This soon became known as our "food room."  I added about 4 tall bookcases along the wall down our hall.  I purchased used icing (so they were food grade) buckets from the Walmart bakery for $1 a piece.  All I had to do was clean them.  (I'll talk about how to properly clean these buckets in another post.)  We shopped at Sams and Save A Lot.....a lot, lol.  I followed sales and deals and loss leaders.
 
We did this for two years. 
And then....the bottom just fell out of the economy.  Since my husband worked on a contract basis, he was the first to be let go.  But not only was he let go, but every single contractor in the city where he works in his field was let go.  This was late 2008, early 2009.  It's not that he just couldn't find a job - there simply were no jobs.  At all.  At that point, the recruiters that work in the city where DH works had every single one of their contractors out of work.  It was crazy. 
 
We immediately got rid of anything we could think of that was "extra."  Cable tv - gone.  (Still don't have that by the way, lol.)  Cell phones - gone.  Anything we could cut, we cut.  We didn't have a lot of frivolous bills to begin with, so the list of things cut was kind of small.  Luckily, our debt was very small as well.  There were not any credit cards to deal with.  The only thing we kept was our internet because without that, my husband wouldn't be able to get his next job.  It's a requirement for what he does.
 
So.  There we were with no job and no job prospects any time soon.  So let's talk about how our pantry and all the other stocking up really saved us.   We did not shop in any store at all from January - April.  (2009)  Then from May - December, we had to be so careful and watch every penny and we still had plenty of weeks where there simply was not enough money to go around.  (DH was working again by the end of the year, but it started out slow - part time hours.  He wasn't able to pull full time hours again until the beginning of the next year.)  As I said the other day, on my husband's last day of work, he came home with two huge boxes.  I had no idea what they were and they turned out to be toilet paper.  He had stopped at Sam's on his way home and spent $40 getting two of the biggest boxes they sell.  It wasn't the softest or the nicest tp, but we didn't care.  It worked and that's what mattered.  I already had us very stocked up on bathroom products.  Shampoos, conditioner, soap, shower gel, deodorant, q-tips, feminine products - you name it, I had been working on stocking it for 2 years.  Then the two huge boxes of tp he came home with, put our bathroom supplies over the top.  We did not run out of any of these items.  So they go on the "did well" side of the list.
 
Now, my method for stocking these things.  We weren't brand loyal.  If I found a soap or shampoo or what have you at Big Lots for .75 or .99, I bought it and it got put into our supply and rotation.  I even found some soaps and products at a dollar store called "N.B." This literally stood for "No Brand," lol.  They worked fine, smelled fine and even came in pretty packaging as well.  So I was not picky about brands.  Honestly, I had a motto of, "Buy it cheap and stack it deep."  And...it worked.
 
  Another note about feminine products.  Not to be tmi, but we're all ladies here.  First of all, if you keep your eyes open on Ebay, sometimes you can come across amazing deals there for these products.  I scored two huge boxes of feminine products that contained 500 in each box.  If memory serves me (it has been a few years) I think I paid less than $50 for both boxes.  I also did one other thing - and I know this isn't for everyone but it will be fine with others.  Keep what you like and ignore the rest.  I started purchasing, slowly over time, cloth pads off of Ebay.  Now, this was several years ago and honestly, they were cheaper then than they are now.  I found an Ebay seller who, at the time, would sell cloth pads for only $1 a piece in lots of 2 or 3.  I made a few purchases from her and some others I found here and there who had a good price and managed to get a decent sized stock of cloth pads.  So, no matter what - come what may, I knew that I had enough of these products in one form or another to serve me and my daughter for an extremely long time. 

Also along these lines ~ washing clothes.  I learned how to make my own clothing detergent years ago.  My normal method of keeping clothing detergent stocked up was to purchase whatever detergent I want/need at the time and can afford plus also always stay stocked up on Zote, Borax, and Washing Soda.  That way, if need be, I could make the switch over the "homemade" detergent without any issues.  We certainly did need to make the switch pretty quickly.  But since I had plenty of homemade detergent ingredients on hand and the amount of these ingredients needed to make a HUGE batch of gel detergent is so small, I had no problems in this department.  So this can go on the "did well" side too.
 
Ok, I'll need to stop here and split this into several posts over the next few days.  Otherwise, it will just be waaaaay too long and I'm afraid it will be too much for you to wade through at once.  So this was how we came to where we were and how I approached stocking up the bathroom products.  Tomorrow I'll start talking about food items. 
 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Easter pretties

Ok, I promise I'm not writing this it plug Yankee Candle, lol.  I just happen to love them and it's something that I let myself splurge on 2 or 3 times a year.  They have got so
many absolutely precious things out right now for Easter.  And considering how bad my spring fever is right now, anything Easter related is a good thing in my book!
 
I found out a week ago that they had put out a limited edition Peeps candle.  Now, the thing is, we adore Peeps in this house, lol.  My daughter loves them and they've just always been a thing for us.  So last week my daughter and I made a special trip to Yankee Candle just so both of us could get one of the Peeps candles.  :0)
 
 
How.  Cute.  And the scent has a good "throw" too.  It smells just like Peeps and my daughter told me last night that she can smell it in her room even with the candle unburned and with the lid still on.
 
They also had a Bunny Cake Candle.  Adorable.  You know the bunny coconut cakes you can buy at the grocery store each Easter?  Yes, that.  And it smells just like the cake. 
 
 
This morning I went to their website....(to gander a bit more at that bunny cake candle, lol) and found that they have online and in their catalog only ~ both a Chocolate Bunnies candle and a White Chocolate Bunnies candle.  Now, you can't get more Springtime and Easter than that, lol.
 
 
 
 


If you use DMC threads for any reason, you'll want to know this...


Just a quick note for you that I found out this morning.  DMC is "merging" some of their color threads.  Apparently with new colors coming in over the years they realized that they  had some colors so close in range that they could no longer be told apart.  So they are discontinuing one number and substituting another.  It only takes a moment's thought to see how this could give us fits when working from an old pattern with the old, discontinued numbers.  So this is a list that stitchers will need to keep on hand.  The discontinued numbers will still be found in stores for a while, but they will be in the process of being phased out. 
 
Here is the list
Discontinued - 504 and replaced with 3813
Discontinued - 731 and replaced with 732
Discontinued - 776 and replaced with 782
Discontinued - 781 and replaced with 782
Discontinued - 806 and replaced with 3760
Discontinued - 971 and replaced with 740
Discontinued - 3773 and replaced with 407

I'm going to keep one copy in my wallet and another copy with my thread boxes.  It's a list that will be needed for years to come if you stitch older patterns in your stash, which I know I'll be doing.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's the winter that won't end!

I have to say that we are so very weary of this winter.  I know spring is (surely) just around the corner but it's taking it's sweet time and it's frustrating.  We're being teased with some sunlight today and I thought that perhaps I could put my large aloe plant and Christmas cactus back out onto the front porch.  They have been spending the winter in my kitchen.  I also have some new hen and biddies that I want to plant in a pretty red pot for my front porch as well.  But I checked our extended forecast and by the beginning of next week our nighttime temperatures will be back down into the 20s.  Sigh.  So I'll have to wait a while longer.
 
I went to Sam's yesterday and had the weird experience of realizing that I'm trying to eat down our freezers while at the same time....making purchases to restock them.  Lol, let me explain.  I am still trying to cook from our freezers each day.  I want to reduce our old inventory.  But at the same time, there are still some normal "basics" that I need to stay stocked up on and keep a fresh rotation of.  Yesterday I picked up bacon, shredded cheese, butter, pepperoni and hot dogs (remember, I have 2 teens, lol) for the freezer as fresh inventory.  These are things that we are constantly going through and using, so I need a regular influx of them coming in.  I also picked up some cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
 
Speaking of toilet paper, remember when I mentioned a few posts ago when I said that during a time of job loss my family had gone through a time when we didn't shop in stores at all but lived solely out of our pantry and supplies we had stocked up?  Well, we had been given about 2 weeks notice that my husband's contract was going to end.  It was back when the economy first nose dived several years ago and all the contractors where my husband worked were all let go.  It was a while before work became available again.  On my husband's very last day of work, when he got home he had 2 HUGE boxes with him. He knew he had just gotten his last paycheck and we didn't know when we would get the next one.  So he had stopped at Sams on the way home and had spent $40 buying two of the biggest boxes of toilet paper that they sell.  Lol, smart man.  We were stocked up on almost everything there was to be stocked up on and we did have some TP in the stash...but not as much as what was in those 2 boxes.  That purchase literally saw us through all the months that we were out of work with no problems.
 
I learned a lot during those months of no shopping about what we truly did need to be stocked up on and how much of different things we really needed.  It's one thing to stock up and try to anticipate your needs.  But it's another entirely to live through a time of not being able to shop and live solely off of your stored items.  I've been thinking that maybe I could do short posts every now and then about different aspects of that time and what we learned going through it.  Some things we had anticipated very well and were prepared for and other things were a surprise and the lack was painful.  It has changed the way I stock up now, because I know where we were lacking when we had to live off of our stores.  Would anyone be interested in reading about that?  If there is any interest in it, I'll do a few posts talking about what worked and what didn't for us during that time, from real life experience.
 
Well, I'm off for now ~ things to do.  Have a wonderful day!

Monday, March 17, 2014

My eating from the freezer challenge

I have decided to do an eating from our freezer challenge.  I am very lucky in that I have a lot of freezer space.  We have a small freezer above the fridge in the house.  But then I also have a large chest freezer that belonged to my parents in our out building.  We keep any nicer cuts of meat or more expensive items there because our building stays locked up.  Then, on our side porch we have another large chest freezer that hubby and I purchased for only $40 at an auction.  Right now, all of my freezers are pretty full but they aren't organized and I really don't even know what is in the bottom third of the one on the side porch.  Once the weather warms up, I really need to defrost the chest freezers.  Also, we are still planning on purchasing a share of a cow in the near future and I'll need the room. 
 
So I'm going to start to make a definite, concentrated effort to eat down our freezers.  I can't really go outside and do any kind of proper inventory right now because our weather has taken yet another nasty turn and it is soooo cold I can only handle being out there for a few moments at a time.  But I can at least start with what I have in our indoor freezer and what I can easily grab from the top layer of the ones outside.   Once our weather gets better and I can spend some time taking inventory of the freezers I'll update with what we have and what I'll be using up.
 
So for tonight's supper I have some nice baking potatoes that need to be used up and I know I have some steaks in our indoor freezer.  (A major splurge we purchased recently. We only buy them once in a blue moon and I was craving them so DH went out and got us some.)  :0)  So that will be tonight's supper.  Frugal all the way around as far as I'm concerned because the potatoes really need to be used up and the steaks fit in with my freezer challenge.  And my family ~ especially hubby and son ~ will really enjoy it.
 
In other pantry news, I also noticed this morning that my onions in the pantry are sprouting and won't last much longer.  So I'm going to slice them and put them in the dehydrator.  I usually only like to dehydrate onions when I can put the dehydrator outside because they do make the house smell like an onion, lol.  But it's just too cold to do that.  So maybe I'll set it up in the laundry room and hope for the best.  This way I can "save" my onions before they go bad.  (As an aside, I have many times done the storage method of knotting onions in panty hose to keep them from going bad.  It works.  They usually last a good 3 months for me that way.  But...I just didn't do it this time.  I really thought I would use the bag up before it went bad.) 
 
 
  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Outdoor cooking

Outdoor cooking is something that I have never done a lot of.  In my family growing up, the grill was squarely the territory of the males in the family.  After I got married, my husband and I continued with him being the grill master.  So I've never really cooked on a grill or even learn how to get the coals started.  I know to some that might seem backwards but really, I'm sure there are a lot of other women out there like me.  
 
My husband would grill during the summer, but only every now and then.  If we decided we wanted some hot dogs and hamburgers, he would grill.  Only occasionally would we do something else like chicken or steaks.  So it's just not something that we do a lot of.  We've never been one of those families that's out at the grill all summer long.
 
But the past couple of summers I've seen how much many of the Mennonite families in our area cook/bake/grill outside all summer long.  Give them a grill and there's not much they can't cook on it and most of the time, it's the wives who are manning the grill.  My interest has definitely been peaked. :0)  So I decided that I wanted to expand my cooking options and do a lot of outdoor cooking this spring and summer.  Despite my lack of grilling experience, one thing I do know is that I *much* prefer charcoal grilling to a gas grill.  I know, I know, the gas grill and great and pretty and what most folks consider "normal" and prefer.  But - not me.  I love food that has been cooked in a charcoal grill sooooo much more than a gas grill.  So tonight I had hubby teach me how to fire up our little charcoal grill and I grilled pork chops and used my cast iron fry pan to fry up some potatoes on it as well.  :0)  (See?  You *can* teach an old dog new tricks, lol.)
 
I'm looking forward to doing a lot more grilling as the season goes on as well as learning different cooking methods on it for different kinds of food.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I'm up to and let's talk grocery prices

I have tried to start this post several times the past few days.  Just a catch up post and sharing what's going on in my life.  But I tend to stop myself because honestly....it all seems like it would be boring, lol.  I really enjoy blog posts that just share the day to day stuff, but when I go to write one myself, I always feel like it will just fall flat and be uninteresting.  Oh well, I want to share, so I will and maybe you will find something in it you like.
 
The weather is very gray and windy here today.  We had two pretty days but spring isn't ready to make it's full appearance yet.  I've been sick since yesterday.  I've had a very bad stomach flu and let's just say, it's not been fun.  At all.  I'm feeling a bit better today but I have a lot of pain in my joints.  So I'm resting on the couch.  I decided to take one of the free classes over at Craftsty.  I figured I could do something good with my time resting.  I took the one on making the perfect pizza.  I'm going to ask my daughter if she wants to take the photography one. 
 
I have been paying more attention lately to my pantry.  It's not something I have talked about much on my blog, but hubby and I have been major pantry stockers for years.  We even had one time of job loss where we ate exclusively from our pantry and freezers and didn't shop at all for several months.  It really saved us.  We started learning about pantry stocking and stocking up many years ago when my husband started his business and became self employed.  We were suddenly thrust into the "feast or famine" lifestyle of the self employed.  So having a good store of food in the pantry and freezers was necessary to see us through the leaner times. 
 
 
The past few years I have eased up on my pantry stocking ways a bit.  Partly because things aren't so feast or famine for us anymore but mainly because I became so discouraged at grocery prices.  The same amount of money that used to allow me to stock up, would now only buy needed groceries for the week for my family.  And since I have a full house all the time - two teens who homeschool and a husband who works from home all but one day a week - it takes *a lot* of food to keep this house running.  I just really felt stuck.  For the first time, prices got so crazy so fast that I was just kind of....dumbfounded.  I didn't feel like I could work my away around them to buy necessities for the week and stock up on top of that as well.  Add into that the fact that my local shopping sources are few and to get to major stores with better deals is a minimum 40 minute drive away.  It all just kind of combined to stop my forward motion.
 
But recently I decided to try and get back to properly stocking my pantry.  I may not be able to fly in and do it all very quickly like I could in years past, but every little bit counts, right?  The first thing my husband and I decided was that since our driving needs are so small - he only travels to work one day a week and I only drive locally in a 4 square mile town - that we can go ahead and afford the gas for me to travel to the city 2 or 3 times a month in order to shop at Sams or Costco, Aldi (*love* Aldi!!!!) and for good coupon items at Kroger and CVS.  Monday I had an appointment with our CPA to get our taxes done which meant I had to be in the city anyway.  So I spent the weekend looking at the store fliers online.  I was able to get some good deals. ~
 
* CVS was having BOGO on vitamins and our daughter was out of one of hers, so I got her 2 bottles for the price of one.
 
* Kroger had online coupons to load onto your Kroger card on some bathroom/toiletry items that I would have had to have purchased anyway.  So I got them from there and saved a bit over $8 with the coupons.
 
* At Aldi I purchased milk because it's the cheapest price I've found for a gallon in our area at $2.99.  They also had green bananas on sale for .44 a pound and I purchased 4 or 5 bunches of them.  I knew that once ripe my kids would eat a lot of them but I'm also planning to make banana muffins, banana pudding, bananas foster and banana cookies.  (Recipe found on Pinterest.)  I realize that's a lot of bananas, but it's fresh fruit on sale for .44 a pound so I'm going to grab it while the price is that good.  They also had containers of blackberries on sale for .99 each.  I bought 12 containers and double bagged them in freezer bags for the freezer.  I got enough to make several cobblers (our favorite) as well as some other recipes.  I then bought several canned veggies, some canned fruit and 2 large bags of rice as well as 2 cans of corned beef hash and one canned ham that will be good for sandwiches or chopped up in eggs, etc.  Once I got home, I rotated the canned goods in my pantry so that the older stock came forward to the front and the newer items got put in the back. 
 
Another thing we are doing is looking into possibly participating in our local CSA.  We are lucky to have a CSA that serves this part of our state - within a couple hundred miles - and the farm that organizes it is located only a few miles down the road from us.  I have looked into CSAs in the past, but the prices always seemed out of our reach.  You have to commit to buying a share for the whole season and the ones I had looked at - you had to pay for your whole season up front all at once.  We just couldn't swing that.  But our local CSA gives the option of paying weekly.  You still have to commit to the entire season, but you are allowed to pay as you go and their minimum weekly purchase is only $27.  I would easily pay that for things at the grocery store anyway, but this way it's all organic and locally grown.  It does seem worth it to us.  We haven't signed up yet, but are seriously considering it.
 
Lastly, we were approached by some friends over the weekend who are going in together to get prices on how much it would be to split a half or whole cow and wanted to know if we wanted to get in on it with them.  Um, how about yes!!  So on Friday we will all be getting the info we need from the meat market.  I really, really hope that works out because it would help us out so much.
 
So that's what's going on with me.  I've got pantry stocking on the brain once again, so be ready to hear a lot about it and I'm hoping to also share some recipes as well.  :0)