The Challenge: lessons learned

I apologize once again for the lack of recent activity on our blog.  I’ve been teaching a class for the past two weeks, and it’s been a fairly intense experience, so I’ve had very little time to myself.  It’s been a good experience, though – a “trial by fire,” as they say.  They call it the “May-mester” around here, which essentially tells you all you need to know.  We cover 15 weeks’ worth of material in 15 days, with 2-1/2 hour lectures five days a week, plus the usual assortment of assignments, midterms, and the final.  After this experience, the regular semester schedule will seem pathetically slow in comparison!

Cassia’s post on our stake’s two-week food storage request has been one of the most visited pages on our site, so I felt an obligation to provide a post-mortem wrap-up of our experience, which concluded a week ago (May 19).  All in all, I think we survived it quite well, though we did make some concessions up front regarding fresh milk and bargain shopping during the period.  (We made three milk purchases, each one roughly 4 days apart.  And divorcing Cassia from coupon-clipping and price-matching is like asking her to cut off her arm.)  And even though we have two 55-gallon water storage barrels in our garage, as yet they remain empty, so we continued our regular water use unabated (noting as we have, of course, the severe drought water restrictions in place for our area).  For everything else, though, we made do with what we had.

Mind you, we don’t have your typical food storage.  While we admit that we would do well to get the big barrels of flour, wheat, oats, beans, and the like, early in our marriage Cassia and I decided to stock up on foods we would actually want to eat.  We now have an abundance of canned soups, sauces, and fruit, bread and dinner mixes, pasta, and lots and lots and lots of cereal.  So it wasn’t like we were boiling beans or grinding wheat into flour every day.  (I don’t think we would have lasted very long that way.)  The two-week request never became anything more than an inconvenience for us, and I’m sure Jonathan and Emma never noticed the change.  That was the good part.  Plus, it was nice to actually put our preparation plans into action so that our continued food storage investment felt justified.

We also learned a few things along the way.  First, we need to start trying different brands of powdered milk to find one we can stand.  I’ve never tried the stuff personally (the general consensus is rather unfavorable), but we realized early on that it’s kind of silly to have tons of cereal and no milk to go with it.

Second, living off of food storage is lousy for making sure you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Church members have been counseled to plant a garden, but for a lot of people (including us lowly renters) it’s simply infeasible to dig up a large section of your backyard to plant a few rows of corn and carrots.  We had a bunch of frozen juice concentrate mixes in our freezer, so we tried to compensate for the diminished supply of vitamins and minerals by drinking our fruit instead.  It worked, I guess.

Third, we probably could have done with a little more meat in our freezer.  We’re not massive carnivores, but we had a lot of “Helper” mixes and taco kits we couldn’t use because our protein stores were somewhat lacking.  The only freezer we have is the one built into our fridge, and I’ve long entertained the idea of buying a chest freezer for our garage, but implementation of that idea seems a ways off still.  We’ve got this ongoing project to organize our garage in such a way that we can still park two vehicles in it (a minivan purchase is just a few months away), so it’s unknown at this point whether we could reasonably expect a chest freezer to fit, now that we’ll have five large shelf units, three 32-gallon recycling bins, two large water barrels, the usual assortment of yard tools and bicycles, and a fake Christmas tree all sharing the space (sorry, no room for a partridge in a pear tree).

While not immediately related to the food storage challenge, the day before Mother’s Day we purchased a new microwave with built-in convection.  After doing a lot of research through online reviews and Consumer Reports testing, we settled on the Kenmore Elite model no. 67909.

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We wanted a convection microwave to spare us from the high energy costs associated with our gas range (an old model, so probably not very energy efficient) as well as the additional cooling costs in the summer, since all of the bedrooms in our house are upstairs.  The Kenmore’s got a very good reputation, dragged down a little by the occasional lemon, so we felt it was worth paying an extra $49 for three years of extended warranty support and free repairs from Sears.  We paid more for this appliance than most people would for a good performing microwave, simply because we don’t have the counter space for an extra convection oven or the ability to install an over-the-range model.  So far the results have been wonderful – everything we’ve cooked with the convection option has turned out wonderfully moist and evenly cooked.  (For those who are unaware, convection ovens cook by circulating hot air on all sides of the food, which spins on a metal rack placed on top of the normal microwave turntable.)  And we’ve immediately felt the temperature difference in our kitchen.  For instance, last night we baked a peach cobbler for 45 minutes at 375 degrees – a great way to heat up a house, particularly on an 82 degree day – and we never felt uncomfortable.  Here’s hoping our extra investment translates into lower energy bills this summer (and thanks Uncle Sam for the economic stimulus check that made this purchase possible, though we’re keeping the rest).

It’s been interesting to see the varying reactions to this food storage request within our ward and among those we’ve told about it.  When I first heard about it I sort of rolled my eyes and laughed, which was also the general reaction to it among the priesthood body.  The Relief Society sisters, of course, were stressing out about it across the hall.  I didn’t think many people would try it, as I figured reactions would be extremely polarized: those that had the wherewithal to last the entire two weeks would be the only ones to attempt it, while everyone else would either seethe at such an unreasonable request or feel excessive guilt for not being more prepared.  To be sure, a lot depended on one’s capacity for food storage in his home, together with the financial means to build up a supply.  I don’t know if we would have done well at this in our previous apartment in Provo.  I guess that’s why it was just a request instead of a requirement.  :)  Ultimately, I was surprised by how many people were willing to tackle this challenge head-on.  It was far more than my cynical mind expected!  We’re surrounded by a lot of great people in our ward.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of building up food storage, especially with the Emergency Essentials catalogs we still receive periodically in our home.  It’s certainly possible to spend a boatload of money on this stuff, which can give the impression that that is what’s required to survive an emergency.  We can attest that’s not the case at all.  We’ve built up our food storage gradually – nearly all of it since we arrived in Georgia in August – almost entirely through Cassia’s resourcefulness.  She’s a bargain hunter extraordinaire (our tight finances and single-income situation require her to be), and she’ll often buy a few extra items when they’re available at a great price.  We buy what we’ll use, and we use what we buy, simply because it’s hard to get excited about barrels of honey and lentils gathering dust in the garage.  We may not be the most prepared for any emergency, but I think we’ll do alright.  With the economy in its current state, we feel we can’t afford to not be a little more self-reliant.

3 Responses to “The Challenge: lessons learned”

  1. Thanks for the update on your challenge! I wish our ward would do that. I’m curious to see how we’d manage. Steve had a lesson in Priesthood a few weeks ago where they talked about food storage. They mentioned how it’s becoming increasingly difficult for truck drivers to stay in business with the rising gas prices and if they all went on strike, it would only be about 3 days or so before the grocery stores would run out of food. Scary thought.

    I didn’t realize Cassia was such a rockstar grocery shopper. :) I’m having a hard time balancing between menu planning/keeping to my grocery list and buying other things because they’re on sale. Maybe I should plan my menu according to the sales ads :)

    BTW – Steve and I saw Indiana Jones over the weekend and liked it (me more than Steve). I’m curious to see what you thought about it, if you’ve seen it.

  2. Oh yeah – you and Cassia can definitely compare notes on the shopping thing. Maybe we should start a new reality TV series: “America’s Next Top Bargain Shopper.” Or maybe we could call it “So You Think You Can Pinch Pennies.” :)

    Here’s just a taste: she regularly makes money off of her trips to CVS. That’s how we’ve got, like, 30 bottles of shampoo and soap under our bathroom sink. And enough paper towels to carry us into the Millennium.

    As for Indy: I’m wrapping up a post on that movie (and a few others) right now. Stay tuned . . .

  3. “She’s a bargain hunter extraordinaire (our tight finances and single-income situation require her to be), and she’ll often buy a few extra items when they’re available at a great price.”

    Correction–I’ll often buy a ton of extra items when they’re on sale, especially if I can combine a good sale with a good coupon and come out with a great price! But that only applies to shelf-stable food (and hygiene items), of course.

    As for meal planning, we usually just plan what we would like to eat, keeping in mind to use what we have as well (though most of the things we’d choose to each use at least something out of our stores at this point anyway). So, I plan my menu according to what we like and then plan my shopping according to the menu and (more so, usually) according to shopping ads. I especially love some of the online websites (email me for references) that collect the ad information and break it down–one by type (you can look through multiple stores at once) as well as “level of deal” (great deal down to retail price), the other by store alone but including a list of coupons to use. Those definitely help cut down my searching ads time! :)

    And finally, as for CVS–well, I just love those “free after Extra Bucks” items! Extra Bucks are like coupons you use on a future order and are valid for 4 weeks, but once you get used to how they work, you can just keep them going–using one to pay for another Extra Buck item, etc. This gets really great when a coupon can also be used to pay for an item. That’s how I “make” money (they, like most stores, have a policy against actually giving you money). It’s great. :) At this point, though, half the time I buy the “free after Extra Bucks” item (usually toothpaste or Deodorant) with a coupon, intending to give it to a charity. We surely don’t need quite that much toothpaste. :) But knowing I can perhaps help someone else AND “make” a few cents is nice (plus it helps extend the expiration of Extra Bucks….). Yeah, definitely something I’ve learned since moving here since there was no CVS in Utah. :)

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