Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Letter: Day 5

In November we hiked out to the glacier to play tag. There was a light rain/snow and the rocks were slick. We tagged the glacier “TAG! You’re it” and ran the 4 miles all the way back to the car. That glacier never had a chance.

Just an hour before we wrote this we went walking on the Mendenhall Lake. The ice is at least 6 inches thick and is bound to get thicker still. Even so, we could hear booms as the ice creaked, cracked and ground in pressure seams and against the shoreline. Due to the cold, we turned around and headed home well before we got close to the glacier. We live in an amazingly beautiful place, when the sun shines. Mr. X is convinced that whoever named Sunday, lived in Juneau at some point, for it tends to be the sunny day of the week.

This holiday season we are so grateful for the love that our Savior has for us. We are thankful to know of His Atoning sacrifice that leads us back to Him. We hope this letter finds you fit, hale and happy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Letter: Day 4

photo: Juneau Empire
Mr. X was called to teach early morning seminary for the high school juniors and seniors in Juneau. Sarah attends the class to be sure to have a ride to work. Mr. X is convinced that seminary would be lively if pets (dogs and chickens welcome) were required classroom items. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) thus far Mr. X has only required students to be awake, in their seats, with scriptures, pencil and paper during class time. As a minor triumph, Sarah has managed to devalue the jolly-rancher currency by flooding the market. The merest mention of jolly-ranchers brings out the darkest and most contemptible looks of loathing from the students, which tends to brighten our mornings.

In September, we finally got to put our new car through its paces. We were just leaving work, when 5 Orca (killer whales) pulled up along side us and revved their tails. The one with the pompadour, slick with hair gel, laughed over at us and said “Are ya chicken?” That was all it took for Sarah to have our car from 0 to 40 in 3 seconds when the light turned green. Not to be out done, those killer whales kept pace with us well up Gastineau Channel, at times doubling back, leaping and playing as if this race was for the kiddy league. Mr. X never thought that he would live in a place where SeaWorld’s famed Shamoo actually went drag racing in town. Maybe on the outskirt, but not in town anyway. Mr. X never thought about where Shammoo spent his time in the off-season nor his possible connections to “Grease” in his earlier professional career before he hit it big.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Letter: Day 3

In July we went to Michigan to visit Mr. X’s family. We had a great time at the Zoo and just hanging around Mom X’s home. On safari, Abe or Cole or possibly Maggie almost ran Mr. X over with the range rover while driving away from another “incident”. Fortunately Mr. X was only thrown 20 ft or so and remained conscious enough to load up Jacob and Paul, before a stampede of wildebeests, gemsboks, and tsetse flies came thundering through. It was a close and lucky thing, as it distracted the Ben and the Masai warriors temporarily, long enough to get the jeep running again and make our escape.

No summer would be complete without a trip to one of Juneau’s cabins. In June, our friends hosted us on a trip to the Taku Harbor cabin. Our friend’s boat felt tiny in the heavy swells but we enjoyed fine weather and a bonfire at night. What would a night at the cabin be without a nocturnal gambit with meadow voles, hell-bent on absconding with our snacks and cookies? Fortunately the walls held firm.

For the Fourth of July we rented the Windfall lake cabin and lake. We planned for mud and rain, but experienced going belly up in hot sun, cool breezes and everything that makes for a perfectly lazy summer’s day. “O the weight of a sunbeam.” (D. Lewis) The hot buttery popcorn and snacks were great. Lakeside reading on the floating dock was pleasurable. The canoe paddle was placid and the swimming was refreshing. Ah, the joys of a well spent $35.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Letter: Day 2

March found us in Fairbanks, visiting Mr. X’s sister’s family, where we enjoyed seeing family, the dogs, ducks and chickens, the Fairbanks Ice Festival and Chena Hot Springs. We had perfect -25 degree weather (Mr. X is happy to be able to count up to twenty still, retaining all his very important digits). We would have packed a dog or two home (and maybe a chicken, aside from the ones we ate), save for the shipping cost (unbeknownst to many, chickens don’t like to travel light) and apartment rules “No Dogs or Chickens Allowed!” It’s amazing how specific and adaptable landlords can be about rules.

Sarah’s mom came to visit us in June. We had lots of fun showing her around town, and touring the Mount Roberts Tram and the Tracey Arm Fjords. We attended a very interesting social in which we met a very large and amiable Marmot who told rather entertaining jokes and stories, (over hors d’oeuvres), which tended to be decidedly droll or low brow or both.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Letter: Day 1

Our year began in a bitter sweet sort of way. Our VW Diesel Golf, who had been in the family since Sarah learned to drive, who had braved the blistering heat of southern Utah and the bone chilling blizzards of Alaska, was finally called home. Unfortunately its passing came during the winter season, where lightening storms are not common in this part of the country. Without lightening and the perplexing but reliable talents of our close friends Dr. F. and his talented assistant (who incidentally are back in Transylvania visiting Igor’s mother, who according to Igor “ith feeling all thumbth”), we were unsucceththful, sorry, unsuccessful in reanimating the dead. Thus closes a bright chapter in our lives.

This April was a busy month, traveling three out of the four weeks. Mr. X went to Anchorage and Sitka to meet with fishermen, processing plants, and Fish and Game staff. Sarah traveled to Kansas City, MO for meetings about insurance regulation. After long days in meetings, she was able to enjoy seeing the local sites, including a WWI memorial, a Hibachi grill and dinner theater featuring Klinger from M*A*S*H*.

Our Christmas Letter

Dear Friends:
In years past, we have sent out a lengthy holiday letter. The origins of this letter generally start with SarahJane making a **short** list of our adventures for the year and then handing it to Mr. X for his approval. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Mr. X is a great writer and the short list becomes a three page tome.

Since this blog is the place that I recount all of our adventures, we decided to put the full Christmas letter here rather than send it to all of our family.

So, over the next five days I plan to post an installment of the Our Alaska Adventures - year in review.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Dear Elders and Sister:
Thank YOU! for the Christmas breakfast yesterday. The belgian waffles with ice cream and strawberries were delicious; the eggs and ham perfect. Your decorations were simple but festive.
Thanks for getting up an hour early to cook the victuals and set up the church. Thanks for staying late to clean up EVERY.THING.
I think the seminary kids appreciated your efforts; I know I did.
Happy Holidays,

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Troubles at Kroger: Frugal Consumers

Did you all catch the time article: The troubles at Kroger: Frugal Consumers?

Apparently Kroger's stock has fallen because they had an unexpected loss of nearly $875 million and doesn't expect improvement until the 3rd quarter of 2010. This loss was not limited to Kroger, all major grocery retailers have taken a hit.

The best part of this short article:
"Grocery retailers began slashing prices in the spring in an effort to lure cash-conscious shoppers into their stores, says Mushkin. "People have been trading down aggressively — from sirloin steak to hamburger — which affects grocery sales," he says, and many consumers are actively price-shopping for individual items."

"'We need the unemployment rate to start falling," he says. "You can't have people shopping at four different stores [to get the best price for a single item] — they need to get back to work and convenience needs to trump price" for grocery retailers to see a significant rebound."

Both Fred Meyer (Kroger) and CarrsSafeway in my area have just started a new campaign: lower prices - look for the yellow sign. Should we expect these price wars to continue? Will we see some stores get bought out? Or will unemployment ease and people get back to "business as usual"? what do you think?

Another question: Did retailers really slash prices or were they just bringing prices back to the levels they were two years ago? For example, we experienced a 25% increase in the cost of milk in 2008 due to the high cost of fuel (remember $5.25/gallon of diesel). So, have grocery prices been slashed, or have we merely seen a "correction"?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Movie Review: Kiki's Delivery Service

First off, I'm not a fan of anime. Mr. X will pick up a DVD at the library and I will make plans to be elsewhere when he watches his flick. Not so with Kiki's Delivery Service. Mr. X popped the dvd into the player, and I was immediately drawn into the story.

Kiki is a juvenile witch who must leave home at age 13 to receive training, establish a trade, and make her way in the world. We get to see Kiki leave home and beloved parents, travel to the city and start her delivery service. Along the way she runs into trouble, meets new friends, and overcomes her own insecurity.

Fortunately Kiki is able to take along her trusty cat, Jiji, who both helps and hinders Kiki.

This is a great movie; it's laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, and awkwardly romantic. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially those who've previously thought anime wasn't for them.

Probably the best part of the film has nothing to do with the plot. At one point in the movie Kiki is sick and Jiji tries to take care of her. He says, "Oh, you don't feel well. Maybe we should eat something." I actually couldn't stop laughing when I heard that; Mr. X has been using that line on me since we met 8 years ago. It's his ploy to get me to cook for him. :)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Since you asked...

We took the car in to the shop yesterday to have the check engine light looked at. There were a slew of error codes which we assume were triggered from the emergency stop we made for the dog. One of the codes was for the charcoal canister in the gas tank. The repair was covered under our warranty so we were able to get out the door for $84.50...sounds awfully close to $85. I don't think it's a coincidence. Looks like the dog got hers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ruining Christmas

Last night, less than a block from home, an Expedition coming toward us in the dark, laid on his horn. A split second later a little dog came into view right in front of us. Mr. X stomped on the brakes and we heard the ABS brakes do their job.

I jumped out of the car and just about fell on my backside from the black ice beneath my feet. I called to the dog who happily came running. I scooped the little beagle up, asked the pedestrians around if they recognized her, and then took her home - to my house.

Since our lease explicitly says no animals, and I'm fighting a cold (NO door knocking) we took the dog to the pound. She was really pleased with her adventure until the scent of the air became very unfamiliar.

When we arrived at the shelter she jumped on Mr. X, who held her and told her all about the place: "this is where dogs go when they get lost; they'll help you find your owner, and it's warm inside". Poor Mr. X; he had flashbacks of his days as an Animal Control employee. He reminded me that his boss specifically avoided sending him to dog jobs.

Anyway, the dog's safe and warm. But I just took a chunk out of someone's Christmas budget; it's a minimum $85 to get her out. Yeah, I'm the jerk who just ruined Christmas.

If it makes you feel any better, the Corolla's check engine light turned on this morning. How's that for carma?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Veteran's Day at the Glacier

We took a walk on Veteran's day. Mr. X said, "I wonder what the glacier looks like now?" And I said, "Let's go find out."

We had the whole place to ourselves. Might have had something to do with the fact that it was snowing.
Mr. X calculated that the glacier had receded 900 feet over the last three years so there's quite a bit more scree to cross.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food Stamp Challenge Wrap-up

Last night my sister asked me if I learned a lot about food stamps from the challenge. My response was not really.

The point of the challenge was to raise awareness of food stamps and to provide information to persons on food stamps, but what could I say that I learned?

I think probably the hardest part was wanting something to eat - that I knew we had on hand - but denying myself the pleasure because I hadn't purchased it for the challenge/put it into our weekly meal plan. It was my first experience with "rationing" food. This was particularly difficult the first week. It was also difficult telling Mr. X that he needed to eat something he didn't like for the sake of the challenge. Fortunately for him, we ended up having extra leftovers, and he ate those instead.

The second week of the challenge, I wasn't as careful about using items from our stockpile and accounting for them in our food stamp budget. But it also helped that I purchased a number of snack items, like chips, baby carrots, and Halloween candy.

Food Stamp menu plan

While the challenge was supposed to end on Saturday, as promised here is my weekly menu:

Oct. 31 - Nov 6

Cereal and milk
Breakfast muffins

Leftovers from dinner

Homemade Chicken and rice soup
Homemade Cheese pizza
Teriyaki Chicken and rice
chicken chili & muffins
Bean & cheese burritos
Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, eggs)

Lots of chicken this week - that's because while I pretended to buy 12lbs of beef last week...I didn't actually have 12 lb of beef in the freezer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shopping trip

Had to make a shopping trip for our Halloween Festivities...okay so the only essential was fresh milk to feed our Seminary class.

Fred Meyer

Gallon Milk $2.99
Cups $1.69
Whole Chicken $5.00 ($.79/lb)
(5) Kidney beans canned $.99 ea. - 3 for $2 store coupon = $.67 ea*
(4) Black beans canned $.99 ea. - 3 for $2 store coupon = $.67 ea*
Kashi Cereal (reg $5.79) sale 4.99 - 40% store coupon - $2 sample coupon = $.99
All Bran Cereal sale $3.50 - $1 store coupon - $2 sample coupon = $.50
Always Infinity sale 4.39 - free coupon = free

Total 18.45

I decided to use the cereal coupons, since I knew that the kids at Seminary wouldn't drink the whole gallon of milk during class. It'll be a real treat to have cold cereal.

I'll have to see what kind of a menu I can come up with based off this shopping...

*This is the best deal they've had this fall on canned beans. Anyone else notice this?

The cashiers have started saying, "good job" to me. That's sort of gratifying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hot Food Stamp News: Costco to accept Food Stamps

I spotted this headline in the Seattle Times here which I thought was appropriate for the final days of the food stamp challenge.

Apparently Costco will begin accepting food stamps in at least half their stores by Thanksgiving.

Previously Costco said they didn't think their customers were using food stamps and didn't want to invest in the equipment to process food stamps.

The change in policy resulted from 1) opening a Costco store in East Harlem, 2) pressure from politicians representing Queens and Brooklyn AND 3) the general state of the economny (a 30% jump in food stamp usage in WA state alone).

Monday, October 26, 2009

I won: Little Debbie Cupcakes Giveaway

I'm so excited! Little Debbie was giving away 1 million boxes of cupcakes. I just got an email that they're sending me a coupon for a free box.

Thanks Little Debbie!

Weekly Menu Oct 24 - Oct 30

Banana Muffins
Eggs on toast
Oatmeal, banana
Pancakes or waffles
Breakfast burritos

Leftovers from dinner
PB and Jelly sandwich

Taco Salad
Spaghetti, green salad, toast
Beef enchiladas, rice, beans
Chicken and Rice, frozen vegetables
Beef Stroganoff, frozen vegetables
Dinner at Friends’ house

Shopping list
Sour cream
Herbal tea
(2) bagged salad
Grape Tomatoes
Tortilla Chips
5 dozen eggs
Halloween Candy

Total (with tax) $41.57

Additional Pretend Shopping
Baby carrots
Canned black beans
Black olives
Pasta sauce
Enchiladas sauce pouch
Peanut butter
Parmesan cheese
Brownie mix
12 lb ground beef (stock up)

Total (with tax): $48.76
Total groceries: $90.33

This was a better shopping week. I was able to find sales on apples, pears and Halloween candy (and pretended for bread, carrots, peanut butter, jam, and ground beef). The herbal tea was on sale for $3.00 + it had a $1.00 peel coupon. The bagged salad and tomatoes were reduced for quick sale.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Food Stamp Review: Mr. X

One of my reservations with joining the Food Stamp Challenge was getting Mr. X to agree to it. He's not a fan of online projects, or creative shopping so I wasn't expecting his support. Imagine my pleasure when he called me yesterday:

"I just called to ask if we could have chicken pot pie every day. Thanks for lunch, it was really good."

Or how about on Wednesday. We got home from work and he asked, "What's for dinner?" Then raised his hands and shouted, "Halleluah!" when I said, "Grilled Cheese."

We're eating well, though I'm looking forward to "buying" some ground beef on Saturday. One of the challenges I've had is snacks. I didn't buy much of anything for snacking. Last night I mixed up some oatmeal cookies for a treat. Mr. X asked for chocolate chips and didn't argue when I said I didn't have any even though he knew there were two full Costco bags in the cupboard!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cheese and Spinach Quiche

One of our favorite meatless meals is Cheese and Spinach Quiche. I just use a basic quiche recipe and throw in spinach.

Step: 1 Make a pie crust. You can use what ever recipe you like for this. I prefer one with shortening but you can also use this recipe from

Prick the pie crust with a fork, and bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Step 2: the quiche filling
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour

Mix together the eggs, milk, onion, salt. Next fold in 1/2 cup cheese.

Step 3 Spinach:
Defrost spinach, chop. Stir in to spinach to milk/egg/cheese mixture and pour into hot pie crust.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 - 45 minutes. Serve warm. YUM!

Tip for Make ahead: You'll notice that my spinach is frozen in ziplocks. I buy fresh spinach when it's on sale. We eat all we can, and then I blanch and freeze the rest to use for quiche, dips, etc.

One of the nice things about quiche is that it freezes well. Rather than freeze the pie in the pan, when the quiche is fully cooled, I carefully peel the pie out of the pan and slide into a gallon sized zip lock. I then can just stick the quiche in the freezer for a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tip: Mini-Cooking Day

Since our schedule this fall takes us away from home for 11 hours Monday – Friday (5:40 am – 4:40 pm), I’ve started having a mini-cooking day each week. Depending on what’s on the menu for the week, this may be Saturday or Monday evening.

Typically, I cook up the meat needed for the week. I’ll also get any rice/millet ready to go. These items are either refrigerated or refrozen until needed later in the week. Pre-cooking saves us valuable time in the evening, because we just need to reheat the base items, and prepare a vegetable/fruit.

Once a month or so, I have a baking day in which I make up the breakfast muffins, breakfast burritos, pizza dough, cookies, etc. that we enjoy having on hand.

No One Cares More about Your Retirement Than You Do

Check out this great retirement post by Robert Brokamp of the Motley Fool. The post is at Get Rich Slowly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

National Save for Retirement Week Oct 18 - 25

Don’t forget this is National Save for Retirement Week. Do something this week to celebrate! Some ideas:

  • Check your pay stub to see what, if any, is being put aside for retirement
  • Find out what your plan options are and if there have been any changes since last year. Determine whether you should make a change for 2010.
  • Pull out your latest plan statement and see where you are.
  • Read a book about personal finance, preferably one which includes a section on retirement investing.
  • Find out if your employer is offering any retirement/investment education this week (Alaska PERS/TRS is. Find out what’s available here)

Before anyone says, “But I’m a SAHM,” remember that 80% of women outlive their husbands – make sure you know what YOUR retirement will look like.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alaska Day!

Thank heavens for Alaska Day. We had the day off work, and I made a quick trip to Fred Meyer to grab the $.79 Colgate and $.79 Speed Stick deodorant. Typically, I snag coupons and the store flyer from the Sunday ADN at the front desk of my office Tuesday morning.

Monday mornings I look at the Fred Meyer Flyer online and make a preliminary shopping list. There are a few good deals for me this week:
Ground Beef $1.88/lb
Baby Carrots $0.68/lb bag
Bread/PB/Jam $1.25
Apples or Pears $0.98/lb

On Saturday I’ll have my list, take inventory of my kitchen, and be ready to create my meal plan for the following week. So ‘til Saturday…

Weekly Menu Oct 17 - Oct 24

Banana Muffins
Eggs on toast
Oatmeal, banana

Leftovers from dinner
Egg Salad Sandwich

Homemade Cheese Pizza, green salad
Homemade Chili, muffins, sliced apples
Grilled Cheese Sandwich, tomato soup, sliced apple
Chicken pot pie (biscuit top)
Rice & Millet, green salad
Cheese & Spinach Quiche
Leftover Buffet

I assumed was working with a nearly empty pantry. I (pretended to) stock up on these items:
Baking powder
Powdered milk (we use powdered unless we are hosting guests)
Whole chicken (use 1/3 to make pot pie)

I was disappointed with the shopping on Saturday; total bust. Unfortunately, the sales were lousy and the items that happened to be on sale weren’t what we keep stocked at home. The only items I actually bought were cheese and bananas (plus some nonfood items).

You may notice that our menu is heavy on cheese this week, which was NOT cheap at Fred Meyer. Dh (hereafter referred to as Mr. X) requested that I buy cheese as we haven’t had it in the house for the last month. We bought the cheese are Costco because it’s about half the price of Fred Meyer.

(Pretend) Shopping List:
Bananas Canned tomatoes
Flour Chili mix
Sugar 1 yellow onion
Baking Powder 4 apples
18 eggs Old Fashioned Oatmeal
Powdered Milk Tomato soup
Cheese Whole chicken
Yeast Frozen mixed veggies
Tomato paste Rice
Bagged salad Millet
Bread Frozen spinach
1lb beef Kidney beans

Grocery shopping: $54.62
MFP voucher: $22.83
Total Groceries: $77.45

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alaska Food Stamp Challenge

The Food Bank of Alaska held a week long Food Stamp Challenge last month. These challenges have picked up steam over the last few years as they moved around the country, encouraging law makers to attempt to live on food stamps for one week.

Inspired by Jessica's Food Stamp Challenge at www., I've decided to join in for the two week experience. I will not, however, be following all the rules.

After consulting with my husband, we determined that we would use our stockpile for staples such as flour and rice, but provide prices as if we had purchased the items during that week. This will likely mean that we will not be getting the best "bang for our buck", but hopefully, I can create a menu plan that is consistent with sales. Additionally, I menu plan and shop for the week on Saturdays, so I will begin the challenge Oct 17th, rather than on the October 19th start date. I will provide three weeks worth of menus and deals to compensate for this difference.

Like Jessica, "my goal is to try to inspire Alaskans to learn new ways to save on groceries and thus become more self-reliant". The point of this exercise is not to judge or shame my neighbors who currently find themselves needing public assistance, and I will not support a forum which debates public assistance policies. Also, I'd like to show that a little bit of effort can help. One doesn't have to become a coupon queen or gourmet chef to provide quality, tasty meals to their family while on a budget.

I hope by entering the challenge to offer the perspective of a WOHW in Juneau, since many of the other participants likely will be 1) families with children and 2) from South Central, Alaska.

Because we are a two person household with some income our budget will be:

  • Food Stamp Benefit - $68.94 per week
  • MFP Voucher - $30 per week fresh fruit, veggies, milk, yogurt, and other perishable items, as if we received a Mobile Food Pantry distribution (Juneau does not have a MFP, but we do have several wonderful food pantries).

This budget seems pretty generous to me so I hope to be able to "stock up" during the food stamp weeks.

I will be focusing on one particular store - Fred Meyer. This will simplify the challenge for me as I gather prices to use for my stockpiled items. Also, I hope to simplify the deal finding as I represent a food stamp-er with limited transportation and computer access.