Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lessons I Learned In The Dark (aka Surviving a Blackout) Part 3

This is the final installment on living through a longterm blackout. This issue focuses on the aftermath and how to restore your life back to normal.

Clean out the fridge and freezer. If you have not done this while without power, completely clean everything out of the fridge and freezer. While it is empty, give it a good wipe down. Before adding food back, give it time to return to a safe temperature.

Laundry. I'm sure you have tons of laundry to do if it has been several days without power. Sort everything, including all of the blankets and sheets that were used and start tackling this chore. Laundry can easily run while you are doing other things around the house.

Put everything back in its place: Items get pulled from every nook and cranny of the house during a power outage and they need to find a home once the power is back on. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you will do it later because 6 months down the road, the items will still be sitting out. I'm talking about the extra blankets, radios, games, etc that were pulled out just to survive.

Enjoy a warm meal. Take time to enjoy having a warm house, warm shower, and warm meal. After days of living off fast food and peanut butter, try to cook something nice in those first few days. That meal will taste 10x better than normal after the random eating of previous days.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on living without power. I would love to hear tips from others as I know there are plenty more out there. The biggest lesson I learned from going 9 days without power is to be prepared.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Food Friday: Taco Pie

This is the late edition of Food Friday. Sorry it is so late but I took time to enjoy playing in the snow today with my child instead of getting things done around the house. It is supposed to be warm tomorrow so I expect most of the snow to melt and I wanted to enjoy it while we had it.

Today's recipe is one of the few new recipes my husband actually likes. He isn't a fan of me trying new recipes but I like to try at least one a week because I get tired of the same old thing all the time. I will say that this isn't the healthiest, but it is delicious. I've made this with and without sour cream and it is good both ways. My husband prefers it without so that is how I usually make it.

Taco Pie

1 package crescent rolls
1 lb ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 cup water
2 cups corn chips (Fritos) - crushed
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Brown hamburger and drain. Add taco seasoning and water. In an ungreased pie plate (casserole dish would work too), unroll crescent rolls and lay out to form a crust. Sprinkle with half of the corn chips and top with the meat. Spread sour cream on top, add remaining corn chips, and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

***This says ungreased pie plate but I use Pam as it stuck a little in the middle the first time I made it and I think it is because I used reduced fat cresent rolls.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quick Update

This is just a quick update to let you know we never lost power. Our friends south of us in Arkansas were not so lucky though. Please be praying for them as many have been without power since Monday. I will finish the final installment of my series on living without power tonight or tomorrow. Part three focuses on the aftermath.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lessons I Learned in the Dark (aka Surviving a Blackout) part 2

This is part 2 in the series on how to survive a long term power outage. I had planned on spreading this out over a week or two but since we are currently in the middle of an ice storm, I thought my local readers might benefit. I'm sitting in a silent house right now and I can hear ice coming down. It reminds me very much of what it sounded like back in 2007 when I went 9 days without power. Hopefully the trees have been trimmed and we are in better shape than before but time will tell. In the meantime, we have our stockpile together and our blankets, lanterns, etc all sitting by our fireplace just in case. Today's feature is on what to do once the power goes out.

If possible, get one hot meal a day: It will help your mood greatly to have one meal that isn’t highly processed food. This may come through an emergency shelter area or a restaurant. We were lucky that McDonald’s is very close to us and they had underground power.

If it is cold out, food will last for days in an ice chest: If there is snow on the ground, put your ice chest in the snow and it will last even longer. Obviously this tip does not apply to a hurricane but it can help in the winter. We lost all of the contents of our fridge after a few days. Our freezer was stuffed full and we only lost a few things. After about five days, we were able to move our frozen goods to two other freezers.

Pretend you are camping: Pull out the sleeping bags and hang out in front of the fireplace. Get out the camping stove (if you have one) and make warm meals over it. If you have leftover coffee, use an old coffee cup and reheat it over a candle. I do not recommend doing this with a full cup, but when desperate for warm coffee, it works.

Gas fireplaces are your friend: On the Sunday we lost power, everyone hung out at our house all day because they still did not have power either. Our gas fireplace in our basement kept the house warm enough. In fact, those sleeping by it were a little too toasty. With a few extra blankets, those upstairs were just fine. The only bad part is that with a fireplace running for nine days, we had to repaint the mantle as the heat discolored it.

The nights can be long, plan ahead: If you have oil lanterns, this will help greatly with the long, dark nights. You will be able to read or possibly play games with one. The radio is helpful too. For entertainment one night, we drove around town to see who had power and who did not. It was amazing to see major areas of town completely dark.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lessons I Learned In The Dark (aka Surviving a Blackout) Part 1

This is part 1 of the series on surviving a long power outage that I have promised you. An ice storm is currently on our way and planned to hit our area by Monday afternoon. For all of my local readers, I apologize for not getting part one out to you earlier. This section focuses on preparing for the storm. Later, we will get into actually living through the blackout.

In January 2007, our city experienced a major ice storm. This left us without power for nine days. Our power originally went out on a Friday night but came back on Saturday morning. Everyone else we knew had lost power by Saturday morning so our house became headquarters for friends and family (and even a few new friends). Very early in the morning on Sunday morning, we heard a loud explosion and lost our power again. It was a transformer that blew and since most of the city was without power, we were at the bottom of the list. By the time they came to us, they were out of transformers and had to wait for the next shipment to come in. It was nine days from that explosion until we received power again. Luckily, most of the city had power back on by this point so we were able to get a hot shower and decent food after a few days. The following are a few lessons I learned on how to prepare and live through a long term power outage. Warning, some of these are quirky but it helped lighten the mood at the time.

Keep a stockpile of food & water: When a storm is coming, most people rush to the store to buy water and shelf stable food. By working on your stockpile year round, this will not be a problem. Peanut butter, Chex Mix, nuts, bottled water, fruit snacks, dried fruit, cereal, protein bars, etc are all great things to have on hand. Keep extra bread in your freezer and you will have fresh bread for days.

Stockpile supplies too: Luckily, my husband collects oil lanterns and we had an abundance of candles at that time too. People were waiting at Wal-Mart every day for the truck to pull up with oil, batteries, and lamp wicks. We had enough supplies but had to restock very soon after power came back on. We now keep an extra bottle of lamp oil and several extra wicks just in case. We also keep batteries that fit our radio too since the radio was our only source of news.

Have an emergency fund: This is not a time where you need to pinch pennies. It is all about survival at this point. By having a little padding in the bank, you can buy supplies as you need them and afford a meal or two out a day.

Gather supplies in one area: When news of a storm is approaching, begin forming a game plan as to how to keep everyone warm. Designate an area of the house where the family can gather once the blackout occurs. Body heat will help keep the area warmed if everyone is in the same room. In that area, fill it with warm blankets, extra clothing layers, a few bottles of water, a flashlight, a radio, etc. Items can be replenished from your stockpile as needed, but it helps to know everything is in one place and everyone knows where to go to.

Check on what your insurance covers: We had a minor flood in our basement due to our sump pump backing up. Insurance did not cover it because it is an extra rider. Luckily, it was minor damage and the cost to repair was minimal. The contents of our fridge were not covered too. We have a new insurance company now and our rider for the fridge contents is only about $15 a year. Trust me, this is much cheaper than replacing everything in your fridge.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Food Friday: BBQ Chicken Pizza

I love to try different pizza toppings but my boring husband would prefer to only eat pepperoni pizza. I had a friend over for lunch this week so I took the opportunity to make one of my favorite pizzas. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures until after we ate the entire thing. This is about as easy as it comes for pizza.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Pizza crust (this is my favorite homemade crust)
BBQ sauce
Shredded chicken
Onions (optional)
Cilantro (optional)

Spread BBQ sauce on pizza crust. Top with chicken, onions if desired, and cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes or until crust is done and cheese is melted. Top with chopped cilantro once it comes out of the oven.

* I love to make several crusts at once and freeze them already baked. This way I have a super quick meal when I need it. The crust can also be frozen in balls and thawed on the counter or the fridge. I usually can get one large and one small to medium crust out of the above recipe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tightwad Tuesday: ING Direct

If you have been reading my blog for long, you know I am a fan of ING Direct. It is a safe, online bank, that has a much higher interest rate than brick and mortar banks. Even with the down economy, ING Direct has an interest rate on a typical savings account of 2.4% Since most investments are tanking right now, it is great to see such a nice interest rate on a savings account.

I also like ING Direct because money takes 2-3 days to be transferred. This means impulse purchases are much harder to process because your money is tied up. I have to stop and think about a purchase instead of buying the next greatest thing.

If you are interested in signing up for ING Direct, click on the banner on the left side of my blog (just below the BlogHer ad). If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Blog Award

I've had a rough week but Friday night I opened my inbox to find I had won this fun award. Thanks to The Story of My World, one of my new readers, for this bright spot in my crazy week. Of course, an award is meant to be shared so here are a few of the great blogs I'm passing it on to.

$5 Dinners

Mom of Littles

Date Your Spouse Without Ever Leaving The House

With Valentine's around the corner, my husband and I have been discussing how we want to celebrate it. We rarely go out but when we do my parent's babysit for us. They are both CPA's though so we have no babysitter January through mid April as they are super busy and have very little free time. Luckily, our church has date night a few times a year and it is very cheap babysitting so we are going that route this year as one is scheduled for February. This whole topic got me to thinking though about our date within our house we have every now and then. We have been slacking lately but I'm hoping to get us back on track soon.

Once our son goes to bed, we have our own frugal date at home. Our original goal was to do this once a week but I think 2-3 times a month is a better goal. So, what do we do on our dates? Here are a few of our past dates:

Movie & Popcorn: It seems so basic but it is rare that we watch a movie and even more rare if we are in the same room watching it at the same time. Thanks to Redbox, we are able to watch movies for $1 or less (free codes can often be found). I make popcorn and we snuggle on the couch to watch the movie without the distraction of a child.

Games: We are huge game fans and really miss the long nights we used to spend with friends playing games. We've found a few two person games though and have a blast playing together. Our current favorite game is Sequence.

Reading: Reading is something we both enjoy but it is rare that we take much time to read these days. We sit together in bed and enjoy our books. It doesn't exactly make for great conversation but part of the concept of date night is simply being together.

Dessert: Those of you with children will know how hard it is to eat an entire dessert by yourself. Children always want their fair share (or more). Sometimes I will save dessert until after our son's bedtime so we can enjoy a treat together. It isn't usually anything fancy, more along the lines of banana splits and root beer floats. The joy of eating without little hands helping themselves is wonderful though.

Do you have any other ideas for a date within your house? It is a wonderful, and very frugal, way to reconnect with your spouse and I encourage you to try it this week.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Food Friday: Kids Trail Mix

I had wonderful intentions of posting often this week but our son decided sleep was not important to him. Bedtime has been late, he gets up early, and naps are super short (15-30 minutes) so there has been no me time.

Today's recipe comes courtesy of our Parents as Teachers person. She came by this morning and my son was the best behaved he has been in a week. Together, they made trail mix and our little monkey went crazy over it. I've made trail mix before but it has been ages. This is something he can help make and feel proud of it.

Kids Trail Mix

Golden Grahams
Honey Nut Cheerios
Chocolate Chips or M&M's

Mix together and put in individual bags. Let kids mix with a spoon or put a lid securely on the container and shake well.

Feel free to add whatever you want, this is just a starter recipe. Depending on your child's likes and dislikes, other ideas are dried fruit, raisins, peanuts, other types of cereal, etc.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Skip a Week of Groceries

I'm going to begin participating in Tightwad Tuesdays, brought you by This week my topic is eating from your pantry. To read other great frugal tips, check out

I try to skip grocery shopping once a month and eat from my pantry. If I do go to the store, it is usually for milk, juice, fruit, or items on a super sale (think free or close to it). I've found some great meals using ingredients I forgot I had in my pantry thanks to this habit. It forces us to eat up our random items and it really cuts down on the grocery budget for the week.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Food Friday: Stir-Fried Noodles

We discovered some delicious egg rolls at Sam's a few weeks ago and every since we've been trying out new Asian recipes to serve them with. I found this one in the latest issue of All You Magazine and it is a keeper in our household. I wish I would have remembered to take pictures this time since I actually have a camera that works but I forgot. This call for shrimp but you could easily use chicken, pork, or strips of steak. It is a great way to use some leftovers.

Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp and Peas

8 oz spaghetti, broken in half
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
6 Tbsp teriyaki sauce

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook spaghetti until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and toss with sesame oil.

2. Warm vegetable oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and scallions and cook, stirring, until shrimp are pink and cooked through and scallions have softened, 3-5 minutes.

3. Add spaghetti, peas, and teriyaki sauce and cook, tossing to coat and heat through, about 2 minutes. Serves 4.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Getting Started

Jenn commented that she would like to know more about how to survive when just starting out on the road to Living on Less. They follow Dave Ramsey and had just got their emergency fund going when her husband was in an accident. Now they are back to square one. Here are a few tips I learned in the beginning:

Take a deep breath. Sounds simple but it can be tough when you are overwhelmed with debt, a job loss, or just simply a lifestyle change. Take a moment to breath and then create a game plan. Also, remember that "this too shall pass". Times won't always be so tough and a few years from now you will look back and see the amazing things God has allowed you to accomplish.

Look for small things to cut in your budget. Are you a coffee drinker? - make it at home. Is your weakness stopping somewhere for sodas or snacks? - pack them before you leave the house. I know I cannot walk into a convenience store without coming out with a soda and a snack. They tend to have the latest and greatest and I like to try new things. Therefore, I always pay for gas with a credit card at the pump and never walk in the store. This little habit can save a lot over time. Don't worry at this point about cutting everything from your budget but look for a few small items you can do without and start there.

Get a handle on groceries. Figure out a reasonable amount you want to spend on groceries weekly or monthly and then stick to it. My greatest help in this was joining The Grocery Game. This wonderful program matches coupons with sales to help you make the most of your grocery budget (if you decide to join, please use me as a referral - light52b at yahoo dot com). I have two pieces of advice for those who join or are simply looking to start a stockpile. 1) Stick to it for awhile - it will get easier. For the Grocery Game, give it the full 12 weeks - you are just getting started at 4 weeks and have not discovered the full potential of the game. 2)Start slow with your stockpile and it will build over time. Purchase your regular groceries each week and add a few stockpile items - without going over budget. Before you know it, you will have a nice stockpile and may even be able to reduce your budget more. Our current budget for a family of 3 (with #4 on the way) is $50 per week. Some weeks the sales are incredible and I go over but I almost always am under the next week so it evens out.

Sell your junk. Go through your house and identify items you no longer need or use. Sell them through a garage sale, Craigslist, or eBay. The quick cash you get can go towards bills or the emergency fund. I find the quick cash gives me enough of a boost to push me towards accomplishing my goals.

These are just a few tips to help you get on track. I'm sure many others out there have great tips too and I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment or a blog link telling how you survived the beginning stages of Living on Less.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm Baaacccckkkk!

Sorry for the long break but it was great to spend a few weeks with my family and really enjoy the holidays. With the exception of our child having the stomach flu on Christmas Eve, we had a great few weeks.

I'm not one to set New Year's resolutions but I am using the new year as a start to get back on track with Living on Less. Due to morning sickness, I could hardly cook in late Nov. and most of Dec. Needless to say, we ate out way more than usual. Since we have barely eaten out in over a year, it was kind of nice to try some of our favorites again. Now that I'm feeling better (not completely over it but I can now stand the sight of my kitchen) I'm back to meal planning and serious couponing. I'm realizing we have quite the stash in our pantry and freezer so I'm planning on only stocking up on the excellent deals I find this month and working through our stash instead to help get us back on track.

As far as this blog, I plan on posting atleast 3-4 times a week. For now, I'm going to suspend my Waste Less Wednesday entry each week but I'm hoping to bring it back sometime throughout the year. It is a great series but I haven't taken time to plan for it for awhile and I need something fresh to focus on instead. If there are any topics you would like to see me write about, feel free to leave a comment or email me. I'm always looking for new ideas and love when they come from readers. Speaking of which, a reader asked me this summer to write about how we survived 9 days without power during an ice storm. I wrote a super long blog about it but never posted it due to the length and then my computer crashed. I have now recovered it and I plan on breaking it into several smaller entries and posting sometime in the new few weeks so be looking for that small series.

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