Monday, 24 October 2016

Sasha's Final Thoughts

I have missed a few days worth of posting, but it was for KITTENS!!
I had an awesome breakfast on Sunday. Guess what it was. Yes, WAFFLES! After waffles we went to City Hall to listen to a discussion about poverty. For me to sit on a couch for two hours, wasn't exactly fun for me, and afterwards my stomach hurt because I ate a lot after eating a little for days.
The challenge overall was surprisingly normal. Not much changed, just less food everyday. Now that we are back to normal, I think everyday in my head about the challenge. I remember everything I learned, and everything I was able to teach others. And every night, I have the same nightmare, of being on welfare. That would suck! People, wake up and RAISE THE RATES!!!
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, because now that the challenge is over, I won't be posting. It has been fun to write, and I hope fun for you to read. That's all folks!
Signing off for the last time,

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The week is done, here's what's left

By the end of the week the work to make food was routine. We do a lot of cooking normally, but the difference for the week of this challenge was the two days of work to prepare most of what we needed for six, effort that paid off once we were back at work. 

The other difference was all the mental preparation, and the emotional impact of such intense focus on social assistance and its inadequacies for the many thousands of people that rely on it. 

This challenge was a week of focus on food, but we also had the privilege of living in our cozy home, having a community of people around us at home and work that supported us, the ability to use our fairly well equipped kitchen, and have toiletries and other basics that kept life comfortable, even when we were hungry. If we had to buy toilet paper, etc as part of the challenge we would have had less food! What a nightmare choice for people to have to make! 

Well we started the week with a table food of food, and ended with maybe enough for a day left over. Here's the breakdown of food we ate with the stuff we bought.

The full list of what we had to start with:
Potatoes  10lb bag  $1.99        Lentils   1 lb  $1.61
Carrots    5lb bag    $$2.99      Beans   2lb   $2.54
Cabbage   4.3 lb    $1.69         Chick peas   1.3 lb $2.03
Celery   1 bunch    $1.49         Rice   1.3 lb  $2.13
Garlic    2   $0.38                     Pasta    1 lb   $1.67
Onions    3   $0.83                   Flour    2.2 lb   $3.51           
Apples    10    $1.77                Oats    1.3 lb   $2.29
Bananas   8   $1.48                 Sugar   .91 lb    $0.90
Raisins     $2.89                      Eggs    18      $4.79
Soda Crackers    $1.97           Peanut butter     $2.64
Cinnamon    .03 lb   $0.27       Yeast     .08 lb   $0.48 
Margarine      $1.49
Vegetable stock     $2.39
Canned tomatoes   3   $3.87
Milk  1L (not pictured)   $2.10

Leftover $1.80 we used to 'buy' a piece of ginger and one sweet potato we already had in house.

To recap the last of our meals: we had pasta and sauce on Friday night, and Saturday I made a potato/cabbage bake with onion & garlic, which we had for our last dinner along with some more pasta. Saturday we snacked on the last of the carrots and celery with the hummus, and ate the last of the muffin bites and crackers.

What it made:

Vegetable stew 
Carrot/Lentil/Ginger Soup with crackers 
1 bread loaf + 12 buns
2 batches of 24 muffin bites + 6 muffins
36 veggy cookies (made with potato, carrot, lentils, onion, garlic, flour)
Hummus (rather chick pea puree with some salt, peanut butter and smidgen of oil)
Big pot of beans & cabbage dish served with rice = 3 dinners and a lunch
Pasta and sauce 
Potato/Cabbage bake (with onion, garlic) 

What we have left:

- one portion of potato/cabbage dish, and one portion of pasta
- a little bit of hummus and little bit of peanut butter
- 1/2 cup of oatmeal mix
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- little bit of cinnamon and yeast
- one vegetable stock cube
- little bit of margarine (we ran out of oil quickly and this was our butter/oil rest of the week)
- 2 cups of cooked beans left in the fridge (I forgot to include in pic)

My head is full of lots more I want to write about, but we're now off to enjoy a brunch at the Whip (where Sasha can finally indulge in the waffles she has been dreaming of all week.) before heading to the Town Hall meeting at City Hall organized by Raise the Rates and the City of Vancouver. 

On a happy note, my post for day 6 and 7 were delayed because we were going through the process of adopting two little kitties from the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA), and yesterday we brought them home. Adopting kittens was something we were already in process with before we signed up for the challenge, but I know for those on assistance, having a pet is not really an affordable option. They are very good for cuddles and making you feel good, which is something everyone can benefit from, but a privilege for sure. We are very happy to welcome Willow and Socks into our home and our family.

Waking up Sunday morning to the cuteness of these kitties, as well as putting on coffee for the first time in a week, and having a full banana, were the luxuries of life I was grateful to enjoy. Time to ease back into life as normal, full of thoughts on all I've learned from this experience, and a heart full of gratitude for all that is good in our world...especially the food.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Sasha's thoughts. Day Six

Hello folks!
Today was pretty awesome! Pro-D at school today, so I had most of my meals at club. Breakfast was oatmeal, but dad poured WAY to much milk in and it was really gross! Lunch was soup and coleslaw, from home. Dinner was pasta and sauce, at home.
Seeing as tomorrow is THE LAST DAY!!! I have really been reflecting on the challenge. Not only have I learned a perspective from a person on welfare, but experienced a week of home-made treats, gross breakfasts, and after-school-dinners. It has definitely been a week to remember!
I can't wait for breakfast on Sunday morning! We are going out to The Whip, and I am looking forward to waffles! (I still want waffles, especially after this morning!)
That's all for tonight! A filling Friday it was today, and can't wait to share my Scrumptious Saturday tomorrow!

Almost Over

We are almost at the end of our challenge and I have yet to post any comments.
Its been a challenging week. Smaller than normal portions and at times no second helpings...but in most cases I feel that I have been fairly well fed. Most of the credit goes to Kathy my amazing partner in life who fully embraced the challenge, and who was determined to make sure that we had a varied and interesting diet throughout the week. She has baked bread, buns, muffins, and biscuits to give us all treats, and something to dip into our soups and stews. She researched the cheapest places to find food to feed the family with our $54 dollars to spend, and has kept us all in a positive frame of mind throughout the week. Without her I am not sure that I would have lasted the whole week. Kudos also go to my daughter Sasha who stayed positive and has posted to this blog several times already. Sasha's willingness to stick with the challenge, and to experience it with us as a family has certainly helped me in those weak moments when I wanted to "cheat" and eat something that we had not bought with our $54, and to resist those beers in the back of the fridge that were calling my name.
It's also been an eye opener and has really driven home to me the message that we need to get those rates raised to make sure that those among us that rely on welfare to get buy are given enough money to be able to buy healthy food for themselves and their families.
Kudos to those other individuals and families who also chose to take on this challenge.
It's not easy, but the important things in life rarely are.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Past the half way

Before heading to work yesterday I spent another dose of time in the kitchen, the space of ultimate privilege in a challenge like this: oven, stove, fridge, hand blender to puree the soup, utensils galore, and more. The last things I made up were some biscuits (because I didn't have enough flour to make bread), and a coleslaw made with cabbage, carrot, and raisins dressed with the last spoon of yogurt, salt, pepper and sprinkle of sugar. (Good, but better after it had a day to sit in the fridge)


Honestly, I wanted to cheat and use a spoonful of mayo to make it nice and creamy but glad I didn't as it was fine without, and the guilt of the cheat would have gotten to me after spending so much time reflecting on all the lack of options for people on any assistance.

When I got home from work last night I had planned on making the tomato sauce for a pasta dinner soon, but Mark took over and had the home smelling good with garlic, onion, celery and our 2 cans of tomatoes in no time. The past few days he has been a big help cleaning up the kitchen in between my baking/cooking/prepping messes, but it was nice to release the final dish to his care and relax. :)

Now that we are more than half way done the week, here are some of my thoughts in the past couple of days.

It feels surreal at this point to be maintaining this challenge with the end so near. In this weird state of mind I don't know how to articulate well. I feel I've proven that it is possible to feed a family on very little, but also hope I have shown that the effort and stress of it all is madness. I'm thankful for the supportive people who have followed along so far pointing out the amount of work we've put into making it through the week without reaching big hunger levels of others doing the challenge.

It should be easier for people to find healthy, affordable food close to home. We would not have had the amount we had if not for the 3 hour shop in 4 stores in 3 neighbourhoods. Not practical at all. And would be a nightmare in the rain on transit. Taking hours longer.

One more for Ian.
Yesterday on the way to school, Sasha mentioned "we could do this for a lot longer I think" and I said "no way! not without me having a total breakdown." I'm glad this has seemed relatively easy for her, but weeks of preparation for the challenge, and this week itself have been all consuming for me, and I know I could not maintain this level of planning and preparing on a regular basis unless I had to! Even though we have had portions to share with my friend, by Saturday night we will have gone through almost all of it, even the potato bag. I'll be sure to post a pic of what remains once we're done.

I have followed the Welfare Food Challenge in previous years always amazed by the various ways people get through it, and was stunned that this year the budget for the week was down to $18, and things aren't changing for those on assistance. I was uncomfortable about 'playing poor' for a week, and had friends who shared concerns on this lens too, but ultimately I believe it takes a diversity of tactics, a lot of action, and a lot of voices to make a real difference, and this year I felt we should try lending our voices to the 5th year of the challenge because a decade of stagnate rates is long enough. Thank you to all of you who have taken a moment to sign the petition to Raise the Rates!

We actually have been working poor for a few stretches of time over the years, mostly have always been paycheck to paycheck life. Once lost power because we chose groceries over bills, so we do understand from our own experience too. (And when I was younger I lived out of my car for a week because I had tired of finding places to stay, but at least I had my car.) I have never been someone who deals with financial stress very well, so in penny pinching times of the past I would always procrastinate on paying bills because its so hard to decide how much to pay, and to which important service to make a payment (hydro, phone?), and trying to catch up to zero on all bills takes forever once you fall behind and not enough money is coming in. I had breakdowns regularly, even though I knew at some point we'd catch up again.

It is a relief to have reached a stage where we have enough stability that I don't worry about the regular monthly cost of life anymore. We have all we need, some of what we want, and live simply yet fully. Everything about this challenge has reinforced my appreciation for the benefit this has on my mental and emotional well being, and for my health overall. And I have come out of survivor mode of someone always piecing income together wherever I can. We always benefited from one of us having a stable income so we always managed, even when it was hard. But all the time spent imagining life like this full time, especially with children to care for, made me stressed even though it isn't real for me.

For people in further depths of poverty than I've ever known, just how do you find the inner strength to get through?

The list of stresses of poverty is lengthy, especially if you are a parent. In a press release today, from the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society, Westcoast LEAF, BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Community Legal Assistance Society, which makes many important points like this,

Some 185,000 people rely on social assistance (aka “welfare”) in B.C., including 35,000 children. Social assistance rates have been frozen since 2007 and sit well below the poverty line. Rates are vastly inadequate to meet recipients’ basic needs and protect their human rights. B.C. is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy. 
I read this and almost cried:
“Our province’s impossibly low assistance rates mean that many of these single moms are scrimping on food for themselves in order to save their kids from extreme malnutrition. Many of these women also live in fear that their children will be apprehended by the child protection system because of poverty – not because of abuse or a lack of love.”
Someone I know tried joking with me before we began the challenge that Sasha could call him if she got hungry, and he would call social services to come get her and make sure she was fed, but the reality of that situation is not a joke. First I pointed out she will not be malnourished because I would take smaller portions to make sure she has enough, and that he could choose to feed her instead, and also that she would never choose to leave us (maybe by 18 she'll feel otherwise?) But I would be devastated if someone took Sasha because we couldn't feed her, and I don't see the logic in children being removed from loving homes ever. Help families who are hurting, not hurt them more!

However, we are not hurting. We are fine. More hungry than usual, and I have felt less energetic, but otherwise we're pulling through this a-ok.

I'm feeling frazzled and full of rants from the ridiculousness of our systems of 'help', not sure if I'm making sense, and no longer sure what I want to say, so it's likely time to rest. Only 2 more days left for us, and a few more posts to come.

Be well everyone.

Sasha's Thoughts Day Four+Five

Sorry I have neglected to post! I have had a very nice menu for two days, though:
Breakfast was oatmeal, and an egg. Lunch was egg salad and dinner was leftover bean-cabbage-rice stuff.
Breakfast was oatmeal, and an egg. ( Yes, again) Lunch was soup and coleslaw and it was another night I stay late after school at club for preteen night, so that's where I got dinner. It was pretty good!!
Tomorrow is a Pro-D day, so I will be at club all day, but they only supply snack late afternoon, so I still get my family's dinner, lunch and breakfast. Tomorrow being Friday, afterwards is the last day of the challenge! Sunday we are going out for breakfast!
I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Back at work

Woke up from a strange dream where I was hungry and couldn't find any food to eat, and people kept eating in front of me and saying "Nope! yours is over there" while pointing at nothing.
Maybe I've become more than a little obsessed with food access now. Maybe I've been worrying a whole lot about the hunger of so many people, as I have felt hunger pangs for much of the past few days. Maybe I was thinking about my prankster co-workers messing with my mind as I had to work today. Likely all of the above.

As soon as I entered the kitchen though, my foggy nightmare ended and I swelled with gratitude once again. We do have food. We may be rationing to make sure we have enough to cover all the meals of the week, but, we have enough to cover all the meals for the week.

After tea and 1/2 banana I found out that my oatmeal skills have improved, as today's one cup portion was much better than our first day breakfast. Adding a boiled egg to the meal made it more filling.

 After getting Sasha ready and off to school, I came home to get myself ready for my walk to work. Before I left for the day I made another batch of oatmeal raisin muffin bites, with 3 small muffins for each of us to have as a snack at some point.

Watching all the ingredients diminish from the cupboard shelf can be nerve racking, until I open the fridge and see the leftovers that still offer us sustenance. While I waited for the baking to be done, I packed my lunch and dinner to get me through my 9 hours at work, then ate a snack of 3 muffin bites (from the old batch), and 3 small handfuls of roasted chick peas to energize me for my half hour walk.

When reading the experience of other challenge participants trying to get by individually on the $18 budget, my stomach rumbles in solidarity with their efforts. If Mark and Sasha had not agreed to try this with me as a family, I don't know if I'd have the stamina to tackle it alone, especially while living with other people who continue to eat things you can't.

I hope their are no people on assistance of some kind having to live with others who would eat while they went hungry. I'm sure it is a reality outside this challenge (where it seems common that individuals are trying this out on their own, though living with roommates/family who are not participating. That is ridiculously hard in my mind). The more I delve into understanding the individual human horror that living in genuine poverty is, by listening to perspectives of people who have lived it, are living it, have never known anything else, the more I know that there are a lot more people suffering than need to be.

Goody bag for Ian.
One challenge participant is someone I work with at Britannia Community Centre. Ian is the Food Security Coordinator and you should follow along on his blog if you want to learn about food access in Vancouver.

He's always working so hard to make sure other people are fed, so after reading about his one meal a day to survive, I was compelled to bring him a few portions of our bounty. I believe the challenge rules allow participants to share with other participants, so at work I'm the only one who can share with him. and we have enough to do so, even if only a little bit.

Britannia is a place where needy people seek refuge in various ways. Every morning staff have to wake up all the homeless people sleeping in every available nook and cranny on the site that is dry. Many homeless people use the showers at the pool when they need to feel clean and warm. (Having a Britannia membership, which is $3 for an adult for a year, gains you access to free showers and the dry sauna in the change room, before 3 every day but Saturday). People rely on the library as a place to gain access to the internet, use the washrooms, and relax in a warm spot a while and read to nourish their minds. There are also various programs that help individuals and families, who are working poor, on welfare or disability assistance, or new immigrants needing support in their new homeland.

The Leisure Access Program is a Vancouver Park Board initiative that allows people who qualify as low income or on assistance, to receive a year pass which they gain free access to the public pools and rinks, and discounts on community centre programs across the city. As our office is a place where these passes are processed once approved, we are witness to the ways that access to these community facilities, services and programs can be life changing for people.

Another big thing at Britannia is food access. Ian shared a great post about the people who access his bulk food buying program who come from near and far for the two bags plus that he is able to supply them for $14. And there are many other food access programs that are run through partnerships on site between the schools, Eastside Family Place, and the Britannia Society. I know I'm leaving lots of stuff out here, so I'll try to follow up with links to all these resources for anyone who is following our experience, and could use the help in real life.

To wrap up my first post about work life I'm happy to say that my co-workers were nothing but supportive as always (I am fortunate to work in an office with an array of wonderfull people), and I made it through the day ok. I had two of my meals at work today, including soup (this Carrot/Lentil/Ginger soup turned out amazing, and for me is the best thing I've eaten all week. The ginger piece really was worth its weight in gold for me!) with soda crackers and a few veggy cookies, and then a small bowl of stew with a bun.

Back home tonight I see this bag of potatoes as my comfort, just to have it there. We have used less than half, and it signifies the opportunity for more food to eat when we need it, so we definitely won't be needing the charity loaf of bread in our freezer on Saturday. 
Tonight I go to bed with a faint touch of hunger, but my spirit is full of gratitude. 

If following along with our efforts, and the struggles of other participants has you marveling at the difficulty of getting by on so little, remember that this is daily life for too many thousands of people in BC. 

(Note: I started this post late after work Tuesday night, but finished in the morning as I was too tired by midnight to finish making my words make any sense. Now I'm off to work again, day 4 of the challenge, and I made some biscuits and coleslaw this morning before leaving, and will try to post again tonight when home from work.) 

Sasha's Thoughts. Day Three.

Hi folks!
Day three rolled around today. Meals were oatmeal (But better than last time!) for breakfast, and soup for lunch. Dinner was at my after-school-club, because Tuesday and Thursday I stay late for programs. Tonight's dinner was mac and cheese with salad. Mini muffins and "Veggie Cookies" stood in as snacks, plus an apple in my lunch.
Other than that, there isn't much else. Before the challenge I thought I would starve and be super hungry 24/7 all week. I'm not even that hungry, and when I get hungry, I set my mind on distracting things like homework or dad's hokey game on the computer.
Today was a Tasty Tuesday! I can't really think of anything for Wednesday, but I know it will be tasty too!
I will be sure to fill you in on my tasty details of our week!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Kitchen duty continues

Nice to wake up and have a few options already prepared and a game plan for day two and all there was to do. We didn't really buy a lot of ready made ingredients, so to keep eating this week required more kitchen work today.

First thing was a cup of tea and 1/2 banana, and then breakfast was a nice treat of two slices of fresh bread toasted with peanut butter.

Then I got on making Sasha's lunch. I made a basic egg salad with eggs and a few of her cucumelons chopped up and some of the pickle juice to flavour with salt and pepper. Sandwich, carrot sticks and a few more cucumelons, plus an oatmeal raisin muffin (the 3 muffins I made yesterday were snacks for each of us today) and one apple were what was packed for her.

I also had my muffin for my mid-morning snack, and had the same lunch, only no apple or cucumelons for me. :(

Mark carried on the Monday afternoon ritual of having lunch with his dad while they watch some footie together. Lunch is always a sandwich, and coincidentally he ended up with egg salad and carrot sticks too!

Once Sasha was at school I took a fair bit of time to just relax for the morning to continue to ease my back. I threw it out a week ago and have been dealing with pain to varying degrees ever since. Standing in the kitchen for most of the day yesterday was not helpful to the healing. Still had to muster energy to get back to prep mode, I know I will be grateful for it on my work days to come!

Turns out the loaf I made, though tasty and dense, was rather small. What remained, after using 10 slices of bread (3 of us had 2 pieces of toast for breakfast, and 2 of us had 2 slices for sandwiches at lunch), is enough for one slice each. I think I have enough flour and stuff for one more small loaf, but no baking for me today.

Today I was trying to get a handle on how the rest of our food was actually going to spread out over the rest of the week. I knew it was possible, I just needed to remember to breathe and start doing something once again.

Like measure out enough oats, cinnamon, sugar and raisins for 2 more morning breakfasts for us all. Done!

Then some time cutting up garlic, onion, celery and carrot for 3 separate dishes I wanted to prepare.

 Today was all about lentils, beans, carrots and cabbage! Over the course of a few hours I created a bean and cabbage dish (and plenty of it!) to have with rice for our dinner tonight, a carrot/lentil/ginger soup for us to have for lunches, and a 'veggy cookie' (like mini potato pancakey pakora kinda thing) I baked up for us to have as snacks, made from potato, carrot, onion, garlic, lentil, cabbage and a few tablespoons of flour - and these are pretty great, but could use a dip.

Overall, using many of the same ingredients I was able to get a nice range of texture and flavour to mix things up over the next few days.

Basically, all of the food has been prepared except for a tomato sauce to go with pasta for a meal or two (not sure how many portions we'll have), and another batch of muffins or bread.

We will now be rotating between the leftover vegetable stew, beans & rice, pasta & sauce or soup with crackers for lunch and dinner in the next 5 days. There is one more thing I want to make in the morning to add to this mix which is a simple coleslaw we can divide up for a portion each day.

Breakfast will be oatmeal  and a boiled egg for 2 days, eggs (& toast?) for 2 days, and potato pancakes for breakfast on Saturday.

The snacks we have are roasted chickpeas & raisins we can have a few handfuls each over the next few days, about 8 veggie cookies each, some carrot & celery sticks with hummus, and 1/2 banana each per day. Mark and I still have 2 apples to share. Sasha gets a full apple per day and random cucumelons as she likes. Plus whatever I end up baking in a couple of days.

Now I can relax a bit because I have shown my family we really won't starve (they were worried), but it is a lot of work to have achieved this basic level of comfort at this point. I have been food & budget obsessed for weeks now trying to prepare, which culminated in us finding just the right amount of ingredients and just the right price to get what we could, and the work seems to have paid off - I believe we'll make it through ok.

But $54 goes farther than $18 (for all the individuals doing the challenge) and both of these amounts are truly below the amount people on benefits receive and are expected to survive on, and who has the time for this diligence all of the time? Actually feeding my family this week on this amount is very difficult, but compounding the stress of meager amounts of food with all the other systemic stresses for people on welfare, disability or working poor, means daily stress for longer than I can imagine. I'm exhausted from the effort to even try to relate to this reality and it's only been a short while.

My gratitude is abundant for everything we have to eat this week. My thoughts are with all of the people going to bed without having healthy food in them today, and those with empty bellies.

Sasha's thoughts Day Two

Today was the first day of school while doing the challenge. It was also my student-conference today. When I told my teacher about the challenge, she seemed pretty interested in the subject of spending $54 on food all week. She said it would spark conversation on how much we eat and how often we go out for dinner, and the challenge has done just that for me. I am going to present this blog sometime to my class. This will be interesting for them to read.
Breakfast was better today: Homemade bread with peanut butter. Much better! (Still want waffles! :[ )
Lunch was egg salad sandwich and Dinner was beans and cabbage and rice. Today was a munchy Monday!
I will be sure to keep you posted on my Welfare Week Challenge!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

First day in the kitchen

Last night I hid all of the stuff we can't use for the week. For the past while I was only buying what we really need because I didn't want a surplus of supplies in the kitchen, but we still have pretty well stocked cupboards of dry goods and spices. So I put some things in the freezer, and then concealed the shelves we can't use. Random tea towel art hides what we can't use, and now we are down to 2 small shelves. Here are the snapshots of before and after.
Lots of options and flavours.
After hiding everything, far less choice.
That pile of food pictured on the table from yesterday certainly looked like a lot less food once I put it away. A few things on the counter, our 2 small cupboard shelves, and then there is the fridge with the few things needing to be chilled. The top shelf is full of things we can't use, and condiments in the door, and the drawer that has cheese - all off limits! 

A sharp eye will notice the bottle of apple cider vinegar, and this is because we have apple cider vinegar and baking soda in stock at all times as we use these to wash our hair. Everyone else has shampoo and conditioner in the shower, so do we, and that's why I haven't counted these items in the budget for the week.

The only way to tackle all the anxiety this emptiness in the kitchen was creating for me was to do something, so today I spent most of the day trying to turn some of our ingredients into actual meals we might enjoy.

Confession time on a few last cheats:

One wee sweet potato for the stew.
Since we had $1.80 leftover I 'bought' the piece of ginger we had, and a sweet potato leftover in the fridge which had already been peeled and needed to be used, so we could keep both of these. I was amazed that the idea of keeping a piece of ginger was all of the sudden worth more than gold to me.

Where tea is made
For Sasha I chose to let her have the last half glass of juice left in the fridge this morning, and the choice of one already opened box of herbal tea that would be for her to have a cup a day, and also used to make some iced tea for her.

And last, I forgot about tea for us when we shopped yesterday, but we have a large tin full of tea in our cupboard (along with many other teas), so I rationed out tea bags for Mark and I to get a caffeine dose daily, which are in the tin.

To recap, all of the cheats I have chosen to make this week more bearable for my family include:
- salt, pepper and oil we already have on hand
- using leftover portion of applesauce and yogurt in the fridge
- Sasha gets to snack on her jar of pickled cucumelons
- tea rations from our current stock of tea in the cupboard

All day I was putting out food to eat, but I was always a touch hungry. My morning started with a cup of tea and 1/2 banana. We usually have a whole one every morning, and now sharing one. Then I cooked up a small pot of oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins and we each had a portion of just over a cup.

Once I had a smidgen of food in my belly I began the process of baking bread, and non-stop puttering in the kitchen for the day. Soaking chick peas, baking bread and muffins, and prepping for meals.

First snack time was a 1/2 apple. Sasha gets a whole one each day, and the few left over will be shared by me and Mark. One down, two to go.

Taking advantage of our big bag of potatoes today for two meals. First was a lunch of fries and scrambled eggs with celery, trying to get in a small dose of green. All good eats.

Afternoon snacks were 2 bite size oatmeal raisin muffins (I made 24 bite-size and 3 regular size muffins), then we split one of my fresh baked buns (which turned out super yummy!) and each had a third with a smear of margarine,

Once the chick peas were done I made up some hummus and we sampled with 7 crackers each. Hummus isn't quite the same without a hint of lemon and I had to water it down to smooth it out to conserve oil, so it is meh. I roasted the other half of the chick peas, which I forgot about in the oven and therefore they are overly crunchy and dry, but will have to do as the handful-now-and-then-tide-over snack it was meant to be.

The last meal of the day was potato stew with one bun. I used the chick pea water with a cube of stock for the broth, and used onion, garlic, celery, carrots and potatoes for the stew. I normally love my stews, and this one I loved mostly because I was hungry, and there was enough to have 2 bowls and almost fill up for a meal. Soon after I was hungry again, but stew has to last another meal so dinner was done.

Oats cooking.
Baking goodness.
Hummus and crackers

Roasted chick peas
Vegetable stew
Overall, most of the food is tasty enough, and I was thrilled at how yummy the buns were! Simple can be good, but I already miss the treasure trove of flavour our spice rack provides. Thankful I managed to get cinnamon & raisins for oatmeal and baking.

Thankful tomorrow is another day off so I can spend more time in the kitchen prepping for the next few days of meals. When I'm back at work Tuesday I won't have time or energy for all this kitchen time anymore, and I lucked out the challenge began on my two days off so I could get us off to a good start. 

I'm thinking of all the other participants of this Welfare Food Challenge and hoping they have made it through the shock of the first day alright. 

Focus in the morning is making sure Sasha has enough for lunch at school. Now I'm exhausted and it's time to rest, but I'm feeling joy to be able to have a couple of slices of my bread toasted for breakfast!  

Sasha's Thoughts. Day One

Hi again!
The first day went like this:

Me: Whats for breakfast?
Mom: Oatmeal with raisins.

That was a nice wake-up.
I actually forgot the challenge started today, which is surprising since me and my family have been talking about the challenge since late September.
Lunch was Fries and Scrambled Eggs (With celery) and Dinner was Vegetable Soup. A few bite sized muffins lasted as snacks for the day. It was actually pretty normal, except mom was in the kitchen all day, prepping food for the week. At least it was better than shopping in the rain.

School starts tomorrow, and I really can't wait to see how tiny my lunch is. (Sarcasm) Also, another "cheat" has come up in my favour. I get one herbal tea of my choice from our cupboard for drinking over the week. I chose a fruity berry, because it was that or peach. I prefer berry. Speaking of cheats, and school tomorrow, I get my after school snack at after school club.

It surprised me how normal today was, and if this keeps up, it will actually be a pretty normal week, just less food. I will keep you posted on my view of the challenge for the rest of the week. Can't wait for more oatmeal tomorrow! (I really want some waffles :[ )

                                                                        -Sasha :D

Saturday, 15 October 2016

What did $54 get us today?

$60-6=$54 aka our budget
We withdrew the cash we needed, and once we made our first purchase and broke one of these bills, I put away $6 to make sure we stayed in our $54 budget.

I felt a fair bit of anxiety holding this cash and knowing this was it. Things were gettin' real now.

The weather was miserable and kind of set the mood, making it even harder to muster excitement for this shop. I'll end my complaints there as we also had the comfort of a co-op car I had booked to get us around to all our planned locations in a few hours. A luxury on a day like this.

The shop is now done and here's what we've got:

The epic food find was a 10 lb bag of potatoes for $1.99! The journey to multiple grocery stores to get everything on our list under budget was worth it. My spirits were lifted after our first 2 stops and we had all of our produce, beans, lentils, chick peas for $18.80. 

The full list of acquired goods (will update with the amounts, etc in the morn):
Potatoes          Lentils
Carrots            Beans
Cabbage         Chick peas
Celery             Rice
Garlic             Pasta
Onions            Flour            
Apples            Oats
Bananas          Sugar
Raisins            Eggs
Crackers         Peanut butter
Cinnamon      Yeast 
Vegetable stock  
Canned tomatoes
Milk (not pictured)

Well, that's what we've got to get us through. More tomorrow on what we're going to do with it.

Sasha's first thoughts

Hi! This is Sasha and my perspective of the challenge as a kid. I do go to an after school club, so I will get snacks there, but other than that I'm really excited to get into this challenge! :) Me and my family have been talking about the challenge since late September, and how we're using a few cheats, such as the jar of pickled cukeamelons I got from moms friend as a gift that I can eat over the week. I love doing challenges with my family, especially when it has to do with awareness or green cities. Today we drove around for a long time, in the rain. We went to five stores, in the rain. It was a lot of fun though. As I write this all our stuff is on the table behind me, and it looks like what we usually get for like maybe five days. My family has never done this challenge before, so I'm happy to be part of the first time! It has already been fun. I hope it stays that way! Tomorrow the challenge starts for real, so we are having a nice dinner tonight. I can't wait for plain oatmeal with cinnamon tomorrow! (Sarcasm) That's a wrap for tonight!
                                                                                -Sasha :D

The day we shop

We have pretty much finished our week of research and mental preparation, and I'm still finding it
A few books of inspiration.
hard to wrap my head around.

Until we have all the ingredients in our kitchen, the real portions of what we can actually afford, it still feels a bit like a fantasy,

Our list of what we think we'll be able to get keeps dwindling, I'm still uncertain exactly what we will come home with to live on for the next 7 days.

The ever dwindling wish list.
I've already to committed to a few cheats before we even get out the door for our shop, so I'll come clean right away.

First, our kitchen has always had salt, pepper and some kind of oil, so we will use the portions we have on the shelf instead of buying more.

Next, there is a leftover portion of applesauce and leftover yogurt in the fridge that we will use rather than let it spoil.

And last, we have a loaf of bread in the freezer which was given to us by Mum (who got it from the Salvation Army when volunteering. Bread twice donated.) which will only be used if we run out of food and need to eat emergency bread stash on our last day.

Whew. It is amazing me the amount of guilt I have for these small extras, and the amount of stress relieved when they are no longer on the list to buy, Potential for flavour, and perhaps a batch of muffins if we have enough flour after bread making.

All other kitchen/pantry goods will be put out of sight until the challenge is complete.

Thanks Victoria!
Except one last cheat I'm allowing for Sasha: A jar of pickled cucumelons (one of her favourite things) which were gifted to her yesterday, and she will be able to snack on these while they last.

I have already received lots of support from friends near and far, especially those who have mastered life on meager budgets with a family. I am most grateful for the collective wisdom of my friends and family and their willingness to share.

The mental challenge of sourcing out the best for the least is draining, and it hardly seems fair to only do this challenge for a week when the people we are trying to help with this campaign must endure it daily.

Even before we shop I know that a truly healthy well balanced meal on this budget is not likely possible on a regular basis. I know that we will not starve, but I'm not sure we'll ever be full in the days to come.

We'll see what we come home with later today.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Preparing for the Challenge

We have signed up for the 5th Annual Welfare Food Challenge to support the work of Raise the Rates, and help highlight the inadequacy of welfare rates in BC. To learn all about the challenge please visit the site

We are starting this blog as a place we can share our experience with our friends, family and any other folks following participants of the challenge.

As a family that has often lived paycheck to paycheck, we have always made food the item we splurge on when we can't afford much else. We love our ability to eat healthy and well while supporting small local businesses and farms, organic and fair trade as much as possible, and we know this is a luxury many can't always support.

This challenge is helping us reinforce our gratitude for the privilege of having supportive community, and full-time work that now pays two of us living wages, so we rarely worry about the cost of our groceries anymore, or when we'll eat.

This Thanksgiving weekend we gathered with family to enjoy a feast with those we love, and feel grateful for the simple abundances in our life.

Beginning on World Food Day, Sunday October 16th, our family of 3 has $54 to cover all of our meals for a week. We've already been researching recipes, and cheapest grocery items within walking distance of home and work, hoping to find the best place to buy all that is on our wish list.

This activity is our first cheat really, because those on welfare, disability or working poor may not be able to browse 3 neighbourhoods around town to get what they need at the lowest price per item, or the ability to continue to eat lots of good food while preparing for a week of struggle.

Guidelines say we need to share our cheats, and when you only have $18 per person it is hard not to try and make it easier, so we aim to be honest about all the ups and downs.

More posts to come from Kathy, Mark and Sasha throughout our final week of preparation, and the Welfare Food Week itself.