The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What is a Food Buying Co-op??

A few days ago, I posted about cleaning up our Bomb Shelter.  In that post, I mentioned co-op delivery day.  Here's the answer to your question, which would be, "What is co-op delivery day??"  (In case you were unsure.)

A friend started a bulk dry goods buying co-op, and I joined in order to get dry goods--rice, wheat berries, rolled oats, etc.--in bulk at great prices.  She worked with a company in Michigan which delivered to her house on a monthly basis (or whenever she ordered).  Once she disbanded the co-op, she encouraged me to start the same one, with my own rules--which is a great thing you can do when you run a co-op!

Here's how I run ours.  First of all, I really could order by myself, if I met the $400 minimum order required by this company.  That minimum must be met, or there is a delivery fee.  I could order and pay the fee, too, but since there were a handful of us still wanting to order, I was happy to create the co-op.

We order from Country Life Natural Foods, based in Michigan.  You can click on that link, then click on Online Store to see the types of products they offer.  This company is a dairy-free one, so no refrigerated or dairy products.  They are a Christian company, however, and I love being able to support their business.  They offer organic and non-organic products, so that may be a consideration for you.  Plus, they deliver right to my door!

Another great plus for them is that I don't have to order every month, or even on a set schedule.  So, we order every two months, which seems to work for our little group.  If we don't meet the minimum order, I simply send out an email and let the group know, and we'll delay the order another month.

Here's a screen snippet of our order form, which I created using Google Drive:

It's an Excel-type document, so I can total orders, and everything is neat and tidy.  The above snippet is from a completed order, so it doesn't look like that at first.  The first step for me is to create a new sheet for the current order--you can see the order dates along the bottom--our upcoming order date will be in May.

I usually put my name and my cell phone number in the above form, because my cell phone is the easiest way for co-op members to get hold of me if they have issues filling out the order form, or with pricing, the Country Life website, etc.  Lately, I've included our route # (unique to CLNF) on this form so I don't forget the order deadline for our particular delivery route!  (Order deadlines are different for each route that CLNF has.)  I also include my customer number there now, so that if I need to call them (and they're super friendly and helpful), I have my customer number handy.

Once the current blank order form is ready, I click on Share, which in the Google Drive document is in the upper right corner.  It gives me a link to this Google doc so I can share it with others.  By the way, you can create private documents, but I've set this one so that others can view and edit it with a link.  That way, co-op members have access to it and can add items whenever they want or need to throughout the month up until the order deadline.  I do a control+C to copy the link, and I include that link in an email to our group (I've created a group email that goes out to everyone with one click).  Once I've sent the link out, everyone can access the doc and type in their orders!

On CLNF's website, I click their Online Store to shop for what I need.  I've set the document up for item number, description, quantity, price, and extended price.  I set the deadline for ordering on the Monday before the actual CLNF ordering deadline (usually a Wednesday), to give me a little leeway to actually place the order, and to give a little grace to anyone who may want to add something at the last minute.

Usually on Wednesday morning, I go into the doc and print it.  I order whatever is on there.  My policy for our members is that Monday is the deadline, and whatever is in there when I print it (on Tuesday or Wednesday) is what I'll order.  I don't want anyone to get mad at me because they put something in there after I printed it and ordered the items!  So I have a printed copy for my records.  This has never been an issue, since we have only six or seven members, but if the group grows, I want to already have the policy in place.

After I've printed the order form out, I simply input the item numbers at the CLNF website, on their order form.  It pulls up the description, so if someone's item number doesn't match their description, I can go in and fix the item number to match.  It's just a little extra something I do.  If it tells me an item is back ordered, for example, I put a "BO" in the column to the right of the price (in my Google doc order form).  I also adjust prices up or down accordingly, with a note in that same "Notes" column so members can see when they access the document to see the total price they owe.

Here in Illinois, we're required to collect food sales tax for items ordered out of state, so I do that once I get the actual order in.  I also require that members pay upon pickup--no payment, no pickup.  I then go ahead and place the order, and put the total on my credit card.  Other co-op clubs require payment up front, or with PayPal, or some other method.  I know everyone in our club, so this isn't an issue.  (I don't want to say yet!)  Another plus of running the co-op is being able to set the payment and finance side of things up the way I want them to be run.

I place the order on a Wednesday, and I usually get a friendly phone call that Friday with a delivery date and approximate time.

Now comes the fun part!  Kevin, our driver, usually shows up within a half hour of the given delivery time.  The sound of his truck is distinct, so someone usually hollers out that he's here with the order.  There's his truck outside our house!

He spends a few minutes getting paperwork together, then heads to the back of the truck to get the first load--whatever boxes will fit on his dolly.

Kevin brings everything right up to our front door!  Or, to our garage but since it snowed and the garage floor was wet, we wanted the order inside (plus it was a smaller order).  He was chatting with me as he walked up, wondering why I was snapping pictures, but once I explained I was going to blog about our co-op, he was enthusiastic about me getting all the right pictures!

My guys are helpful to bring in everything so Kevin doesn't have to lug it all in where I want it and set each thing down.

He actually posed for the below, while Joseph is wondering Why doesn't Mr. Kevin just hand me the box??

And there you have it!  But we're not done.  I go through the order form (usually Joseph does all this stuff for me; he's so helpful) and separate out each person's order, marking higher/lower prices, back-ordered items, etc. right in the Google doc order form.  Then I calculate tax and type in each person's final total amount due.

Next, I print out the complete order form with tax and totals due, and cut out each person's order.  That cut-out "receipt" gets taped on each person's order so that we can double-check payment when she comes to pick up her order.  Oh--and I determine the pick-up day, too!  In the screen snippet above, you noticed there was one pick-up day; I've changed that now so that as soon as everything is sorted and the order form is done, I email out the completed form with totals due, and let everyone know that she can pick up her order from that time through Friday--so it's usually Wednesday through Friday.  I ask the members to call me to make sure I'll be home when they want to come.  This gives everyone flexibility--I can plan my days however I want, and everyone can come when it suits (within my three-day timeframe).

I also stipulate that if someone can't pick up their order, to make arrangements with me before she places her order.  Most of the ladies in our club go to my church, so if the order isn't too large, I can bring it to church for someone if she really needs me to.  But, I always ask that she contact me to make sure it's feasible for me to do that before she places her order and assumes I will.

My co-op order waiting to be sorted out in our Bomb Shelter.

Co-op orders awaiting pick-up.

Benefits of our particular co-op.

  • I can place orders on a monthly, bi-monthly, or whenever-I-want basis.
  • Bulk prices are usually better (but not always!).
  • Country Life delivers to my door.
  • Members pick up right at my house.
  • Our Google doc order form is convenient--any time I'm running low on an item, I type it into the current order.
  • The entire process, outside of pick-up day, is online.  I usually get paid by check, so I do have to visit the bank--no big deal for me as it's two blocks from home.
  • I get to be a blessing to others!

I know this post is longer and more involved than most of my posts and I've also probably left out a detail or two.  If you have questions, please type them below in the comment box, and I'll answer them!  I hope you have the blessing of being able to set up a bulk goods co-op in your area!!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

His Castle - More Pretty in my Pantry!

After creating decorative organizing boxes with Mod Podge for my pantry, I decided to go at it again and finish everything that I started.  You can click on the link for details of how I actually made the boxes.  Today I'm just sharing the really final, finished product with you.  :)

The longer boxes that stick out from the shallow metal shelving units are tuna boxes from Costco.  I have absolutely no compunction about standing there in the store, emptying the wrapped 12-packs of tuna onto the next shelf, and taking the empty boxes.  I even got my mom to do it!

The shorter boxes are Quaker oatmeal packet boxes (Fernando likes them for a quick breakfast, and Costco had them on sale for an excellent price).  I cut them down, and cut out the slot on the front for easy reach-in capability.

I labeled my boxes very generically, in case I stock up on different items.  Right now, a lot of what's in that box below on the left is spices.  I don't know how I acquired so many!  I just love Penzey's Spices!!

You can tell I love blue.  I have tons of various blue scrapbook paper (12x12") that I was able to cull from for these pretty boxes.  Barring a real pantry (meaning real shelves instead of metal), I love my beautifully organized pantry!

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Monday, April 28, 2014

His Castle - Hyper Organizing in the Bomb Shelter

A few days ago I posted about cleaning up the Bomb Shelter.  Today I'm going to share with you what I do when I'm in the mood to organize.  It's pretty much organizing for beauty.  I definitely love things to be organized, but when they're beautifully organized, it's something really special.  Let me show you.

After picking things up down here in the basement, I wanted things to be labeled.  It's so much easier to find things that way.  And although I've labeled buckets and such with permanent marker, it just wasn't that pretty.  Today was the day to prettify it.  :)

To create pretty labels, I used the same computer font and style that I did when I used Mod Podge to create labels to beautify my pantry.  I used a bigger size table box and font, because these were bigger buckets, and I wanted to be able to read them without having to get up close.

I used borders around each label so that I had a line on which to cut straight.

For these, I used simple packing tape.  I use scissors to cut off the edges made with the tape cutter--those jagged edges tend to stick out and get dirty, thus wrecking my pretty handiwork.  These labels were large enough that I used two rows of packing tape, covering first the top half of the label, then the bottom half.  They weren't perfectly taped, but close enough that I can't tell when looking at them.

Here are my finished buckets!  You can see the handwritten "pintos" on that one, though.  I think I forgot to print a label for that one!

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Random March Day

March 20.

Snow.  Really.  Not kidding.  See?

The next day, I spotted this guy in a tree in our back yard:

Since it was still cold, I decided to bake bread.  I used my double-long loaf pan, and the size of the loaf is truly impressive.  I asked Thomas to help out in the kitchen, and since he's into working out for football, he decided to do some exercises with my bread.  Seriously.



I did say this was a random post.  :)

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

His Castle - Cleaning the Bomb Shelter (Again)

Want to know what His Castle posts are?  Click here!

We call this section of our basement the Bomb Shelter.  Really.  And it gets messy pretty easily.  I don't often go down to the basement for anything.  One of the guys will carry up wheat berries for grinding, or a big bag of rice so I can refill the rice jar in my real pantry.  And on co-op delivery day, it's just so easy to tell the guys to "carry it all down to the Bomb Shelter for now..."  But, after a few co-op delivery days (and they're two months apart!), the Bomb Shelter looks like this:

There's a lot going on in the image above.  The true Bomb Shelter is really consists of just those large metal shelving units in the back on the right, plus all those five-gallon white buckets you can see in the lower right corner in the front.

Fernando's work cabinets are on the left, with a large cardboard box on top, and there's a table in the center, surrounded by chairs, that the guys will often use for games when friends are over.  You can tell, though, that that table hasn't been used in a while.  Time to clean up!

Most of this day's work consisted of just putting stuff away, either in their respective storage buckets, or organized on the shelves.  Below, you can see the red, blue, and green canning jar boxes stacked neatly in the middle.  Those are my empty jars, waiting to be filled with something new!

Below are those five-gallon buckets.  The two gray-rimmed buckets are much larger, and each holds about 150 pounds of wheat berries.  One bucket was red berries, and one was white, so I mixed them and have been using them up.  We haven't said goodbye to any of our guys yet, but as I bake less and less, I don't want to be storing massive amounts of dry goods.  I'm trying to be careful with the quantities I purchase, and am conscientiously using everything that I do purchase.

That's it!  Nice and clean, just in time for co-op delivery day.  I'll blog about that really soon, since I already took pictures!

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Proof that Thomas Does Schoolwork

A silly post, but many extended family members doubt that Thomas actually does any schoolwork.  Well, here's proof.

And there you have it...a physics experiment.  I have tons of paperwork, too, if you still doubt.  How 'bout helping me grade English Comp essays?  Please?  ;)

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

After the Snow Melts

One March day, while there was still snow on the ground, I stepped outside to put some political signs up--which ended up being stuck into the snow since the ground was still frozen--and my glance fell on my flowerpot lady.

The pot she lovingly held on her shoulder was cracked.  Remember her from last year?   She had sat on my front porch with an empty pot for several years, and I had finally brought her out to this little garden spot.  She was perfect.  She had always been outdoors, so I never gave a thought about her surviving this winter.

But, by March, when all the snow melted, she looked like this.

A beautiful statue, she just couldn't survive one of the worst winters I've ever experienced here in Chicagoland.  Even her toes were cracked, just like an ancient statue of a long ago city.  Fernando says we can try Super-Glue; I may just give it a try.  Poor girl.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Family Size Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Remember, the recipe is at the end.  :)

This soup was inspired by Pinterest, and developed in my kitchen using real ingredients.  Except for the tortellini.  I didn't want to spend an entire day making them just to dump them in soup (even though this soup is particularly awesome).  I bought the healthiest tortellini I could and didn't worry about it.

Assemble and set out all your ingredients.

Garlic from my freezer with my Pampered Chef garlic press.

The original recipe (found on Pinterest) called for the soup to be made in the slow cooker, but it also called for a package of white sauce mix--something I've never bought and figured I wouldn't buy now just for this.  It's pretty easy to make a white sauce (a roux) from scratch (butter + flour + salt + milk), so that's what I did and this became a stovetop recipe.  It takes me about 30-40 minutes from start to finish--not bad for a from-scratch recipe!

I use water and this instead of chicken broth (unless I have some homemade).

Don't be alarmed by the amount of butter (one stick total).  This is family size.  My family consists of hubby and me, and four big strapping young men.  If you won't eat this much, halve the recipe!  Because of the roux, it won't freeze well; however, the leftovers are simply divine.  Yes, even our family has leftovers (well, it was one nice big bowl, anyway).

Simmering the tortellini.

The spinach gets to wilt in the hot soup.

As I experimented, I wrote everything down in notes all over the typed-out recipe, with lines, boxes, circles, and arrows, then finally put it all together in readable format.   Now you get the benefit of my scribbles!

These pictures feature dried tortellini; the fresh refrigerated tortellini is even yummier!

Family Size Tortellini & Spinach Soup
Yield:  12 bowls of soup (about two large ladles' worth)

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (can omit if you're not into 'shrooms)
6 cups water
4 cups chicken broth (I use water + chicken soup base)
1 teaspoon dried crushed basil (or the fresh equivalent--just plop some in!)
1 teaspoon dried crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
16-oz. package dried or fresh cheese tortellini (main pic shows fresh, others show dried)
6 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper
fresh Parmesan cheese

For the roux:
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk

In a six-quart saucepan, saute onion and garlic in the two tablespoons butter until soft.  Add mushrooms and saute a few minutes more.  Add the water, chicken broth, basil, oregano, salt and cayenne pepper.  Bring to a boil and add tortellini.  Simmer about 15 minutes or until tortellini is tender (our tortellini is done in under ten minutes--read the package to estimate the time).

Meanwhile, prepare the roux:  In a separate saucepan, melt the six tablespoons butter.  Add the flour and salt, stirring until bubbly.  Pour in the milk and stir frequently, cooking until mixture is thickened and bubbly.

When tortellini is fully cooked, add the roux to the soup, then stir in the spinach.  Let sit for 3-4 minutes until spinach is wilted and soft (doesn't need to be on the heat for this).  If desired, sprinkle individual servings with black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Each bowl of soup is about 240 calories, fyi.  :)

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thomas, Math, and a Tournament

February 22.

We prodded Thomas, just a little, to join Alpha Omega Math Club this past school year.  I don't know that he needed much prodding, though, because he threw himself into the club with all the gusto he could muster.  Once again, he organized one of the most important aspects of the weekly club meeting:  Snacks.  :)

The ICTM regional math tournament was held at North Central College in Naperville on February 22, and Alpha Omega had a pretty good run, winning several awards and earning the privilege of going on to the state tournament on May 3 at the University of Illinois!

Here are some highlights of the regional tournament.

Thomas did some last minute preparations.

When not competing, students gathered at the library for snacks and games.

The team, with Mrs. M, their fearless leader!

Thomas waits for the awards ceremony to begin.

Mrs. M.

Setting out all the ribbons, plaques, and trophies.

When the awards were being announced for Calculator Team, our ears perked up a bit.  Thomas is one of the members of the team, and Mrs. M predicted they'd do well at regionals.  After a few years of awards ceremonies, we were familiar with hearing, "First place for ___ goes to Cornerstone!" 

Cornerstone is the other homeschool math club that competes at regionals; there are several other schools that also compete at our class 1A level.  Cornerstone is a well-established team, and Alpha Omega was an offshoot of that team, which grew to a large number of students.  Since they're well-established, and since they're homeschoolers, they've dominated both the regional tournament and the state tournament at our Class 1A level.  As a relatively young team (less than five years old), Alpha Omega has done a great job making dents in garnering awards all the way up to the state tourney.  We're also a very small team, so it has been very satisfying seeing the students do so well at the tournaments.

Okay, back to the awards ceremony...

Just before the ceremony host announced the winners, he looked down at our team (we were sitting up front just in front of him) and said, "Get ready for this..."  He then announced the second-place winners as Cornerstone.  I thought, "Well, okay."  And didn't think much else.

Then he announced, "And, first place for Calculator Team goes to Alpha Omega!"  WHAT??!!  That was us!  That was Thomas and his team!!  I completely forgot about my camera until he and his teammate Adair were up on stage!  :D

Shaking hands with one of his teammates.

He looks pretty happy.

Wow.  We were so excited!  Now it's on to state, and since the whole team qualified to go, the students have been practicing hard for this major tournament.

Great job, Thomas and the Alpha Omega team!!

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