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The widow’s grocery list

How my life has changed. I used to bustle about in Sprouts, shopping organic, eating whole foods only, snacking on charcuterie. I never even looked at how much stuff cost. Heck, I remember taking a charcuterie tray to a party last year that cost over $300. Why did I know that? Because Eric and I were delighted. We had just finished a fancy and boozy dinner and we headed across the street at the Country Club Plaza to the upscale cheese shop to partake in one of our favorite hobbies: buzzed shopping.

But back in August, when he died, my food fussiness was replaced with practicality and grit. With no more paychecks and no death certificate expected for three months, (one needs a death certificate to access ALL monies – insurance, bank accounts, retirement funds, investments) I had to get creative.

No more hunks of $35 Dutch cheese with salt crystals for me. I was determined though, to get through these months of waiting without touching any investments. So, so, so many times I wondered if I could do it.

Could I go a week spending only the $20 I found in his coat pocket? People have been so generous, especially with food. There was the food train. A huge blessing from the generous moms – some I know, some I don’t – of Stilwell, Kansas. I still have two casseroles left. One we are eating this week.

There were other generous neighbors. One brought me milk, blueberries and muffins for a week’s worth of breakfasts a week where I was afraid about money. And she continues to drop off meals and goodies for us all the time.

Sometime in September, I was sitting in my Kia reading, waiting for kids who were at band lessons inside Blue Valley High School. The Porsche profit was sitting in my bank account, but it didn’t come close to filling the hole in my psyche that drove my fear of the unknown: would we be poor?

My phone rang, it was the social worker from one of the kids’ schools. She offered me the Back Pack Snack program. “The kids would be given a bag of food on Fridays,” she said. I finished her sentence in my head, “with snacks and food so the child wouldn’t go hungry over the weekend.”

I was familiar with the program from California. In my mind it was the motel kids in Orange County that got these bags, the poorest of the poor. Kids whose parents couldn’t afford first and last months’ rent so they were stuck in the cycle of living in motels. Was this program right for my kids?

Charity. How did I feel about charity? Great. Eric and I were, not to brag, pretty generous. In fact, I once wrote a check for this very program in California. We used to go to expensive galas, bid at silent auctions, and do all that stuff.

This was our favorite event, the OC Chef’s Table, with proceeds going toward Illumination Foundation, which helped get homeless families off the street.

What could I say to the social worker? “Yes, thank you,” I croaked, swallowing back tears. Please tears, just wait a couple of minutes. Tears of relief.

Now, every week we get two boxes of mac and cheese, apples, snacks, those little boxes of sugar cereals – my kid’s dream breakfast. What a help that is. We now have a snack box filled with snacks that I would have never have bought, poor or rich. What a treat for my kids!

We call it the snack bin and it contains stuff that I would NEVER buy. The kids enjoy it!

A few days later the lunch coordinator at the district called.

“Hi Mrs. Woolery, I’d like to send you an application for discounted lunches, I understand that you could benefit from them.”

I laughed. How does one go from dining for three weeks in Italy, a Michelin rated restaurant, food walking tours, some of the best food in the world to this?

“It’s based on last month’s income,” she added.

When I told her what my last month’s income was, we weren’t even on the sliding scale. The lunches were completely free.

A few times my kids have been picky, I have been picky. But this is what I say, “We need help, we will accept these generous gifts and be grateful for them.”

One morning I made them eat the fruit cocktail that had come home in the back pack snack program. The kids were miserable. I now let them be ungrateful for those fruit cocktails, but only those. We don’t waste them though, we pour them over the dog’s breakfasts. My kids have been such happy troopers, embracing gratitude and gifts. When I was unloading some canned vegetables recently, one of them said, “Oh, vegetables come in cans?” I laughed out loud!

I now grocery shop at Walmart. Do you know they have really good prices at Walmart? What a bunch of fun bargains I was missing out on.

A Midwestern mom would not be able to pass up this deal!

A half-gallon of organic whole milk is $3.35. At Target its closer to $5 and Sprouts closer to $7. Also, at the Walmart near me there is a bakery and at the back of the store there is a day-old rack, which is filled with fun!

Four cinnamon rolls for $1. A wonderful snack for when a friend spends the night.

A garlic bread, ¢57! I’ve taken all the loaves from the shelf several times and frozen them. They come out wonderfully. Did you know that garlic bread is a great school snack?

Did you know kids will eat mac and cheese, left over Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches and canned ravioli for breakfast?

Suddenly my grocery list is so much shorter: a bag of oranges, milk, Walmart cookie dough and carrots. Cheers!

In addition to one of the last meal train casseroles this week, we are having carrot soup. I made up a recipe of ingredients that were left over from the generous Thanksgiving dinner baskets the Overland Park Police Department donated to the middle school families in need.

The Widow’s Roasted Curried Carrot Soup

  1. Coat any leftover carrots and onions with olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Roast at 425 for 30 or so minutes. Then blend with any left-over stock you have around.

  2. While the veggies are roasting, blend 3 cans of carrots with one can of a cream of celery and milk.

  3. Simmer the blends on the stove for a while, adding white pepper, salt, and curry to taste.

  4. After cooking, let soup sit overnight to mellow and stop in Walmart on your way home from yoga or wherever and pick up some fancy bread from the day-old shelf for dipping.

The above meal cost ¢60 thanks to all the charity that I’m still a little embarrassed to take, but am grateful for it.



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