Category Archives: COVID-19

Burnt Toast and a Crock Pot

Recently I was having a texting conversation with a friend of mine who lives in another state. We haven’t seen each other in years, but we manage to stay in touch, like many people, through email, texting, and social media. We’ve been talking a lot more lately with everything going on with COVID-19 in the country.  One of our conversations was on a day when we had both made a quick run to our grocery stores to stalk the pantry and the fridge. We joked back and forth about wiping off the plastic grocery bags with disinfectant wipes. And I laughed when she sent me a picture of her purchases because I had just shot of video of my shopping trip (for an upcoming post), and realized our grocery filled counters looked very similar (mine above; hers below) “right down to the carrot cake mix,” I told her.

After we’d chatted a bit, and I discovered that she shopped weekly in order to keep fresh produce in the house, I asked her how that was working out for her financially, since weeks earlier, she had unfortunately been laid off from her job like so many others resulting from the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy. When we spoke, she was still waiting on her first unemployment check, but we talked about how she’d made it a priority to eat healthy, even through these times when she also had to watch how she spent her money. As we talked more about not only her shopping habits, but cooking, I asked her if she would be open to sharing a little about her ventures to my followers.

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If you’re anything like me, when that lock down took effect, I got worried. I wasn’t too worried about the financial aspects because I knew unemployment would be coming my way. The worry was about eating! OK, I admit it, I’m a lousy cook. My mantra is “I never cook for people I love,” except my ex-husband! How do you think I got rid of him so easily?

I’ve always been a career focused woman without a direction in cooking. I had an awesome boyfriend after my divorce that would cook for me or take me out to dinner. When I lived at home, my mom and dad were the chefs! Dad was an expert on the grill. Mom would make us yummy Slovenian dishes and desserts. Her homemade bread? Well there’s no describing it. But me? I have to buy two loaves of bread just to get two edible pieces of toast because I’m constantly burning them. How do you set those toasters anyway? So complicated.

Being a vegetarian, I don’t have to worry about meats, poultry and fish. But I do get concerned about eating too many carbs. When a vegetarian goes out to dinner and lets the waitress know they are vegetarian, the first thing they do is bring a big plate of pasta with tomato sauce poured over it. Yuck! Even “I” can make that! I don’t like to eat heavy in the evenings so most of it would go to waste.

I guess the reality finally hit me by the middle of my first week in lockdown… I don’t have any food in the house! Thankfully I have a wonderful friend who just so happened to call me just as I was “also” down with the flu. Knowing I’m not a kitchen girl, Mary asked me where the crock pot was that she donated to me a few weeks earlier. My response was one of, “uh … well, um ….” Within an hour, she knocked on my door, slid her hand inside, which was holding a brown paper handle bag filled with goodies, AND instructions on how to use the crock pot! When I opened the bag I thought, “What! You mean I have to “put this stuff into the crock pot!” I was a mess.

Except for the just made warm loaf of challah bread, in the fridge the bag went. And there it sat.

Two days later I pulled out the goodies and my crock pot. I was actually quite impressed. She brought me carrots, celery, fresh parsley, and several little jars filled with measured spices, barley, vegetable stock, etc., And a “recipe”! All I needed to do was put everything in the crock pot with some filtered water, turn the dial to 4-hours, and I was golden! Wow! What a concept.

I took all of the recipes she so generously printed out, along with some recipes my sister brought back from Australia, and I made a list of the foods that I would like to eat and would be able to make in my crock pot.

During my trip to the grocery store, I bought fresh fruits, spring mix lettuce, baby spinach, mushrooms, fresh and frozen vegetables, almost ripe avocados, golden potatoes, high protein pastas, nuts and seeds, some cheeses, sour cream, eggs, vanilla yogurt (to protect my good bacteria), a greek olive mix of feta, kalamata and Spanish olives, ground spices, and a fresh loaf of my favorite Tuscan bread. Yes, two loaves.

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My kitchen was flourishing. For two weeks I made the most delicious foods that not only kept me healthy and filled up, but I lost weight! I was so proud of myself! I had a kitchen filled with beautiful fruits and veggies that I put on display, a new selection of fresh herbs and spices, and my two loaves of Tuscan bread. My freezer had some frozen fruits for smoothies, plus I treated myself to some pierogies. Yes, I did.

In my venture out, I opted to go to Aldi’s. They have great prices and a large selection of organic choices. The avocados were on sale so I stocked up as much as I could knowing they’re perishable. The bread was at Giant Eagle, so I made a trip across the street. Much to my surprise the prices at GE were LESS than Aldi’s! I was very surprised. The third stop I made was to Big Lots – they have some organic spices that really saved me a lot of money. With all this shopping, my bill was less than $70! Did it take extra time, yes, but it was a great day to start my new venture with my crock pot … my toaster, and my pots & pans. I need new ones, by the way. I should send a hint to Mary!

No matter your opinion is about the CV19 lockdown, the reality is we have to go on with our every day. We have to get up in the morning. We have to get dressed. We have to mentally prepare for our survival. AND! We have to eat! Do yourself a favor… make this fun. Find something new in your kitchen, your basement, your garage. Fill your day with happiness and new ventures.

Good luck!

To Spend or Not to Spend? Is that Really the Question?

By now, most of the people who are going to get the $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus check, and who had direct deposit, have received it already. And those waiting on the paper check should get theirs in coming weeks.

So the question I’ve seen from a lot of people on social media is what they should do with their check. It’s been interesting, but not completely surprising to hear how some people are talking about spending their money; from taking a vacation to throwing themselves a huge party, or going out on the town, once the social distancing orders are lifted.

But there are many people where that question never crossed their minds. The thought of using that money for anything other than life’s necessities, isn’t a luxury for them. They are past-due on their rent or mortgage; have a car payment coming up; are dreading their next utility bill, and just trying to keep food on the table for their kids. 

I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m fortunate enough to still have my job, with a monthly paycheck that covers all of my bills. So I put my check into my savings account to continue solidifying my emergency funds.  I realize there are many people who can’t do that. But then there are others who won’t do that. 

I recently read a Facebook post from a woman who asked if she should use the money to pay off one of her credit cards, or if she should save the money. She went on to give additional information including the fact that she did not already have a savings account, her hours at work had recently been cut, and her boss said they would re-evaluate the future in a couple of months. After reading the additional information, I was honestly dumbfounded as to why she even needed to ask the question about whether or not she should save the money. I mean, why on earth would you spend money (even to pay off a credit card) when you’re already working fewer hours, and you’ve been put on notice that things might change again — loss of even more hours or possibly the job itself?

I do understand someone’s desire to pay have debt. But a little common sense should also come in to play. First, she admitted that she had no savings, then so she has nothing to fall back on in case of an emergency. That’s never a good place to be in. It’s actually one of the reasons many people continue to have rotating debt — something minor comes up (say a flat tire) but the person has no emergency funds, so they use a credit card; oftentimes paying hundreds of dollars more than what the item cost by the time they pay it off. If they had put money aside, they could have purchased the tires with cash.

Second, she had already experienced a cut in numbers of hours at work; which means she’s making less money now than she was a few months ago. How can anyone even be contemplating what to do with their money when they see the economic impact of COVID-19 and the Stay at Home orders across the country. And in these uncertain times, pay cuts aren’t just happening to hourly employees. My former workplace (I’ve been gone for over 10 years) had an across the board pay cut to all salaried employees making over a certain amount. Had I still been working there, I would have fallen into that cut off and therefore, have experienced a 5-10% pay cut. Even if the cuts are temporary, they still impact you in the moment, and for however long they last. I’ve often said that it doesn’t matter how much money you make, if you’re living right up to the amount of your paycheck (or over it), then even a small change can quickly turn into something worse .

And third, she’d also already noted that her company had indicated other actions may be taken at a later time. The nature of those actions, I’m sure, might include another pay cut, or layoffs, as we’re seeing around the country. That should have been enough for anyone to heed the yellow flag and proceed with caution. What good is it to pay off a credit card, in lieu of saving money, only to lose your job, and end up having to run your card back up again to pay bills, with no income. Few people realize that even payouts for unemployment benefits are far below what someone’s monthly income would normally have been.

So what’s this all about? 

In the U.S. most stimulus plans are designed to get money into citizens’ hands, so that they can in turn go spend and help jump start the economy. In this case, the economy was doing fine, until the U.S. found itself a little behind in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The US went from barely a dozen cases at the end of February to several hundreds of thousands of cases just four weeks later. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, sporting events stopped, music tours were rescheduled, festivals and business conferences cancelled; students were sent home for online learning, “non-essential” businesses were closed, people stopped flying, and social distancing prevented even small coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique retail from remaining open. As of mid-April, there are almost 750,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and over 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

This is not normal. And we may not see normal for many months to come; if ever. So we need to stop treating our finances as if we have any guarantees for what happens next. Not that we ever did.

So, to spend or not to spend?

Given the uncertainty of our future life without a vaccine for this virus happening before 2021 — with or without lifted stay at home orders — it doesn’t seem plausible that the economy and American life, in general, will return to the pre-Coronavirus, pre-March time period. So any level of careless spending, even spending for something that might otherwise seem sensible (i.e. paying off credit card debt) to me seems to be a little risky in this environment.

There are people waiting for their unemployment check today who may have had a very different view of those benefits when they had a job and never thought they would need it. Small business owners may never be able to reopen their businesses. Live events may be sidelined for another year. And some entrepreneurs and contract workers are visiting their local food banks for the first in their lives.

It’s our new normal. Even if it is temporary. And adjusting your life to your new normal will require some work, planning, and discipline. But it can be accomplished.

If you’re one of the fortunate ones who still has a paycheck, then why not try to accomplish both things — continue paying off your credit card, while at the same time, open up a savings account and start putting money away. I would go one step further. Look at your spending habits and see if there are other ways you might be able to save money. Ask yourself, are there things you can give up for a few months — cable television, movie and/or music streaming services, Amazon prime, etc.? Can you put off replacing that sofa, do you really need those new shoes, are you still ordering out more than you’re cooking in? 

And what about your grocery bill? Are you utilizing coupons and reward programs, making a shopping list in advance, and resisting those impulse purchase buys that can raise your grocery bill by 5, 10, 15 or more dollars that you weren’t expecting to spend?

There are lots of ways and places where most of us can save money, if we try. If you haven’t taken this area of your life seriously in the past, now might be a good time to create new habits to get through what might be ahead now, or even what could happen later, regardless of a virus.

 

Preparation is not a Sign of Fear. It’s a Sign of Readiness

As I slathered more lotion on my hands, having lost track of just how many times I’ve washed them, I took stock of what was left of my soap and lotion, surprised by just how much I’d gone through over the past four weeks. 

I can’t believe just how many times I’ve lathered on the soap, smoothed on the hand lotion, and the number of candles I’ve lit in just one month’s time; since the start of the Safer at Home mandate where I live. When you’ve spent most of your waking hours away from home five days a week, most of your hand washing takes place at work or occasionally a restaurant. But thank goodness I took advantage of my favorite store’s semi-annual sale back in January, and had already stocked up on some of my favorite scents. Back in December I received several candles as gifts, and have been burning through them during this extended time at home.

With the heighten awareness — perhaps even fear — of not infecting myself with an uber contagious and nasty virus while doing anything from a quick run to the grocery store (if I remove my gloves before I open the car door to avoid cross-contamination, then what about having to touch the grocery bags to put them in the car? But wait, now the virus may have transferred on to my car seats; and I still have to get the bags out of the car and into the house!); to a trip the mailbox (use a paper towel to open the mailbox; grab the mail; toss it on the floor by the door; throw away paper towel, wait a full 24-hours before opening mail; dump contents onto the chair;  immediately discard the envelopes and wash hands. Go through the actual contents of the mail. Wash hands again “just in case!”). 

person-washing-his-hand-545014I’ve always been a pretty good hand washer. One need only to be in a public restroom, at work and otherwise, to soon learn that not everyone apparently takes personal hygiene as personal as you do. So the old grab a paper towel to use on the door handle exiting the restroom is nothing new for me. What IS new for me is noting how many times I touch my face after touching something else that was handled by someone else. Before the COVID-19 “quarantine” as we like to call it, that was everything from opening the door to enter and exit my classrooms, working on the shared computers in each classroom, using the copier in the faculty room; picking up an ink pen to sign paperwork in the Chair’s office, and even opening or discarding my mail that had traveled from wherever it came, to the campus post office, to the on-campus postal carrier, to the Department office, into the hands of the student worker or secretary who placed it into my mailbox.

Isn’t it weird how we never really thought about some of the things like that; even during cold and flu season?

We were on spring break when the “stop everything and re-do all your curriculum to transition from the brick and mortar classroom, to an online community,” directive came down from our university president. The wording was much softer than that, but it nonetheless, came with a firm deadline. The students would receive an extra week of spring break; while faculty would have that week to completely shift everything, including projects and deadlines, and what would have been hands on student-to-student assignments, from the on-the-ground school system to remote access learning.

In the middle of all that, one of the first things I thought about was the “What Ifs?” My “what ifs” were not built on fear, but rather learned from the history of what happens when people are prepared versus when people are not prepared when emergencies happen.

Watch for the signs!

photo-of-road-signage-2994331Before there was NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or the Weather Channel, people relied on warning signs from nature (wildlife, plants, and the ocean), to prepare for what might be coming weeks or even months later (a bad winter, a dry spring, etc.). Except for perhaps many farmers, most of us wait to be told what to do.

Twice a year, when we change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, there are a number of public service announcements reminding people to change the batteries in our home smoke detectors. Why? Because most people will forget or ignore the need. And the time to find out that the batteries are dead is not in the middle of a fire, when they don’t go off while you and your family are sleeping.

During our earlier than usual spring break, I had time to watch more television than normal. As I did, I started not just hearing about, but seeing images from other countries, of what this coronavirus was doing; people it was impacting; the way it was spreading, and some of the drastic ways some countries were trying to deal with it. And I thought, “what if that happens over here? What if the virus starts to spread in certain parts of the country at such an alarming rate like what I was seeing?”

So when I got the university email, I thought, what is it that the school systems know that we’re not hearing yet? It was a bold and costly move for most colleges to switch to online learning; supported by the purchase of licenses and software the schools had not been prepared to financially invest in. And what did those western state Governors see that we hadn’t yet; knowing that their actions would result in a huge economic hit to their state?

Turns out their quick response may have saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.

There wasn’t an answer. And certainly nothing I could do about whether or not the U.S. would experience the fate of Asia, and at that time, a growing part of Europe. But reading the signs, I decided to take inventory of what was in my house (pantry, cabinets, refrigerator) and started shopping for necessities. Having just gotten over a really bad cold less than two weeks earlier, my first thought was buying cleaning and sanitizing  items. I originally purchased a large can of Lysol and disinfecting wipes to use in my office and classrooms, even before spring break. But once the dynamics started to change, I knew there were additional items I needed to make sure I had. And so I shopped! Bleach, Clorox wipes, non-perishable pantry and freezer items; fresh produce, and yes, toilet paper! While at an already scheduled doctor’s appointment, I asked my doctor to write my medicine refill for 90-days instead of the 30.

In other words. I started preparing. Days before the first wave of panic buying, and over a week before the president declared a National Emergency, I had already stocked up on the items I predicted I would need in an emergency that had an undetermined length of stay. Unlike a blizzard that passes in hours or a hurricane that moves on a day or two later, we had (and still have) no idea how long and to what extent this COVID-19 would impact us. And in a case like that, I would rather over-prepare and not need, than to under prepare and not have something I need.

To be clear, stocking up to prepare for an emergency is not the same thing as hoarding items you neither need, nor plan to use (especially evil hoarders whose entire intent from the beginning is to resale for profit). Stocking your house of the essentials needed is smart, and what everyone should do regardless of whether there’s a severe winter storm or a superbug headed your way. 

As I watched and listened to some people on social media a week and two later, complaining about not being able to find basic items like eggs, meat, and of course, toilet paper, some of their posts were angry rants about how inconsiderate other people were that they couldn’t get what they wanted/needed now. And I thought, yes, there were definitely people over buying, and perhaps a number of hoarders as well. But the other truth of the matter is that we all had access to the same information; the same sighs (some would say warning bells) were visible and audibly to everyone. Yet, some waited. Some dismissed it. While others chose to heed it.

I definitely understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to shop early (ahead of a paycheck) or shop for extras (even after a pay day). I have been one of those people more than once; including in the midst of the last recession 10+ years ago. They are the ones who have every right to feel frustrated.

But for many others, their unwillingness to act (like a coastal shop owner refusing to board up their business, in spite of the hurricane warnings that come days in advance of making landfall), they need to ask themselves how might they do things differently the next time. Because by all scientific accounts, there will be a next time; perhaps a lot sooner than any of us would like.

How prepared will you be?