Pandemic Winter Running

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Jolene in the cheese toy.

We have been getting a steady series of ice storms the past few weeks. I don’t mind snow. Snow provides traction. I can run and walk in snow. Ice poses extreme challenges. I do not balance well to begin with and ice is very hazardous for me.

One of the goals for the pandemic is to not fall down. When I fall, I have a tendency to get hurt. With the status of our health system, the goal is for me to need as little health care as possible. 

Last winter, I had a gym membership so that I had treadmill access for when it was ice outside. That all ended in March once I was put into quarantine and am still not supposed to be indoors with anyone else. That means I must run outdoors.

In trying to figure out my pandemic winter running strategy, I have felt a little like Goldilocks when she was trying out porridge. It has taken time for me to figure out how to safely run when there is ice outside.

Last week I was fortunate we had a brief warm up. I was able to run outside on December 30 for my last run of 2020. We have since been continuously pummeled with ice.

A few weeks ago, in an ice storm, I decided to run inside my house. I ran through the various rooms upstairs, This was a disaster. It was slow because there was a lot of weaving in and out of rooms and around items in the rooms. It made me dizzy because there was a lot of turning around. I only got 1 mile in on that “run.” Running inside my house was not going to cut it.

I thought about running around inside the garage, but the car needs to be in there for the men to come help me with the snow and ice. So inside the garage is out as an option.

Since running upstairs did not work out, I decided to do the opposite and try running downstairs. I figured the basement would be ideal because I could just run in large circles around the entire footprint of my home. 

While this was a great idea mentally – no dizziness, no boredom, it was a horrible idea physically. The basement has a concrete floor and it literally killed my knees. I was in pain for days after. I only got in 2 miles on that run. Basement running is out because my body can’t take the pounding.

A treadmill is out for numerous reasons. First, this house is over 100 years old. While everything is up to code, it is in the older end of code. I know that neither the electrical nor the flooring would be able to take the pounding of a treadmill. Second, I looked at treadmills online. They weigh at least 50 pounds. Even if I had it delivered to the house, I would not be able to get it inside and set it up. I am unable to handle anything more than about 20 pounds or so. Even when the cats’ Chewy boxes arrive, I have to open them outside and bring in the contents one at a time because I cannot lift the box to bring it inside.

With upstairs, the garage, the basement, and a treadmill all out, I was running out of options.

Then, somehow it dawned on me. I am not sure if it was inspiration from other people in quarantine across the world or what, but as I was looking out my front window at the ice covered street, I got the bright idea to run around my front porch.

The front porch is one of the reasons why I bought this house. I have a glorious front porch that fully spans the entire front portion of the footprint of the house. It is probably as large as both my living room and the cats’ play room combined. It is wood, so no concrete floor. It has a carpet on it, so no ice.

I ran outside on my front porch today and it was just right!

I successfully got in my first 3 mile run of 2021. Yes, I had to run circles around the porch, but it is large enough that it did not make me dizzy. I was sure to change direction every once in awhile like you do on a track. I was able to be outside in fresh air, which I love. While my running pace was a little slow, it was only about 30 seconds slower than if I had been running on the roads. So the fact that I was running in circles and doing frequent turns did not slow me down that much.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have figured out my running in winter dilemma. 

I am pretty sure that the front porch took the pounding of my running fine. The front porch feels a lot more stable than some of the floors inside my house. Even if the front porch did have problems, it would be easier and cheaper to have the front porch floor repaired than the floors inside my house.

Not only did my run on the porch go well, but I also have a light on my front porch. So I will be able to run either before or after work, even in the dark, just by turning on my porch light. It will be a lot safer than running in the dark on the roads. Safety running outside is always a challenge this time of year due to daylight hours.

My pandemic winter running plan is to run outdoors on the roads as weather permits. As long as there is not ice, I can run the roads. If there is ice, I will run on my front porch.

Another plus to my front porch running was that it started to rain freezing drizzle on my run. Luckily, I was on the front porch, so the precipitation didn’t bother me one bit. I did not get any on me because I was on the porch. My footing was sure and I had a great run.

I have always said that as long as the cats are ok, I am ok. This is true.  My second saying is that as long as I can run, I am ok.  I am so glad to have figured out a winter running plan. If I can do my 3 miles a few times a week, then I know I’m okay.

Running on my front porch is just right. I didn’t get bored or dizzy, and the surface worked well for my body. As long as I keep the snow off the front porch (I do), then I do not typically get ice on the porch due to the carpeting there.

What strategies have you found for pandemic winter running?

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My Quarantine Life: Week 42

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My cats don’t know I have a disability. Or, if they do, they don’t care. They are well loved and have all their needs met.

Simon stays with me when I do the stairs to be sure I don’t fall. I’m not sure what he would do if I did fall, but he is always right there watching me. On days when I use my walker, Jolene sits on the rollator to take a ride. On good days I run. On bad days I roll. People don’t seem to understand how or why a marathon runner has a walker. Well, it all depends on if my spine decides to work correctly or misfire that day. Jude gives me a wide berth so I don’t trip on him or fall. He waits patiently for me to sit and get settled so he can sit on my lap or next to me on the couch.

All the cats know is that I am here for them and I love them.

In a horrible year, my only goal is to keep us together and for them to be happy. They don’t know we are in a pandemic. They don’t know there are widespread food shortages. I have more cat supplies on hand than people supplies. I always make sure their needs are met first. 

The cats don’t know I am terrified of losing my job. Our entire world would come crashing down if that happened because we would lose the house. This house is what’s keeping us together. I am medically unable to have the vaccine and am in the high risk group, so if I can’t work remotely, I don’t think I would be able to work at all. That is truly terrifying.

All the cats know is that they are warm, fed, and loved. At this point, my only goal is to fulfill their every need. I have to figure out a way to keep us all together and survive the next 15 or so years until they have all lived the course of their natural lives. I worry about what would happen to them if I die first.

We are incredibly blessed to have this time together at home. I am thankful everyday this year that I have been able to be home with the cats. In a horrible year, being able to spend time with the cats has been the highlight of my year. 

The vaccine provides hope. The vaccine is not a light switch. 2021 is still going to be a challenging year. I am unsure if things will ever go back to the way they were. I think life will just be different.

So many people are dying. It breaks my heart. It is so hard to deal with the pain. It is even more difficult when our “leaders” have decided that the economy is more important than human lives and they refuse to shut things down. 

When I get overwhelmed with how bad things are, I play with one of the cats. The fact that we are all together and have our needs met is what makes life worthwhile. 

We are so blessed to be together and that was the greatest gift this Christmas. My cats just love me. That could be because I feed them. But I know they love me. 

My only wish for 2021 is to remain safe and healthy (covid free) and be able to keep my job. My job provides for us to stay in this house together. Home is where the cats are. While everyone else is busy making New Year’s resolutions, I just want to live to see another Christmas. I want to be able to continue to run. I need to keep my family together. 

I’m hoping that our government will get themselves together to help us in 2021, but I am not holding my breath. This situation is going to get worse before it gets better. But for now, we are together. We have love. My cats love me no matter what. 

At the end of the day, love is all that matters. It’s what we need.

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My Quarantine Life: Week 40

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Jude sleeping on the work from home table on my day off

We all have ways of coping this year. For me, I have found comfort in reliving happy memories and remembering things from my childhood. This holiday season, I put my tree up and brought out all my holiday things after Thanksgiving.

Even though I have 5 Christmas DVDs, for some reason, this holiday season, I have been watching The Sound of Music practically every other day. At first I thought it was just because it played on the TV all the time at the holidays when I was little. Then I thought it was the happy memory of my very first live theatre event. One year as a Christmas present when I was a child, my father and step-mother took me to a dinner theatre to see The Sound of Music.

The past week or so I realize that this nostalgia is also connecting me to my grandparents. My grandparents came to the USA from Austria due to what was going on in World War Two. I remember listening to my grandmother tell stories of her childhood in Austria. They lived on a farm close to the river.

My grandmother has been a pillar throughout my childhood. While my childhood was tumultuous, my grandparents offered a sense of normalcy and sanity in the chaos. I was actually closer to my grandfather, who passed away about 18 years ago. In fact, I was the one who helped to look after him at the end and held his hand as he died, reading to him Psalm 23.

My grandmother developed dementia a few years ago. It turned her disposition mean. Combine the uncharacteristic meanness with the fact that she no longer remembers who I am, and it is just difficult, indeed impossible, to visit. I stopped visiting because it was too heart wrenching to try to explain to her who I was every visit.

As my grandmother’s dementia progressed, she became unsafe to live on her own. My mother took her in to care for her. At the time, my mother was still working full time as a nurse. However, my grandmother is one of those ones with dementia that likes to “run away” or wander off at all hours of the night and day. It got to the point where my grandmother would leave in the middle of the night and my mother was not getting any sleep trying to find her. She could not stay up with my grandmother all night long and continue to work her job as a nurse too.

About 5 years ago, my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility for the reason that she would have around the clock care. Staff were there on shifts to be able to watch her in the middle of the night and all through the day to be sure she didn’t wander off.

There were some episodes over the years when she was able to escape even the assisted living staff. They would often find her wandering thinking she was calling her young son in from the farm field for dinner.

My mother visited her almost every day at the assisted living facility until COVID started this spring and stopped the visits for the safety of the residents. Since the spring, my mother has only been able to have window visits with my grandmother or talk to her on the phone.

Without my mother’s visits, my grandmother rapidly declined to the point where the staff at the assisted living facility could no longer handle her. We arranged for my grandmother to transfer to a nursing home for dementia in November. However, the staff at the assisted living center decided in October that they “couldn’t deal with her anymore” and dropped her off at a nursing home 3 weeks early with only one small grocery bag of clothes.

My grandmother was so upset and confused. She thought she had been taken to a concentration camp. The nursing home was upset and filed complaints against the assisted living facility because they literally just dumped my grandmother on their doorstep unexpected. They were not expecting her to arrive for 3 more weeks because they did not have a bed or a room available for her. Everyone had to scramble. They had to bring in a special therapist and an interpreter to calm my grandmother down because she was absolutely convinced she had been taken to a World War Two German concentration camp. It took about a week for her to understand that she was in the USA safe and that she was not in a concentration camp.

The nursing home finally got her settled in the unit where she was supposed to be in November where she has the level of care she needs with her dementia. The past month when my mother window visits or talks to her on the phone, she says my grandmother is much happier in the nursing home than she was in the assisted living facility.

This weekend, we found out my grandmother tested positive for COVID-19. She is one of two family members I have left. From April to August of this year, I have already lost 6 friends and family members to the virus.

The nursing home is unable to send anyone to the hospital, because all of the hospitals here are full. The hospitals are even ending people with COVID-19 home. They are sending them home to die. Basically, the way the situation is right now, do not seek medical care for any reason. Just stay in your house and wait to die. Alone.

In addition to dementia, my grandmother has a pacemaker. This weekend she coded and for a minute, the nursing home staff thought she died. But she didn’t not yet. She “came back.” She is resting and the staff is trying their best to keep her comfortable.

I know that my grandmother is of an age where she is going to die sooner than later, but I don’t want her to die this way. I don’t want her to die alone. I want her to know she is loved. I am so thankful that the nursing home staff is sitting with her around the clock and making her comfortable. That’s all they can do. The hospitals are full, so she cannot go to the hospital for any advanced medical care. I’m sure that my grandmother is not the only person that the hospitals are turning away because they are too overwhelmed.

If you are a praying person, please pray for my grandmother. I realize that this may be her time. However, I do not want her to be in pain. I want her to know that she is very much loved. I don’t want her to die alone. 

This winter surge of the virus is much worse than the spring. In the spring, I was on the phone as one of my friends died from COVID. I would not wish this disease on anyone. Now, all the hospitals are full. Many more people are dying at home in pain and alone because our medical system is too overwhelmed to provide care.

I’m not sure if I am already in the stages of grieving yet or not, but what I feel right now is anger. Our hospitals are this overwhelmed, and yet everything is open. We need a shut down like we had in the spring. What I am learning from this moment is that money is more important than human life. I thought that New York State was doing a better job of containing the virus than the federal government was doing. At this point, I do not think I trust any elected official anymore. I just can’t believe that businesses are open and people are going about their day when our hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are turning away people who need care. People are dying simply because our government refuses to shut down our economy to save lives.

Please pray for my grandmother. My grandmother and my mom are the only two family members I have left. Yes, I have the cats as my family. But I don’t want to be alone in this world without humans. I know that my grandmother’s time is probably soon, but I don’t want her to go out this way. I want her to know she is loved. I don’t want her to be in pain. 

Our hospitals are full. Dear Jesus, please come soon.

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My Quarantine Hat Trick

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Of course, my greatest hat trick in life are these 3 right here.

Consistency pays off. In 2020, it paid off for me in a huge way. 2020 is now my highest mileage year since 2015. I did not even race this year. I did not train. There was no marathon. There was no half marathon. I just did three miles at a time.

The year 2015 was the last year I ran a marathon. Of course, when you spend 5 months training to run 26.2 miles, it is a high mileage year. Then, in 2016, I was in the hospital. At first I was misdiagnosed with a stroke. Now we know it was just a very bad episode of multiple sclerosis. 

Last year, 2019, was very exciting because it was my first year back on the race circuit after my stint in the hospital and subsequent recovery. I did a lot of training last year to prepare for my half marathon comeback.

If you had asked me 6 or even 4 months ago if I thought 2020 would be my high mile year, I would have said no. I toyed with the notion last spring of doing a virtual race this fall. Then my hopes for even a virtual race were dashed because I did not have adequate access to food to train.

The doctor was not happy because between March and July I lost 15 pounds unintentionally. I have had a horrible time trying to get food in the pandemic due to severe food shortages. There was just no food to be had.

There was no way I could train for a race without adequate access to food. But I knew I needed to keep running. Both for my sanity as well as for the fact that running helps me to retain my mobility that MS threatens to steal. I kept running but only did 3 miles at a time due to nutrition.

From October 2019 to March 2020, I had a gym membership. The gym membership definitely helped. The first 3 months of this year I had access to a treadmill. I don’t mind running outside when it is cold. The thing that gets me is ice. I am a fall hazard on a sunny, 50 degree weather day on flat ground. I cannot run on ice. As soon as ice appears, I am stuck inside. 

Having the access to the treadmill for the first 3 months of 2020 definitely helped. 

Being quarantined since March, I have been running outside. I have consistently been running 3 miles a few times a week this year. 

Being in quarantine has helped me to be more consistent with my running this year. Running is my biggest coping skill. Especially in the pandemic, my mantra is that if I can run, then I am ok. 

Being home and not having to drive any place has been helpful to me in fitting in runs either in the beginning or at the end of the day. I actually have enough time to run without having to worry about a 30 minute driving commute. 

I was also able to better accommodate my disability in quarantine. I do not do well in heat. Not only has my MS cooling vest been an absolute life saver, but I have been able to time my runs for the coolest part of the day so I was able to run consistently through the summer. 

Sure, there were some weeks when the heat completely sidelined me and I could only run once in a week or not at all. But being able to work from home and not having to be out and about in the heat was definitely helpful in allowing me to maintain a higher level of functioning throughout the summer.

It’s been 5 long years since I have been able to join the 300+ mile club. I never thought that I would do it with just 3 mile runs. Consistency pays off.

In a horrible year marked by a pandemic and food shortages, I was able to run more miles this year than I did last year when I trained for and ran a half marathon. The achievement completely blows my mind.

Being in quarantine has definitely helped me to manage my MS better, which means that my level of functioning is higher than it was before. When I do not have to drive every day and go someplace, I am able to get more done. If MS has taught me anything, it’s that I can have the best laid plans, but then your body will be like “haha, not happening.” The 2020 quarantine has helped me to regain some control over my own body.

This week running outside has been difficult. We had a freezing drizzle for almost a week straight. Last week I only got in one run before the freezing drizzle started. That kept me inside because I do not do well on ice. I had a hard enough time getting to my mailbox. 

I have to have a winter plan since I no longer have treadmill access. I cannot go to a gym due to my quarantine. I am not supposed to be indoors with anyone else. I can’t even go to the grocery store. 

My plan for the winter is to just run circles around a room in my house. I heard of people doing that in small NYC apartments last spring during lockdown. I figure I can run circles inside my house to get through this winter.

The challenge with that scenario is that I have an old house over 100 years old. The floors are not able to take that kind of a beating. So this past Tuesday when it was freezing drizzle outside, I did run around the inside of the house. I had to do it very carefully and it was the worst experience ever. I only went one mile. 

But it was one mile. If I have to get through 2021 only doing one mile at a time, then so be it. 

But I would rather do 3 miles (or more).

For the record, the freezing drizzle / ice finally did melt this week. I was able to run outside Friday and today. I just have to take winter one day at a time. But I do know that if the weather is too slippery for me to run outside, that I can always run one mile inside my house.

My goal for 2021 is to do a virtual race. I do have one picked out. Now that I have better access to food, I am certain that I will have adequate nutrition to be able to train for a half marathon in the fall of 2021.

I still fully believe that I have at least one in-person full marathon left in me. Right now, I am thinking that the earliest I would be able to run a full marathon in-person safely is probably 2023. We will see how the pandemic goes.

But I know that running is in my heart. When I run, I feel closer to God. I know that God is telling me I still have at least one full marathon left in me yet.

I am thankful that I still have the ability to run. Whether it’s one mile or 3 miles, I will get there.

I am completely surprised that 2020 is my highest mileage year and that I was able to do it 3 miles at a time. This year has been the ultimate running hat trick for me. 

My only goals in life are to keep running and keep my cats together. In one of the most horrible years in history, I was able to reach a mileage goal. I’m still running this year. I won’t stop. I’m hoping 2021 mileage can top this one.   

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One Stop Shopping at Aldi Rocks!

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My milk, some chicken, and little link sausages from Aldi.

Prior to the pandemic, I would do my grocery shopping at 2 or 3 grocery stores. I was really trying to decrease my shopping to only one store. With multiple food allergies, that was hard. In addition to grocery shopping for myself, I was also going to the “farm store” once a month for the cats. I felt like I was constantly running around town, and it was annoying. Not only am I a person that loathes shopping, but I like to get in and out when I do shop. 

Shopping at 2 or 3 grocery stores pretty much meant that I blew my food budget every single month. I would go to one store and be on budget. But I was not able to get everything I needed. Then I would go to another store, and my food budget would be blown.

Remember the time I had to go to 14 different places in an effort to find allergy-friendly “milk?” I ended up paying like $10 for a half gallon of it. 

In the beginning of the pandemic, I was subject to the mercy of where other people were shopping. Friends would call and say what store they were going to and I would add my items to their grocery list depending on what store it was. 

Now that I am using Instacart, I am doing one-stop shopping. Yes, I can send an Instacart shopper to more than one store. However, Instacart shoppers need to be paid like the essential workers they are. I only use Instacart twice a month because that is all I can afford. If I sent the Instacart shopper to multiple stores, I would not be able to pay them like the essential workers they are. 

The other thing with Instacart is that it is only available at one of the 3 stores that I had been using prior to the pandemic. So, that one store has now become my one-stop shop.

That store is Aldi. I wish I had made Aldi my one-stop shop years ago. I have had no need to go to 2-3 stores all this time. Prior to the pandemic, I had grossly underestimated Aldi’s accessibility for someone with multiple food allergies. 

By shopping at only one store, I have a better control on my food expenses each month. Instacart is also a lot easier to use on a budget than shopping in a store. Shopping in a store, you have to constantly add up the groceries and if you go over, figure out what you are putting back, what you need to skip, back track, etc. With Instacart, I can see the total of all the items in the cart. It is much easier to add and subtract items from my virtual shopping cart to stay within budget than it is to try to do this in-store.

Of course, there are fees associated with Instacart, but mine average about $2-$3 per order. I only started using Instacart due to the pandemic. I am not supposed to be going to the grocery store or anyplace where I am indoors with other people. However, now that I am using it, I am going to continue to use Instacart even “after” the pandemic. 

The other beauty of using Instacart to shop at Aldi is that I am able to find items on Instacart much easier than in the store. Have you been in an Aldi store? Those things are very fast-paced. People are typically in and out in about 15-20 minutes. If you linger or have to search for something, you will get run over. I’m sure some of the items I have been getting from Aldi through Instacart were there all along and I simply missed them because I was going through the store too fast. God bless the Instacart shoppers. They know the stores so well.

Here are some reasons why I underestimated Aldi for one-stop shopping and why I have changed my mind. Aldi is the best store ever. It is also the best store for one-stop shopping. If I can’t get something at Aldi, then I don’t need it. The only exception is my cats. Due to the food they eat, my cats have a recurring Chewy order. But our cat litter does come from Aldi. 

  • Food labels. As someone with multiple food allergies, food labels are key. In fact, reading food labels is what causes me to take forever in the grocery store. I have to make sure what I am buying is not going to kill me. Aldi has the best food labels for people with multiple food allergies. For example, I have severe anaphylactic allergies to both nuts and dairy. The only “milks” I can have are typically rice milk or coconut milk. Soy milk tends to have a warning label on it about possible nut contamination. However, at Aldi, the soy milk is very clearly labeled that it is both nut free and dairy free. They do a great job of clearly labeling their products for those of us with multiple food allergies. I can also get a full half gallon of soy milk at Aldi when the “milk” at other stores is not only more expensive, but more quart size. Thank you, Aldi. Part of why I was going to 1 of the 3 stores was for specialty allergy friendly items. Aldi has done a great job of stocking more allergy friendly items in recent years.
  • Produce. This is an item that is hit or miss for some people at Aldi. I would typically buy things like potatoes at Aldi. I would get some produce there and not others. I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I had heard Aldi produce was hit or miss. However, this is completely unfounded. I have tried a variety of produce from Aldi and it has all been stellar. In addition to potatoes, I have gotten carrots, cabbage, apples, limes, garlic, peppers, blueberries, strawberries, zucchini, grapes, and many other items. All the produce has been great. 
  • Meat. This is another item that I had heard was hit or miss. That claim is completely unfounded. I have gotten fresh antibiotic free chicken breasts, fish, fresh pork chops, hot dogs, kielbasa, Cornish game hen, ground turkey, ground beef, bacon, and sausage from Aldi. I have yet to get a “bad” meat from them. When I have bought meat from other stores, it was either fatty, chewy, or had too many bones in it. I am very particular about meat. I had been going to another store all these years for meat items. Do not overlook Aldi meat. Their meat has none of the issues I mentioned. Most of their meat comes from local farms and suppliers so that it is fresh. Aldi has great meat. It may depend on what area you live in, though. Here in upstate NY, this is farm country. Our Aldi has great meat. I have also rediscovered “little link sausages” that I would always beg for as a child. At only 99 cents a box in the freezer section, you can’t go wrong with them. I like to have them for lunch as a special treat on Sundays with some maple syrup on them. 
  • Paper products. I had been getting my paper products and cleaning supplies at another store. At Aldi, I am now getting toilet paper, paper towels, tin foil, garbage bags, dish soap, storage bags, cleaning sponges, freezer bags, vinegar and baking soda. In the pandemic, cleaning supplies have been hard to get. I have not been able to get a toilet bowl cleaner this entire pandemic. I have instead been using either vinegar or baking soda to clean things. It is saving me money and my house is just as clean as before. There really is no reason to get any paper or cleaning products anywhere else.
  • Keep an eye on special buys and seasonal items. My doctor has me on an over-the-counter dosage of vitamin D. I typically pay about $10 a bottle for it at the pharmacy. This fall, Aldi had vitamin D as a seasonal item for $3 a bottle, and lucky for me, it was the exact dosage my doctor “prescribed.”. I got a few so I have them. The same thing with items like tylenol and benadryl. Yes, they are Aldi brand, but they are much cheaper than name brand. They are cheaper at Aldi than at any other store. I have also found bird food at Aldi as a specialty item much cheaper than any other store (it went quick this fall, I only got one bag). I had sparkling grape juice from Aldi for Thanksgiving at under $3 for a bottle that is typically close to $6 at another store I had been using.
  • Coffee. I am a little bit of a coffee snob. I do not have many luxuries in life on my budget, but I am willing to pay a little extra for a good coffee. I am not one of those ones who goes all out for high-priced coffee, but I don’t buy the cheapest available either. I have fallen in love with the imported German coffee from Aldi. I don’t want to drink anything else. I have one package of some other coffee left from before I started using Instacart that I am using up. Then, hopefully I will be drinking the German coffee from Aldi exclusively. I prefer the mild blend (blue package). It is the smoothest coffee I have ever had. It is definitely ground more finely than any other coffee I was buying. I’m not sure if it’s simply the grind – I think there’s something more. It’s stellar. Again, Aldi coffee often has mixed reviews. They do have a lot of options, so if you try one and don’t like it, don’t be completely turned off. They have the organic, the traditional, and the German. I am 100% in love with German coffee now. 
  • Tea. I paid about $2 for 100 tea bags. You can’t beat that price. The Aldi tea is the best orange pekoe I have ever had. If you need a good everyday tea, Aldi has it. You just can’t beat their prices. If you prefer herbal, they also have peppermint and chamomile on a regular basis. Sometimes they have seasonal teas also, like candy cane for Christmas. I tend to drink tea a lot in winter to help me warm up. I like to put honey in mine, which I also get at Aldi for a very reasonable price. Tea is also a comfort item for me, as it reminds me of spending time with my grandmother growing up.

Between using Instacart for our Aldi order twice a month and the cat’s Chewy service, we are able to obtain everything we need in the pandemic. We are so lucky! I have been saying that if I can’t find it at Aldi, I don’t need it! This is definitely true. I have been having to find work arounds in the pandemic due to shortages. The biggest workarounds are cleaning supplies. Who knew baking soda was so versatile? 

Aldi is definitely the place for one-stop shopping. I wish I had figured this out years ago. It would have saved me so much time. But we cannot go backwards. We can only go forwards. I am so thankful we have an Aldi in my area and that Instacart delivers to my house.

If you Instacart in the pandemic, please remember to tip your shopper like the essential worker they are. I know that my shopper is risking their life to bring me food so I don’t have to risk mine. Instacart does not pay a whole lot to gig workers. Not only is the shopper taking time to do my shopping and risking their life, but they are also delivering my food. Maintaining a vehicle is expensive. So if you use a delivery service like Instacart, you really need to tip them like the essential workers they are. This is why we only Instacart twice a month. 

Anyone else use Aldi 100% for their one-stop shopping? 

My Best Thanksgiving

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Growing up primarily homeless with divorced parents means I was bounced around a lot as a child. My grandparents were the most stabilizing presence in my life. On the occasion that I happened to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents, I remember it being a big production.

My grandmother would get up at 3 am to put the turkey in the oven and start the preparations. My grandparents lived on a farm when I was growing up. Just because it was Thanksgiving, did not mean it was a day off. The animals still needed to be tended and the chores still needed to be done, even if it was Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving meal was always served mid-day at my grandparent’s house. That way, it was in between morning and afternoon chores so my grandfather and uncles had time to sit down to enjoy the meal. Hence, my grandmother getting up at 3 am to start cooking. The Thanksgiving meal would be served sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. Closer to 11 am was preferable, closer to 1 pm was only if there was some unexpected delay.

When not at my grandparent’s house, I was tossed around between different relatives. In addition to having divorced parents, my mom was a nurse and nurses don’t always get holidays off either. My dad lived in another state, so there was always travel involved.

As an adult, I have always said I do not want to travel on holidays. I just want to stay in my house with my cats and celebrate the holiday. My cats are my family. By staying home with them, I am celebrating the holiday with family. 

There was one year where I did go somewhere to celebrate a holiday. I remember it was New Year’s Eve. I was completely miserable at this New Year’s Eve party I attended. I would have been happier at home with my cats. The entire time I was at the party, I felt guilty for not spending the holiday with my family. I have since renewed my vow to spend holidays with my family.

So for the past 20 years or so, I have spent every single holiday home alone with my cats. I am completely okay with that. I get plenty of phone calls, text messages and letters in the mail from humans. Holidays are family time and the cats are my family.

So spending Thanksgiving home alone with the cats during a pandemic was no big deal for me. It was just like any other Thanksgiving. While most of America completely ignored CDC recommendations and chose to risk their lives and the lives of other people to travel on Thanksgiving, I stayed home like I always do. I was perfectly happy.

Twenty years ago I cooked a big turkey Thanksgiving and had friends over. Even though I do not want to go anywhere on holidays, I don’t mind if people visit me. Cooking Thanksgiving was a lot of work. I did it once. I said I would not do it again. I haven’t.

In Thanksgivings since, I have been way too tired to do anything special for Thanksgiving. I spent 15 years working 2 or 3 jobs often 7 days a week trying to make ends meet. Holidays were the only times I ever got a day off. So instead of cooking anything special for Thanksgiving, I would often just put a frozen pizza in the oven and sleep. I was exhausted. I was just happy to have the day off to be home with the cats.

When I finished my master’s degree 5 years ago, I decided to cook Thanksgiving to see what it would be like to be a “normal,” non-student adult. However, instead of cooking any sort of poultry, I made a lentil loaf. I remember being in the kitchen almost all day. If you have ever cooked a lentil loaf from scratch, you know it takes about 3 hours to do so, provided you have soaked the lentils overnight ahead of time.

I got up early to cook so that my meal was ready about noontime, same as when I was a child. Cooking Thanksgiving that year was a lot of work. I even went out of my way to make an allergy-friendly pumpkin pie. That was another endeavor that took hours to make. Of course the allergy friendly pie crust was made and rolled out by hand too. 

Again, after that Thanksgiving, I said never again. I was not going to get up early and spend the entire day cooking just for one meal. It’s not worth it. For the record, the lentil loaf was excellent. I have made it many times since then. However, I do not spend hours making mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other things to do with it. It is much more manageable to make the lentil loaf by itself on a long weekend.

This year, being in quarantine, I am home all the time. I really wanted to do something to make the holidays extra special this year to break up the monotony and to feel like I was really getting a break and having a special treat. 

I decided to cook Thanksgiving this year. However, I told myself that based on my past experience watching my grandmother toil in the kitchen at 3 am, that I was not going to do that. However I chose to cook Thanksgiving this year, I would rather have my meal later than get up that early just to cook a meal.

Plus, as a single person, a turkey is a bit much. Yes, you can always have leftovers, but I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking an entire turkey. When looking in my cupboards, I do not even have any pans or cookware that is big enough or adequate to cook a turkey.

So while I decided I would cook Thanksgiving this year, I came up with a completely different plan and it worked perfectly. In fact, Thanksgiving 2020, in the middle of being quarantined in a global pandemic, was the best Thanksgiving of my entire life. Here is how it happened.

The cats actually let me sleep in for an extra hour on Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised. They usually don’t let me over sleep for too long before they start fussing around me wanting their breakfast. But on Thanksgiving morning, I had an extra hour of sleep. Thank you, furballs.

My morning went as usual. I even had time to sit on the couch with my coffee and relaxed listening to a CD. After my relaxing morning routine, I went to the kitchen to set up the crockpot.

I cooked my entire Thanksgiving meal in the crockpot. It resulted in less dishes, less mess, and less work on my part.

I sliced open a sweet potato and put the two halves on the bottom of the crockpot. When the crockpot was done later in the day, I essentially had a baked sweet potato. On top of the sweet potato, I put a Cornish game hen. The Cornish game hen I had gotten on an Instacart order back in September. It had been in my freezer waiting for Thanksgiving. The biggest prep I had to do was remembering to pull the Cornish game hen out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving.

The Cornish game hen went in the crock pot on top of the sweet potato. I then opened a can of cranberry sauce and a can of mandarin oranges and out those in. This way, the Cornish game hen would have a cranberry-orange glaze, and the sweet potato would too. 

Now, there is a saying that “nobody likes it from the can” when it comes to cranberry sauce. I have to agree. I have made fresh cranberry sauce before from a bag of cranberries. However, I did not want to go to the hassle of making cranberry sauce from scratch. Not to mention, that when you put canned cranberry sauce in the crockpot, it makes it indistinguishable. By the time the crockpot is done, both the Cornish game hen and the sweet potato are cranberry flavored. There is no way to tell the difference between if fresh cranberries or canned cranberries were used, so I just used canned. Less work for me.

I set the crockpot up and went about my day until my Thanksgiving dinner was done. Thanksgiving dinner ended up being ready at about 5:30 pm, which was in line with my normal meal time and medication schedule. Another challenge with special holiday meals is trying to coordinate your food schedule with your medication schedule when you happen to be on a medication that requires you take it with food. I planned Thanksgiving dinner to replace my normal evening meal. I also had a bottle of sparkling white grape juice ($3), which was easier to obtain and way more affordable than if I had wine ($25).

For the record, the cats had Thanksgiving too. I wanted to make the day special for them also so that they would know it was Thanksgiving and not just another day. I do not ever feed the cats anything other than their prescribed cat food, but on Thanksgiving, I split a packet of tuna fish between the 3 of them. If they only get tuna fish on Thanksgiving, then they know that is a special day. This year was Jolene’s first Thanksgiving with us, so that made it even more special.

While Thanksgiving was cooking in the crockpot, I was able to get a lot done around the house. I watched two Thanksgiving movies. I pulled out my Christmas CDs and put them on.  I put up the Christmas tree and decorations. I wrapped all the Christmas presents.

It was a very relaxing day.

After my Thanksgiving meal in the evening, I watched a Christmas movie with the Christmas tree lights on. The cats and I had a great day. 

This was the best Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life. I was home with my family, the ones I love. I had a special meal that came out great and took little fuss to make. I think a cranberry-orange Cornish game hen with sweet potatoes sounds like Thanksgiving to me. It took a lot less work than a if I had done a traditional turkey.

Although, while the meal was great, I think next year I may try a boneless turkey breast or do boneless chicken breasts instead of a Cornish game hen to be honest with you. 

Many Americans this year were in uproar over COVID and Thanksgiving. Many people risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to see their family. They just could not give up their traditional Thanksgiving to save their lives. 

I’m not judging. I just don’t understand it. The cats and I are “alone” every year. I was not lonely. People do call to wish my Happy Thanksgiving. I spent the holiday with my cats – my family and the ones I love. Thanksgiving could not have been better for me. I don’t understand why people have to put so much pressure on one day to tell people we love them. You should be telling people you love them every day. Life is short.

This year we are thankful to be alive. We are thankful to be together. The future is not promised.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. The cats and I are having the best Thanksgiving of our lives.

No Spend 2021

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Simon looks a little irritated he cannot reach the birds he sees out the window.

The pandemic has been playing havoc with everyone’s finances. It has been at least a decade since I have had this much difficulty making ends meet. One of my favorite bloggers, Courtney Carver, has a saying “instead of trying to make ends meet, focus on having fewer ends.” To accomplish this, I am going to institute a no spend 2021.

No spend challenges are typically trials that last for a short amount of time. Most people will institute a no spend challenge for one month or maybe three months. If successful with the short term challenges, sometimes they are extended for a year. It is an extreme method of trying to bring finances under control and save money. 

Given that I have been paying 3-4x for food in the pandemic and have been having challenges meeting my basic needs, I feel it is necessary to institute a no spend challenge for the entire 2021 calendar year. On top of the struggles I am already enduring, we are scheduled to begin repaying our student loans again in January. The relief from student loan payments for the pandemic will be ending unless the new administration decides to bail us out of our student loans.

Given that I am instituting a no spend challenge, I can tell you right now, that if you are looking for people to stimulate the economy, it’s not going to be me. I do not have enough disposable income to stimulate the economy. Disposable income is an oxymoron in this pandemic.

No spend challenges look a little different for everyone. Each person who does a no spend challenge has their own rules. It’s best to use the rules that work best for you. 

Here are the rules for my No Spend 2021:

  1. Only pay for needs. This includes things like mortgage, electric, gas, etc. While they are primarily fixed expenses, I am doing my best to try to decrease each one. For example, I have lowered my heat 3 degrees this winter compared to the temperature I had my thermostat on last winter. Yes, we are cold. But I can’t afford heat. I have to cut back.

Reducing fixed expenses is something I have been working on over a period of time. 

Over the years as part of my minimalist journey, I have made some behavior changes that have served to decrease my fixed expenses. Some of these include my movement away from paper products towards reusable items. If I am not buying disposable items, then I am saving money. Examples of this have been my transition to cloth handkerchiefs, cloth feminine hygiene products, replacing paper towels with cleaning cloths and cloth pee rags.

  1. The only expense I have that is not fixed but is still a need, is food. More on my food strategy will be coming in another post.
  1. Beyond needs, the only purchase I am authorizing for 2021 are new running socks. First, even though last year I updated my regular socks, underwear, and bras, I did not update my running gear. In fact, what I typically do is “retire” something from everyday use and start using it for running. This combined with the fact that I am very rough on running gear means that my socks are either threadbare or full of holes in the toes and heals.

Instead of just spending $20 on a package of 6 white socks that will probably only last me one running season, I have decided to invest in 6 pairs of Darn Tough socks. I anticipate that the Darn Tough socks will hopefully last me 3 running seasons instead of just one. Plus, with their replacement guarantee, it is totally worth the investment. I love supporting small American businesses, especially during this time. If I can support a small business even during a no spend year, then I am going to do so. So I will be saving money and trying to gradually replace all my running socks during 2021 with Darn Tough socks instead of a cheapo white 6-pack. 

The Goal

My goal with a no spend year is to replenish my savings that has been completely decimated by the pandemic. Not only is my savings gone, but I have had to use my credit card for groceries, so I need to get that paid off. 

My no spend 2021 will hopefully help me pay off the credit card and get money into my savings. I need savings to be able to cover house maintenance, car maintenance, and cat needs. So obviously, those three items are not included in the no spend year. 

For many people, instituting a no spend plan is very hard. Many people spend money on books, clothing, take-out coffee, prepared (not grocery – prepared) food delivery, etc. If you are one of those people, then it is going to be more difficult to institute a no spend plan because you are going to feel like you are giving something up. That’s because you are giving something up. No spend challenges are hard. That’s why it’s a challenge.

While an entire no spend year may seem extreme and overwhelming, try a no spend week or a no spend month. If you try a no spend week and it seems too painful, you can always stop. For me, a no spend year is a financial necessity in the pandemic. I do not have any disposable income and I really need to get money back into my savings account to cover any emergencies that may come up (on top of the global pandemic we are all experiencing). 

 Have you ever tried a time period of no spend? How did it go?

My Quarantine Life: Week 36

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Jolene raising a paw “pew, pew, pew”

Being in quarantine since March, I have not been able to go to the grocery store, work or basically any place where I would be indoors with other people. I am in the vulnerable group, so I stay isolated as much as possible. 

In trying to maintain some semblance of independence in this time, I pick up my medication each month instead of having it delivered. To do this safely without gong inside the pharmacy, I go through the drive thru. The drive thru pharmacy is not like a fast food drive thru where the person opens the window to hand you food. The pharmacy drive thru is more like a bank drive thru. You can see the pharmacy person through a glass window that does not open. You talk to them through a speaker system. They send the medication through a chute system so there is no human contact.

Drive thru pharmacy is a safe thing for me to do. Even though I am separated from the person by a closed glass window, I still wear a mask. I am pretending to be like everyone else who goes to a pharmacy or grocery store inside, even though I am not inside. I am in the drive thru. But I wear my mask because that is what we are supposed to do for safety. Wear a mask every place you go. Even though I am safely on the other side of the glass, it makes me feel like I am still “part of society” by following the mask rules. 

Last week I went through the pharmacy drive thru with my mask on and also a winter hat. I was cold. Typically, the first thing the person asks me is my name. They type my name in the computer. Then they say “picking up one item today. Do you need anything else?” After that, they proceed with the rest of the transaction.

Last week, the pharmacy person did not ask my name. They said “just one today?” They proceeded to ask me the remaining questions about my medication pick up. However, I noticed that the tone of her voice was warm and kind. Normally, when I go through the drive thru, it is an efficient transaction devoid of emotion.

When the person sent my medication through the chute, I asked how she knew who I was without asking my name? She said that she has worked there for 5 years and I am there every month for the same medication. She remembers me. Plus, I am at the top of the list for epi pens due to my multiple food allergies. If there is ever any type of medication shortages, I am first on the list for epinephrine. All the pharmacies in the county know this. For the record, I was not picking up epi pens that week. I only get those once a year unless I have used one.

I was impressed that this person was able to recognize me even though I was wearing a face mask and a winter hat. The only thing that could be seen was my eyes. Yet she did recognize me and knew my name without me having to say my name and without having to ask me.

I felt seen. I felt important.

I was so happy that the pharmacy person recognized me in the drive thru. It made me feel like I matter. Like if I do get covid and die, maybe people will miss me.

The virus is raging all across the country because people are not wearing masks and they are not staying home. When I look at the big picture situation, it makes me feel like I don’t matter. It makes human life seem meaningless. All these people are dying because people are too selfish to not wear a mask. People are too selfish to stay home.

Being SEEN last week in the pharmacy drive thru made me feel like I matter. I appreciate that pharmacy person for recognizing me. Moments like that is why I am happy I can still do things independently like pick up my medication in the drive thru. I was able to run an errand in a safe way and still be in quarantine. I was still able to participate in society even though I am one of the “vulnerable” ones.

This is going to get worse before it gets better. Every time I hear someone say how bad this winter is going to be, Ethan Hawke’s voice goes through my head. I think of that scene from Reality Bites where he says on the answering machine “Welcome to the winter of our discontent” in that incredibly cocky, goth way. The phrase originally came from Shakespeare, but sounds so much better when Ethan Hawke says it. By the way, Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest works during a pandemic. 

Please remember to call people to check on them.

Wear a mask.

Stay home.

Pandemic Finance

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All 3 cats sleeping on me while watching a DVD. My reason for life.

If you are one of the people who are lucky enough to still have a job in America, that does not make you immune to pandemic financial devastation. Not only are people losing their lives and their jobs, but those who are still working are losing savings and spending unprecedented amounts for just the basic necessities.

I am one of the fortunate ones that still has a job. Even though I’m working, the pandemic has completely drained my savings, caused me to go into debt, and make drastic changes to my behavior to try to reduce expenses. 

Why? Well, first look at food shortages. If you can obtain food, we are often paying 3-4x more for the same item compared to before the pandemic. Second, any item you obtain means that someone literally risked their life to either obtain it for you or make it for you. It’s time we started paying our essential workers for what they are – essential. That means tipping well for any services you may be receiving in the pandemic when other people are risking their life to keep you safe.

Some people (and I am one of them) are privileged enough to work from home to reduce exposure to the virus. It’s a great thing, especially for those of us in the high risk group. However, that does not mean that people should sit at home aimlessly clicking and buying things from the internet. You may think that internet shopping is just a few clicks, but think of how many people are putting their life at risk just so you can have that new gadget or toy right now.

Given the current situation, I know that I need a major overhaul of my finances if I am going to survive this pandemic. I went from living paycheck to paycheck to living on a shoestring. Now that President Biden has been elected, there is hope that America is going to actually survive the pandemic instead of just being a country of dead people. It’s time to make a plan for how to survive this time.

Here is my 5 point pandemic finance plan to try to survive until this is all over (whenever that may be). 

  1. Decrease spending. I will be instituting a No Spend 2021. There is more to come on that later in a future post. Basically, a no spend plan is an experiment that people typically do short term. Some people try a no spend week or a no spend month. For me, 2021 is going to be a no spend year. I’m hoping that it will help me to reach my financial goals of getting some money saved to cover emergencies.
  1. Increase savings. The goal is that by decreasing spending, I will increase the amount of money that I have to save. In order to increase savings, it means making behavioral changes to lower monthly bills so that more money can be saved. Pinch a penny until it screams. It’s only for one year. Increase savings also means any type of windfalls – if we get any more government stimuli – gets saved. 
  1. No more alcohol. I don’t think I drink a whole lot. I have had two, maybe three bottles of wine since my birthday in March (about the past 8 months). Alcohol is extremely difficult to obtain during the pandemic. A bottle of wine is $15-$25 that can be saved to spend on other things. If you figure I spend $100 on 4 bottles of wine a year, that is $100 that can go to something else (like my 2021 race season – more on that later too). There are plenty of more affordable treats that can be substituted for wine. I have been getting a 2-liter bottle of ginger ale every once in a while during the pandemic and putting cherries in it like a shirley temple. Spending $2 on a bottle of ginger ale saves money over a $25 bottle of wine.
  1. One grocery treat per month. In decreasing spending, some people see spending increase in other areas, such as groceries. We all have to find some way to treat yourself, right? I am instituting a one grocery treat per month rule. That way my grocery order does not end up being all Enjoy Life bars and ginger ale. For the record, many of my food treats are unavailable right now anyway due to the food shortages. So this rule is pretty easy to stick to. I have been living in a state of food deprivation for 8 months now waiting for the supply chain to recover.
  1. Speaking of groceries and paying essential workers like what they are – essential. While the Instacart fees are quite low (they have been averaging $2-$3 with my membership), I do tip my Instacart shopper like the essential worker they are. I am happy that the money is going to a local person who needs the job to provide for their family. I am grateful that they are risking their life to keep me safe. However, I cannot afford to support another person. I am limiting my Instacart orders to two per month, which pretty much mimicks my grocery shopping pattern prior to the pandemic when I was able to go to the store myself. I did have one month recently where I had 3 Instacart orders. This was mostly because I was trying to readjust my weeks so that I was not sending an Instacart shopper to the store at the beginning of the month, when the store is more crowded and there is more risk. 

When I Instacart, all of my groceries come from Aldi. This is a change to my pre-pandemic shopping habits, and it is saving me loads of money. Prior to the pandemic, when I was doing my own in-person shopping, I would have to get groceries at three different stores due to my food allergies and because I had some (unfounded) prejudices against certain items at Aldi. Using Aldi 100% as the only store at which I shop is saving me so much money, I wish I had made the switch sooner. I will talk more about one-stop shopping at Aldi in a seperate post. 

There is much uncertainty for the future of this country in the pandemic. While the election of President Biden gives us hope, that does not mean that 100% of the people in this country will be spared. We are still experiencing hardships. The hope is that by having someone calm and intelligent in charge, that America will be able to minimize deaths and financial devastation from the pandemic. While we now have hope for the future, that does not mean we can sit around and wait for a government bailout. It’s time to make changes now in our individual lives so that we can survive the pandemic.

For me, that means trying to get more money saved so it is there for the uncertainty of our future. This house is what is keeping the cats and I together. This house is home. I am a single person with one income, and the economy is highly unstable right now. We all need to be making the best choices possible to try to survive this time.

What pandemic finance tips do you have?

Be on the lookout for future posts on:

  • No Spend 2021
  • One-Stop Shopping at Aldi
  • Running Through A Pandemic
  • My Biggest Life Change for 2021

From America to Donald J Trump: You’re Fired!

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Cardinals are symbols of those who have passed.

Today, for the first time in 2020, America has hope. With over 235,000 people dead from COVID-19 (the trump-virus), we are finally going to get a leader who will be capable of ferrying our country through a global pandemic. The working class is hurting. It is time to bail out Main Street. Help is on the way. 

We have hope. 

Today, America has elected President Biden and Vice President Harris. In the most important election in American history, hope wins.

God Bless America!