Minimalist Holidays in a Pandemic

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Jolene sleeping hard wrapped in a blanket.

The snow is falling outside and it is absolutely stunning. There are about 3 inches currently on the ground. It is early morning, the sun is up. We just went through Daylight Savings and are now on the sense of time I enjoy the most. It is November 2 and this is our first snowfall of the season. 

What makes it even better is that I don’t have to drive in it. The car is in the garage in case the man who does the snow plow comes. I have the day off, but even if I didn’t, I would be working from home.

I am inside the house with the cats nice and warm enjoying some Sinatra and coffee watching birds and snow. Life is good. 

It’s holiday time. I will tell you that due to the food shortages, I already started holiday planning back in September. This year is going to be the first time I have cooked something special for Thanksgiving in 5 years, since 2015.  In 2015, as I finished my Master’s degree, I decided to cook a lentil loaf for Thanksgiving to celebrate my retirement from being a college student. The lentil loaf was so good it has become a staple food item in winter that I make about once a month or so.

This year will be the first time in almost 20 years that I have bothered to cook any type of poultry for Thanksgiving. I have a Cornish game hen in my freezer that has been there since the end of September. There is no point in cooking an entire turkey for just me. I am going to put the Cornish game hen in the crockpot with cranberry and orange. It is the perfect size for one person while still being a “full” poultry. 

I am also hoping to make sweet potatoes with it, if I can get them. If not, I have plenty of yellow potatoes in my house right now. But sweet potatoes would be a special treat. 

I am just happy that the cats and I are all in the house together and safe. That is definitely something to celebrate in this hellish year. The way things are going with the virus and the economy, we may be dead next year, or we may not be in the house. But for now, things are good, and we are going to celebrate the holidays. The cats and I are truly home. This is the highlight of my life.

For Christmas, I am going to keep everything the same as every other year. The goal is for the cats to think everything is normal. I don’t want them to know we are living in a global pandemic and the world is in crisis. I’m trying to shield them from that and give them a good life.

This will be Jolene’s first Christmas with us. I adopted her in January last year, right after the holidays. It will be her first time with a stocking, a Christmas tree and presents.

Since I only had two little stockings, I went and hand-sewed brand-new stockings this year, so that all three cats have a stocking and they all match. Jolene needed a stocking. I did not want her stocking to be any different from the boys because I work hard to treat them all the same. So I took some Christmas theme fabric I have and made them all a stocking.

In our house, Santa fills the stocking. He comes down the chimney, fills the stocking, and goes. Presents under the tree come from mom and each cat typically gets 1 to 3 presents each. 

Since being in the house, Christmas is especially exciting because we have a fireplace with a real chimney so Santa does not have to use a “special key.” Santa usually fills the stockings with a few small toys and treats.

I added one Christmas present for each cat onto the October Chewy order to be sure I have their presents. The next Chewy food order does not arrive until sometime in December, and I didn’t want to put the presents on that order that close to Chrismtas in case it didn’t arrive on time. 

So each cat has one present from mom this year. Santa will fill their stockings with small toys (I have some left over from a package of toys from last year that I kept for this year). I will add cat treats for the stockings to my Instacart order.

Christmas for humans is another story. Again, I typically do 1 to 3 presents for each person I buy a present for. Usually everyone gets one present, so that won’t change too much this year. I honestly don’t have money for Christmas.

The only change will be in type of gift. While I usually do a gift bag of various coffees, teas, and cocoa for people, this year the gift bag will be one coffee and potentially one other item.

The formula for this year for gifts is going to be: coffee, hat, or socks.

These are all items I can get, and they are all “essential” items. I am not going to have someone risk their life in a pandemic for a Christmas present. That’s cruel and inhumane. 

Fancy coffee I can add to my Instacart order and get rather easily with my normal grocery order. It’s nice at Christmas to be able to splurge on the expensive or fancy coffee to enjoy as you watch snow falling out the window.

A hat or socks is something you can wear and keeps you warm. Therefore, they are essential. I have been focusing on hats and socks this year mostly because I am cold. If you have a hat and warm socks, then you will be warmer. A lot of us are having financial difficulty in the pandemic and can’t afford the heating bills. If you have to turn your heat down to try to keep the bill down, then a hat and warm socks are going to be needed to stay warm. 

Socks are one of the most requested items by homeless people. Take it from a former homeless person, a warm pair of socks is like Christmas. So this year, a warm pair of socks may just be Christmas.

Back in the First Great Depression in the 1930s, Christmas gifts were often something to eat or something to wear. Children would often find an orange or some other citrus in their stocking because citrus was hard to come by. There might be a yo-yo or small hand carved toy.

In this line, the cats get some treats and some small toys in their stocking.

During the First Great Depression a Christmas present might be a scarf or gloves that someone hand crocheted or knit. I don’t have that kind of talent. But I can order warm hats and warm socks. 

Another Christmas throwback this year will be method of delivery. I’ve seen old home movies from back in the 1950s. A beloved family member comes home for the holidays. They pull in the drive way and pop open the trunk of the car to display a pile of wrapped presents inside. There is one for each family member. 

In the event I cannot figure out any other way to safely deliver presents this year, that is what I will be doing. Open my trunk and grab your present. Safe and socially distant.

Another tradition in which I have been engaging for a long time that I am hoping gains widespread adoption this year is card writing. 

I always take time to write personalized messages in cards for that person. Someone told me recently that the only thing they want from me for Christmas this year is a card because I write great cards. In this socially distanced pandemic, I am hoping that card writing like that catches on.

We cannot be together this year. We still need to be sure that people hear things they need to hear. We need to be sure that people know how we feel abut them, especially with so many dying. May your Christmas cards this year give you the opportunity to send heartfelt messages to people you are unable to see.

I am not sure if we will be doing photo cards for Christmas this year or not. I will decide that next week. It mostly depends on if I can afford them. I want to do them, for the cats. I have great photos of all of them for this year’s Christmas card. The only one I do not have a great photo of for this year is me. But it’s not about me. It’s about the cats. We will see if we do a photo card this year or not in addition to the traditional hand-written cards.

Luckily, I have enough Christmas items so I do not have to worry about buying gift bags, wrapping paper, etc. Most people do. I’m sure if you look around the house you will realize you have enough Christmas stuff too and don’t need to buy anything.

I will admit that when I buy gift bags, etc I try to get them in neutral red and green colors. This way I can use them for birthdays and other holidays, not just Christmas. I have some Christmas theme tissue paper to make them festive. That way I get a lot of mileage over any packaging I may buy.

There is also the old stand-bys of using newspaper and paper bags as wrapping paper too. You can even draw and color on them to make it more special.

The only differences the pandemic is making in my minimalist holidays is that people are strictly getting one present, where some years there may have been 2 or 3. Also, less people will be getting presents this year than usual. I just don’t have the money. But people will still be getting cards with heartfelt messages. Sometimes the present is just that I am happy you are alive.

How will you be spending the holidays in a pandemic?

My Quarantine Life: Week 34

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Simon is playing in the cheese toy.

 

Everyone knows the story of Noah and the Ark – how the animals went two by two. Did you ever think what it was like to be on that boat during the flood time? It was much like quarantine that we are experiencing now. 

Imagine Noah is stuck on this boat with his entire family. Yes, there are animals to take care of. He has an entire boat full of pets. He is trying to work, keep the boys from wrestling each other (he had 3 sons), and deal with all the animals about. It sounds a lot like COVID stay at home, doesn’t it.

After the flood, we know the sun shined. There was a rainbow. Yay! All the animals were saved! Yet what did Noah do once he got off the boat onto land and everything was made right again? He went out and got drunk. It’s in the Bible. His son Ham found him drunk and went around telling everyone about it. 

Sounds a lot like quarantine. After being stuck at home with their families, a lot of people in America are drinking, losing it, or both. We are all human. As much as we love our families, quarantine at home takes a toll much like life on a boat took a toll on Noah during the flood.

From Noah, fast forward a few thousand years to the First Great Depression in America. Everyone knows the stock market crashed in 1929. We have heard the stories of people jumping off buildings in despair. What is not often talked about is how the Great Depression was not just one day in 1929. The Great Depression lasted for an entire decade until World War Two pulled America out of it. People had to sacrifice and go without for 10 whole years. It was bad. Very bad.

One of my favorite songs has a line in it that says “someone told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor that we couldn’t tell.” There was a statistic on the radio this week, that only 50% of Americans can afford to have money in the stock market. So what the stock market does is meaningless for most of society. It is not a very good economic indicator for the every day person in America. The stock market is for the rich.

Unlike a generation or two ago, people in America today have absolutely no idea what it is like to sacrifice for the greater good. People do not know what it is like to truly struggle. They think that waiting in line for a new iphone is a hardship. 

Everywhere in the news today, we are hearing how the virus is surging. People are tired. There is this phenomenon called “pandemic fatigue” or “COVID fatigue.” People are sick of wearing masks and distancing.

The problem is that people today do not know how to self-sacrifice. They cannot make changes in themselves for the benefit of the greater good. There is another term for “pandemic fatigue.” It’s called selfishness.

This year America has entered the Second Great Depression, and the “ME” generation is in for a huge wake-up call. People who are sick of mask wearing and distancing are the ones who are going to die. Unfortunately, they are going to take out innocent people with them.

Something has changed in American society in the past 90 years where people are no longer capable of thinking about the greater good. The vast majority of society has no idea what it means to sacrifice or go without. That is a very scary place to be.

The ME generation is why the virus is surging. Americans are just too selfish to do what needs to be done and it is killing us. Literally. Hopefully all the ones shouting “open it up” are the first ones to die. Was it really worth it to buy that candle on sale for Christmas and pay for it with your life? In America, it is. Capitalism is worth more than human life. 

It doesn’t help that the Anti-Christ holds the top office in America from the onset of the virus.Our elections will determine how bad the Second Great Depression is going to get. 

Personally, I am just hoping to survive the next decade of this virus and the Second Great Depression. I am also hoping that Jesus comes soon so my cats will be safe. 

I am doing fine in quarantine. The problem is that if the people around me are not safe and society is being selfish, then there is only so much I can do. With so many people in this country focused on “ME,” it’s every person for themselves. Divided we fall. 

I wish there was some way to teach the people of this country the meaning of sacrifice for the greater good. Our parents and grandparents understood that concept. They lived it. They lived through the Frist Great Depression. They lived through World War Two. I honestly have no idea how America today is going to survive COVID. People in America today are too self-centered to do what needs to be done to defeat the virus. It’s like the great flood is here and Noah refused to build the ark. So we live with deaths that could have been prevented. The scariest part is how many people in this country are okay with the death toll.

If you live in America, you need to vote. The election will determine whether we continue on this journey we are currently on or if it is going to get better. I have to believe that there are people in this country who know what sacrifice means. I haven’t seen any yet, but I believe they are there somewhere. Someone has got to be willing to be the Noah and build the ark. The future of our country depends on it. Otherwise, we are living the book of Revelation. 

Vote.

Wear a mask.

Stay home.

Site 50

All 3 cats watching the birds fly by.

The year is 2003. Imagine taking your first vacation in 4 years. You pack up the car with all of your supplies and drive 3 and a half hours to your destination. You are meeting friends you have not seen in years. After a stressful, traffic filled drive, you arrive at your destination, and take one of the last available sites at the campground you have chosen, in relative proximity to the rest of your friends. It is the same place you were at 4 years ago for complete relaxation. Back in 1999, you had crammed 8 college friends in a family tent on a single campsite. It was just like dorm times. In 2003, the only difference is that you are in a different camp site from before and have elected to set up your own tent instead of being in with the rest of the group. Things have changed in 4 years, and some of these friends now have families they will be bringing.

On site 50, you set up your $30 K-mart tent and begin cooking dinner as darkness descends. You are one of the first in your group of friends to arrive for the weekend outing. The location is the halfway point for you and all your friends. It has been about a three and a half hour drive for you going north east. It is about a three and a half hour drive for them going north west. 

You have all the elements for relaxation from good food to good music to good wine. Suddenly, a loud thunderclap sounds and rain unexpectedly downpours on your campfire. You scramble to pick up all of your supplies and cram them in the car so they can remain dry and you can seek respite in your tent.

Although hectic, it is also exciting. This is exactly the type of situation of which memories are made and you can laugh about with friends after. Supplies safely in the car out of the rain, fire put out by the downpour, you unzip the tent to seek solace inside. Once inside, you discover your $30 purchase was not the best bargain as rain pours in through all the seams. The bottom of the tent quickly accumulates a few inches of rain, much like a canoe taking on water in danger of capsizing. Your sleeping bag is completely soaked, as well as the small duffle bag of clothes inside the tent.

Like a drowning man on a sinking ship, you fruitlessly attempt to bail water from the tent. Again, a story to laugh at later. Rain continues to literally pour through the seams of the tent as if the Hoover Dam were breached.

Tiring yourself with bailing water, you finally admit defeat and run from the tent to the car. You are completely soaked with no dry clothes to change into as your sleeping bag and clothes are all waterlogged in the tent. You fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, unsure and uncaring whether the tent will even be there in the morning or if it will float away.

Morning dawns, and you awake to fogged car windows. Still water logged, you open the car door to see the tent completely leveled and everything wet. The rain has stopped. The rest of your friends are supposed to arrive today.

You make a new fire to get warm, and start hanging up all the wet items to dry. You fix the tent so it is again standing, although wet. Now that the rain has stopped, you are able to bail out all of the water from the night before.

Once your friends trickle in for the weekend, you are able to borrow clothes that are both dry and warm. This is definitely a story to laugh about later. The remainder of the weekend passes dry, cool and full of laughter, good memories and good times with the best of friends.

Lesson learned from the leaking tent, when you return in 2004, it is with a new, more waterproof tent. It cost $150 from LL Bean. That new tent will see you dry through the next 15 years of these trips with the best of friends.  

Fast forward to 2020. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Every single one of those people who were on that camping trip in 2003 except two are now dead. They have all died of COVID within the past 6 months. You are running out of friends. It is not an exaggeration and it’s not because you are a bad person. It’s this horrible disease.

While you have been able to take off 2 or 3 days here and there, you have not had a week’s vacation in over 3 years. For the first time in over 20 years, your annual camping trip has been canceled by COVID.

You are burnt out. You are at your wits end and need a break. Even though COVID has canceled your life and taken all of your friends, you decide to take a week’s vacation from life.

This is a true story. This is my story.

I took my first week’s vacation in over 3 years recently. While this week has been a flashback to 2003, it was anything but restful.

Instead of running around with a tent in the rain, I had a major water issue in my house. I spent 7 days of my 10 day vacation dealing with this water issue. It was anything but restful. There were no friends arriving to laugh with. They are all dead. I’m having a staycation in the middle of a pandemic and instead of relaxing, dealing with a major house emergency.

I may be a first time homeowner, but I do know that water damage is every home owner’s worst nightmare. It’s not funny like bailing out a tent. 

Trying to get help with house emergencies in a global pandemic is extremely challenging. There are people out there who either do not respond or just want to take you for a ride (read: unnecessarily charge you thousands of dollars for illegal work done without appropriate permits). Forget that. I’m on vacation. I just want to relax. 

I feel like I completely wasted my vacation from work dealing with this water issue. I was not able to relax. I only got 3 days of relaxation. I should have just taken my traditional 3 days off instead of a whole week’s vacation.

Maybe this story of plumbing issues with my house will be funny in the future. I’m not sure when. I’m not sure who will be laughing with me, since COVID has killed most of my friends.I am still so thoroughly traumatized by my experience dealing with this water issue that I cannot even go into the details of how bad it was trying to get help. 

All I know is that I am happy to be dry and safe in this house. I hope to survive the pandemic so I can have more camping trips again. Even though my vacation was not really a vacation, I am thankful to be safe with my cats. I have not had a week this bad or this stressful since I bought my house.

5 Podcasts That Rock!

Jude snuggles with me while we listen to podcasts.

This post is another installment in my “5 <insert item or thing here> that rocks!” series. What may potentially be my first week-long vacation in more than 3 years is coming up in a few weeks here, and I am making plans for what I want to do on my staycation. COVID is raging in my area worse than ever before, with infection rates regularly above 4% each day, so my first vacation in over 3 years will completely be a staycation. (Not to mention I am still in quarantine.)

I first discovered podcasts about a year ago, after a friend took the time to explain to me what a podcast is. I have heard the word “podcast” for a while. My eyes glaze over because it is one of those nonsensical technology words that just completely went over my head. This particular friend happened to know how much I love radio and radio programs, so they took the time to explain to me that a podcast is basically a radio program that I can play “on demand” on my phone. The best part of podcasts is that they are free.

One of my top 3 favorite radio shows, Only A Game, was canceled recently after a 27 year run on the air. I decided to add a few shows to my podcast library to try to give me a few more things to listen to. I have no cable at home and no reliable internet to do any kind of video or streaming, so my entertainment tends to be reading and radio. 

For the record, my other two favorite radio programs that are in my Top 3 favorites are still on the air and I listen to them on the radio on Sunday mornings. My other two favorite radio shows are the Frank Sinatra show with Sid Mark and Time Warp with Bill St. James.

But back to podcasts … 

Podcasts have been great with my disability because I can just listen and follow along. My disability affects my vision, and I have times when it is very challenging to read. It is easier to have someone read me something and podcasts fill that need. Especially in the summer heat, I do a lot more podcast listening than I do reading. 

There are two podcasts that I have been enjoying quite regularly for the past year. There are three podcasts that I have found more recently during quarantine in the past six months, but am so thrilled I found them. There were some “special series” podcasts I had listened to and enjoyed, such as “1865,” “Dolly Parton’s America,” and “The Killing of Marilyn Monroe.” Those were all series that ended after 5 or 15 episodes. The selections below are ongoing broadcasts that have seasons and go on for a longer period of time, updating regularly. 

In random order, here are my top 5 favorite podcasts that rock!

  1. American History Tellers

This podcast first hooked me with its use of vignettes written in the second person narrative. I first discovered writing in second person narration in my 8th grade English class and have been absolutely enthralled with everything written in the second person point of view ever since. 

Each episode is well-written and well-researched. I love how I can choose what period of history I learn about. I find myself skipping around from more modern times, like the Space Race, to more “historic” times like the American Revolution. 

2. Levar Burton Reads

I grew up on the “Reading Rainbow” television show. Levar’s voice is so soothing! I was amazed to find the same person who read stories to me as a child is now reading short story fiction to adults. The stories tend to be heavy on the science fiction and speculative fiction, which is perfectly fine by me. During this time of the pandemic, it is very soothing to hear a voice from my past and get lost in a story. 

Levar offers a brief introduction to each story and a brief commentary after. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. 

3. The Constant

The Constant is a recent discovery and I got sucked in learning about the Foolkiller submarine that was found in the Chicago River in 1915 with the bones of a man and a dog inside. I enjoy The Constant because it helps to explain why we know the things we do. 

I just finished an episode that explains how we figured out that birds fly south for the winter – and what people believed happened to birds in winter before realizing they fly south. The Constant took me a bit to get into. It highlights how people got things wrong, but in the process, you learn more about the world and how things came to be. 

This is one of those podcasts that may be more of an acquired taste. Each episode is like a little mystery with many twists and turns. The speaker is great to listen to and each episode is well-researched. 

4. The Relic Radio Show

The Relic Radio Show gives me the feeling of snuggling up in a warm blanket and feeling loved. This is the type of radio I remember listening to growing up. Each hour-long episode consists of two 30-minute episodes. These are the traditional radio stories from the 1950s when most entertainment was on radio and few people had television sets. Again, just another show that takes me back to my childhood and helps me to feel good in this pandemic.

5. You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton

Even if you do not like Hillary politically, I like her personally. If we could choose anybody on the planet to be our parents, I would choose Hillary Clinton to be my mom. That’s how much I like her. You and Me Both is a newer podcast in which Hillary has conversations with people and discusses topics such as faith and cooking. So even if you are not into politics, this is just an amazing woman showing her human side.

Bonus Podcast:

I’m giving a bonus to my list of 5 because this particular podcast is in between seasons right now. I fell so in love with this podcast, that I have listened to every single episode and am waiting for new ones to be made. It sounds like this series may be taking a pandemic related break. I can’t wait for it to return!

The bonus podcast is “This is Love with Phoebe Judge.” Phoebe has a soothing voice and does a great job of asking questions so that people tell their stories in a way that really connects. There was a season about animals and a season about small villages in Italy. “This is Love” is a podcast we need right now in this time of pandemic. They are joyful stories that make you feel good. 

This is what I have been listening to lately. It is nice to take a break from news of the pandemic and having to hear about all the bad things going on in the world right now. It is nice to take a break and either relax or learn something new. What favorite podcasts do you have?

My Quarantine Life: Week 29

Simon & Jolene watching the goldfinches get seeds.

With the weather getting cooler, I put the second bird feeder out. There are at least four male/female pairs of American goldfinches that frequent our feeders for our viewing pleasure. This is in addition to the male/female cardinal pair and numerous chickadees.

I read somewhere that goldfinches are a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Let’s hope so. Not only has this pandemic drained all of my savings, but I am going into debt trying to obtain food.

One of my neighbors recently commented how she is saving so much money in the pandemic. I don’t understand how. I am paying 3x, and sometimes 4x, more for groceries now than I was prior to the pandemic. Flour alone is $21. It was $4 pre-pandemic. Flour is just one item on my grocery list of 20-25 items. They are all significantly more expensive. How are people saving money when I am struggling to pay for food?

If anything, this pandemic is widening the economic gap between the haves and the have-nots. All of the economists are saying we have not yet seen the worst of the economic fallout from the pandemic. The next 3-4 years are going to be harder and much worse than 2020 as far as the money situation goes.

I’m hoping that all these goldfinches we are enjoying actually do mean abundance.

Right now, I can’t complain. In fact, we are living an abundant life. We are still together in this house and I am still employed. Even though it is difficult trying to get supplies, at least I have a job to try to pay for things.

Instacart is the best service ever. Instacart has solved the problem of obtaining food. Paying for food is hard, but at least I can now obtain food by using Instacart. 

A friend texted me about 2 weeks ago on Friday and said they were going to the grocery store over the weekend and asked if I needed anything. I said yes, and added 4 items to their grocery list. The weekend passed and I did not hear anything from this person. 

I reached out and said, hey, let me know how much I owe you for those groceries and how you want me to get them. They responded, “oh, I didn’t go this weekend. Maybe in a few weeks.” 

This situation is a prime example of how I have been starving for the past few months. People say they are going to store, so I plan on getting things that week, then they put off their trip for 2 more weeks. I run out of food.

Luckily, in this situation that happened two weeks ago, I did have an Instacart delivery scheduled. I was able to go without the 4 items I had added to the friend’s grocery list without starving. While this friend is trying to help me, they do not seem to understand that when you say you are going to the store this week and then wait 2 or 3 weeks to actually go to the store, I run out of food and starve. Literally.

Instacart is so empowering because I can control when I get food and what food I get. 

The friend that has been helping me frequently makes substitutions and brings me things I’m allergic to. I can’t eat them. It’s a waste of money. If you cannot find my allergy friendly items, then please do not waste money buying an item that will kill me if I eat it.

The beauty of Instacart is that I can specify my allergens and set those parameters. They follow the instructions. If my allergy-friendly items are gone, they are not wasting my money on something that will kill me. While my friend is well-meaning and trying to help me, they are actually not helping me. In some instances, they are bringing me things that will harm me. I don’t have that issue with Instacart. I am so happy I stopped listening to all the naysayers and joined Instacart when everyone told me not to do it. 

Now that Instacart is solving my access to food issue, I can focus more on work. I need to work for us to pay the bills and keep the house. Hopefully, our government will do something about the economy and institute universal basic income. It will all come down to the election. We are either entering the worst Great Depression this country has ever seen, or we are going to get help to survive the pandemic. We will see who wins.

In the meantime, the cats and I are enjoying the birds outside our home. The goldfinches are bringing us an abundance of joy just from watching them. Maybe that’s the sole reason why they mean abundance and prosperity. We are fortunate to be together in this house to watch them.

My Quarantine Life: Week 27

Jude & Jolene spending time together.

It is now officially over 6 months that I have been in quarantine. I have to admit, when this all started back in March, I thought it was something that would just end in a few weeks and everything would go back to normal. I thought it was going to be like Y2K or the Mayan “End of the World” or something, where we all roll our eyes after and laugh about “those few weeks in quarantine.”

Unfortunately, this virus is the real thing. It is here, it is bad, and it is lethal.

Everyone talks about “the new normal.” After 6 months of living with this virus, I don’t think this is “the new normal” anymore. Things will never go back to how they were before. This is our normal. It has changed drastically, but here we are. We need to figure out how to live with this virus, as there seems to be no end in sight. 

From the beginning, I have said that I can survive the pandemic as long as I can get food and I am employed. I am very grateful to still be employed and pray that nothing happens to my job. I know that many people have lost their jobs and are hurting. I am very privileged to not only still have a job, but that I have a job that is able to accommodate my needs and keep me safe from exposure while still allowing me to work.

Onto the food issue … I’m not going to lie. The past 6 months have been the most difficult time I have had getting food since I grew up as a child and had to ration my weekly $1 food stamp to try to get food. I had explained this in The Toilet Paper Chronicles, Part 1. I never thought I would need survival skills I used as a child in the 1980s as an adult, but here we are.

Instacart is the best service ever. I have now had two Instacart deliveries, and am looking to schedule my third in the next week or so. Instacart is helping me to feel normal again. I am able to get allergy-friendly food when I need it so that I am not hungry. God bless Instacart. It is literally saving both my life and my sanity in this pandemic right now. 

Thanks to Instacart, I am now able to get food on a regular basis for the first time in 6 months. This is the first time in half a year that I am not worried over when I am going to be able to eat again or if I have enough food left in the house for tomorrow and how I am going to get food again.

Now that my need for food has been taken care of (again, God bless Instacart and the Instacart shoppers), I am able to better focus on the priority of work. I need to work to be able to pay my bills.

The fantasy of working from home for a few weeks is officially over. Working from home appears to be reality for the foreseeable future. I currently still have a box of “work things” near my front door. I had this idea that the pandemic would be over in April and that I would just put that box in my car and return to the office. That hasn’t happened, so time to face reality.

Working from home has been a struggle this entire time because the rural area in which I live does not have the infrastructure to best support work from home. Broadband internet service is not available where I live. I get internet from a work provided hotspot that received very spotty and very little reception. Even though I have the internet for basic searches and email, I lack the internet to be able to do anything strenuous such as video or any type of conference meetings. I can’t even watch a Youtube video.  I have also lacked hardware to be able to work from home. 

Maintaining adequate work-life separation has been hard. My work life has invaded my home, which is my “safe space.” Early in the pandemic, I tried changing my designated work area. This resulted in multiple challenges. I chose an area upstairs, but had no table or chair to work from, so I was sitting on the floor with the laptop on a box. The phone was downstairs and I cannot go up and down stairs all day (with my disability, I can typically do stairs once a day). This meant I could not get to the phone for phone calls. When the weather got warm, the upstairs is the hottest part of the house. I really needed to work downstairs to be close to my AC unit and to be able to reach the telephone.

Unfortunately, working downstairs means I work from my kitchen table and my work life invades my home life with negative consequences.

Working from home is less than ideal and has been a struggle on multiple levels. I would much rather work at work, but no job is worth my life.

After 6 months of enduring these challenges, I finally decided to make an investment on two items that will hopefully improve my work from home situation.

First, the ideal place to work from home is upstairs. This would create a more definitive work-home separation that I so desperately need. Now that the weather is finally cooler (we are getting frost tonight), working upstairs is more feasible temperature-wise.

I need to be next to the phone to work from home. My employer helped by providing me with an extra-long phone cord so that I can take the phone from where it is plugged into the phone receptacle downstairs and take it upstairs. This requires taking the phone through 4 different rooms, and creates a tripping hazard not only for me, but for the cats. They run and get caught on the cord, and then the phone goes flying and slams into the wall. After I personally had 3 falls due to this phone cord, resulting in bruises and other injury, I decided this extra long phone cord is a bad idea.

So I decided to spring $25 and ordered a cordless phone. It has yet to arrive, and I am not sure if it will even work. I don’t think I have a wall outlet to plug it in. This idea may be another dead end, and I may have wasted $25. I will find out when it arrives. If it works, it will solve my problem. I will be able to have the phone near my work space. If it doesn’t work, then I will just continue to suffer as I have been for the past 6 months. At least I am employed.

The second thing I have done to try to move my work space upstairs is that I ordered a table for $25 also. That has yet to arrive. If I have a table, and take one of my lawn chairs upstairs, then I can use the table and lawn chair to create a work from home space upstairs that is not my kitchen table. I am pretty sure the $25 table will work. I am just waiting for it to be delivered from the place I ordered it. 

The last thing I wanted to do was to spend that $50 in this pandemic. I do not have $50 to spend with all the money I am spending on groceries (3 times more than usual due to price increases). However, I have to do something different so that my work stops invading my home. 

Putting a table and chair upstairs will allow me to create a work from home space upstairs that is out of my living space. The only thing missing is the phone. Hopefully the cordless phone idea will work. I have to wait a few weeks to see. 

I was talking with one of my friends recently who is also working from home. She expressed similar sentiment about her work from home space. It is important to have distinct separation between work and home. She had said that she had been working in her garage this summer, as it was cooler in there. She just moved her work space back into the upstairs of her home for winter, now that it is getting cooler. It appears that other people are moving their home office spaces seasonally as well. 

If I can get my plan to work, I think I am going to be in a similar situation. In the winter, I will work upstairs and have a good work-home separation. In summer, I will have to work downstairs. This means that work will be invading my safe home space, but it is unavoidable due to temperatures. At least this winter, I will get some respite and have better work-home separation. 

I don’t want to even think about having to work from home next summer. I am trying to concentrate on right now. Right now, I need better boundaries between my work life and my home life. I am hoping that I can manage to make the transition to a new work from home space. We will see if the technology and the logistics cooperate to make that happen.

Right now, I am able to be self-sufficient. I can now get food with Instacart, I can cut my own hair,  I have plenty of things to do at home. I am definitely not bored. As long as I am able to continue to work from home, I am set up to ride out this pandemic safely. 

At the end of the day, I am so grateful for this time I have to be home with my cats. Even if I do catch COVID and die, or end up unemployed and lose the house, I hope that my cats remember this time we have together and know how much I love them.

This pandemic is still going to get worse before it gets better. Numbers in my county have been doubling daily. We have more COVID cases in my town right now than we did back in April. Many more people will die.

Right now I am grateful that we are together and that we are safe. It is a relief to be able to get food again. I am so happy to be employed. We will keep taking one day at a time until it all ends. 

 

Gen X Time

Jude & Jolene enjoying supervised outside time. Simon refused to come out. He watched from the screen door.

Perhaps one of the only positives about the current pandemic is that it is giving Generation X time to shine. As latchkey kids who spent a lot of time alone before the internet was even made public, Gen X is well-prepared to handle the isolation and quarantine that we are experiencing. Gen X is made to survive.

Generation X is the only generation in United States history to be worse off than our parents. We bought into the nightmare that is the American Dream. We went to college, got the degree, all while the cost of higher education ballooned to 300x more than what it cost our parents. We are buried in student debt while trying to buy and maintain homes, raise families, and take care of our parents who are the generation of excess. 

Although I have had challenges in the pandemic in obtaining basic necessities such as food, I have been perfectly happy and content in quarantine. Staying home and hanging out with my cats doesn’t bother me. Sure, I would really like to see the new James Bond movie. But they have delayed the movie release due to the pandemic, so nobody is seeing it right now. 

Gen X are the kids whose parents have the highest divorce rate in American history. Over 80% of us grew up in single parent homes. Often left home alone, we would spend hours amusing ourselves. We read books, played Atari, listened to the radio, rode our bikes, and talked on the phone when we were lucky enough to find the party line free.

For you young’uns, a party line was a type of landline telephone plan. Up to 10 houses on the street would share the same telephone number. So when the phone rang – it rang in all 10 homes. Everyone would pick up their line and try to figure out which person in which house the phone call was for. This also meant that you could listen to everyone else’s conversation. If you wanted to use the phone, you had to wait for people to get off the party line so you could make a call.  

This may sound annoying, and it was, but it was also a godsend for us latchkey kids. On our party line, everyone knew when I got home from school, I would call my grandmother to check in to let her know I was home alone ok. This meant that all of the other houses on our party line also knew I was home alone. While this could be a bad thing, in my time, it was a positive. In the off chance that any of our neighbors were home, they “kept an eye” on us latchkey kids. If you did something to get yourself into trouble, the whole neighborhood would know with just one phone call. 

In quarantine, I am living by my phone. Internet service here is unreliable. Cell service is only enough for text messages. The cell service is too weak to talk on the cell phone. Just like growing up, if I want to communicate with the world, I am dependent on my landline home phone.

People today are alarmed by this concept. They worry about me. I find you all to be funny. I’m Generation X. This is how I was raised. Gen X was made for this pandemic.

I have so many things I am doing in quarantine now that I have not done since I was a child growing up in the 1980s. My childhood prepared me for this. All those hours spent alone reading books, rocking out to the radio while swinging on the swing set. I have no problem with quarantine. I have books, radio, DVDs, podcasts. I have plenty of things to do. I am not bored. Gen X is used to playing by ourselves. We are used to being forgotten and ignored.

I honestly think that is why I am not having as much trouble in quarantine as other people older or younger than me. I know that my mom is a boomer. Boomers always have to be on the go. That describes my mother perfectly. They work themselves to the bone at the expense of their own bodies and their families. This is what Gen X has fought back against. We don’t want to be like our parents. We value work-life balance.

So while my mother has a hard time staying at home and constantly goes to the stores (I wish she wouldn’t), I am more content to stay home. I’m used to spending hours each day home alone from growing up. This pandemic is like my second childhood.

The generation that came after me is the Millennials. Those kids were so over scheduled growing up that they can’t sit still either. They don’t know what to do with themselves when the gym, the coffeehouse, and everything else is closed. Yes, they are better with all the technology than my generation, but they are used to always doing.

As a member of Gen X, I think we are the only generation that knows how to sit and just BE. We do not have to be constantly moving. We are able to amuse ourselves. We are the low maintenance, self-reliant independents that everyone seems to forget about, as we just sit in the corner quietly playing. People think we don’t play well with others because we are loners. I disagree. I think we play better with others because we work hard, pull our ow weight, and expect others to do the same. 

If anything, I think that my mental health has improved in quarantine because I am not constantly rushed. I can pay more attention to what is important in life. I know how to amuse myself, so I am not bored. I have a landline telephone and can reach out for socialization when I need it. At least now, I have a private telephone and do not have to wait for someone to get off the party line. 

This pandemic is time for Generation X to truly shine. This is how we grew up. We were made for this moment. We can stay home and flatten the curve. We can weather quarantine. It’s no different than being a latchkey kid. Except now we’re doing it in our 40s instead of at 6 years old. The world has changed and continues to do so. There is one thing I know – Gen X knows how to survive.

I saw a quote somewhere that said if all of life was an episode of Survivor, Gen X would win. Gen X knows how to survive. That includes this pandemic.

Once we turn the corner and the pandemic starts to end, Gen X is uniquely poised to guide us on how to recover from the pandemic. We survived our boomer divorced parents and made it to adulthood. We got this. We have survived many, many times, and can show the world how to survive this pandemic too.

In addition to Gen X being one of the smallest generations in American history, I would also argue that we are the most underestimated generation in all of history. Our boomer parents called us “slackers” and wrote us off. Unfortunately, that label has stuck. Yet it’s not true. We are the hardest working generation with the smallest return. We know how to work. More importantly, we know that work-life balance is imperative to survival.

This pandemic is Gen X time. This is our time to shine. We know how to survive this pandemic. When the pandemic is finally over, we know how to get beyond it too. Don’t write us off just because we are so adept at amusing ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’re not working on making this world better in our own small ways.

I have never been so proud to be a part of Gen X as I am right now. My childhood was a dress rehearsal for quarantine. 

Generation X for the win!

My Quarantine Life: Week 25

Simon is playing in the box.

Labor Day weekend this year is going to look like none other. For over 20 years, Labor Day weekend was a camping weekend for me. It has been a time to relax, recharge, and reset for the upcoming year. Two years ago, I spent Labor Day weekend moving into my house. Last year I ran a race on Labor Day weekend. That makes this year the very first Labor Day weekend I have nothing going on. 

It seems so surreal. 

Yes, I have plenty of things to do around the house. That list is never ending. With my disability, I struggle to complete basic tasks such as cooking and cleaning, so there is always something to do. 

But with the pandemic this year, I just do not feel like I have gotten a break from anything. I am very grateful to have a job, but it is less than ideal to work from home. 

Hopefully, without alarming anyone, I plan to completely unplug this 3-day weekend. I just mentally need the break.

I am looking to place my second Instacart order after the holiday weekend. I am so excited. It makes me feel normal. I can “do” my own grocery shopping again. I was grocery shopping twice a month prior to the pandemic. If I Instacart twice a month, that keeps me on the same schedule. 

I am now able to meal plan and have a wider variety of foods to eat other than just the same 3 things.

I am very grateful for all the people who have helped me with food these past few months, but it has been hard, especially with multiple food allergies. I never know if I have to wait one week or 3 weeks for food. Is the food people bringing me going to be safe to eat with my food allergies (not to mention, all the food I have paid for that I can’t eat due to the food allergies). People mean well and have been trying to help, but I have been hungry the past 5-6 months. 

Having someone else trying to buy food for you when you have 5 severe food allergies is very challenging.

I am hoping that my second Instacart experience goes as well as the first one. I can pick out exactly what foods are safe for me to eat so that I am not wasting my money. I can also control my spending better because I know exactly what is coming and how much it costs.

I am not sure what the future brings, but it does not look like Labor Day weekend is going to be the respite it usually is. We will see what happens. All we can do is take one day at a time. Hopefully, I am able to obtain food again next week. 

House-iversary 2

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Jude is playing in a box.

Baseball legend Ted Williams was born on August 30, 1918. As one of the longest tenured players in the sport, “the kid” wore number 9 for the Boston Red Sox. His number has since been retired by the team.

On what would have been Ted’s 100th birthday on August 30, 2018, I hit my own home run and purchased my first house. It is also coincidence that my house number is 9, the same as Ted’s baseball number. I say it was meant to be. 

There are other reasons why I think this house was meant to be mine. But today, the cats and I are celebrating our 2 year House-iversary. We have found our furever home.

Jolene has now been in this house longer than she spent in the shelter. I am unaware of her life before that. From what I do know about her, I think she was either an outdoor cat or genuinely homeless prior to her being dumped at the shelter in a box with her kittens. Jolene also celebrated her 6th birthday last week. To my knowledge, Jolene has lived in this house longer than she has lived in any other house.

Simon has definitely been in this house longer than he has been anywhere else. He has lived here longer than we were in the apartment. He has lived here longer than he was in the shelter. For Simon, this house is definitely home. You can tell too. Simon is the only cat who does not try to escape to either the basement or the outdoors. Simon stays in the first and second floor living spaces. He knows its home and where he is supposed to be. He has truly come into his own in this house.

As the oldest, Jude and I have quite a few more years to go before this house is the longest place we have ever lived and it truly feels like home. I was in the apartment for 14 years. 

Jude was in the apartment for 4 and a half years. So, Jude is halfway there for this house to be home for him. There are times when I can tell that Jude does miss the apartment. Jude used to go out on the porch at the apartment. He cannot do that safely here at the house without being in a cage. I can tell it irks him. He misses the apartment porch where he could roam more freely (with supervision, of course). Yet I know Jude is happy in this house. He plays more. 

Being a first time homeowner has certainly been a challenge. I am so grateful for all of the people who have helped me along the way and continue to help and support me. 

This morning, as I type this, the temperatures have finally cooled into the 60s. All of the windows are open. The cats are happily sitting in front of open windows bird watching. I am sitting in front of our beautiful kitchen windows that open to the backyard. 

It was the kitchen that made me fall in love with this house. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I said “this is it.” The kitchen is the first room you walk into when you open the door. Viewing the rest of the house was simply a formality. With multiple food allergies, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. When I was in the apartment, my kitchen was also “command central” for all of my degrees. The kitchen is truly the heart of the home in my house. 

I had been told that the first year in a new house is an adjustment period and that you should not look to do any major changes or updates in that first year as you come to know the house. I followed this advice. It was easy to follow. I have been too overwhelmed as a new homeowner to do anything other than react to any issue that happened to arise. 

That said, I do have a home maintenance list, as I’m sure everyone does. It is a never ending list that is constantly changing and always updating. Last year, I painted the front of the garage, and an area of the house near the dryer vent. My goal for this year was to finish painting the garage. Since I am in quarantine and cannot get more paint right now, that is not happening. Not to mention, I learned that painting the garage is not as easy as it sounds. I will need help to reach the topmost areas and the detail work to make it look nice.

My goals for the house going forward is to save and complete one home project per year. I think that this is reasonable, and it is also advice I received from a friend who is also a single female and first time homeowner. I just have to prioritize the projects. 

This fall, I hope to do some outside painting with the can of white paint I had bought last year and never used. That is a small project that I do not consider to be on the list of “one home project per year.” I consider projects on the List to be large projects for which I have to hire and pay someone else to do or that require a significant amount of savings. I may not be good at painting, but I get it done. 

This year, the cats and I are very happy to be celebrating our House-iversary 2 together. This house has stood through World War One, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War Two, and everything that has come since. We will live through the coronavirus pandemic and the Great Depression 2 as well. 

I am so grateful that the cats and I have this house to be in safe together in the pandemic. Home is where the cats are. They seem happy here. This house is our home base.

My Quarantine Life: Week 24

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Jolene, my work from home supervisor.

Decision Fatigue. I am definitely feeling it. Prior to the pandemic, I had most of my life on a schedule designed to operate on cruise control. This made me more efficient so that I could focus on what matters most. 

For example, having a minimalist wardrobe reduces decision fatigue. When you only have 4 pairs of pants to throw around the room, you are less likely to feel frustrated with what you have to wear. Admit it. We all have times when we have been getting dressed in the morning, and some article of clothing gets removed and thrown around the room because it doesn’t fit right, feel right, look right, etc. When you have a minimalist wardrobe, you minimize decision fatigue. Every item you own is a favorite, so you are more likely to be happy with the first outfit you put on for the day.

In quarantine, I am running into decision fatigue with food. Yes, I do like to be creative. However, it is now downright absolutely exhausting having to be creative with food every single day. Due to the food shortages, many of my go-to items are unavailable. I have to get creative with what I do have. 

There is no longer the option to make something up quick in 30 minutes or less. I am often spending more than an hour cooking every single day. This is because all of my food allergy friendly convenience items are unavailable. I am being forced to cook every single meal from scratch every single day.

Take breakfast, for example. My special allergy-friendly cereal is either unavailable, or the choice that is available has a limit of 2. This is made even more challenging when I have people shopping for me by just adding items onto their own list. I have to just obtain food by where people are already going and what they can get for me. It is making living with food allergies that much harder.

For breakfast, I have been making muffins since cereal and milk are unavailable. Allergy-friendly milk, by the way, has been completely unavailable since the end of February.

Making muffins every 2-3 days is hard work. Yesterday, I had to shred the carrots by hand. Yes, they are made from scratch. I have no shortcuts available. Food in quarantine is hard. I am also going through more muffins because I am eating them for snacks. I get hungry a lot, and none of my allergy-friendly snack items are available due to factory closures. Food shortages are real. 

I have been trying to figure out how to get food without relying on my informal supports. As things have reopened and people go back to their routines, they don’t tend to check on me as much in quarantine. It is really challenging to order things online. I cannot get produce or anything fresh that way – only shelf stable items.

My fear throughout this entire pandemic is that I do not want to put anyone at risk to help me. Plus, if a person or people helping me get COVID, then they will no longer be able to help me because they will need help themselves.

That fear has come true. About half of the people helping me with food are now in quarantine awaiting COVID test results.

I have been hungry all the time throughout this pandemic. I don’t remember hunger like this since I was a child. This is primarily due to the fact that I have multiple food allergies and there are severe food shortages. I’m not going to eat something just to have it kill me. That defeats the point.

Decision fatigue over lack of food options combined with the fact that I have lost close to 15 pounds during the pandemic, has created a problem. I weigh less than 100 pounds to begin with. I have to figure out how to create some sense of normalcy with food even with food shortages.

Obtaining food is my biggest challenge right now.

Thankfully, one local non-profit is delivering food to houses for free – food pantry style. I requested a delivery last week to help. The challenge is that they were not able to accommodate my multiple food allergies. I am only able to eat about half of what they give me. It was also challenging trying to open the bags without touching something I am allergic to and causing a reaction. 

Money is tight right now since food prices have escalated to 3-4x more in the pandemic. That’s if you can find food. I hear many stories of bare shelves in grocery stores.

Instacart does deliver to my area. It is expensive. Many people have recommended that I not try it due to the expense. However, at this point, I am starving and desperate. 

I was so hungry the other day and the only thing I had to eat without spending an hour plus cooking was 2 hot dogs. Something needs to change. I need food.

I did sign up for a free 2-week trial of Instacart. Yes, I am fully aware I will be charged for it after the 2 weeks. However, I did the math, and it works out to be $8 per month for the service. Seeing that I will be in quarantine for close to a year if not longer, I decided to take the risk. At this point, I am so hungry, I just want food.

I placed my first order on Instacart. I was so impressed it arrived in less than 2 hours. Not only that, but I had the best “shopper” (yes, I tipped her well). 

For the first time in 6 months (since about February), I now have cereal, milk, bacon, allergy-friendly snacks and a few other items that make me feel more normal. What’s better is that Instacart is cheaper than the local delivery service I used previously. The other delivery service had a $100 minimum and a very limited selection of items. Instacart allows me to send someone to the stores where I know they have my allergy-friendly items. They also only have a $35 minimum, which is a lot easier on my wallet right now. 

While I still feel bad asking someone else to go to the store for me … well, this is their job. I’m sorry it’s their job, but thank you. Now I don’t have to worry about half the people helping me being quarantined for COVID tests. As long as Instacart can keep enough employees … Yes, I am tipping well. They deserve hazard pay for this. 

There are still food shortages. I had strawberries on my Instacart list, and the shopper had to substitute blueberries because there were no strawberries. That’s fine. I’m not picky. I was just happy to have fruit. There was also a substitution with my ground turkey … again, no problem. This is the first time since February I have been able to get ground turkey. I can’t wait to make turkey burgers and carrot fries this week. I communicated my food allergies to the shopper so they were able to make appropriate substitutions for me when needed.

I’m not sure if this Instacart thing is a good thing or a bad thing, but when I received my Instacart delivery this week, it was the first time in a long time I felt almost normal when it came to food. Everyone has been trying to discourage me from Instacart, so I am a little skeptical. 

However, I have what I need to make several of my normal meals and do not have to get creative with what I have. I feel very rich that I actually have food right now. I even have some things in my freezer so that I can go a while between needing groceries so I am not putting Instacart people at risk. I am happy that when I tip them, I am tipping a local person who needs the money right now.  

Food and work continue to be my two biggest challenges in the pandemic. I need food and I need to be able to do my job so I can continue to get paid. I am so thankful to be employed.

I am not sure if Instacart is going to solve my food issues or even if it will be more affordable than what I have been doing. Maybe I am throwing my money away. Who knows? All I know is that I am hungry, and I can’t live with being hungry anymore. The food shortages are one of the hardest things I have lived through.

Anyone else have any positive or negative experiences with Instacart?