August’s Flavor of the Month…Zucchini

August started off with a bang for us. Last week DH was stung by a bee while he was mowing the lawn, and we had 1 Benadryl left in the cupboard (we did have some other antihistamines). It reminded me that when I do my Flylady zones for cleaning, I should be checking on first aid supplies as well. If you have kids, you can just about guarantee that the bandage box will be empty when you need one!

The school where I work decided to have classes in person this fall, which was not what I was hoping for. It won’t make a lot of sense for my husband and daughter to be “safer at home” for work and school and me to be working part-time in a place where Coronavirus will be circulating. I’m both holding out hope that school may change their plan, while also envisioning myself home full-time and trying to define what goals I would have for myself.

August, the month of zucchini bread

Cooking – zucchini bread #2, and many meals with sautéed zucchini. Looking ahead to next week, I’m interested in trying some Native American recipes that use beans, squash and corn. I was inspired by Padma Lakshmi’s new show on Hulu Taste the Nation.

Enthusiastic blooms

Gardening – this week my freebie pot of marigolds is in full bloom. The garden center was uncomfortably crowded in May, so I made use of free marigold seeds from my mother in law for some DIY patio decor.

Flylady – this week we are heading into Zone 2, the kitchen. I need to give special attention to a countertop that’s overrun with masks, Clorox wipes and other things that need a home. I will also check our supply of baking ingredients and go through some recipes in binders. If you’re new to the Flylady system of taking care of your home, you might enjoy my favorite YouTuber, Diane in Denmark.

Sharing – shared zucchini and tomatoes with my neighbor, and they gave us 1/4 of a watermelon and some rhubarb cake! We frequently share back and forth, especially produce in large sizes that we might not finish otherwise.

Budgeting – DH still updates our budget weekly, though it is a lot less complicated since we don’t go out and about much. This week we were under budget by $70.00 and put that money towards future gift expenses.

What’s growing abundantly where you are? Are you hitting back to school sales or making do with pencils and markers you have at home for virtual learning?

A Lot Going On While We Stay Home

My apricot roses

Well, it’s been quite a week! Considering we don’t do very much away from the home, the week has had plenty of surprises and drama.

Dear Daughter (DD) started us off with a headache/cough/congestion complaint. Off for COVID testing! We are fortunate to have National Guard testing in our state, but the day we went they must have had an issue because they opened 1.5 hours late and the line was so long we gave up.

Later that afternoon, we heard through the “local mom rumor mill” that another testing site had a short wait, so off we went! Just 24 hours later we were relieve she was negative. She has been tested twice in July and the kid is becoming an expert.

This week I also tried to give blood through the Red Cross… they are offering COVID antibody testing along with your blood donation. I was pretty eager to see if I had antibodies because right before school let out one of our library student helpers had a family member bring COVID back from NYC. He seemed to get a number of our student helpers pretty sick.

I had never donated blood before, and I think I got the “new guy” because everyone seemed concerned about how he was doing 😬. They had to move the needle a few times and I didn’t end up filling the bag. No donation and no antibody test, just a bruise as a memento. Sigh. If you are interested in antibody testing check the Red Cross site for local blood drives.

In happier news….

Cooking– my zucchini is ready and I made a loaf of zucchini bread which is a welcome seasonal treat.

Entertainment – DD and I are watching the new Babysitters Club series on Netflix. It’s fantastic and a nice way to spend some time together.

Buying – one of our more expensive weeks since COVID. We bought a desk and chair for DD as her school will be virtual with more use of synchronous video than last year. I’m grateful our school district made a decision early.

Reading – Two middle-grade books this week. “Wink” by Rob Harrell has risen to one of my top recommendations this year. Best for grades 5 and up. Now I’m reading “American as Paneer Pie” and am enjoying learning about Indian culture through the eyes of a young person.

Flylady – we were in the living room and front entrance zones this week. Admittedly I didn’t do much other than basic maintenance. I did undertake a kitchen pantry clean out as a result of a syrup bottle that was dripping! Good opportunity to tidy up. Next week is Zone 2, the kitchen.

Hope your week was a little smoother than mine. I’m taking a deep breath heading into the coming week as I wait for the school district where I work to make a decision about fall.

Surfing the Grocery Shortages

Cans, a victim of 2020

I’m off in the summer, but this year amidst Coronavirus restrictions I feel as busy as ever. One thing that I need to keep on top of is the flow of groceries with all three of us eating at home every day.

In the times before (as my daughter calls pre-COVID life), if you needed something it never crossed your mind that the store would be out of it! Now the oddest things are out of stock.

Paper towels – every time I order them I get a surprise substitution. My last curbside pickup substituted paper towels made from bamboo! I don’t mind these “green” substitutions because they charge me for the cheaper brand I requested.

Canned goods – Did you know there is a shortage of aluminum cans? This article’s headline just sums up 2020, “Oh Great, Now There’s an Aluminum Can Shortage, Too.” If you prefer your beer or soda in a can, you’ll want to get on this. Apparently the issue is the volume of drinks being purchased for the home instead of being served in bars and restaurants. I’m a little nervous for my evening seltzer water habit, and I am picking up extra when they are available.

I try to grab a canned fruit and soup or two each time I have a grocery order; these also can be in short supply.

Pizza – many areas have frozen pizza shortages. I know I have tried to get some Jacks’ Naturally Rising Pizzas since March to no avail. We do have a crust manufacturer in our area and they had some issues with virus spreading in their factory. I imagine having people at home means more demand for pizza. I pick them up when there is a good price.

My husband usually handles our Amazon subscribe and save order, so I have been very good about telling him when I am opening a product from our pantry so he can adjust our order as needed. COVID is fairly high in my state, and I’m not likely to go in person to the store. Since March, I went to Trader Joe’s once, otherwise I do curbside or delivery.

Personally, I try not to let news of shortages send me off buying things we aren’t going to use. There has been a shortage of dried beans, but I rarely use them. Same with yeast… it doesn’t last long, and no sense buying it now when I haven’t made bread in a few years. It’s not a good deal to stock up if you aren’t going to make use of the item in the near future.

What kind of shortages have you experienced where you are? For the longest time we could not find nacho cheese sauce. Then my daughter found a Tik Tok of a family covering their whole dining room table in tortilla chips and making the entire thing nachos. So that’s where all the sauce went!!! See the nacho table for yourself!

Appreciation – A Frugal Habit

This week I have been noticing a positive side-effect of the Coronavirus restrictions on our lives – a greater appreciation and delight in the small things in life.

This week we found new things to do for very little money, things we probably wouldn’t have considered “fun enough” in our fast-paced life before COVID came around.

Mock orange from my shrubs

My daughter and I went to a bakery this week in a rural town outside of our city which is owned by a woman who left the Amish life in her 20s. We had plenty of time to talk in car, and brought home some treats including lemon meringue pie! It was so simple, but it felt good to have a new experience (side note: not too many mask wearers in small towns…)

Tonight I am appreciating being home to be able to pick the kale from my garden and serve it sautéed with sausages for dinner. Far too often we have been guilty of planting seeds, watering, and then going on vacation only to come home to our veg gone to seed. I am delighted to have the time to tend to and enjoy our yard.

Yay, we used our kale!!

We had a great new experience for Father’s Day (early). We did struggle a bit with finding a balance between “fun enough” and “safe.” A number of plans were scrapped because they seemed too complicated with Coronavirus. We ended up having a perfect, simple day, picking up poke bowls and taking them to a magnificent park with views of Lake Michigan. I think we will enjoy variations of this throughout the summer.

Poke in
the park

Another simple joy this week was walking with my mom to her local ice cream shop. We haven’t gotten together inside yet, but this was a fun way to spend some time together.

I know we aren’t the only ones carving out joy in a simpler life. I have seen so many teens and even college students at the local playground, sitting on blankets, shooting hoops, or practicing hitting baseballs. I never even knew these kids lived in our neighborhood and I’m glad to see them outside under conditions that are deemed safe in our state.

Have you discovered or rediscovered simple pleasures as a result of lockdown?

Coming Out of Hiding?

Something pretty seen on a walk

I’m in a state with a very low number of cases of Coronavirus (at the moment, anyway). We are beginning to venture out in baby steps while the numbers seem to be in our favor. I’m even contemplating a trip to Trader Joe’s. I haven’t been in a grocery store since before March 13th!

Hair cuts – I have cut my husband’s hair twice and DD’s long hair once. This is a new endeavor for me, and thanks to YouTube, I think I’m pretty good at it! I had a professional haircut from an acquaintance who works alone with a lot of safety precautions because her daughter has special needs.

Medical – I was able to have my annual asthma checkup via FaceTime. DD and I are scheduled for dental cleanings this week. It’s a little bit nerve wracking, but at the same time, it seems unwise to wait until fall when our numbers could be higher.

Groceries- I have been ordering online through Kroger for pick up or through Amazon Fresh. It’s been so convenient for everyone in the family to add things as they think of them. I’m grateful that at the moment it is easy to get delivery spots.

Summer Fun – This is an area we haven’t mastered yet. My daughter and I are both off for the summer, but all of the usual summer pastimes are off limits. It is hard to know where to draw the line with seeing friends, but we are looking for ways for her to get together with her besties and be reasonably safe.

We will have a new adventure tomorrow visiting an Amish bakery in a town about 20 minutes away. That’s the whole plan….then come home. Again, baby steps.

Fathers Day – do you have any plans for Father’s Day this weekend? I plan to make DH some Toll House cookie bar, and we will probably get some curbside pickup from a place of his choosing. We would like to take him to a huge outdoor nursery that is about 45 min away, if we can figure out a way to have access to a bathroom along the way. Not all of our restaurants are open… even places like McDonalds do not have their dining room open yet though they are permitted to.

Homemaking – I’ve been getting back on the Flylady/Diane in Denmark method of keeping up with the house. This seems like the ideal time to restart some good habits since I am at home. Last week we were in Zone 2 (Kitchen) so I took care of cleaning the dishwasher filter, cleaning out under the kitchen sink, and wiping down the fridge. I added any kitchen supplies to my grocery list and was thrilled to see Windex is available again. I have no idea why people were buying up Windex during Coronavirus stockpiling. Maybe it’s a My Big Fat Greek Wedding thing??

Adapting to Change

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Signs of Spring in the Garden

How is everyone doing?  I’m finding it difficult to focus a blog post on any one subject, so I’ll give you a bit of an update on how we are adapting and any tips we have worked out for dealing with Stay at Home orders.

don t panic text on toilet paper

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Let’s talk TP.  We have been committed to ordering our groceries online, but our main store, owned by Kroger, won’t let us add toilet paper into a pick-up order.  I found that Kroger does SHIP many items in the mail.  We were able to have TP shipped for 4.95 shipping fee, or free shipping if you spend over a certain amount.  If your grocery is owned by a larger corporation, you might check this out.

What comes next?  I’ve been seeing a trend in my midwestern state that manufacturing anything is really difficult with Coronavirus lurking.  I asked my daughter to think about what clothes she might need for the summer and we ordered them right away.  I wonder if clothing manufacturers are going to have a hard time keeping their merchandise in stock with international factories closing, opening, and potentially closing again.  As for me, I just need to make sure I can still fit in the clothes I already have!

Speaking of supply issues . . . Apple seems to be having exactly the issues I described above.  I have been contemplating an Apple Watch for the last few months, and it’s about a 5 week wait to get one shipped.  DH found Best Buy had certain colors on sale for 100.00 off so guess who is wearing their Mother’s Day present already!  My Dad was always shopping for a new watch when I was a kid, so I feel this purchased is “Dad approved.”

Simple Things – We are enjoying our days together with work and school from home peppered with plenty of walks, planting cold-hearty seeds like kale, watching Project Runway and Top Chef All Stars, and occasionally getting meals delivered.  Restaurants we never even bothered with in our spoiled pre-Coronavirus past, like Jimmy Johns (sandwich place), now are bordering on magical when we get them delivered.

What simple things have you discovered? Any tips for procuring short-supply items?

 

How Teacher Training Prepared me for Coronavirus

The past 8 weeks have altered many of our routines around our home and finances.  I don’t have a crystal ball, but I want to share how training at the school I work at prepared me for the Coronavirus crisis.

Every school in the US has some sort of training for active shooter incidents.  After many years of these training classes I have learned that the normalcy bias can be the difference between surviving a crisis and not making it.  The normalcy bias is the brain’s tendency to want to normalize events that might point a problem.  We don’t want to seem foolish by over-reacting, so we do nothing and assume things are OK until somebody else tells us there is a problem.  If school employees hear altercations, popping noises, or screaming, we are trained to begin taking action.

I used this training to ease our household into preparing for the spread of Coronavirus.

  • At the end of January I asked my husband if we should make a reservation for a regional vacation instead of flying somewhere.  I asked around to friends to see if they had any recommendations (now even this seems unlikely).  We opted to stop talking about international vacations for this year.
  • As the virus spread to Italy, I began thinking of our food and household needs.  We have a small home and don’t typically stockpile much of anything.  I try to be dairy free so I sourced some shelf-stable soy milk and made sure we were ahead of the curve with toilet paper.  I bought a little extra each week at the grocery store.
  • When the virus hit Kirkland, Washington, I was in full-on prep mode.  We celebrated my daughter’s birthday with her friend at Shake Shack, thinking it might be our last opportunity to dine out (correct on that one).  We bought flour, sugar, toilet paper, electrolyte drinks, fever reducer, and confirmed that the thermometer still worked. Should have bought some yeast!  I bought disinfecting wipes and latex gloves and wondered if I had gone too far.
  • When the virus began to show up in New York and on cruise ships, we started to reduce our outings outside of school and work.  Sniff Sniff, that included Starbucks. We got haircuts and a brow wax and I squeezed in a cavity filling at the dentist.  By that point I was a little creeped out being at the dentist.  We also stopped selling Girl Scout cookies at booths even though our council still allowed it, and I am glad we did.

I definitely encountered other people’s normalcy bias as the virus unfolded across the country.  Our school was planning an all school event that involved playing games.  I inquired as to whether that would be safe having everyone touch the same objects for the games.  The response was, “The health department hasn’t advised us not to.” Normalcy bias.  (By the time the event would have happened we were closed, I rest my case.) My extended family also implied I was excessively concerned about these problems occurring elsewhere.

There’s definitely a delicate balance between over-prepared and under-prepared.  My husband and I seem to be on the same wavelength and we have appreciated the preparations we have each contributed (I ordered a hair clippers early on, he has made sure we have hand soap and vitamins).  I continue to think about how Coronavirus might affect us moving forward, especially as to how it might affect my job in the school setting come fall.

How have you adapted to the pandemic?  Are you an early preparer, or did the closures take you by surprise?

 

 

 

 

 

We Recouped $80 in 3 Minutes

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From the children’s book “Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Ben Franklin”

One of the benefits to budgeting even after you are debt-free is that it forces you to pay attention to the expenses you incur.  If you get too relaxed, the little things will definitely add up and bite you.

I recently had an annual eye exam.  We have no vision insurance, though the eye doctor likes to submit the claim to our health insurance in case there is something medical they will pick up (such as eye disease).  Usually my bill just gets kicked right back because my eyes are healthy.

DH saw the claim pass through and noticed the high cost ($ 225 plus refraction) right away.  We both recalled having an issue with their billing process in the past.  We decided to wait until the eye doctor billed us, but you better believe we were fully ready to engage in battle!

The bill arrived yesterday and I had it open before I even got to the front door.  They had billed us their “insurance” price because they had submitted the bill to medical insurance and it was denied.  I called right away and politely said that I didn’t think that was the right price for “self-pay”.  The billing clerk said she could take 30% off for self-pay, and in a minute I had recovered 80.00.

I wondered how many people get the bill and just pay it?  Anytime you have any sort of medical or dental claim denied, it is absolutely worth it to inquire if you can have the “self-pay” price.  

Have you ever asked for the self-pay price?

 

Saving… In the Pink

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Happy Valentine’s Week! Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays because I love flowers and beautiful pink and red decorations during the otherwise drab winter.

We are having a quiet weekend because DD is down with a head cold.  Sometimes it’s nice to just stay around home and appreciate what we have here instead of going in search of more.

Earning

DH received an email about a class action lawsuit against Yahoo for a data breach.  You may be eligible if you had a Yahoo account between 2012 – 2016.  We already have credit monitoring services in place (from another data breach, naturally), so we have applied to receive a cash payout (up to 100.00).  You may have received an email, but if not read more here.  Props to DH, who is a master at both rebates and responding to class action lawsuits.

Saving

I used my time at home this weekend to make cut-out heart cookies to give as Valentine’s gifts.  I was able to use some of the butter given to me by the person I am house-sitting for.

Went grocery shopping with DH on Saturday and we used up a Jimmy John’s gift card to bring home a quick lunch.  I don’t like to lose track of gift cards, but this one I have had for a while.

We came in under budget last week, and were able to put that money back into our savings, vacation, and home repair budget lines.

Watching

I am watching Playing With Fire on Amazon Prime (using my free video credits from selecting delayed delivery on packages).  I’m enjoying this documentary about the Financial Independence-Retire Early movement and one family’s attempt to get on the path to FIRE. Have you seen it? Thoughts?

It’s very snowy here tonight, so we will raid the freezer for a simple meal. Tonight I will firm up a meal plan for the week ahead and make a grocery list. This gets my week off to a good start even if we have to make changes along the way.

 

 

Heart Health Freebie

While reading my grocery store flyer for the week I noticed that Kroger-owned stores are offering a free promotion for February’s Heart Health month. You can schedule a free cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI, and blood pressure screening at your local store. Go online to see if there is a location near you! I scheduled my 15 minute appointment on Valentine’s Day, which I am following up with a trip to the dentist — LOL.