Category: Uncategorized-A Bit of This-A Dab of That

Significant Milestones

Spring Arrival

So far April has spotlighted a variety of significant milestones. Both sad and happy. Definitely a rollercoaster of emotions to open one of my favorite months of the year. Spring is a time of rebirth in nature as well as in the religion I adhere to.

Easter 2021 Brings Significant Milestones

This Easter was a bit more social than last. We celebrated with one of our offspring and my mother-in-law. So double the number from Easter 2020. Much of the family is reluctant to travel at this time.

But the four of us enjoyed the fellowship and the good food. We missed seeing the little ones. Easter egg hunts last for hours at a normal gathering with various kids taking their turn to hide the eggs. Hopefully, next year will be a return to normality.

The Easter season brings memories of those who have left this earthly world. I am still absorbing the loss of my Mom. Two significant milestones relating to her fell just after Easter. Her first birthday after her passing. This was difficult. Additionally, it would have been my parents’ sixtieth anniversary. So, sadness and a few tears marked the week.

Significant Milestones

Several significant milestones were joyful. Most centered on our oldest grandchild. The little one has embraced her newborn sister. Furthermore, she is grasping the difference between a newborn and herself. Just shy of two, she has decided to use her little potty. I am sure this will be beneficial for her parents as well.

The little miss is also increasing her vocabulary by leaps and bounds. She can tell you her own name. Plus she pleased her grandparents immensely by learning Grandpa and Grandma-in that order. It is amazing the joy a youngster can bring in life.

We are also pleased that after a few sputters, the U.S. is rolling out the vaccines. While we are not all clear yet, there is hope we can put this stubborn pandemic behind us. Historically, we should be near the end of the virus lifespan. But, many outbreaks remain from Covid-19. I hope those of you who wish to be vaccinated are able to.

Looking Forward

The last few weeks have been marked by both writer’s and reader’s block. I may need to put aside the lengthy book I am reading in favor of a shorter, lighter piece. Just writing this post has helped with respect to the writing. Spring marks a renewal of life and faith: A season I am so grateful for.

St. Patrick’s Day and other Mid-March Musings

St. Patrick’s Day anchors this jam packed middle week in March. March 14 or 3/14 or 3.14 is Pi(E) day. Many colleges have fundraisers celebrating this day. Before giving up sugar during Lent, I loved eating pie on Pi Day. Of course, the Ides of March immediately follows Pi day. So, two days in a row of significance. Then, both are easily surpassed 48 hours later by St. Patrick’s Day.

Perhaps the first two days only appeal to math geeks and historians. Or, maybe St. Patrick’s Day looms large because so many remember elementary school days of being pinched if you didn’t wear green. But the middle of March brings about other practices as well.

Mid-March in the Garden

Even though the last spring frost is over a month away, gardening is in high gear. Potatoes are traditionally planted on or before St. Patrick’s Day in my part of the world. Seedlings are started and happy under the grow lights. And two new fruit trees have been planted along with a raspberry bush.

Firsts for me include starting peppers. One type of sweet pepper was purchased, the other saved from a delicious giant yellow pepper bought last fall at the grocery store. So far only the seeds I saved have germinated. I am anxious to see if they stay true to type.

Another first is using grow lights. My Christmas present this year was a double stand of lights. This has made my life so much easier than the old days of juggling starts around a south window or atop stacked boxes on the kitchen island. I am very pleased so far.

Indoor Starts

Double grow lights with seedlings

St. Patrick’s Day Blood Draw and other Mid-March Medical Events

The hospital in our little town is proactive. For many years Health Fairs have been offered each spring. This year my turn fell on St. Patrick’s Day. Truthfully, Covid-19 has scaled back on the event. Today was a simple blood draw. I look forward to the future when a full schedule of screenings can once again take place. Although, I don’t miss the height measurement—I seem to be shrinking.

However, this week will be a bellwether one for me. I am finally eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. There are two available in our town; the Janssen (J&J) and the Moderna. I researched both quite extensively. The former is old-school medicine. The latter new technology. I am not an early adopter. However, after much research and consulting with my physician, I am slated to receive the Moderna on Friday.

I am apprehensive. New things scare me. But, I know first-hand the dangers of the virus. For anyone looking for a good source of honest information I recommend this post from the University of Michigan: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/not-sure-about-covid-19-vaccine-get-facts-then-decide

Daylight Savings Time

The final sign of the spring season is the switch to Daylight Savings Time. I have written about this often. My body struggles with the change, much like a toddler without a concept of time. I am off kilter. I like to wake to the sun, and I like many hours of darkness before bedtime. But I am sure the adjustment will be made just like all previous years.

Spring brings many changes. Weather and hobbies as well as eating and sleeping habits are in a state of flux. Personally, embracing new technology within months instead of years is a change. I will keep you all posted on my vaccine experience.

World With Women

A world with women is a better place. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. It was also Rose Day for Zonta International, a wonderful world-wide organization advocating for females across the globe. The local group I belong to spends hours, many hours, preparing for the day.

Rose Day 2021 Celebrates a World With Woman

To be honest, there was a bit of debate on whether delivering roses during a pandemic was feasible. But the owner of the flower shop (a Zontian) had remained open during the shut-down. So, contactless delivery was doable if a Covid-19 outbreak was bad on March 8th. Fortunately, things were good. Positivity is way down. Many days of zero new cases lately in this corner of the world.

The rural county I live in has a population of 12,000 spread out over 1600 square miles. So, less than ten people per square mile. A handful of small towns are sprinkles across the county. Only the county seat has a need for stoplights. Thus, the club selling 1825 roses is remarkable. The money earned by the sales goes toward multiple scholarships. Some are for our high school graduates. Other scholarships are earmarked for older women either returning to school or continuing their education above the associate level.

Rose Distribution

Over the years, I have delivered roses to various parts of the county. When I was still an instructor at the community college, I would grab the bucket of roses ordered for my co-workers. In more recent years, my routes would include the various businesses downtown, or the long route to the other communities in the county.

But this year, I was the driver for a rural route through the heart of the farmland. The experience was an eye-opener. There are times when I think the American media misses the picture. At least the view of “flyover” country. And sometimes, I forget the wonders as well.

The year of isolation was not one of idleness. The farmsteads showed signs of recent improvements. New facades, fresh paint and preps for spring planting. Workers working everywhere. And the women front and center.

Women Wrapping Yellow Roses
Yellow Roses

A Better World With Women

Life on the High Plains is harsh. The weather is a significant part of that. The climate encompasses many extremes. Hurricane strength winds create dust storms and fuel fires. Blizzards are a hazard to humans and livestock. Drought has broken the back of many a farm family.

Through it all, women have played an integral part. This part of the globe is truly a world with women. The harshness of the land has been an equalizer.

Wyoming was the first to allow females to vote. Women began voting in 1870, half a century before the passage of the 19th Amendment. And twenty years before achieving statehood.

Even though Kansas failed to pass national voting rights for women on the first attempt in 1867, limited voting rights were granted. Thus the town of Syracuse, Kansas, elected the first all-female city council in 1887. If you pass through this town of 1800, a sign (much like the ones posted for famous athletes) celebrates this milestone. Truly a world with women moment.

Final Thoughts

My celebration of International Women’s Day was positive. Honoring women working in a wide variety of jobs as well as those who have forged lives after careers have ended is uplifting. Not all productivity is measured by GDP. But my experience yesterday yielded many examples of women leading fruitful lives. I am proud my Zonta club recognizes these women and their contributions to our corner of the world.

Cleaning Sucks Book Review

Rachel Hoffman delivers in her self-help book Cleaning Sucks.  This is a follow up to a previous guide which I probably missed due to the title, Unf*ck Your Habitat. Sometimes my late Baby Boomer attitude clashes with the younger generation. I am glad Hoffman toned down the colorful language for this most recent foray. Her advice is fantastic. As in don’t miss.

Psychological Roadblocks

A key difference in Cleaning Sucks is the author’s attention to mental health and wellness. Certain events in life lend themselves to periods of malaise. Hoffman addresses this factor. She also discusses the challenges faced by those with handicaps.

Furthermore, her approach to tackling housekeeping in small bites creates success. The outcome is immediate. As someone who would much rather spend time in the garden than indoors, I love this approach. No toiling all day long at drudgery.

Cleaning Sucks is a workbook. The author intends the reader to interact with the philosophy. The “homework” is not difficult. The tips and tasks are an important component. Best of all, there is a large amount of flexibility. So, even on busy days, Hoffman’s methods can contribute to both a cleaner home and greater mental wellness.

For households with multiple residents, Hoffman’s section on Sharing Space is outstanding. In this time of two incomes, the burden of keeping the home functioning should not fall entirely on one person. The author tackles this hot topic with psychological advice and multiple interactive guides.

Cleaning Sucks Techniques

Various small task goals are featured in Cleaning Sucks. A favorite is Sink Zero. Dirty dishes are never ending whether you are a household of six or just one. Hoffman’s advice on this topic is epic. She has you record the time you hit Sink Zero daily. This term applies to the point where all dishes are cleaned and put away-or at least stashed in a dishwasher.

Another worksheet involves the concept Do Something Every Day. This is very appealing to those with active lifestyles. She ends the recording page with the wisdom: You don’t have to do much; you just have to do something.

Noteable Quotables

Words of the wise are sprinkled throughout Cleaning Sucks. Hoffman shares quotes from some of my favorites. Ann Richards, famous for her quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything as well as Fred Astaire but “backwards and in high heels” lends the following:

I did not want my tombstone to read “She kept a really clean house.”

 

Perhaps even more fitting is Erma Bombeck:

My second-favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

 

Both quotes are reflective of my sentiments. However, I have been using Hoffman’s guide for over a week now and I am surprised by the ease and by the results. One could truly handle guests popping in following this wonderful book.

I highly recommend Cleaning Sucks. And I am not waiting until Christmas to buy copies for gifts. One caveat, I think Millennials and Gen Xers will appreciate the author more than older generations who will find the language too colorful.

 

Book Cover of Rachel Hoffman's Cleaning Sucks

Arctic Freeze, Ash Wednesday and Preparedness

Arctic Freeze

An arctic freeze has swept over the plains area of North America reaching all the way into the northernmost states of Mexico. Here on the High Plains of the United States, we recorded extreme cold temperatures. One overnight temperature registered a negative (-) 28 degrees Fahrenheit. For my Celsius readers not wanting to do the mental calculation, that is -33 C.

Prior to this week, the lowest temperature I ever experienced was a -22 one frigid January night when visiting Alamosa, Colorado. We were warm and toasty in our hotel. Unfortunately, the electrical system on the vehicle exposed to the temperature took a hit. Just one of many things to consider when travelling.

Preparing for Arctic Freeze

Thanks to modern forecasting, we knew a cold swath of air was headed our way. So even though the temperature dropped more than predicted, a plan of action was in place. Certain steps were taken.

First, a trip to the grocery store 48 hours in advance to top off the pantry. It is interesting to note that few were in the store-maybe due to the snow flurries and gray skies. Temperatures registering just above freezing.

Most of us were in our golden years. And we all had full baskets with lots of staples. I can only imagine later crowds.

The second step to prepare was a joint activity the following day. My husband and I wrapped the outside faucets and covered the vents to the crawl space. We were worried about high winds which never materialized, so sturdy covers enveloped the wrapped faucets.

The biggest anxiety centered on the water pipes coming through the crawl space. Once they reached the basement area we were less concerned. The extra precautions were worthwhile. The temperature in the space never dropped below 50 degrees F.

Last night the low hit -6 F. Hopefully the last negative temperatures until next fall. So far the preparations have helped.

Ash Wednesday

The beginning of Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday is the start of forty days of self-denial in many Christian religions. These days symbolize the time Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his time of ministry. Biblical readers will remember he fasted during this time of temptation.

In the West, the fasting and self-denial of Lent is no longer closely adhered too. Recent years have even focused on doing positive or good deeds during this time. While this change is appealing, I tend to fail at meeting the daily good deed. However, I am able to complete forty days of self-denial.

So, once again I will test my self-control. In light of the long hard winter of loss, I plan to up my game. In addition to giving up sweets and sugar laden goods, I will also give up my dinner wine. In fact, a no alcohol period wouldn’t hurt. The Case Against Sugar factored heavily into the first Lent without sweets. The ensuing weight loss and good blood sugar levels inspires a repeat effort.

Self-discipline factors greatly into a period of self-denial.

Preparedness

A spiritual preparedness is as important as physical readiness. My biggest failure as a Christian will remain. Unlike my missionary ancestors, I do not believe all have to worship the same way. Yet, I choose to believe in the Holy Trinity. My faith is strong.

Furthermore, I continue to oppose those who believe there is only one right way to believe. This includes those extremists whether they are far right or far left. Maybe I am wrong in not spreading the Gospel. If so, there will be a day of reckoning.

Until then, I will continue along my path of mutual tolerance with regards to spiritual beliefs.

Inflation Check Challenge

The inflation check challenge is a direct response to the higher gas prices on the return trip from Florida. In just ten days, there was a notable increase at the pumps. This prompted me to pay closer attention on a trip to the grocery store where things also seemed a wee bit pricier. So, I decided to issue the inflation check challenge to my readers.

How the Inflation Check Challenge Works

The first step in the inflation check challenge is to create a basket of goods to keep track of price. Items should be products (or services) that are purchased on a year-round basis. Thus, seasonal goods such as Valentine Candy or Easter Baskets are eliminated. The ideal basket will include ten to twenty consumable items. Food, gas, and medicinal items make the bulk of the basket. A key is to make the list reflect your regular spending habits.

Next, either buy or price these goods before the end of the month. This will create the base price. However, price is not the only indication of inflation. In some cases, suppliers are holding the price steady but decreasing the amount provided. For example, I have included a can of cream style corn. The can looks to be the same size but now there are only 14.75 ounces. But in the past the container held 16 ounces. So , it is important to record both price and quantity. Finally, you may want to note the merchant providing the good or service.

Then save your list to an Xcel sheet or if writing out long-hand, place somewhere safe so it won’t get tossed. AND a place easily remembered! Because at the end of April, July, and October we re-visit the Inflation Check Challenge. Of course, those so inclined can record monthly changes as well.

2021 Inflation Monitoring

2021 will provide mixed signals about inflation. But, year over year comparisons will be especially troublesome due to the Covid-19 shut downs in 2020. Even though the United States did not have a complete lockdown similar to the Wuhan Province in the People’s Republic of China, productivity plummeted in March through June of 2020. So did spending. Perhaps a comparison to that same time period in 2019 would provide more insight.

Other concerns regarding inflation come from pent-up demand. This will be an uneven demand as some states are more open for business than others. However, even individuals in the “open” states have had travel curbed. So, late in 2021 I think we will see more than just a return to normal. However, I do not know how long excess spending will continue. If at all.

Families have not only pushed back memorial services, but many young couples have delayed their nuptials. Furthermore, our mobile society has been hampered by the uneven ability to travel to locales such as Hawaii or New Mexico. I think we will have a major boom next fall. So, how long will this return to consumption last?

In economics, a low level of inflation is preferable to disinflation or worse, deflation. But stagflation such as experienced by America in the 1970’s and hyperinflation, which both Venezuela and the South Sudan have been battling are two concerns. Thus a need for monitoring inflation on an individual as well as a national basis.

Inflation Check Challenge List

I have fifteen items on my list including one fast food treat. If I snagged a sale price, I also list the regular price. Your list will be different than mine. The list should be a reflection of normal purchases that are quickly consumed. Therefore, don't include durable goods such as a new car or dishwasher.

Item

Planet Oat Extra Creamy Original Oat Milk

Small Bag Signature Select Sugar

Signature Select Cream Style Corn

Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast

Bananas

Kraft Real Mayo

Meow Mix

Morton Salt

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste

Align Probiotics

Tide Botanical Rain Detergent

Kerr Regular Mouth Canning Lids

3M Ad. Allergy Furnace Filter

Dunkin Donut-Boston Cream

Regular Unleaded Gas

Amount

52 Oz.

4 Lbs.

14.75 Oz.

4 Oz.

1 Lb.

30 Oz.

6.3 Lbs.

26 Oz.

4.6 Oz.

28 Caps.

92 Oz.

12

1

Single

1 Gal.

Purchase Price

$ 3.49

 2.99

 0.69

 6.99

 0.59

 3.79

 7.78

 0.94

 4.99

26.58

11.97

 3.18

15.88

 0.99

$ 2.36

Regular Price

$ 3.99

 

 

 

 

  4.99

 

  1.19

  5.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inflation Check Challenge-Share your Basket

For those that participated in a previous Econogal Challenge, I hope you will take this on as well. This is the basket of goods I will keep track of during 2021. The future is impossible to predict. But we can record the present. What is in your basket?

Life after the Loss of a Loved One

Death comes to all, but those left behind still struggle with life after the loss of a loved one. Individuals grieve in various ways. Some fall apart at once. Others are more stoic. Some need time and space to mourn alone while others can only function if surrounded with family and friends.

Grief

Grief itself can sneak up on a person. One can be operating on all cylinders and then suddenly all gears stop and one roams aimlessly around not completing even the simplest of tasks. The emotion can appear suddenly in physical form. Personally, I experience a tightness in my chest. And sometimes tears swim in eyes that were clear moments before. Others have headaches or lose their appetite.

Sudden loss is devastating. But grief is great even when hospice has been called in. Life after the loss of a loved one is never the same. Pictures help. Videos preserve voices as well. But the interaction cannot be replaced. No smiles when you walk into a room. No more hand-holding. There is a finality in the loss of a loved one.

Life after the Loss of a Loved One

Numbness best describes the first few days. Perhaps this allows the body to absorb the shock. Life is complex and intertwined. Death means a thread has been cut. And somehow those still living need to incorporate the end of that thread into the remainder of the fabric that reflects their own life. This can be difficult.

My memories are positive ones. Even though the pandemic kept me away these last months, I cherish the time prior. The dementia experienced by my mom never kept her from knowing me. The bond between mother and child is strong. The love continues after the loss.

Circle of Life

Each of my children have their “own” first name and then a family name in the middle. This tradition continues. My next grandchild will share my Mom’s middle name. She is due anytime now. Mom would be so delighted. And in this time of grief, life continues with hope for a bright future.

Rest in peace Mom.

 

 

 

New Year 2021

It is quite possible New Year’s Eve 2020 was one of the most anticipated eves in history as many were eager to start a new year in 2021. Econogal was no exception, until age crept in. As one gets older, limberness dissipates. To make a long story short, I managed to torque my knee just in time for the New Year. I am waiting for an MRI to confirm a suspected tear to my meniscus. Unfortunately, events went downhill from there.

Dementia and Coping with Covid-19

I have written many times of my Mom’s dementia. She has been in a nursing home for the last several years. Either my Dad or I would visit daily to make sure she would eat. Even though a nursing home is not the ideal situation, both my parents made the adjustment.

But then the pandemic struck. Last spring in the middle of a visit Dad was asked to leave. The nursing home was shutting down to all visitors. He had no idea it would be months before he could see my Mom again. Life for all of us permanently changed in 2020.

By the time monitored outside visits resumed in the fall, Mom had lost fifteen percent of her weight. I am sure she picked at her food, forgetting the basic concept of eating to live. She did recognize Dad. And she hated the wearing of the masks.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 made a sweeping appearance in the nursing home in early December. It was hard not to cry when Dad called to say she had tested positive. Then on Christmas Day she left the Covid-19 isolation wing. I was Zooming with family in Florida while they were on Facetime with my Mom. She couldn’t understand it all but she looked good. No physical signs of trauma from the virus.

Hidden Damage

The joy was short lived. Now she can’t swallow whole foods. Everything is pureed. More weight has been lost. She does not seem to have the will to live. Officially, she is receiving hospice care and so my Dad is allowed to visit indoors for a short amount of time. Words fail me.

A New Year

2021 is officially here and not off to a good start either personally or nationally. The New Year looks to be yet another rollercoaster ride with highs and lows. Perhaps the inauguration will begin to heal the nation. It will be hard to forget the events of January 6th. I am glad our system prevailed but saddened about the large gulf in our populace.

The United States of America has a unique history.  Divisiveness has existed throughout. With the exception of The Civil War, the inhabitants of this nation were able to reach compromise if not consensus. My hope is the ability to negotiate between factions and viewpoints will remain. Diversity is good, yet unity is also an essential for the continuation of this great nation I call home.

Econogal in New Year 2021

The New Year is certainly off to a shaky start. There may be gaps in the posting. But it will be important to grieve. I know there will be loss. And new life and new family. My goal for 2021 is to embrace life, and all it offers. I send wishes of peace to all.

 

December 2020 Wrap-Up

Today is the last of December 2020 and the end of a very long year. 2020 was unique and not necessarily in a good way. Yet the year will be long remembered, and that is historically positive. Therefore, this wrap-up will extend beyond a monthly account and provide glimpses of what the entire year felt like here on the High Plains.

Change can be difficult. Self-discipline even more difficult and 2020 required both. Our household is inching closer and closer to the Over-The-Hill category. One of us has multiple “co-morbidities” and we both have thyroid issues. A year ago I would have said we both had another fifteen to twenty years on our lifespan. Now, who knows? So we are and will continue to be cautious with respect to Covid-19.

December 2020

Our month started out with the dreaded news that multiple family members had contracted the virus. Not all at the same time. The earliest was an octogenarian uncle who contracted the disease just prior to Thanksgiving. He died in early December. He had many co-morbidities. So his death was not unexpected. We were able to watch the graveside service via a livestream video. It was hard not being there in person.

Norman was a special man. A farmer by trade, he could have easily been a minister. His Thanksgiving 2001 grace still registers with my offspring. The prayer was both spiritual and patriotic. Perfect for those trying times. I will never forget the support he gave me in the early 90s after one of our little ones was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. The sporadic phone calls always seemed to occur when I most needed them. Rest in peace Uncle Norman.

A Low Key Christmas

A few days later, my spouse brought home a Norfolk Pine from the grocery store and we decided to use it as a Christmas tree. The live plant stands about three feet high and we placed lights upon the branches and packages underneath. Low key, yet the cheery tree greeted us each time we opened the front door.

Lights were hung on the front porch and the Christmas dishes were used throughout the month. Determined to keep with the spirit of the season, I made multiple batches of cookies to distribute to neighbors and family. We enjoyed our fair share as well.

I brined a turkey for the first time, and I will never roast one again without brining first. First of all, I really did not know what I was doing. However, I tossed some fresh garden herbs into the boiling salted water along with turmeric. The result was fantastic. I added little in the way of spices for the leftover dish Turkey Tetrazzini, yet it was one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever made. Brining the turkey is a new requirement in this household.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Cship
Chocolate chocolate chip cookies
Pecan Pie Bars
Chocolate Fudge shortcake Pan cookies
Tumeric flavored brine

Celestial Delights for December 2020

Perhaps due to the brilliant clear skies we have in this part of the world, we are avid stargazers. December 2020 brought us several opportunities to embrace the cold nights by gazing at the above sky. The Geminid meteor shower is one of my favorites. One evening we spotted ten meteors in about thirty minutes.

But the highlight of the month was the appearance of the “Christmas Star.” The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is one I will remember. I place it with the Total Eclipse of 2017 as a treasured event. Truly, some things only occur once in a lifetime.

Other December 2020 Highlights

I continue to post my top list of books for the year. Click here for the 2020 list. My reading has fallen off a bit the last few weeks, but I am currently reading a Christmas gift, American Nations by Colin Woodard. Look for the review in January of 2021.

I also began another garden experiment. The remainder of my sweet potato crop was too small to cook. The root vegetables were less than an inch across and only numbered three. So two were tossed in the compost and the third was placed in a glass jar to hopefully spout. All through December 2020 I changed the water and watched roots slowly form. I was delighted to find sprouting stems and leaves on the 29th. I hope to grow slips from this plant as ordered slips often arrive in poor condition and weeks after the earliest planting time.

My quilting by hand continues. Christmas movies are great to have on while the tiny stitches are made. Many a cold December afternoon was spent in this way. However, I will need to begin cutting and piecing another baby quilt in January. My second grandchild is due late February.

Sweet Potato start in glass jar just beginning to sprout
Two quilts in hops for hand quilting

The Year of the Pandemic

It will be interesting to see how 2020 is treated by historians. While some countries have kept the numbers low, others have not. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and many countries are seen as having failed. My country is included among the failures. However as I wrote in my Successes and Failures post last January, we just need to keep trying. The Spanish Flu (which you can read a review of a good account by clicking here) came to an end and so will Covid-19.

My 2020 resolutions flew out the door rather quickly. In fact I had to look them up for this account. However, I was quite pleased that I managed to keep the third without trying. If there was ever a year for negativity, 2020 comes to mind. For the most part I stayed positive. A pandemic is something beyond my control. No need to be glum when something is out of your hands.

Gardening in 2020

Two items shine when I reflect on 2020. The first is my garden. I continue to advocate for the Raised Row technique first discussed in this March 2018 book review. The yields are great and the weeds are sparse. We are still enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor each time we open a jar of home produce.

Furthermore, I really enjoy the multiple experiments. I wrote numerous times about last spring’s peanut experiment which yielded a fair amount. I will use some of this year’s harvest to start next year’s plants. The legumes are great for the soil in addition to our eating enjoyment. As mentioned above, I am excited about my new sweet potato experiment. 2021 looks to be another good year in the garden.

Econogal 2020

Perhaps my greatest success has been my writing. Econogal readership is expanding, although not exponentially as viruses do. My favorite posts include Striking a Balance in May, Vail Valley Escape in July, Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline in November, Rainy Day Fund and Brave New World.

November was a key month with the number of hits on the blog almost tripling that of October. Perhaps people were just bored or stuck at home. However, I do appreciate the comments and the new followers. The community of bloggers is a solid one of support.

Superstitions

For the most part I am not a superstitious person. A key exception revolves around sports. Horse racing in particular evokes various superstitions. But I am a bit superstitious this New Year’s Eve. Last year I was full of expectations of 2020. This year I have absolutely NONE regarding 2021.

Furthermore, as you can see in the picture below, my planner for 2021 is not the artsy one of 2020 (that I had been so thrilled to find and purchase) but one much closer to the earlier years. I use planners extensively to keep track of my writing, the garden activities, and the weather. We have so little moisture on the High Plains, rain and snow measurements are key. Hopefully, a return to a plain, unexceptional planner will yield a less intense 2021. Happy New Year Everyone!

Planning calendars

Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and The Christmas Star

As yet another helicopter flies over head to transfer a Covid-19 patient out of my small town to a bigger city on the Front Range I am thinking of Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and the Christmas Star. The first two are actual matter albeit in the form of gasses. But the latter two have an internal existence. Each individual differs in their faith as well as in their acceptance of the existence in the Christmas Star.

Saturn and Jupiter

In a chart of our solar system, Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and Saturn the sixth. If measuring the distance from the Earth, Saturn is twice as far away as Jupiter. The distance between Jupiter and Saturn is 456 million miles. According to earthsky.org, this is the first visible Great Conjunction since the 1200s. The Great Conjunction of the 1600s occurred during the day and thus could not be seen.

The Great Plains of the United States of America is a vast amount of land with few people. Thus the open sky has little light pollution. Perfect for stargazing, and watching the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. So, many evenings start with a check of how close Saturn and Jupiter are, followed a few hours later (on certain dates) of gazing skyward for meteors. November and December bring wonderful opportunities to see shooting stars.

Tonight, Saturn and Jupiter will be at their closest in hundreds of years. My understanding is this Great Conjunction will be so bright even residents of large cities will see the planetary alignment. But, a word to the wise, make sure to take a look just after sunset. Just a few hours later the planets move out of sight and you will need to look again tomorrow night. At that point the two will start moving apart.

Photo of The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter taken December 18, 2020

Planets moving closer.

Faith and The Christmas Star

Since this year’s Great Conjunction occurs December 21st, many on social media as well as the main stream media have anointed the occurrence the Christmas Star. Through the years, people have searched for a scientific explanation for the original Christmas Star that guided the Three Wise Men to the East.

Theories abound including those of a super nova visible for a great length of time. A similar Great Conjunction is also a possibility. It is not surprising that people seek a concrete answer. But, I think the Christmas Star heralding the arrival of Baby Jesus can be taken on faith.

Proof versus Faith

The word proof makes me think of math. Untold hours were spent during my educational years working on proofs, mostly in geometry but also in calculus. In my mind, proofs were step-by-step calculations explaining the basics of math theory.

But I do not need proof to have faith. The concept of faith is the antithesis of proof. No calculations are needed. Faith is a belief. It may be a belief in a person or a theology or even an institution. The amount of faith each individual possesses varies.

Personally, I have a lot of faith. I believe good will overcome evil. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to novels featuring a struggle between good guys and bad guys.

Sayings such as “Things will work out for the best” and “It wasn’t meant to be” appeal to me. Faith allows me to accept outcomes contrary to my desires in the short term. Faith gives me the courage to make any changes I can in the long term. An occurrence such as death can never be changed and faith in my God’s will offers consolation.

Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and The Christmas Star

Tonight I will gaze at the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Individuals calling the bright light in the southwestern sky the Christmas Star will have no argument from me. It seems apropos in this madcap year of 2020 that a celestial body appear to remind us to have faith. We need faith in science, faith in our respective governments and faith in each other. Faith and the Christmas Star usher in 2021 and hope for a better year.

Elasticity of Demand and Supply in Regards to Covid-19

Elasticity of demand and supply can be difficult to understand. Perhaps it is the math. The formula for elasticity combines percentage changes as well as division. Furthermore, changes in both demand and price can differ by area. The approach to supply elasticity is similar to demand with the added piece of time. Both play a role in the shortages seen during the pandemic.

Elasticity of Demand

Remember when the news showed empty aisles of toilet paper? Or maybe you saw that first hand. Elasticity played a small part in this phenomena-the rest was irrational thought or fear. Toilet paper is an example of a good that is inelastic. There are few substitutes for toilet paper. Neither paper towels nor Kleenex are very good to use instead. American bathrooms are lacking bidets.

In normal markets, price acts as a stabilizer. But inelastic goods are impervious to price. Inelastic goods have few if any substitutes. Treatment of Covid-19 is complicated by government regulations. Prescription drugs are heavily regulated. A drug authorized to treat one disease or condition is not supposed to be used for the treatment of another without authorization. Since Covid-19 is new, no drugs were authorized early on. As time passes EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) of new or existing drugs occurs.

Treatment Options Impact Elasticity

Debate continues in the medical community about authorization of existing prescribed drugs to treat Covid-19. Remdesivir has EAU to treat Covid-19. This is one of the drugs given to President Trump. The drug is relatively new. Scientists developed Remdesivir to battle Ebola. The cost of the drug runs in the thousands of dollars.

Alternatives to Remdesivir include Ivermectin, a very cheap drug in comparison. Single doses of Ivermectin are less than ten dollars. This option has not received an EAU.  In recent weeks, medical authorities have testified in front of Congress on behalf of Ivermectin. If approved, a cheap substitute would impact the elasticity of Remdesivir.

In the U.S.A. non-prescription drugs are consumed to combat the symptoms of colds and flus. Many of these are also in demand for battling Covid-19. Products such as Theraflu, Tylenol Cold and Flu, Vicks, Mucinex-the list goes on and on-are easy to find. Since there are so many similar products the elasticity is great. A price change in one cues buyers to try another brand. Even at the height of the pandemic panic last spring OTC (Over the Counter) remedies were available.

Elasticity of Supply

Elasticity of demand and supply are calculated the same way. However, supply includes a time element. The three stages of supply are current, near future, and long term. Chances are you have experienced a need or want that was unable to be fulfilled that day. A restaurant runs out of the day’s special. Or your car broke down and the repair shop doesn’t have the needed replacement part. In both cases, current supply is inelastic.

Price is not a factor in these cases of on-hand supply. However, the elasticity changes in both the near future and the long term. The Covid-19 vaccine is a good example to show the elasticity of supply. Six months ago, there was no vaccine. Thus the supply was totally inelastic (and zero). Then testing began and a limited amount was supplied to test subjects. Now, the EAU for the first vaccine to hit the market means the supply is slightly more elastic. A year from now it is possible that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. Furthermore, as more vaccines hit the market, individuals may be able to pick which manufacturer to choose from. This means more elasticity.

So in a period of eighteen months or so, the supply of a Covid-19 vaccine will have gone from a totally inelastic product to one with elasticity. Although probably not as elastic as products with lots of substitutes.

Inputs Impact Elasticity of Demand and Supply

Natural aspects of the pandemic impact elasticity of demand and supply for non-Covid-19 related goods. Illness not only slows production, but also drives demand for particular items such as anti-bacterial wipes. Yet, due to the element of time, production capabilities can’t meet the new demand. Furthermore, with inelastic demand and supply, price is not able to work as an equilibrium and so we have shortages.

People are avoiding crowds and travel. Price changes are not influential enough to change either the demand or supply. Suppliers such as cruise lines and theme parks have few buyers for their product. The lack of revenue threatens their very existence. If the pandemic lasts long enough many companies will go under.

Elasticity of demand and supply is at work. But remember, this is subject to change with the passage of time. The biggest problem for companies both large and small is the time element. Households have a difficult time with Rainy Day Funds and businesses are not any different. We are closing in on a year of Covid-19. How many of you can withstand a year of greatly reduced income? Or no income at all?

Basic Economics in Understanding the Pandemic Fall-Out

Part One: The Basic Economics of Specialization

Basic economics is key to the understanding of pandemic fall-out. Conversations regarding testing delays, layoffs, manufacturing and shipping delays, as well as other supply chain difficulties benefit from a public possessing an understanding of key economic concepts. The cause of lay-offs and furloughs as well as the importance of direct aid and/or compensation are all functions of basic economics. However, this knowledge is not widespread.

Principles of Basic Economics

From the very beginning of 2020, I voiced concern regarding supply chain disruptions. Many components of basic economics are important to the distribution of goods and services. Key theories for better understanding the disruption include specialization, changes in demand and supply, elasticity, economies of scale and profit and loss. Additionally, both monetary and fiscal policy play a role this year. Finally, Covid-19 directly impacts poverty and income distribution.

My high school economics experience was a unit in social studies. Economics in college was an elective for non-business or finance majors. Times change. Today, financial literacy begins in kindergarten. Many states follow the Jump $tart national standards. One can view those standards by clicking here.

I sat on the state committee adopting financial literacy standards. My biggest regret stems from the absence of a required high school economics course. Instead, the emphasis is on personal finance (which I agree is much needed.) The various units are taught either in a math class or a social studies course. Perhaps, if more economic theories were taught there would be less angst surrounding the pandemic fall-out.

History of Specialization

Adam Smith, the philosopher and author of Wealth of Nations, in 1776, posited the theory of specialization. Using a pin factory as an example, he explained how productivity improves if individuals concentrate on one aspect of production. The existing method consisted of each person performing each step. This revolutionary concept remains a major factor of today’s labor input.

Specialization is important in understanding our current labor woes. First of all, we are dealing with a novel virus. Therefore, tests for the virus are also new.

A great demand for testing triggered a response by companies to create and then manufacture the test. This first response while difficult, did not strain the economic cycle. Scientists train just for this type of work. Note: In the U.S.A. early test kits failed and a deeper exploration of business theory is needed to explain how this is a normal part of the cycle.

However, the creation of tests is not causing current stress in the economy. Instead, the problem is with the manufacturing, distribution and analysis of Covid-19 tests. The latter two constraints are key. While medical testing is not a new industry, Covid-19 testing strains current capacity. The huge desire for this test translates into a demand for more manufacturing inputs, including labor.

Meanwhile, distribution is not uniform across the country. Rural areas in particular still lack the ability to test anyone for the disease. Priority for testing goes to those already exhibiting symptoms. Test results often take more than a week. Why?

Specialized Training

The inability to process the samples is the most likely reason. Completing the process requires many technicians. Individuals trained in collecting mucus swabs are in demand. In the United States, this means medical staff. But, there is a shortage since nurses, EMT’s and doctors prioritize the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

Additionally, ordinary cotton swabs cannot be used. The cotton as a plant has its’ own DNA. So, synthetic swabs are required. An increase in production translates to a need for more inputs in the manufacturing process. This includes labor.

Furthermore, after the collection, samples need analysis. People are also needed to perform this task. Remember, this specific task did not exist just one short year ago.

Unemployment Not Equal to Needed Workforce

Specialized training takes time. Years in some cases. And even when training is shorter, new employees are needed. The hiring process is in itself time consuming. So, the end result is delays and shortages in the workforce.

An easy way to look at this inability to quickly and easily switch the workforce from one task to another may be found in the world of professional sports. Let’s look at football and baseball. Perhaps a quarterback can retrain as a pitcher. Both positions require a strong skilled arm. Retraining might take some time but the skill set is similar.

Now consider a center and a centerfielder. Centers snap the football to the quarterback and then block opposing players  from reaching the ball handler. Brute strength and quickness are critical but foot speed not so much. Centers are not known for their 40 yard dash times. On the other hand, a centerfielder requires speed to cover the vast outfield. The player also needs catching ability and accurate throwing ability. Converting a center to a centerfielder is a tough task.

Retraining the Workforce

Workforce retraining  for pandemic work is similar to the above example.  Imagine a laid off sous chef retraining to swab noses. A further complication is that this increased demand for labor to battle the virus will be short lived either due to a vaccine or a natural (but longer) dissipation of the viral pandemic. At that point in time what happens? More retraining?

This is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to unemployment and retraining. Another issue is the availability of healthy workers. The Covid-19 associated illnesses also contribute to production and transportation delays due to absent workers. Thus the nature of a pandemic directly impacts the labor force.

In addition to specialization, elasticities of supply and demand, economies of scale and profit and loss impact the ability to “handle” the pandemic. Subsequent posts will explain the importance of basic economics in understanding the fall-out from the pandemic. No one topic nor one post covers all the factors in the current disruption of the supply chain.

Cog wheel graphic

Post-pandemic Travel

On this snowy December day, news of the United Kingdom giving the ok to distribute the first Covid-19 vaccine allows me to dream of post-pandemic travel. I am by nature a traveler. This year I have only stepped foot in four different states, two of which are within an hour of the one I live in. A far cry from 2017 when I traveled to twenty states. Since I do not fall into one of the early vaccination groups and because I may want to wait for one of the traditional vaccines, I doubt I will resume my travel habits until late in 2021. But I can dream. And compile a list of spots to visit.

Old Favorites

During this year of staying home, reminiscing about former trips has been a pleasant past-time. Many a summer and fall evening was spent talking on the back porch about favorite haunts. Concern was expressed as well, knowing how hard the lack of travelers would impact the destinations.

Santa Fe

We had hoped to visit Santa Fe in early October. The state opened travel just after Labor Day. But by the time our schedules opened up, New Mexico was closing down again. I know of at least one restaurant shutting down. Fortunately, one of my favorite art galleries on Canyon Road, the Wiford Gallery, has taken a pro-active approach. They have emailed and snail mailed updates on their artists and offered discounts on shipping. Additionally, I have received communications from Gruet Winery. I hope the many places highlighted in Wintertime Santa Fe will weather the storm. Santa Fe may very well be my first post-pandemic travel destination.

Nola

The best part of travel is trying the local cuisine. New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the top spots for Cajun cooking. One can order fried rabbit and fried gator. A tasty dish of shrimp and grits or a spicy shrimp poor boy are on many menus. Tasty beignets can follow a morning run along the Mississippi River. Trips to the Big Easy occur every few years. My last trip, which you can read about here, took place in March of 2018. So it is almost time to return.

Beaded Mardi Gras Mask
Mardi Gras Decorations
Paddle boat
View of Natchez from paddle side.

San Diego

San Diego is another favorite spot. If all goes well, I could see a possible return in November of 2021. Like New Orleans, San Diego has a wonderful place to run along the harbor. But the wide sidewalk gets crowded with tourists so it’s best to run early in the morning. Another great thing about San Diego is how bike friendly the town is. But don’t let this coastal town fool you. A ride to the top of Point Loma contains quite a bit of elevation.

Food again plays a large part of San Diego’s appeal. Both fresh seafood and spicy Mexican dishes are found in abundance. One of my favorite memories is of a catered event at the ball park. Great food and great views. During lulls in the ball park a simple glance to the west brought the harbor into view. A nice evening to cap off a conference.

New Destinations for Post-pandemic Travel

Of course my self-imposed stay close to home lockdown has generated a long list of new places to visit. This year’s reading has produced a diverse group of destinations. Domestic and international locales are on the list. I recently discovered a great website, Visit the USA.com which offers planned stops along multi-length trips. Since I like spontaneity, I tend to use travel articles, books and sites as starting points. Flexibility allows time to further explore and discover.

Book Inspired Travel

Last week’s review of One Last Lie, returned to mind a desire to visit upper Maine. Houlton, Maine looks like the perfect place to serve as a base for exploration. This international border town actually is West of New Brunswick, Canada. I so enjoyed my fall trip to Quebec in 2018, that I think a return to a nearby part of the world is likely.

Many of the books read during this pandemic were set in the Pacific Northwest. Although I vacationed in Oregon back in 2004, with a quick detour to climb Mt. Saint Helen’s, I have never been to Seattle nor to the Puget Sound. So this area is on my post-pandemic travel list.

Diana Giovinazzo, author of The Woman in Red, paints such wonderful descriptions of both South America and Italy, one wants to explore both regions. I have not experienced much intercontinental travel but maybe the opportunity exists in post-pandemic travel.

Most Likely Travel

The future is impossible to predict. But I hazard to guess that my first travel will be to see family in Central Florida. It has been over a year since I have seen two of my family members residing in the land of Mickey Mouse.

However, once that trip is made, I fear my pent up demand for travel will be further restricted by work constraints. The days of carefree travel are many years in the future for my travelling companion. So my list will grow longer.

What destinations are on your post-pandemic travel list?

Brave New World

It’s a Brave New World out there. For those looking for a review of the classic novel by Aldous Huxley, this isn’t a critique. But you might, just might, find my ramblings interesting. The technological revolution is profound, exciting and more than a little bit concerning. Quite the dichotomy, but not surprising in the year 2020.

Brave New World of Science

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the worst in some people. The Great Mask Debate and the Virus Hoaxers continue weeks after Election 2020 when the illness was magically scheduled to disappear. Unfortunately, in my part of the world the virus is spreading like wildfire.

On the bright side, across the world scientists are working to find both effective treatments as well as a vaccine. Perhaps with the passage of time the efforts will appear concerted. But at present, the work reminds me of the Race to the Moon.

Two of the vaccines closest to distribution are using a new technology. Instead of using the virus itself to develop immunity, the vaccines are taking a genetic approach. Ironically, I first wrote about CRISPR in my review of Robin Cook’s Pandemic back in February 2019. This cutting edge technology is currently treating genetic defects such as Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Scientists responding to the Covid-19 crisis have taken two approaches. The tried and true use of either small amounts of live virus or the mRNA genetic approach linked to the CRISPR technology. Small groups such as individuals with CF have been treated with medicines based on this bioscience for about a year. There are known side effects. But the individual I personally know taking treatment based on this new science has so greatly benefitted by improved health, he has no qualms about a vaccine developed using similar techniques.

Ethical Questions

Genetics has elicited ethical questions throughout the years. Both those who lived through the era of World War II and those who studied the history are familiar with Hitler’s desire to create a master race. The Holocaust must never be forgotten.

Fortunately genetic sequencing was not possible in the 1930s. It is now. If a Covid-19 vaccine using mRNA is a success we will have embarked on a path for a brave new world. The possibilities for good may be endless. But the same is true for evil.

Key Questions for a Brave New World

Aside from moral questions, the biotech revolution raises a host of questions. How are new products tested and regulated? What is the cost of development? How are the costs recouped? Will drugs be affordable? Who makes sure only “good” or beneficial drugs are created?

Of course those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the case of Covid-19, millions, nay billions of individuals will benefit from a vaccine. So who is first in line? Again, who pays? Lots of old adages come to mind. Money doesn’t grow on trees. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Those apply. There is a cost to be born, yet obviously the ability to pay varies. Perhaps in the end all questions are truly moral in scope.

Science is truly not my strong suit. So I am sharing some of the many articles I have been reading. I am a late adopter. But I am related to many early adopters as well as trend setters. I hope Covid-19 is but the latest in a long line of once in a hundred year pandemics. Once in a lifetime is plenty!

https://www.brinknews.com/crispr-and-the-fight-against-covid-19/

https://www.wired.com/story/why-its-a-big-deal-if-the-first-covid-vaccine-is-genetic/

https://innovativegenomics.org/projects/crispr-based-dna-vaccine-enhancer-covid-19/

https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3088568/explainer-who-are-global-competition-develop-coronavirus-vaccine?src=covid_home_faq

https://www.scmp.com/presented/news/hong-kong/education/topics/research-excellence/article/3109497/cityu-develops-anti

Thanksgiving 2020

Thanksgiving 2020 will be a different kind of celebration for many. The fifty states are varied both in their Covid-19 outbreak data as well as their approach to the pandemic. As numbers increase, new guidelines as well as rules and regulations are issued. Not only do local, regional and state governments differ with enforcement, individuals also differ with compliance levels. Hopefully common sense will prevail.

 

These turkeys freely wander around Central Florida subdivisions.

Turkey with feathers spread for Thanksgiving 2020

Importance of Thanksgiving to Americans

Like the many Thanksgivings before it, Thanksgiving 2020 is one of the most important holidays in American culture rivaled only by the 4th of July. Perhaps this holiday is so special because of the long history.

Traditionally, the Thanksgiving observed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock is acknowledged as the first occurrence of the celebration. However, a few other “thanksgivings” predate the above mentioned gatherings. Click here to read about Florida’s claim to the first Thanksgiving.

Regardless of the date and location of the first feast, the tradition and November time frame was officially decreed by George Washington, the United States of America’s first president.

Thanksgiving Timing

Although the fourth Thursday in November was not settled on for many years, the day of the week has remained the same. I am unaware if there is a rhyme or reason for holding the celebration on a Thursday. But the changing to the fourth Thursday is directly related to commerce.

Abraham Lincoln choose the last Thursday and for the most part this was followed for decades (President Grant was one exception.) But in part to stimulate spending at the end of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt moved the official date to the fourth Thursday of the month. So Thanksgiving 2020 will be on the 26th which is both the last and the fourth Thursday.

This designation keeps the date from ever occurring on either the 29th or 30th of the month. And creates more opportunity to shop for Christmas. One wonders if FDR knew he was creating a monster in the form of Black Friday.

Thanksgiving 2020

Plenty of accounts exist reflecting on Thanksgiving 1918. The Spanish Flu pandemic coursed through the country much like our current Covid-19 pandemic. Researching and reviewing the outcomes in 1918 may make it easier to decide how to celebrate Thanksgiving 2020.

The federalist system of governing in the United States of America is reflected by the varied guidelines and mandates across the country. Enforcement will also differ. For example, fines and jail time have been decreed in the state of Oregon for violating the strict Thanksgiving dinner guidelines of no more than six people joining together. Contrast that with the state of Florida where there are no limitations on gatherings and nursing home residents are allowed to partake in family dinners off-grounds.

So, once again common sense is called for. Before finalizing any travel plans, look at positivity rates. Is there a surge or a cluster of cases at the destination? Or in the areas where individuals are traveling from?

What are the demographics of the celebrants? Sibling millennials should fare better than sibling baby boomers. Multi-generational gatherings in numbers greater than ten would make me uncomfortable. And not just for Thanksgiving 2020 because Christmas 2020 is just around the corner.

We are still undecided about our own plans. None of our millennial offspring are returning home. Our positivity rate is sky high. But we may take a meal to one of the octogenarians in the family. The key is to reduce the spread by keeping as isolated as possible while not ignoring the needs of others.

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Even though we are in the midst of the pandemic, we need to remember to share Thanksgiving Thankfulness. This may be difficult for those who have lost one or more loved ones this year. My suggestion for countering the gloominess is to look to nature.

The Leonid meteor shower is one such example. I spotted almost a dozen streaks of light in twenty minutes earlier this week. The experience was uplifting. And waking up at 4 A.M. was doable.

But there are others. For those of you living on the coast, consider a walk on the beach. Mountain hikes may be difficult in snowy areas, but there is little to compare to the beauty of fresh snow. We need to give thanks for our natural world.

The people in our life bring great joy as well as significant sorrow upon loss. Reflect upon your loved ones this week even as normal celebrations fall by the wayside. I plan to Zoom with my parents and my kids. Maybe next year we can all be together.

Group of turkeys Thanksgiving 2020

Saving Supper With Spices

Last night I attempted to modify an online recipe into another “Recipe for Two” and ended up saving supper with spices. I had produce to use. The acorn squash could sit on the counter for a while longer but the giant bell pepper was another matter. So I searched for recipes including both. Click here to see the recipe I chose to alter.

Acorn squash and Orange Bell Pepper
Roasted Vegetables Base of Soup

Acorn Squash Soup For Two

Since there are only two of us and I only wanted to use one large acorn squash I started to reduce the inputs. Excitement about the ability to throw a simple soup together so I could get ready for a Zoom meeting was my undoing. I overlooked the call for apple cider as the base liquid.

Of course by the time I realized my lack of the proper liquid, I was at the step where the roasted vegetables are blended with the cream cheese and sautéed onions. And the apple cider. So I searched the fridge for a suitable substitute.

I ruled out cranberry juice in favor of a dry white wine. The viognier, from McManis Family Vineyards was perfect. But only a half cup remained in the bottle. The only other open wine was a red blend. Quite a bit remained in the bottle as it was too sweet for our palates. So I added some of that as well, forgetting one of Emeril Lagasse’s main tenet’s-only use the best.

After blending, the consistency of the soup was fantastic. So, the mixture was poured back into the soup pot to heat. A test taste yielded a too sweet tone to the creation. The sweetness overpowered the root vegetables. A disaster was upon us.

Saving Supper With Spices

In our house, when all else fails, add heat. Spiced heat. Since I had already sprinkled the acorn squash with cumin before baking we chose complimentary spices. In addition to the Savory Spice line, we often use a Christmas gift, The Cook’s Pallete Chilli Collection. The chilli’s range from quite mild to very hot.

Cayenne and Chipotle are the spices we used last night when saving supper with spices. The heat of the spices countered the too sweet sweetness of the red wine blend. Our Acorn Squash Soup for Two was saved.

Obviously, I need to keep working on the recipe. Next time, I will either use only a dry white wine or some type of stock. Most likely vegetable stock. I intend to keep adding four ounces of cream cheese as well as adjust the amount of yogurt. The single acorn squash with the bell pepper and small onion create the perfect amount for the base. Hopefully, I can publish a tested Acorn Squash Soup For Two recipe later this winter.

In the meantime, if your thrown together recipe turns disastrous, remember saving supper with spices may allow you a meal that can be enjoyed.

Closed Tin holding saving supper with spices
Open Tin of Chilli Spices

Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline

Practicing patience with a side of self-discipline is much needed these days. For Americans, a double helping is called for due to the as yet uncalled Presidential election. But, across the globe, the pandemic still reigns and all of us need to exercise both.

Patience is a virtue. Our busy lives do not lend themselves to this particular quality. 24/7 news, cell phones, the Internet and even fast food restaurants provide instant gratification with no need for patience. Unfortunately a lack of patience can lead to non-virtuous behavior.

The loss of patience manifests in the inability to practice self-control or display self-discipline. Patience is difficult to teach. Just ask any mother of a young child. But patience and self-discipline are critical at this moment in time. The waning months of 2020 look to be a challenge on several fronts.

Election Results

Citizens of the United States as of this writing still are unsure of which candidate won the election. There may be recounts and challenges. Yet, there will be an inauguration in January. We just need to exhibit patience with a side of self-discipline while awaiting results.

In my corner of the country this is occurring. No riots or demonstrations have occurred. Neighbors supporting opposing parties are still neighborly. Indeed, a greater concern is Covid-19.

Pandemic Continues

Unfortunately my small town reflects much of rural America. We are currently experience a large outbreak of the coronavirus. And worse, patience with a side of self-discipline is not evident. Twelve fellow citizens out of 240 confirmed cases have died. Yet, I see less caution now than last spring. We have grown weary of the pandemic. But Covid-19 did not magically disappear after the election.

We really need to practice the ideal discussed in the May 2020 Wrap-Up. People, Place, Time and Space will get us through this one hundred year viral outbreak. Limit the number of individuals you meet with; meet either outside or in large indoor spaces; shorter time periods and greater amounts of space between individuals make it hard to transmit the virus.

Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline

Two major holidays are just around the corner. Thanksgiving and Christmas are both loved and revered in this household. But much like Easter, I think plans will need to alter. Spreading the virus in a large family gathering is a recipe for disaster.

We need to practice patience with regard to Covid-19. Time will allow for better treatments and hopefully a vaccine. But it will take a healthy side of self-discipline during the waiting period. Our current outbreak has been exacerbated by family gatherings. Holiday office parties are on the horizon. Maybe this is the year to take the money spent on these gatherings and distribute as a bonus. Quite possibly the extra income could come in handy.

We need to understand Covid-19 affects people in different ways. Many individuals will fight off the virus easily, but up to twenty percent will have a more difficult time and/or have long-lasting complications. I prefer to use the CFR (Case Fatality Rate) when looking at Covid-19. The November 2020 edition of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases has an excellent article covering Covid-19 CFR on pages 302-308. Click here for direct access. As the article points out, the CFR varies from country to country. Just as responses to the pandemic have varied. At this point in time it looks like the CFR is dropping worldwide. A good thing.

Unfortunately my little hamlet is well above the world average with respect to CFR. Our five percent rate is scary. Patience with a side of self-discipline is much needed here. Maybe now that the divisive campaigning is over, we can practice the self-control needed to bring down the CFR.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer Ribbon
Not for Women Only

Just one short year ago, I sat in a surgical waiting room waiting for the results from my Dad’s operation to determine if he had breast cancer. Now we are in the middle of a pandemic-what a difference a year can make! October is still Breast Cancer Awareness month but I have seen very little on the topic. Last year, everywhere I turned a media outlet was reporting on signs, symptoms and treatments. Breast Cancer is still a problem for many.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

My Dad felt a lump on his breast while in the shower. Lumps are one of the key symptoms according to the CDC website. Unfortunately, men do not routinely have mammograms. These diagnostic tests can detect cancerous cells at an early stage. The survival rate for breast cancer, and indeed most if not all cancers, increases when caught early on.

Other symptoms include pain in the breast, unusual discharge from the nipple including a bloody discharge, and change to the size or shape of the breast. Irritation of the skin, including redness or flakiness is also a sign. In my opinion, the best websites to consult for symptoms to include the aforementioned CDC ,are the WebMD Breast Cancer Health Center and the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Breast Cancer is a complex illness. I do not have the knowledge to be truly informative. If you or a loved one have any concerns about breast cancer, I urge you to click on the above websites. Then, if you have not sought out care from a medical provider-make an appointment TODAY.

Even though my Dad’s cancer had spread to a lymph node, his prognosis is positive, in part for not taking a wait and see approach. I am a firm believer that individuals need to be pro-active in regards to health concerns. Don’t wait to get examined and don’t wait too long for results. Especially during this pandemic.

 Organizations to Support

There are many organizations raising funds on behalf of breast cancer research as well as in support of individuals fighting this disease. The Susan G. Komen may be one of the best known. However, my favorites are the American Cancer Society and the Shantel Lanerie Foundation. Just click on the highlighted names to view their websites.

The year 2020 has been a difficult one. The CARES Act includes a provision to help non-profits. Charitable donations on both the corporate and individual levels now result in a greater tax benefit for the donor. Click here to read a brief report from AFP Global or consult your tax accountant.

Many families are struggling to make ends meet due to decreased income amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, feeding the family and paying bills comes first. But those who can give should consider an increase in their donations.

2020 has been a difficult year. However, breast cancer does not take a break. Remember to perform your monthly self-checks. Don’t put off your annual mammogram and check-up. Last, but not least, if you are in a position to give, donate freely.

 

The Importance of Using Face to Face Communication Technology Amid a Pandemic

This week, I realized the importance of using face to face communication technology amid a pandemic. While many are ignoring the need to socially distance due to Covid-19, those that are self-isolating often face other consequences. But loneliness, sadness, and perhaps even early stages of depression can be combatted with the use of face to face communication technology.

Most weeks I stay busy, very busy, and the work keeps the negative feelings at bay. But every so often a down day occurs. Usually this helpless feeling is triggered by an event. This latest occurrence was triggered by an octogenarian in the family having a rough day as well.

I am limiting my travel because of the virus. This impacts those I usually travel to see. Even though I make numerous phone calls, the face to face aspect is missing. One of the older family members does not own a cell phone and the other has an Apple while I have an Android.

But in recent weeks I was able to use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) with great success. In the first instance, a third family member, also an Android user, facilitated the conversation/video chat. But I am most excited about the second use of face to face communication technology.

Zoom

Earlier in the month I bought a license for Zoom so one of the organizations I am involved with could offer a hybrid meeting experience. We are (or possibly were since the caseload of Covid-19 has exploded in our county over the last week) meeting in person at a local restaurant. But some members choosing to self-isolate were missing out. Even though Zoom offers a limited amount of time for free, the purchased plan is ideal for longer connections.

Millennials may not relate to just how hard it is for someone in their eighties to download an app to a computer. But the process is indeed difficult for a brain not wired from a young age on today’s technologies. So, I was quite excited that my Dad succeeded in downloading Zoom this week.

Face to Face Communication Technology

I did have to coach him through the installation via phone. It took the better part of an hour. First, you have the download and then the install. But, the complexity does not end there. The next step is the interface. For a full ten minutes, I could see him but he couldn’t see me.

After talking him through the steps, he finally allowed the computer to use the audio and access the incoming video. The look on his face when he could finally see mine was priceless. The ensuing conversation via VoIP boosted both our spirits.

As big believers in practice makes perfect, we are going to connect via Zoom again this morning. Once he gets comfortable with the process, we will extend the invitation out to other family members. I realize many have been doing this for months. But not everyone is an early adaptor.

If you are self-isolating I urge you to consider face to face communication technology. Zoom is just one of many VoIP’s available. Disney showcased this technology in one of their “rides” back in the 20th Century. I am glad it is a household reality in 2020.

This photo was taken earlier in the year on our first excursion after lockdown. For more photos from the Vail Valley trip click here.

Fall is Finally Here

Fall is finally here on the high plains. Simple signs tell me without looking at the calendar. These signs are so clear, I understand how the inhabitants from long ago knew winter was nigh. Birds migrating, trees turning color, plants yielding less and less, and night approaching faster and growing cooler.

Fall Migration Path

The geese are honking as they fly overhead. Their flight path on a straight North-South directional, an internal compass to envy. Each group numbers in the dozens and they are a familiar sight. And a sign fall is finally here.

The blue jays are also flying south, although they sometimes stay a day or two. Starlings which overstay their welcome in the spring return briefly as well. We have also been a stopover to Bullock’s oriole and western kingbird and a variety of warblers and finches. Some are return visitors. But many are new. The expansive fires of the West Coast and newer fires in the Rocky Mountains are pushing many birds east.

Mysterious Visitors

Among the plethora of visiting birds in the past few days were this pair of talkers. I captured them on this video. Unfortunately, the wind masks the unique call. My guess is they belong to the woodpecker family. If anyone can identify them please share in the comment section.

The area we live in is along a river-although many would question that designation with the low water flow this time of year. Indeed just a hundred miles to the east the water dries out from time to time before resurrecting itself another hundred miles or so to the east of that location. We truly live in the Dust Bowl.

But the river is dammed just to the west and along with a handful of natural lakes that haven’t all dried up, the water provides a good stop along the migration route. In addition to that, this East Coast gal planted trees by the dozens a quarter of a century ago. Plus, pyracantha and Russian sage which also attract the wildlife.

The fruit trees; peaches and cherries and the non-bearing pear, along with the chokecherry bushes provide a splash of color. A squirrel has wandered up from the nearby town park to harvest the acorns from the oak tree. The evergreens will provide protection for the small birds who winter here-they have yet to arrive. Red buds and shademaster honeylocusts have dropped their pods and show signs of turning golden. Leaf raking is also in the future.

Fall Gardening Chores

Much of this week focused on fall chores in the garden. Peanuts were dug as were the second beds of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Yields from the big garden were satisfactory but just and the outside boxes a little less. The rains have been few and far between. The last recorded rain was two tenths of an inch on September 11. So over a month ago and no rain is in the forecast.

However, we have a chance of a frost on each of the next three nights. So, I was tasked with harvesting tomatoes. These plants are still flowering like crazy. Thus the added chore of gathering ripe, not so ripe, and green tomatoes commenced.

The smallest of the green tomatoes were gifted to my niece’s chickens. I will process the larger green tomatoes, both Romas and heirloom slicers into chow chow. Batches of salsa and spaghetti sauce continue on a regular basis but now that fall is finally here the days of fresh sauce are behind us. Fortunately we will have canned goods to enjoy this winter.

Only a few eggplant were ready to harvest. But the plants were full of purple blossoms. They are the tenderest plants, so they were removed from the garden into the compost. The cucumber vines and bush beans were also removed from their place in the garden. Several weeks have gone by since the cukes have bloomed. The pole beans remain for another day.

Carrots, beets, rutabagas and the brassicas remain. I did place a hoop covering over the artichoke. Perhaps it will overwinter with a blanket of straw underneath the canvas. A rosemary plant and some Swiss chard share space under the hoop.

The wires are from a bought covering from a season ago. But the material tore in the high winds of last spring. I am using canvas on one end and a synthetic tarp on the other end. The experiments never stop!

Fall is Finally Here

The most enjoyable part of the last few weeks have been the many evening meals indulged on the back porch. On the occasions without wind we even turned on the fireplace above the waterfall fountain. In these times of external strife it is important to balance life with small pleasures.

Fall is finally here. Fireplace at dusk

 

 

 

 

September 2020 Wrap-Up

September 2020

The September 2020 Wrap-Up will get a bit political due to the first of the 2020 Presidential Debates. If you can call last night’s debacle a debate. But in loyalty to the many followers across the globe, I will save my observations on national politics until the end. After all, this post is a wrap-up of the entire month not just the next to last day.

Travel Returns

September 2020 included two out of town trips. Both via automobile. The first was a trip to Kentucky. This journey included an overnight stay in suburban St. Louis, close to my high school home.

The hotel practiced Covid-19 precautions with a seal at each door which indicated if entry had been made after cleaning. I managed to forget my hanging bag and needed to buy some replacement clothes. Fortunately, the mall I haunted as a teenager was located at the same Interstate interchange. Unfortunately, the mall was all but abandoned.

The one store open was a Macy’s. I arrived 40 minutes before closing. Thanks to the wonderful customer service-all with Covid-19 consciousness- I was able to replace the outfits needed for the following two days. The only time I have ever encountered an equally outstanding service has been at a Nordstrom’s. Kudo’s to Macy’s for filling a need. The successful shopping trip helped mitigate the sadness of seeing a once vibrant shopping mall in such dire straits. 

We then enjoyed an outdoor dinner at an Italian restaurant in a nearby strip mall. The tables were well spaced and the food was excellent. The weather which can be quite muggy in St. Louis was perfect. The following day we continued on to Kentucky.

Kentucky

In a normal year, I make a minimum of two trips a year to Kentucky. Because of the pandemic, my spring trip was cancelled. Things are still not normal, but business can only be put off for so long. So, I am mitigating the risk factors as much as possible.

First, I do wear masks, especially indoors. On this trip, we packed a cooler with snacks and drinks. We never entered a fast-food restaurant. All sit down meals were outside-or in one case in a large tent with open sides. Bathroom breaks while travelling were made at highway rest stops. Finally, we washed hands and utilized hand sanitizer frequently.

One highlight of the trip was revisiting the Kentucky Champion Oak Tree first discussed in the May 2019 Wrap-Up. This trip I took the following video in hopes of giving readers a better idea of how grand this tree is. Please enjoy the YouTube video at the end of the post.

Another highlight was finding a wonderful specimen of an Ohio buckeye tree at an equally wonderful Indiana rest stop. America has many fantastic places within her shores.

Buckeye Tree September 2020
Buckeye Tree From Indiana Rest Stop

Our return entailed a fifteen hour drive on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Almost a full month later, no signs of illness. Again, we were as cautious as could be without practicing total isolation.

Wyoming

Just this past weekend, I attended a conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Again, I mitigated risk as much as possible. Time again will tell if I was successful or not. But my true concern from that trip were the wildfires spreading across the Western States.

The pictures in the slide show below are from that trip. The air quality was horrific. The index AQI on Saturday was 184. I have never been in this situation before. It was horrible. Our climate is suffering.

September 2020 In the Garden

Twice, my garden escaped the threat of frost. So production continues. Although some plants show signs of running there course. Half of the potatoes and half the sweet potatoes have been harvested. The Roma tomatoes continue to flower but the heirloom tomatoes are just maturing what is on the vine. The peanuts need another week before digging.

Fall crops are thriving. Rutabaga, broccoli, and cabbage are now established. Hoops are in place around the artichoke and rosemary. The canvas covering goes atop on the evenings before the threatened frost. Once the freeze begins, the canvas will remain even during the day.

September 2020 In the Kitchen

Of course a robust garden calls for much canning and freezing. In addition to the traditional jelly, pickles, salsa and spaghetti sauce, I made ketchup for the very first time. The taste is wonderful. But the process was quite time consuming. Over 11 hours from start to finish!

I realize it is much easier to by what I can from the store. But the satisfaction I derive from canning is priceless. Furthermore, I firmly believe my preserved goods are healthier. I control the inputs. All my recipes are reduced in both sugar and salt. 

I am closing the traditional part of the end of the month Wrap-Up with a slide show highlighting the various events of September 2020. The political discussion follows the multi-faceted slide show. I have placed the You Tube video at the end-in hopes of neutralizing my diatribe with the calming effect of nature.

 

American Politics

Those of you who wish to tune out here, I will hold no grudge. I absolutely hate politics as I am a bit blunt and haven’t quite figured out the art of persuasion. Or perhaps, I just feel everyone is entitled to their own opinion so why bother to force mine on others. However, I do feel the need to comment on the first of the Presidential debates.

Last night was disgusting. It was not a debate. Instead, three-yes, three- old white men failed America. Old in attitude more than with age. I say that because I am friends with a 98 year old that shows up to work daily at her retail clothing store. But, I digress.

Neither of the candidates nor the moderator fulfilled my expectations last night. They were horrific, each in their own way. My comments on each are below. These are my opinions.

President Trump

Quite simply, the President forgot to be presidential. He lost the respect of many voters last night. Maybe not his key supporters, but the many swing voters that awarded him the election in 2016. Not only did he fail to engage in a meaningful debate, he lost at least one voter when he declared the elections would be rigged if he lost.

This strikes at the heart of the matter for me. Either you believe in the system or you don’t. Our system is a good system, not perfect but good. As such I believe in it. If I did not, there would be absolutely no reason to vote! Our election will not be rigged. My county has used mail ballots for years. The system works. President Trump you should not insinuate a system is rigged if you lose. But, not if you win?!?

Former Vice-President Biden

While I was a big supporter of the former Vice-President when he ran for election in 1988, an election he had to bow out of due to health issues, I was not satisfied with his responses last night. (Although his demeanor was stellar in comparison to the other two.) He refused to directly address the questions about the civil unrest we are currently experiencing in this country on at least two occasions. This concerns me.

Furthermore, Mr. Biden, you have not allayed my fears that the far left controls you. I will not vote for socialism. You stated you were opposed to the New Green Deal, but you failed to explain The Biden Plan. Our national debt is out of control. Raising taxes is not an answer in itself. Spending cuts need to be made as well. We are running out of time before the tipping point is reached. The Debt Clock is ticking.

Chris Wallace and Fox News

The biggest failure of the night belonged to the third man, Chris Wallace. The role of a moderator is not an easy one. I know this from personal experience. But, Mr. Wallace totally failed in his effort last night. Many steps could have made the outcome better. First, a reviewing of the rules of the debate at the start, along with a statement of consequences for breaking those rules.

Second, wording of the questions in a manner not trying to create a division. Furthermore, stating the questions in a straight forward manner, not alluding to whether a candidate would be pleased by the topic. Also, making sure the candidates stay on topic. Many, many times the questions were ignored in favor of a talking point.

Finally, the presenters of the debate have the technology to mute microphones. I know this is possible at a small rural facility where I moderated a contested school board election. Why did Chris Wallace and Fox News FAIL to use this option? My disgust is greatest for their failure to bring the American public a legitimate platform to evaluate the candidates.

Jo Jorgensen

The winner in last night’s debate? Perhaps Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate on the ballot in all fifty states. If you try to go to her website jo20.com you may need to be patient. The demand has been so great to find an alternative to the two men above that the server is a bit slow processing.

While I have voted third party in the past, I had not contemplated voting that way in 2020. Until last night. I tend to be a fence sitter. We actually have a great amount of power. Year after year we decide the outcome of elections.

This year I may sit on the fence until Election Day. In the meantime, I am researching Jorgensen. Perhaps she will win my vote. For those who say it will be wasted, that may be true, but at this time I would feel tremendous angst voting for either of the men representing the ruling parties. Perhaps the leadership in both the Democrat and Republican parties need to take note. Elections are won, one vote at a time.

I do plan to watch next week’s debate between the Vice-Presidential candidates. I doubt they will get out of hand, but in the end it is the Presidential candidate that will end up as the leader of the United States of America. Not the Vice-President.

A big thanks for all who made it to the end of this long opinionated post.  September 2020 was certainly full even in the midst of a pandemic. To all American readers, please vote your conscience. We are indeed at a pivotal point in history.

Rainy Day Fund

Creating the Rainy Day Fund

Creating the Rainy Day fund is both harder and easier than it sounds. Yes, quite the dichotomy. Saving money is hard because we have a consumer led economy. Consumption makes up about seventy percent of the United States Gross National product (GNP). Thus spending money is pushed in our society. Unfortunately, this is antithetical to creating a rainy day fund since savings is seen as a leakage to consumption. And thus detrimental to growth. But my premise is savings is a necessary part of an efficient economic system.

The current pandemic is an excellent example. Temporary lay-offs have stretched to six months. Companies big and small are in financial distress and so are the families of their employees. Keynesian economics fought back in the U.S.A. with the PPP program and monetary payments to a good portion of the working population.

But think how a rainy day fund could have eased the burden on families, companies and government at all levels; local, state, and federal.

Steps to Creating a Rainy Day Fund

The key step to creating a rainy day fund is to live within your means. Money spent must be less than money earned. This sounds simple, but many, many people do not follow this principle. Why? Perhaps there is confusion on needs versus wants. Or maybe individuals who have satisfied the lower steps of Maslow’s Hierarchy through spending, believe the upper levels can be reached through more spending-they can’t, but that should be discussed another day.

Needs versus Wants

However, drilling down into needs versus wants is a critical first step in creating the rainy day fund. A simple exercise helps illustrate this concept. Get out a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column write down everything you need to buy in the next 48 hours. Maybe you are out of milk or your gas tank is empty, these types of entries are what you are striving for. In the second column, write down everything that must to be purchased in the next month. Again, only write down what is absolutely needed to meet the basic needs of water, food, clothing and shelter. Finally, use the third column to list everything your heart desires. These are your wants.

Now compare the columns. Do you have the funds to cover the first two lists? If not, what is your plan? These of course are necessities. They relate to the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Those individuals not able to meet the needs of these first two columns should evaluate why they can’t and make changes in lifestyle. Seeking help from professional financial planners may be warranted.

If you do have the needed funds, how much money is left over? And what do you do with it? My observation leads me to believe most people start buying things off that third column until there is no money left. Unfortunately, a few keep buying on credit even after all income is spent.

Delaying Gratification

The first step to creating a rainy day fund is to hold off on purchases from that third column. However, delaying gratification in our society of instant everything is now an alien concept. And there is a place for convenience. Restaurants with drive through windows have weathered the pandemic storm better than others. Plus the adage of time is money comes into play with respect to buying clothes versus making them. However, self-sufficiency comes into play with saving for a rainy day.

Expenditures from that third column in the above activity need to occur after a financial cushion has been established. First you must pay yourself by saving the extra money, not rewarding yourself with new shoes or a pumpkin latte. So how much is left over after paying for your monthly needs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the recently released consumer expenditures for 2019, about 15% of income is available for discretionary spending.

To Econogal, this is disheartening. As you can see by clicking here for the report, the necessary expenses include Housing at 32.8%, Transportation at 17%, Food is 12.9%, Personal insurance and Pensions take out 11.4 percent. 8.2 % is spent on Healthcare and 3 % for Apparel and Services. Add everything up and the average household has spent 85.3% on needs.

The numbers get gloomier from here. (Hence the nickname The Dismal Science for economics.) Let’s say you recently graduated from high school and the only job opportunity due to the pandemic is paying minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. Looking at the numbers, income is $1160 a month or $15,080 a year. If you are frugal and don’t buy anything from column 3, savings after one year will amount to $2262 which is less than a two month cushion. Furthermore, even I am not that frugal.

Frugality

So how can one get ahead? After all, the above numbers reflect living within ones means. Two components are needed to increase the rainy day fund. Frugality and productivity. The BLS statistics are an average. Individual expenses vary. As do needs and opportunities to save. Each person can choose where to beat the average. From a personal standpoint, housing and transportation are where I beat the average. With the exception of one period of less than three years, I have never spent more than 25% of income on housing. Thus, I enjoy an 8% advantage over the average. In the above minimum wage example that would yield an additional $1200 for discretionary income.

In my opinion, the categories which yield the biggest potential for beating the average are Housing, Transportation, and Food. Aim for a cap of 25% on housing. This should include utilities. But savings can be had by eliminating items such as cable or satellite.

Transportation is another item to look at. What are the options? Can you carpool or take public transportation? In America we seldom walk to work. Even if we live close to work. The campus I taught on was less than half a mile away. Many days I chose to walk and more often than not I was asked if I needed a ride.

Carpooling, walking and combining errands into one trip have the benefit of cutting gas expense. But the fuel tank is only part of transportation cost. Wear and tear on the vehicle shows up in the price of new tires and oil changes. Another benefit to reducing transportation cost is environmental. Just something to think about if you want to reduce your global footprint. Europe and much of the world is way ahead of America in regards to transportation as a percentage of household expense.

Productivity

The second component to increasing savings and thus creating a rainy day fund is productivity. Technically, productivity is measured by dividing outputs by inputs. With respect to labor, if your cost for labor exceeds the money gained from selling the output of labor then you are in trouble. But that is at a corporate level. What about the individual?

How does one measure their own productivity? Earned wages reflect a person’s productivity. Minimal skill levels usually correlate to low pay scales. In the above example of the minimum wage annual income, a pay increase is unlikely without the development of skills via experience or education. Or both.

But an increase in wages does not automatically create a rainy day fund. In fact, economic theory argues that increased wages leads to increased consumption. An individual making $20,000 will spend 85% of their income as will a person making $100,000.

So can an Individual put money aside? We circle back to delaying gratification. Thus, creating a rainy day fund is independent of income amount. Instead, self-discipline is the key to accruing savings. Delay buying from that third column in your early years of earning a living.

Self-sufficiency

Additional ways to save money tie to self-sufficiency. This gets a bit tricky especially in a service based economy. Self-sufficiency also is counter to specialization. But I think it is time to discuss how self-sufficiency can add to the rainy day fund.

One of the economic textbooks I used began with an illustration of how the author is more productive spending his time as an economist versus mowing his yard. He posited that someone making $50 an hour should never mow their lawn because of opportunity cost. Hiring someone to mow costs less than $50. So the economist is ahead of the game by hiring the service to mow while he works.

There are problems with this theory if you are not self-employed. (And even if you are!) The college I worked for only paid me for 40 hours of work. No overtime. None. So in my case there were many hours left in the week. (Even when I did work extra hours.) I had more money for my rainy day fund when I used those hours productively around the home.

At one point in time I investigated hiring someone to come into my home and clean for three hours a week. The lowest price quoted was $50. So to this day I do my own housecleaning. That is at least $2600 a year not spent on a service. Extra savings for the rainy day fund.

There are 168 hours in a week. Even if you sleep for a third of those hours, that leaves 112 hours. Subtract 40 and you have 72 remaining. Put those hours to productive use and you will have a rainy day fund in no time at all.

Rainy Day Fund-Important Regardless of Age or Income

Life is not predictable. Hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes and even once in a lifetime pandemics are unexpected but naturally occurring. Natural disasters are not the only challenge in life. Accidents, illnesses and layoffs are part of life. The longer we live the greater chance of facing multiple challenges.

A rainy day fund is necessary. If you do not have a fund do not delay. Set aside money on the next payday. The more you earn, the greater amount you should have set aside. Returning to a lower standard of living is not fun-but sometimes necessary. Remember delayed gratification and productive use of time are the key components of creating a rainy day fund.

After the Disaster-What happens then?

Responding After the Disaster

 

After the Disaster response is a topic not seen much in National Preparedness Month releases. Most of the time people talk about preparedness in terms of how to prepare for natural disasters. But, little is out there with information on what to do after the disaster occurs. What happens then? What are typical problems that arise?

Personal Safety and Wellness

The first thing to assess after the disaster occurs is personal safety and wellness. This will vary depending on the type of event. Currently in the United States, residents on the West Coast are dealing with fires while the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic seaboard are in the midst of hurricane season. Both situations have short and long term impacts. Immediate concerns revolve around human life. Long term repercussions are numerous and include clean-up, mitigation of loss and adjustment to new circumstances.

Wildfires

Fires produce a multitude of problems. In addition to the burn damage is the impact on air quality. Evacuation is essential if you live in the path of the fire. But many individuals may have underlying conditions that make smoke filled air difficult to breathe. Anyone in this category needs a supply of N-95 masks at the very least. Unfortunately, demand is high due to the concurring pandemic in 2020.

If you are not in the direct path of the fire, the air quality is still a problem. Air filters are needed for home, office and transportation. Instead of changing these filters after so many months, check often to ensure replacement occurs when needed.

Keep windows and doors closed tight. If you have an attached garage, after exiting the car, close the garage door before entering the house. Consolidate trips to reduce exposure.

Once the fire sweeps through an area, wait for the okay to return home. Why? Because hot pockets may exist. Also, routes in and out of an area may be compromised and firefighters need priority.

Clean up-After the Disaster of Fire

Ironically, a home that is not burned to the ground can cause more problems than one which is a total loss. A partially burned home is dangerous to inhabit if there is heavy smoke damage. Soot is a byproduct of fire and causes problems with both the respiratory and circulatory systems. In the long run, soot may contribute to cancer.

Therefore, cleaning indoor surface areas is one of the first things that need to happen after the disaster of a nearby fire. Ideally a professional company specializing in fire clean-up could be hired. But, if cost is prohibitive or demand too great and a company is not available, the clean-up can be done by the home owner. But I would not recommend this.

If you do choose to clean-up the fire damage on your own, please research the methods needed. There is more to cleaning soot than wiping away the grime while wearing a mask. Proper masking, good ventilation, and knowing the correct cleaning agents is essential.

Outside cleaning is also difficult. Embers may be present beneath charred wood or brush. Wildfires displace wild animals, so that is also a concern. Instinct drives animals to safety, but often that safe place is far from the original habitat. In cases of total destruction, the wildlife has to find new habitat. The current fires are pushing birds thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, burn scars can lead to future flooding. So long after the fire is put out, danger remains. The National Weather Service has excellent advice for those living near burn scars which you can access by clicking here.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes are not just wind events. Flooding from tidal surge as well as from rain can do much damage. After the storm passes there are precautions to take while cleaning debris. Good work boots and heavy gloves are a must.

Wild animals are a key problem after a major flood producing storm. Rising waters push various animals out of their habitat. So, not only will mice, rats and other small animals seek shelter on dry land around homes, so will their predators. Snakes are a particular danger as they can blend in with the debris found along the outer edges of the high water marks. Gators have been found swimming in backyard pools. Seek help to relocate predatory animals.

In addition to the aforementioned boots and gloves, flood clean-up tools for outside the home include rakes and chain saws. The rakes can serve two purposes. First, they can pile the small branches and flood debris. Second, they serve as a distance tool for any snakes or other small creatures which may cause disease-especially those that succumb to the flooding.

Tree after hurricane cut up with chainsaw
Chainsaw was needed after the disaster of a hurricane.

The wind is not the only factor in trees falling. Waterlogged roots create instability. The combination can be deadly. Chain saws can make quick work of downed trees. This heavy equipment needs to be used by an experienced person. The chain saw itself can cause harm if used improperly.

Generators are also useful for after the disaster. Electrical outages are common after a major storm. While whole house generators which are wired directly into the home are ideal, they are also expensive. Portable generators are more cost effective but have several limitations. They are harder to use and proper storage of fuel as well as high fuel quantities needed create problems.

After the Disaster-Finances Needed

The best thing a person can do to prepare for the financial after effects of a natural disaster is to have a rainy day fund. While home and auto insurance is important, few policies cover all expenses after a disaster. Personal savings are a must. In a large event, Go Fund Me Pages will not be the solution. Individuals and families will need self-reliance.

A rainy day fund is not the same as investments in the stock market or real estate. Cash is king for emergencies. In my opinion, six months of expenses needs to be tucked away in a low interest savings, checking or money market account. Additionally, a limited amount of cash in small denominations along with some coin need to be carried with the person or in the home. By limited, maybe a week’s worth of expenses.

Electronic payments via credit or debit card will not work when the electricity goes out. Store clerks will often only do business with cash carrying customers. And there will be places not willing to open shop at all.

Building a rainy day fund will be the topic of next week’s post.

Rainy Day on the Plains

Today it is a rainy day on the plains. The weather has been gray with off and on showers. Some rain is a light pitter-patter mixed with occasional down pours more like the coastal rains of my childhood. We have had so few days of total rain. So I am soaking up the rain figuratively while my gardens are enjoying the literal aspect.

Inside Activities

The rainy day calls for inside activities. Household chores are ever at the ready as is catching up on reading and quilting. About the only thing not on the table is baking. The humidity tends to throw off my baking whether it is bread or sweets such as brownies or a cake. Many times an August rain will disrupt the bakers competing at the county fairs.

But to be truthful, I have spent a bit of time out on the porches-or during the down pours-tucked inside watching and enjoying this rainy day. This occurs when you grow up in an area with  a 50 inch rainfall and move to a locale that averages only 15 inches a year. You miss the rain.

Hand quilting is a good activity for a rainy day. One can look up from the tiny stitches from time to time without missing out or making a critical error. The cool air blowing in from the porch windows is mitigated by the quilt layers.

Rainy Day Benefits

One of the best benefits is not needing to water for a day or two. Or even three if it rains all day. Conservation of water is critical in this part of the world. Every bit of rain helps.

The moisture also helps with the weeding. Even the big garden that has few weeds will sprout one or two now. But they will be easy to pull since the ground will not be hard packed from the drought.

Best of all, this rainy day on the plains will help the farmers. The wheat has been harvested so the rain is falling at an advantageous time. Corn, milo, and sorghum will shoot up overnight. And this deep soaking rain will help prepare the soil for the next winter wheat crop.

Falling rain on a garden and driveway

Striking A Balance

Striking a balance is a key to life. One that seems to be sorely missing at this moment in time. In economics we call this balance an equilibrium. If you believe in the philosophy of Adam Smith you think a system which is out of whack will correct itself. Eventually. If you are a fan of John Maynard Keynes, your belief runs toward giving nature a helping hand through intervention. Usually government intervention.

To be honest, I tend to favor Smith over Keynes. (Although neither is my favorite.) The biggest problem with Smith is that nature can take a long while to correct itself. The biggest problem with Keynes is thinking man has the discipline, and the knowledge to strike and maintain a balance. Striking a balance is quite difficult. Maintaining one, perhaps impossible.

Debt

From time to time I link to the Debt Clock. I have already asked you to click here once this year but please do it again. The overall number is eye-popping. Over 25 trillion as I type this. But dig down deeper. Look at family savings, student and credit debt. Take a further look at household and national debt. Finally take a look at the M2 money creation.

The Federal Reserve is following a Keynesian path and pumping money into the monetary system. This chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve office shows the steep increase in M2 since the start of the year. The Federal Reserve has deeply cut the interest rate on the funds loaned out. The rate currently stands at .25 down from 1.75 earlier this year.

From both the Debt Clock and the M2 chart one can discern the attempt at striking a balance the Federal Reserve is trying to make. It is not this action I disagree with. Instead I worry about the unwillingness for re-balance in good times. Why, were interest rates low to begin with when we were at all time market highs the first months of the year? Shouldn’t the rates have been at 3, 4, or even 5 %?

My fear is the inability of governmental entities in striking a balance. Keynes’ basic philosophy will work but only if humans can put aside for a rainy day. I have seen little of this in my lifetime.

Managing a Pandemic

Public service is difficult. I have had some personal experience on a local level and the job is tough. Making decisions for the public is not easy. A crisis makes it even harder. Dealing with Covid-19, while not unprecedented, is proving to be the greatest challenge many will ever face. This holds true on a personal as well as public level.

I think the problem will be most apparent in countries that have enjoyed more freedom for citizens. But I think people everywhere will struggle with striking a balance in fighting this pandemic. Individuals in countries that practice preparedness will do better than those who live in places where a just-in-time philosophy extends to households as well as production facilities.

There have been a multitude of agencies as well as people that have not responded as effectively as one would hope. Additionally, political leadership has not been on an even keel. But perhaps what disappoints me the most is the divisiveness of the human population. Although, I feel a little better about the split since reading Gina Kolata’s Flu. Apparently a similar split has happened in the past on the best way to deal with an epidemic.

Personal Responsibility in Striking a Balance

Nonetheless, I urge everyone out there to consider the needs of others. A person can look healthy and young on the outside, but suffer from lung conditions such as asthma or cystic fibrosis. Pacemakers are not just operating in the elderly. So for once I am asking you to “assume” something. Please assume anyone you meet, young or old, may have an underlying condition. Give people some space. Further, assume you could be asymptomatic, spreading disease unknowingly. And by all means, if you do have symptoms of Covid-19 take responsible actions.

Striking a balance between public health and public wealth is difficult. We all have a responsibility. As humans, we need to show respect for each other. At some point in the future we will reach an equilibrium. Let’s just hope we remember to repay the funding mechanisms. Otherwise, the difficulties of living through this pandemic will pale in comparison to a future of financial instability.