I Still Pick Up Street Change…When I Can Find It

I found a penny in the Costco parking lot today.

Hardly a momentous discovery, unless you’ve heard about our national coin shortage.

The Husband used to get a kick out of my habit of picking up spare change wherever I found it. Mostly it was parking lots, but also in the grocery store, especially around the change converter machine, around newspaper and food vending machines and at school bus stops and on the bridges crossing the waterways while I was out on my morning run or bike ride.

But lately, the sightings of spare change have been slim to none.

Blame COVID-19. We’re outside less, shopping less, spending less, and when we do spend, we’re using plastic or tapping our smartphones, so there’s less actual money circulating. Add the closure of many bank lobbies (which offer free coin counting machines to account holders) and you have a recipe for less sidewalk cents.

I picked up street change for many reasons. It’s legal tender and no one should be throwing it away. And those small amounts add up; on average, I add about $100 to my savings account every year when I turn in the money at the credit union. It’s more than frugal, as my favorite financial writer Donna Freedman says in this 2016 Surviving and Thriving blog post about what she calls found money. It helps you build a safety net in the form of an emergency fund to use for food, rent, medicine, transportation, and any of those things you need when you’re suddenly out of a job, as many millions of Americans are at this time.

None of us ever saw a pandemic coming. None of us ever considered the impact it would have on the economy, schools, culture, education, social interaction, and worst of all, politics. I’m not suggesting one person’s spare change will make an impact on a global crisis. But if you see money on the ground, don’t pass it by. Pick it up and save it. Or bring it to a bank or retailer; they need it if you don’t. Or donate your saved change to your local food bank (on average, every $1 donated to a nonprofit food bank buys 10 meals).

It’s not just the frugal thing to do. It’s practically patriotic It can also save lives.

I’m Working It All Wrong

I brought my road bike in for service today. It had been awhile, and a lot of miles, thanks to the lock down.

Estimated costs for labor, replacements, repairs and cleaning is just shy of $200. And this bike shop likes me. They know me well. I buy a lot from them, including both my bikes and way too much other gear.

Well, OK…maybe that’s why they like me. But I consider it money well spent because I don’t want to yank off a greasy, gritty chain and cassette and replace them. Both tires are worn down to the green protection layer, past the grooves. I consider it an investment to do this, both in the bike and myself.

But I need a new job. I am in the wrong profession when I give out money like this for that. And yes, I am still looking. Spending a lot of time looking for something part-time so I can write full-time and train more often. But mostly I need a new job because getting up in the morning and doing what I don’t like isn’t a good way to live. Working with adults who behave like kids is draining. Getting lectured about how you should feel fortunate to have a job by someone who’s been living less time than you’ve been working is a real “WTF” moment.

I know a lot of people are out of work due to COVID-19. Millions in my own state are at the mercy of both no jobs and no unemployment payments, thanks to a state system that crashed and burned long ago, headed by a governor who thinks it’s all about how reopening things will solve our problems. But I have to look beyond the fear and possibility of failure and move forward, to find something that works for me. We may be physically masked and mostly still locked down, but creativity, imagination and hard work have no limits.

I’m Not Entitled, It’s Just About My Rights!

I live in the South Florida area, and that is all you need to know when it comes to COVID-19.

We are well over the 100,000 mark in terms of number of infections, and our state infection rate is over 10%. Our deaths per number of infections depends on whom you believe: the actual scientists with real numbers, or our podium-posturing, economy-addicted governor who downplays the numbers and blames everything from additional testing (!) to immigrants, old people, young people and alien invaders for the increases.

To make matters worse, we have a number of “freedom fighters” who believe it’s a sin to tamper with their oxygen and the ability to spout false claims about the efficacy of mask usage, so they are suing the governments of at least 10 counties to make masks a personal choice. They think it’s unfair to cut off a person’s air supply and tinker with their First Amendment rights. They scream about their children starving because they are shut out of grocery stores due to their personal choice.

Have these people ever read the First Amendment? Or do they know of anyone actually suffocated by a mask? I’ll say no on both counts.

I’m not the mask police. I wear one anytime I am outside in public, even to places where it is not mandatory, such as the pool in the next county north. I take on with me when I run or bike, and put it on when I enter a store to pick up a newspaper, short a visit as that is. This isn’t about me. It’s about you. And about my spouse, who is particularly vulnerable to the virus. And about the elderly or medically compromised family and friends you love, and who may still like you in spite of your offensive behavior, who still have some living to do.

There are workarounds for those with medical issues, such as face shields that fit over medical breathing apparatus. There are delivery services offering everything from pet food and toilet paper to medicine and food brought right to your door. If you cannot go out, or will not follow conventional safety practices, ask a friend or neighbor who does and will shop for you.

I believe all those who object to following the CDC safety protocols should be brought together on an island and left there. Free to breathe on one another and commiserate about how great it is not to have to worry about those silly, scared, sad people who believe in that dopey science stuff. Let them shout and sing the praises of unrestricted living. But COVID-19 has no respect for personal belief, hype about your God-given rights or desire to do whatever you want, when and how you want. It will just march relentlessly through the ranks, silencing one after the other. A friend referred to it as thinning the stupid herd. I’d call it survival of the fittest.

While Waiting Out The Rain…

We’ve had our share of rain lately. At the moment, my backyard is a lake and the street is impassable. We fine inside the house, with the food, medicine, and everything else we need.

I went out for a run the other morning, thinking I could get out and get back, beating the darkness coming from the south. I was wrong, and wound up taking shelter under an office building overhang, waiting for the sheets of rain to slow to the point I could run without drowning. While waiting out the storm, I noticed there were more American flags than normal posted on nearby buildings. Some were probably left from Memorial Day, but many had gone up since the death of George Floyd.

It made me wonder why we put up the flag in turbulent times. Is it a sign of resilience or resistance?

Do we do it because we hate the racism, fear and inequality in this country that has never improved since its birth? Or is it the way for the ignorant to take a stand, show they will think as they wish, say what they want, but hide their ignorance behind a symbol that should stand for better?

There have been protests in my area, though none where it could matter the most: in the mostly white and well-to-do areas of the county, where people have no idea how much nearly nine minutes of one man’s knee to another man’s throat really hurts. Most of the outrage has been in areas already hurt by COVID-19, and business owners there either shut down again or may never open, due to the fear of looting. I don’t advocate violence as a means of getting your point across. You’re part of the problem when you engage in behavior that destroys your own house, and teaches the next generation that the response to a senseless death is senseless rage.

George Floyd’s death did not start the riots. They’ve always been there, buried rage in the hearts and minds of many people. His murder released the rage, and that rage is irreversible.

We can do better. We can vote those who do not want change out of office, and compel those still in office to sit down, listen, and learn. We can get out of our comfort zone and engage, even with social distancing guidelines, and understand the history of hurt and why passive resistance has likely met its match on a Minneapolis street. We can ask how to contribute, and clean up the debris of a nation caught in a long cycle of disrespect, dishonesty, and the dire need to own up to being wrong about so much.

It’s not going back to what it was before. And you can neither run nor hide from what’s next. And you shouldn’t be afraid. There isn’t time for it. We’ve been afraid of each other long enough.

I’ve Got Thowback Hair In These Quarantine Times

Three months since my last trim, and my hair has officially gone back to the 1980s.

I had thick, curly, wavy hair that hit just above shoulder-length prior to lock down. It is now past shoulder length and big. Pouffy, large, teased-out and not happy about it. And by big, I mean big on its own accord. I have pick-style combs, but no need for them. My hair is just Valley Girl-sized without help.

It’s always been this way, though in years past, the color has been different. Once upon a time, the natural color was a dark brown shading to black. Gray strands set in early and I covered that with burgundy dye, which happened to look quite good. But pretty soon, the gray began to overtake the brown too fast to keep up. I did the overall dye job for years, until it became a pain to spend that much time and money in a professional colorist chair. And no, this is one job I am not doing on my own, despite the drugstore products and online offerings promising me the same results. This is one situation where I think the pros really know best.

At this point, the gray and brown are fairly evenly matched, and I’m fine with it. I’d like that haircut, but don’t think I need to risk my health and safety for it. I did trim my own bangs, and was surprised not to trim off anything else, like my eyelashes, eyebrows or ears when I completed the job. I think more people should consider the do-it-yourself quarantine ‘do, rather than protesting their state government with signs like “Give Me A Haircut Or Give Me Death!” and “I’ll Take My Chances, Free My Stylist!” as if not having a haircut for awhile signals a horrible event in their lives, on par with homelessness or starvation. Do the people complaining about not eating at a restaurant, going to a beach or a mall for two or three months understand that these are not rights, and the friends and families of the 100,000 lost to the pandemic in this country would gladly give up a haircut—and a lot more—to get those loved ones back?

My Post-Lock Down Shopping List

There are a few things I need once the lock down is lifted and shopping in regular malls and retail stores begins again. But the list is not what you think.

I really hate to shop for myself and only do so when something needs to be replaced, or if it’s for competition purposes, and even then, I’m likely to go the online route. But I’m all in when it comes to shopping the locally-owned stores and cannot wait to see those merchants again. I know many have been doing what they can to stay afloat these last two months. My cycle shop has been very creative, offering door-to-door bike repairs, service and delivery of parts, triathlon gear, and anything a starved competitor needs right now. Local restaurants have offered boxed brunches (coffee, quiche and pastry), “stud muffin specials” (assorted fruit and chocolate muffins by the half-dozen) and Mama’s Sunday Meals (salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert for families of four or more).

There’s a few things I need to find when allowed back to the retail stores, and yes, I could get them online. But this is where the control freak takes over and I just have to do this in person:

Socks: Most of mine (except for my running socks) have holes in them from being worn all day, every day to “work” in my home office sans shoes.

Cotton gloves: Because if your hands are anything like mine, they look like the Sahara Desert met a bad grade of sandpaper, thanks to all the hand washing.

Makeup: Not that I’ve been wearing much, other than foundation, a brush of bronzer and if I have to go out, a bit of mascara to eliminate that shut-in-all-day look as I gaze out over my designer face mask (quite fabulous, thanks to a neighbor who sews). But as most women know, nothing makes you feel better than a new eye shadow palette, especially when you combine it with a bag of good chocolates on sale.

Good soap: I have a couple of imported bars left, courtesy of my brother who got them from Harrods during a business trip to Europe. The scented soap from over the pond is better than ours—they use real flower oils, not chemical additives, to make their soap smell like rose or lavender or lily of the valley. I dislike perfume, body spray and scented lotion but a hot shower with fine soap is an indulgence after a workout, hours doing yard work or detailing the car or before bed.

So there’s my corona virus cravings list. It’s not overly indulgent or selfish. Just a few things I miss. Stay safe. We are getting through this. I am not sure if we are winning this fight though. We are still losing too many loved ones. And keep the scientists working towards treatments and a vaccine in your thoughts.

Just When You Want To Celebrate…You Can’t

I just had a birthday in lockdown. Not a big deal, or maybe it is.

I never was the whoop-it-up type. Never went out, caroused, stayed out too late and came home not recalling where I was.

I don’t come from particularly conservative people. My family could bring on a bash as well as the neighbors. Better actually, because we had a nice house, big patio and pool. My dad was in sales and was a volunteer firefighter, so he knew a lot of people and had the right personality for a good party host.

In college, I knew a lot of fake ID-carrying, grain alcohol-slugging types, but it was not my choice of pastime. I went to a few frat parties, but I worked part time in the campus dining rooms and carried a heavy credit load, so staying out late was not usually an option.

I keep thinking it would be nice to go out for lunch or dinner, to give a little business to a local place. I live in a closed county in a semi-open state, where the governor keeps teetering on the line between keeping some areas shut and opening others, doing what is in his political best interest before anyone else’s best interests.

And now, it seems strange to want to celebrate a birthday, even a milestone one. With 65,000+ lives lost to this pandemic, a special occasion in the time of COVID-19 is being alive, healthy and working. Those taken will never see another birthday, much less another milestone event. Their numbers create grim milestones of their own, sometimes obscuring any positives coming from this crisis. Keep listening to science, follow common sense and don’t give into the fear factor promoted by the miserable minority threatening to undo what good has been accomplished so far in the alleged name of freedom. Moving forward too fast because we have “rights” means our rights may include suffering and death. Stay safe and sane and we will all party again.

Coronavirus Commercials vs. Real Life Right Now

If you’re home as much as most people, you can’t get away from the TV. You’re listening to it even if you’re not watching it. The noise is the background sound to our indoor lives right now. Whether it’s the drone of the White House nightly press briefing or the ever-growing grim statistics of death and positive tests, we live for the numbers and news, and wait until it all stops.

Then there are the commercials. Most of them are virus-themed without saying so directly. “In these uncertain times”, “We’ll get through this together”, and “We’ve weathered the storm before” are typical lead-ins, before you see new cars on sunny highways, gorgeous furniture in perfect living rooms and happy families gathered around the cozy communal home office workspace, with mom and dad and the kids so diligently engaged on their digital devices.

I can tell you, that’s not real life. And you can probably tell me the same thing.

I know from Zoom meetings with colleagues that home offices are sometimes a messy kitchen table, dusty dining room space or crowded bedroom corner. Home schooled kids are sometimes bored, whiny, fearful, anxious, and often only too happy to interrupt the workday, because a parent is present and the assumption is there are no rules. And pets want playtime, petting, and treats because their human feeding machine is just sitting there doing what looks like nothing to them.

Many companies are doing great things for all of us: donating food, money and time. They are equipping their people to work safely, from home or on the job. They are forgiving payments, extending credit, packing supplies, delivering packages, opening early, staying late and filling in the untold gaps that no local, state or federal government can possibly handle. Those of us who depend on those who do all of this are grateful. And the attempt at uplifting commercials isn’t that bad. I just wish I knew which grocery store in my local chain is getting restocked with all that toilet paper in the commercial. I keep seeing the rolls and rolls going up on the shelves and wondering, “I’ve hit five different stores; who is getting all the damned TP?”

It’s Quiet As %$#! Out There

I try to work out twice a day, even without swimming right now, which I miss dearly. My brain was and remains water-wired, but is landlocked now, thanks to no open pools, lakes or beaches. I run or bike in the early morning, and walk at night, using ski poles. I also lift weights, garden, mow the lawn, wash and detail my car, weed the yard – anything to keep busy before and after eight hours at the computer.

It’s quiet outside now. All the time. No school buses, or people going to work, church or shop, or a lot of other people working out. Lots of folks walking dogs, which is good for them and the dogs. The police are enforcing the local noise ordinance, so no loud happy music playing anywhere. Few kids play outdoors. We’re not far from a commercial freight train line, and I never thought I’d say this, but I welcome the sound of the horn, especially at night. It reminds me humanity is still out there, taking care of essential business.

I hate going anywhere like the pharmacy or grocery store. It’s all masked face and gloved hands on deck and wipes in my car; thin armor against an unseen but better-fortified enemy. I’ve been a home-based freelance writer for almost a decade by choice, but being forced to also do my full time job from home is not fun. My home office is more of a privileged cage for those 40 hours. It’s not like jail; I can get up, move around, log out to do housework or fix lunch. But lesson learned from this: I didn’t like this job in an office setting, I don’t like this job from my home office setting, and it’s definitely time to do something different.

What I do enjoy is sharing thoughts with all of you. I hope you are all doing well, steering life down a relatively sane path, and a special thanks to the first responders, nurses, doctors, service delivery people, grocery workers, restaurant owners and everyone else who is showing up and showing us all how to survive in the pandemic age.

Big-Ass Dust Bunnies And Other Discoveries

When you’re mostly stuck at home, it’s amazing what you find when you have the chance.

All those times I said I didn’t have the time to deep-clean the place…well, that’s no longer an excuse in the isolation era. But in doing so, it’s scary when you realize there are corners and crevices of your dwelling best left unseen and untouched.

Just tonight, I swept the master closet. I moved shoes out of cubbyholes and got the broom and THERE WERE SOME SERIOUS DUST BUNNIES IN THERE!! Not to mention more than a few pairs of shoes I forgot I owned (and now that I’ve rediscovered them, wonder what I was thinking when I bought them). I did not sweep up any loose change, but I also found some wayward pills on the floor (no idea what they used to be; at this point, they’re mummified).

I swept under the bed, cursing the very idea that we keep our holiday decorations there and they probably attract their weight in dust.

And don’t get me started about cat hair. I have two cats, but they shed like five. They hate the sight of the broom and vacuum, but I regularly remind them that most of this is their fault; if they were bald, we’d have less sweeping. And how do dust bunnies and cat hair get from Point A to Point B, anyway? I never see any of this out in plain view; only when I have to get under and behind furniture do I find the little fuzzy culprits.

I hope your stay at home time is productive, pleasant, and filled with fun projects. As for me, I’ll make you a deal. Come get my dirty floor critters and I’ll reward you with some toilet paper and chocolate from my good stash.