A New World for Entertainment

My idea of entertainment has changed quite a bit since mid-March.  Those who have been reading my posts for a while know that I love live music.  A normal summer for me would include 8 or more music festivals.  Fall and winter for me usually involve several concerts.  I also love theater, movies, and Friday evenings at my local brew pub.  Of course, thanks to a global pandemic, none of these things are happening as they used to.  But art finds a way.

I’m grateful that live music is still happening.  Over the last 6 months I’ve attended concerts in some very unusual ways.  Most of the “live” music I’ve seen has actually been recordings of shows from the past.  But I wasn’t there the first time, so watching those streams on my television was brand new for me.  Then came the “empty venue” shows.  Artists got creative and started playing live shows in empty venues to be streamed.  To make it easier for the bands, sometimes this even includes a Zoom with the fans so the band can see the fans reacting to the music.  (And I have to say…one of the coolest things I’ve experienced during this pandemic was watching one of my favorite bands watching me on a screen while they played.)  And then came the drive-in concerts.  Live concerts where tickets are sold by the carload.  Each car gets a designated space beside their car for tailgating and dancing.

Watching a new release movie has been a much different experience this summer as well.  “Straight to video” used to mean the movie was terrible.  Now it means it’s good enough that they really want people to see it, so it’s released immediately into streaming rental.  So I pop my own popcorn and watch from the comfort of my living room.

Big Ten football is soon to be making a reappearance.  And I won’t be disappointed to watch Penn State play.  I typically prefer to watch on TV anyway.  But for those who will miss the tailgating, there’s no rule saying you can’t tailgate at home!  Set up the canopy.  Fire up the grill.  Get out the cornhole boards.  You don’t have to be at Beaver Stadium to have the typical tailgate fun!  I had a few front yard cookouts over the summer just to break the monotony of quarantine, and it was really fun to chat with any neighbors that walked by and to share a socially distant beverage with a few friends.  Football could only make that better, right?

I haven’t really delved into socially distant Zoom theater, but I know it is happening.  I no longer eat and drink at my local brewpub, but I still enjoy their takeout food and canned beverages.  Whatever it is you normally love for entertainment, there is probably some new safe way to experience it like never before.

The hidden bonus of all this change is the cost.  Streaming a new release movie at home is less expensive than going out and buying popcorn and soda.  Streaming a concert is MUCH cheaper than going in person (sometimes it’s completely free!).  Even drive-in concerts saved me a bunch of money on food and beverage (because you can bring your own in your car!).  Eating and drinking at home is cheaper than in a restaurant.  A front yard tailgate is cheaper than football tickets.  My entertainment budget LOVES this pandemic.  (Not to mention that most of the music festival tickets I bought for this year I have rolled over to next year, so next year’s budget won’t feel that hit either).  We’re all feeling the fatigue of the pandemic.  But it is still possible to have a lot of fun in some creative ways.  And you can save money in the process!

Camping is Cool

Camping seems to be the cool way to have fun this year.  It’s an outdoor activity.  It’s by nature socially distant.  It’s a way to travel without being in contact with people or eating in restaurants.  And there are options for every budget.

You may think of camping as a tent in the woods and cooking over a fire.  You may think of camping as a giant motorhome in an RV resort bordering on Disneyworld.  And there are a million variations in between.

When my husband and I decided to go to a pair of drive-in concerts this weekend, I didn’t think twice about where to stay.  More than one night at a place more than an hour and a half from home in the summertime automatically made me think of camping.  I booked a site at a State Park near the concert.  For $60 I got a place to stay for those two nights.  If I hadn’t wanted to pay a little extra for convenience (electricity and showers), I could have chosen a site in a State Forest for free.  I packed and cooked my own food.  And I slept in my camper bed, which is actually more comfortable than the bed in the last hotel I visited.

Camping is often thought of as an activity unto itself.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a low-cost travel lodging option.  For many (hopefully including myself after I retire) it’s a full-time living choice.

Break out the hot-dogs and marshmallows.  Camping is cool!


Wrap It Up for the Future

The last few weeks my husband and I have been dabbling in make-ahead wrapped foods.  I bought a pack of burrito tortillas at the local warehouse club and threw caution to the wind.  I got out my Instant Pot and cooked up some chicken breasts in barbecue sauce.  I shredded the chicken then wrapped it up in the tortillas with some cheese.  It made 9 wraps that I wrapped individually in aluminum foil and put in the freezer.  A week later I took four of them on a camping trip, heated them up on our grill (still wrapped in the foil) and had a really easy (delicious) meal!

My husband decided to tackle the rest of the tortillas last Friday and make some burritos.  He’s a better cook than I am so he made his own refried beans, rice, and seasoned ground chicken to stuff them with (along with cheese, of course!).  Amazingly, what he prepared used exactly the remaining 7 tortillas from the jumbo pack I bought.  And then we had even more already prepared food that just needed to be heated up.

Now here is where my ultimate frugal side comes into play.  This weekend we went to a pair of drive-in concerts and stayed in a hotel (because I had enough hotel reward points for a free room).  And we didn’t want to eat in restaurants because of the pandemic.  But we had burritos and chicken wraps ready to go.  So one of the things I packed for the weekend was my slow cooker.  I know…who takes their slow cooker on a hotel vacation?!?!  I do.  It’s perfect for heating up those foil wrapped burritos and chicken wraps and toasting up the tortilla a little bit in the process.  We saved the cost of eating out.  We ate food that wasn’t fried.  We didn’t have to risk Covid to eat in a restaurant.  It was the perfect choice for us at this particular time in life.

Sometimes you stumble into a good idea that’s worth keeping around.  I’ve never taken my slow cooker on a hotel outing before.  But I probably will again someday.  And I’ve never made wraps or burritos just to put in the freezer for the future.  But I likely will again…very soon!  It’s terribly convenient on those days when you don’t want to cook to just reach into the freezer and have something home cooked that just needs to be heated.  Times are weird right now…but weird times can teach us things that are useful going forward!

My, How Things Have Changed

This morning I saw a child walking to school.  And it struck me how something so completely normal now seems weird to see.  A lot of things that used to be perfectly normal in February are unusual in Covid times.  It’s odd to see people standing close together (it even triggers me when I see it on TV!).  I cringe when I see people without masks.  Name brand Clorox Wipes are impossible to find, and I rush to text my friends when I find the off-brands in stores.  And I generally don’t go to stores.  My groceries come from curbside pick-up.  Beer from my local brewpub is delivered to my front porch.  Eating restaurant food now means takeout or delivery.  Concert tickets are now sold by the car for a drive-in experience.  My commute to work is now a walk from my living room to my guest room.  And meeting with students one-on-one now involves a webcam.

A lot of things have changed in life to accommodate the Covid-19 pandemic.  How we spend money is no small part of that shift.  My impulse purchases in stores are WAY down.  Because I don’t go to stores.  By ordering my groceries online for pick-up it forces me to think about what I need in advance.  In the before times I would retrieve a cartload of grocery staples from the store every weekend, and my husband (who does most of the cooking) would make a supplemental trip to the store nearly every day to get things he wanted for that day’s dinner.  Now I place an order once or twice a week for pickup and my head chef works with what we have on hand (in what he calls the daily mystery box challenge).  Our grocery budget has definitely decreased due to this change.

It almost sounds like the pandemic would be saving me a fortune.  But that’s not true at all.  Everything gained on groceries and gas seems to be spent on my own sanity (retail therapy—the struggle is real!).  Clothes and gadgets that I used to buy at Goodwill are now coming from online retail sites….at a higher cost.  Restaurant food (which is typically a Friday night treat for us) now comes with a delivery charge.  Additionally, I seem to have developed a fabric purchasing habit in an effort to make masks so cute that I can’t wait to wear them.  And writing this makes me realize that I really should focus some effort on reducing my food delivery and Amazon expenses…

Times are weird.  And things have changed, including how I spend my money.  How have your spending habits evolved with the pandemic?

But What Can I Do?

The world is upside down.  It feels like we are experiencing 1918, 1929, and 1968 all at the same time.  Plus murder hornets.  And California is on fire.  And even the one thing we could always depend on (the US mail) is a question mark.  Due to a global pandemic we have no idea what the next hour holds, let alone tomorrow or next week.

During times like these it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “Why bother?  I can’t do anything that will make a difference.”  But you can.  You can do SOMETHING.  Which is much better than doing NOTHING.  You can wear a mask.  You can stay home when you’re not in class.  You can say no to that questionable party you were invited to.  You can encourage your friends to also say no to that questionable party.  You can make sure to maintain a six foot distance between you and the next person.  It’s SOMETHING.  And something is much better than nothing.

Sometimes it will feel like your finances are spinning out of control.  It’s easy to see what you CAN’T do and difficult to see what you CAN do.  I can’t pay my rent on time.  I can’t go out for dinner.  I can’t buy that extra textbook.  I can’t put gas in my car.  But what CAN you do?  You can arrange with you landlord to make payment after your student loan comes through.  You can make a pot of spaghetti for next to nothing.  You can borrow books from friends or from the library.  You can take the bus.  You can evaluate your belongings to see if there’s anything you don’t need that you can sell.  You can pick up a micro-job or gig work.  There is always SOMETHING you can do.

The world seems pretty weird right now.  It can feel helpless.  But you are not helpless.  Remember….you can always do SOMETHING!

This Isn’t What I Had Planned!

Things rarely go exactly as planned.  If this year has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that.  I started 2020 with optimism.  I was exercising and losing weight.  I had plans to attend at least 8 music festivals between April and October.  I was preparing for my 35 year high school reunion.  I was excited about the small desk my husband gave me for Christmas—a designated place to pay bills and work on some extra-curricular studies.

As you can assume, my year didn’t play out like that.  I decided my mental well-being was more important than counting calories.   Music festivals are not happening.  My high school reunion was canceled.  And my bill-paying desk has been the Penn State Law Financial Aid Office since March.

When things don’t go as planned, there are only two ways to react.  You can be angry and quit (which is less than ideal).  Or you can move forward and do the best you can with what you’ve got.  I’ve found joy in working from home and learning new technologies to make that process easier.  (I highly recommend the Adobe Scan app for using your smart phone to scan documents into PDF form.  And if you are extra lucky you’ll get to meet one of my cats during Zoom Drop-In Office Hours!)  I’ve gone on a few camping trips.  I’ve watched a number of streamed concerts.  My husband and I have taken to having front yard cookouts so we can talk to our neighbors as they walk by.  I have tickets to my first drive-in concert in a few weeks.  None of this is what was planned.  But I’m doing what I can with the hand I was dealt.

I don’t think anyone is excited about starting fall semester in a socially distant/hybrid manner.  But this is what we’ve got.  Focus on what you’ve got.  We are fortunate that Penn State Law is well equipped with outstanding classroom technology.  You’ll be able to commune with your classmates through technology.  You can choose your own classic football games to watch, making sure Penn State always wins!  (I highly recommend Penn State vs. Michigan—Oct. 12, 2013.)

As you start into the fall semester, anxiously awaiting financial aid refunds, remember to do the best you can with what you’ve got.  The refund will come in time to pay off the credit card you used to get your books.  You’ll be able to stock up on groceries very soon.  But don’t go nuts…that lump sum refund at the start of the semester needs to last until January!  Budget out your rent through January now.  Make a spending plan so you know how much money you can afford to spend on groceries and fun throughout the semester.  Deposit the bulk of your money into a savings account, and then transfer one month’s worth to your checking account each month.  Then do what you can with what you’ve got.

The world is weird this year.  But with the right attitude (and some imagination), it can still be amazing!

What I Feel Versus What is Real

How I Feel:

It is now day 63 of my captivity.  I enjoyed the solitude at first, but I have grown stir crazy.  I am allowed outdoor release time, but when the sun shines it is cold and when it is warm the sky drops rain.  My cellmate is amusing, but he often won’t share the remote control in our shared TV lounge.  I have car privileges, but I am only allowed to go to grocery stores where I am forced to follow directional arrows, stand on dots on the floor, and must wear a mask to disguise my obvious beauty.  I was awarded a day pass to visit my parents, but spent the entire day working tech support and teaching the octogenarians the inner workings of Zoom meetings.  I am told I am fortunate that I have occupational time that earns me grocery money.  This occupational time involves countless hours of staring at computer screens from a dark corner of a room that needs to be cleaned—often while being watched by the two feline guards and a towering basket of laundry demanding to be put away.  My “free time” often also involves screens.  When I am not bound to the screens, I am required to hunch over the machine of sewing.  It seems many friends are depending on my 8th grade home economics skills which designate me as a master maker of the required beauty-disguising masks.  On extra-good days I am released to the dreary basement room where I am supposed to think it is fun to run on the machine that takes me to nowhere.  While the running does indeed feel good, the path to nowhere has become all too familiar.  I heard news that my status of captivity has been updated to the level of yellow.  What this actually means is that I am now allowed to go to more places, but I am afraid to do so.  The outside people frighten me more than the captivity.  The end to this situation does not seem to be near.  I am trying to find joy in the bounds of my prison.  I am not ok.

What is real:

A brilliant unidentified person from the land of social media put together this masterpiece.  We should all use it daily.

Isolation Well-Being Checklist

We’re all doing the best we can manage.  We are not ok.  But it is ok not to be ok.

Take care of yourself!

Things I’m Looking Forward To: A Perspective Change

Undated planners have become a big thing in the last couple of years.  And I jumped on board.  I use the Panda Planner.  I never really use the calendar part of it.  That part of my life is much easier to manage electronically (Outlook for my work life, Google for my personal life, and a smart phone app that combines them together for me on my phone).  But I love my planner because it helps me to focus my attention on the things that matter.

My planner has a daily To Do List as well as an area to prioritize those tasks, and also a place to identify the day’s focus and a place to track my exercise.  But the part of my planner that has been most helpful during this time of social distance is two daily small lists.  Every day my planner asks me to list three things that I am grateful for and three things that I am looking forward to.  When I look back to the “before times,” my lists were very different than they are now.  Some staples on my grateful list have always included my cats, my husband, music, and coffee.  My looking forward to lists have often included travel, music festivals, concerts, and nights out at my local brewpub.  And while I am still grateful for those things and am still hopeful that I’ll be able to attend a music festival again someday, my priorities have become different over the last month.

I regularly write down that I am grateful for a job that allows me to work from home, a good broadband internet connection, a house with some outdoor space, and the occasional sunny day.  I could easily make a list of 10 or more things I’m grateful for every single day.  But the looking forward to lists have gone a whole different direction, and are much more difficult to produce in this time when every day seems exactly like the one before.  I find myself looking forward to dragging my wagon full of recyclables down the street to the temporary drop off spot.  I look forward to whatever my husband is creating for dinner each day.  I look forward to a phone call with my parents.  I look forward to whatever my current binge watch is (currently The Sopranos, so I should be good for a long time).  I look forward to a treadmill run.  A craft project.  A virtual happy hour.  I’ve learned that I can look forward to the little things, much like I’m grateful for the little things.  It’s a change in perspective to accommodate the current times.  But I hope that I can carry it forward into the new normal once we get there.  Because looking forward to things (and of course being grateful for things) feels good.  And we could all stand to feel good right now.

It’s OK Not To Be OK

I’ve been feeling like a failure lately.  I started off quarantine life on top of my game.  I was doing well on a weight loss plan.  I was working my way through Couch to 5K training.  I was excited about learning new technologies and working from home with a cat on my lap.

Now here we are a month later.  I haven’t tracked my food intake all week.  I twisted my foot last weekend and haven’t been able to run.  New technologies are great and all, but my learning curve is steeper than I expected.  And my cat spends more time walking across my keyboard than he spends on my lap.

I like to joke that as a Generation X introvert I’ve been quietly preparing for this moment all my life.  But the reality is that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and life is hard!  My normal knitting has been tossed aside in favor of sewing surgical-style masks for my family. The novelty of feeling like I’m in the intro to The Brady Bunch during every Zoom meeting has been replaced with the dread of continued staring at my screen.  Buying groceries is a choice between the fright of going out in public or the frustration of trying to book a pick-up or delivery time in an overcrowded schedule.  The adventure of my daily walk out to my mailbox to retrieve the day’s junk and bills is ruined by the hand washing ritual that follows it.  Every cough raises the hair on the back of my neck in fear.

We are living in a very strange and scary time.  And I’ve been failing this week.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  It is ok not to be perfect while things are all askew in the world.  It’s ok to be not as good as was normal in “the before times.”  We’re in the middle of a huge world crisis here.  It’s unpleasant.  It’s scary.  And it’s far from over.  Expecting to be perfect, or even normal, is ridiculous.  We’re all just trying to do what we can to keep ourselves above water.

Luckily every day gives us a new opportunity to make the choices that keep us sane.  This week I’m planning to track my food better.  I’m planning to start running again now that my foot has stopped hurting.  I hope to devote more time to mastering Canvas and PowerPoint.  These are attainable goals.  But, to be honest, if I fail again that will be ok.  I’m not perfect.  Things aren’t normal.  But we’re going to get through this.

Someday we’ll look back on this and reminisce about our time in quarantine and the silly things we did to stay sane.  And things will be normal again, even though different than before.  And if we’re lucky nobody will ever have to wear real pants again.  We must NEVER go back to real pants. 😉

Things We Can Control

With the world in its current state, it seems like we have no control over anything.  But the reality is there are SO MANY things we can control.  And what we do with that control can actually affect how we get through this challenging time.

We can control several things that improve mental well-being.  Maintain a routine.  Shower.  Exercise (even if it’s a march through the apartment or a YouTube workout video).  Go outside, even if only for a few minutes—preferably while the sun is shining.  Eat fruits and vegetables.  Talk on the phone with people you love.  Talk on Zoom with people.  Sleep.  Binge watch Netflix.  Listen to music.  Play video games.  Work puzzles.  Do your schoolwork.  All of these things have a way of making us feel better in this upside-down world.

We can also control some things having to do with finances.  You should be noticing significant decreases in many areas of your budget.  My Subaru is currently getting about three weeks to the gallon.  My outlay of funds for restaurants and concerts is much lower than a normal springtime.  I’ve had the same $20 bill in my wallet for the last two months.  But this is NOT carte blanche to spend frivolously on Amazon.  It IS an opportunity to get a little bit of money into savings for the future.  When the world turns right side up again, I’ll have a cushion.  Some protection against the unexpected.  And as we know all too well, the unexpected can and will happen.

We have so much that we can still control.  Use it wisely.