My Covid 19 List

The little kid in all of us running through the sprinkler

It’s hard to write a pandemic silver lining post. So many lives were lost and upended. But there are some things that have helped keep us going during the pandemic. Here are 19 plus a few honorable mentions.

  1. Battery-powered frother
    This $1.99 item from IKEA was rated the top Christmas gift of 2021 by my QwikTea chai latte-loving husband.
  2. Rechargeable LED lantern
    After the power went out a few weeks ago, this came in handy, illuminating the kitchen so we could cook dinner. We bought a second one to have one in the bedroom, too. 
  3. Just Egg and Beyond Meat Breakfast Sausage
    These are our favorite second breakfast items. (When you eat very early in the morning, then second breakfast is a thing. Well, it’s our thing anyway.)
  4. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper
    Before the pandemic, I had been looking at more environmentally friendly toilet paper options and learned about WGAC. They offer recycled paper and bamboo options. I was a little slow deciding, however, and then all hell broke loose and there was no toilet paper anywhere. When they finally restocked, I set up a subscription and we haven’t looked back. I prefer the bamboo option. The tissues aren’t my favorite, but the paper towels are great (we use very few paper towels having switched to bar rags years ago.) Oh, and they donate 50% of profits to build toilets worldwide.
  5. LinkedIn Learning
    I love online learning in a big heart eyes emoji kind of way. And LinkedIn Learning has been a go-to favorite since it was It’s less than $300/year or free if you have a premium LinkedIn subscription or possibly through your local library.
  6. Our Public Library
    We have THE BEST public library system in the Timberland Regional Library. Great online holds system brings in books from its many branches to the local library of your choice (we have three branches that are convenient to us.) They also offer access to LinkedIn Learning, movies, documentaries and foreign films via Kanopy, and art and craft courses via CreativeBug. And when everything closed down, they still found a way with Library “take out.”
  7. Squirrel Proof Large Stainless Steel Bird Feeder
    I love my little chickadees but they can clean out a feeder quickly on a wintry day. We bought this feeder from Chickadee Farms on ETSY. Sturdy and well made, it holds a lot of black sunflower seeds for my feathered friends and while no feeder is truly squirrel proof, we hung this with a swivel hook from an extended bird feeder hook and I haven’t seen a squirrel on it yet.
  8. Flannel sheets
    I was just about today years old when I learned that flannel sheets are warm when you get in bed. Granted this is more important where winter lasts more than two weeks (looking at you Phoenix). My online research revealed that Target’s Threshold Flannel Sheets are Wirecutter’s budget pick option for flannel sheets. They are also STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified. Two thumbs up. 
  9. Let’s Make Art
    Let’s Make Art makes watercolor painting fun and accessible with kits and free YouTube tutorials. It’s worth buying the butcher tray palette and the round two and round six brushes that are used in most projects. 
  10. YouTube
    Me and YouTube–or YouTube-iversity as I like to call it–go way back. But when you are trying to make due in a pandemic, nothing beats on-demand video tutorials. 
  11. LED pillar candles with remote
    I like stuff that lights up. I like candles but traditional candles and curious furkids can be a bad combo. I’ve been looking at LED candles for a while and decided on a 3-candle set featuring a more realistic flame-shaped light perched on a black “wick” with a remote AND a timer (4, 8 or 12 hours). They make me RIDICULOUSLY happy. 
  12. Grocery store pickup
    We’ve been fans from way back but now it’s the norm instead of the exception. You have to have modest expectations when other people are picking out your produce, but for the most part, it’s been an exceptional service. 
  13. Online events
    So many people and organizations insisted that face-to-face was the ONLY way to host events. Until it wasn’t possible and then people started to embrace online. Online events are often cheaper and more convenient. There are often recordings and other resources. They are more accessible to disabled attendees, neurodiverse attendees, women with children and so many others. I’ve attended some fantastic online programs including three multi-month training programs. 
  14. St. Ives Body Wash
    Remember when you couldn’t find liquid soap anywhere? Out of desperation, we tried St. Ives Body Wash in the pump bottle as an alternative and we will never go back to tiny bottles. Nice consistency, non-drying, vegan, no animal testing and 100% recycled (and recyclable) bottle. 
  15. Tek Gear 4-way fleece hood
    I bought this for Robert to keep his neck and face warm on dog walks and realized that it also fits my big melon. Women’s hats are always too small for me and even most men’s hats are not made for a 7 ¾” hat size. But this fits! And it’s soft, warm and adjustable without giving me the claustrophobia that I get from other balaclava style hats. 
  16. More fleece throws for the win
    Speaking of fleece, we bought a couple of new fleece throws. We have a few of The Big One® Oversized Supersoft Plush Throws from Kohl’s that have survived our nest-making dog, stayed soft and still look good. We added a few more so everyone has their own. It’s amazing how a small cat and a medium dog can hog a blanket. (STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® CERTIFIED)
  17. New five-burner stove with griddle
    Our oven gave out in 2021 and after weeks of deciding, we ordered a new five-burner range with a griddle. In the nothing’s easy department, we had to find a range convertible for propane and then find the installer that specializes in propane ranges. We are glad we did because the new range is amazing! Our old stove struggled with simple stuff, like boiling water, and before it stopped working, the oven took forever to heat up. And when the installer came, we learned it had been leaking gas, probably for some time. Yikes!  
  18. New York Times Five Weeknight Dishes Newsletter
    This newsletter has saved dinner more than once. And it introduced us to Pasta Puttanesca sauce, mushroom toast, Chile Oil Noodles and much more. 
  19. Thriftbooks
    When browsing used book bookstores is no longer a frequent pastime, Thriftbooks fills the gap. ThriftBooks also sells new books which is a great alternative. Thriftbooks is a master recycler with a good supply chain and AI thrown in: you can read about this on Reddit. You can read more about their social responsibility efforts here

Very honorable mentions: Coursera and Udemy for more online classes, Missouri Star Quilt Company for their fabric and their tutorials; Wakelet, one of the best website design tools I have used, amaryllis bulbs for capturing my curiosity, the Olympia Unitarian Church for moving their book sale online, and ring lights which really do make you look better on Zoom. 

Rural living: frozen well pump edition

Large white outdoor thermometer hanging on a tree with a squirrel nearby, probably supervising

Rural living has been a crash course in survivalist training. We’ve had power outages that lasted for days. Our hot water heater stopped working and no one seemed to know how to fix it. We were clueless about the septic system. 

On Saturday, January 1 the water stopped. Of course, we would have a plumbing emergency on a Saturday that’s also a holiday. I guess technically, we had a well emergency, which is different.

We had extremely low temperatures for a few days which caused the well pump to freeze. And that means no water out of the tap. 

We called around and a helpful person asked if we had put a heat lamp on the pump. 

Us:  ….

Also us: This has never happened before. 

We had no clue! We did ask our neighbor with livestock if he had a heat lamp we could borrow and he told us a ceramic heater was safer. We actually got there on our own and had set up a small heater on a table in the pump house. (Luckily there’s an outlet in the pump house.) We read online that it was a good idea to open a tap to relieve pressure on the line. When the kitchen sink exploded out water about 30 minutes later I was both startled and relieved. 

We also learned that a 100-watt incandescent bulb can make the difference in keeping the pump going in low temperatures. We are all set now with a remote temperature gauge, a warming light and a heater at the ready, prepared for the next temperature dip should it ever happen again. 

From the game room: Step up your game

An assortment of colorful gemstones on a white background similar to the ones we got to upgrade our Splendor game

An occasional post from Robert

Boring board game components got you down? There’s a cure for that – step up your game!

There is a large market full of ways to upgrade your board games, from deluxe versions of games offered by the original manufacturer to third-party add-ons, deluxe game components, box inserts, and playmats. You can, and some people do, end up spending more on the upgrades than on the original game. Now, I don’t advocate going that far, but some cool upgrades are available that can bring new life to a favorite game.  

A common upgrade for many gamers is to sleeve their cards. Thin plastic sleeves that envelop the cards used in board games will protect and prolong the life of your cards. Sleeves make a stack of cards thicker, which can cause problems packing them back in the box. And while sleeves can make the cards more difficult to shuffle, they will reduce the wear and tear on the cards, extending the life of your games. 

Several companies offer board game box inserts made of wood, cardboard or foam core to help you organize and store game components, reducing the time needed to set up the game and pack it back up at the end of the game. A well-designed insert may allow you to store the components of both a base game and its expansion(s) in the same box. (Or to store your sleeved cards.)

Then there are upgrades for the components themselves. For example, we recently upgraded some of the components for our copies of Splendor and Wingspan. For Splendor, we purchased a set of glass “gems” to replace the poker chip gem tokens that come with the game. These glass pieces are even colored and shaped like the gems depicted in the game. The set also came with heavy-weight “gold” coins to replace the gold coin poker chip tokens.

For Wingspan, we upgraded to wooden food pieces to replace the cardboard food tokens and wooden bird-shaped pieces to replace the wood action cubes. We also got wooden trays to replace the cardboard bonus point tracker and the plastic card tray. There are similar options available to upgrade the components for many other games. 

Another upgrade to consider is a mat printed on neoprene or other materials that help organize the playing area or replace the board (often upgrading the graphics or increasing the size of the board.) Playmats for individual players to organize their pieces, cards, tokens or components are available for some games. 

Lastly, many companies sell their games through Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms, which has allowed game publishers to offer multiple versions of a game, including a base version of the game and a deluxe version. The deluxe version often will include ornate miniature figurines (a.k.a. “mini figs” or simply “minis”) to replace the simpler pieces or tokens that come with the base game. Some people will buy the deluxe version of a game just to get the minis, even if they aren’t interested in the game itself. They want the minis to play tabletop wargames that use minis. These crowdfunded deluxe versions may include components, additional scenarios or expansions that may not be available in retail stores, so these types of upgrades may need to be purchased upfront or at a premium on the secondary market later on. 

Regardless of the degree of your involvement in the board game hobby, there is a range of options available for you to step up your game to a new level. Incorporating some deluxe components can significantly improve a game’s aesthetic table presence and enhance your gaming experience. 


Cell phone suspended in mid air above an outstretched hand a lake in the background

A couple of years ago, I learned about Cal Newport’s Twitter break in January and decided to join him. For the last two years, I added Instagram. (I gave up Facebook in 2019 for the most part. These days, I only use it (reluctantly) for online classes that use Facebook as a discussion board.)

I spend way too much time on my phone. So in January, inspired by Shaunta Grimes of Ninja Writers, I have been doing a 10×100 exercise and spending at least 10 minutes a day for 100 days on:

  1. Quilting or other art
  2. Studying French
  3. Learning
  4. Reading
  5. Writing
  6. Housework/Home improvement

I am also doing paper shredding. We were seriously behind on shredding, but luckily, we are not 100 days behind.

What’s your relationship with your phone?

Recent research by Asurion shows that Americans pick up their phones 96 times a day or once every 10 minutes. If you are curious about your screen time and phone habits, your phone has data for you. On an iPhone, go to Setting > Screen Time. Go to “all activity” under the graph for details. My numbers were a bit scary. One of the scariest data points is the list of apps that are first used after pickup. Gmail was number one but Instagram was number two! This is when I knew I needed an IG detox! I have to say that after 25 Instagram-free days, my life is better without it. 

Keeping it greener with reusable gift wrap

I love gift wrap. The tradition of wrapping gifts goes back centuries. In the United States, the Hall family of Hallmark fame is credited with first marketing modern gift wrap in 1917.

But there’s a downside. Americans throw away a few million pounds of gift wrap and gift bags every Christmas. Undecorated paper (no glitter or flocking) and of course cardboard boxes are recyclable. And there are more and more recycled paper options available. Nashville Wraps’ Green way products are among my favorites. 

Two strategies we’ve adopted are to reuse paper and find sturdier reusables–like fabric–to wrap gifts. 

1. Reuse single-use wrapping: When I was a kid an artistic relative wrapped and added elaborate embellishments to a cardboard gift box that was too pretty to toss. Our family reused that box until it fell apart. Inspired by that early reusable, we started reusing gift wrappings. Our aforementioned Green way gift wrap purchased several years ago in a jumbo roll seems to hold up the best to reuse. We also reuse tags and we upcycle greeting cards into tags. 

2. Select reusables that will last for years: Organza gift bags also last a long time and come in lots of sizes. This year I tried a few new wraps made with cotton fabric. This first is Furoshiki a Japanese wrapping style that typically uses square-shaped pieces of fabric. (Bandannas are a good option.) This worked especially well for some heavy books that tend to rip wrapping paper and overwhelm paper gift bags. I used a pinking rotary cutter to pink the fabric edges so they didn’t fray. I also made a double-sided wrap.

Reusable fabric drawstring gift bags: These can be purchased on ETSY or DIY’ed if you are handy with a sewing machine and you are willing to put up with some trial and error on the road to your ideal gift bag. With fabric gift bags you can forego tissue and even boxes. We also started reusing all of the nonwoven Amazon gift bags we have received. Several years ago we bought personalized Santa sacks for each other. These beautiful bags hold a lot and negate the need for individual wrapping. 

This is where I admit that my first drawstring bag was a disaster. I used interfacing to give it body (I wanted to use it for a pretty hefty book) and it overwhelmed the ribbon drawstrings making the top too stiff to cinch closed. So I cut off the top and added a new top with plain fabric. That seemed to do the trick.

Then I tried this fat quarter-friendly (IYKYK) pattern by Melissa at Polka Dot Chair: Lined Drawstring Bag Sewing Pattern & Free SVG Files. I purchased her pattern for $4.50 and got a discount code to share. Well worth it! I love this pattern and her method saved my disaster bag. I don’t have a Cricut, but I love her embellishments.

Other patterns to check out: 

Final step: Changing your ways

The final step can be hard because changing our throwaway ways can be hard: reuse everything that you can and ask your family and friends to reuse your fabric bags or return them for a future gift.

Immersed in Modern Art

Silhouettes of people in immersive Van Gogh experience

If you have a background in art, you can skip this newbie post. If you are engaged with art but otherwise inexperienced, continue on. 

I’m taking a course called Modern Art and Ideas from the Museum of Modern Art on Coursera. Two years ago, I completed their course In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting and I have a lot of paintings to show for it. One of the things I loved about the course is that each week focused on a different postwar abstract artist and then we would paint our own painting in that painter’s style. If you want to remember art and artists, this is an outstanding learning method. 

Something that occurred to me is a common misunderstanding about modern art. You have probably heard someone say: “I just don’t understand modern art!”

But modern art isn’t solely abstract or surrealist paintings. It’s really a post-industrial shift in how and why art was created. Modern art includes the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. 

Both Modern Art and Ideas and In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting are free to take on Coursera. Let me know if you enroll! And of course, I want to see your paintings!

Photo by Redd on Unsplash

Succulents that don’t suck

Top-angle photography of succulents

 In Arizona, everything dries out pretty quickly and you can get away with growing succulents in a variety of soil mixes. In the Pacific Northwest, different story. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve lost a disturbing number of succulents since moving here. I knew I had to make a change so I found a succulent expert, Cassidy at Succulents and Sunshine. From Cassidy, I learned about this soil mix from Bonsai Jack.

Stay tuned! I hope 2022 will mark the return of succulents to Chez Haiku!

Photo by Maria Orlova on Unsplash

Learning how to learn

Human brain on purple gradient background

One of my favorite online courses is Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski. And I’m not alone – 3+ million learners have taken the popular course on Coursera. 

Barb, Terry, and their colleague Beth Rogowski have a new book, Uncommon Sense Teaching, and a companion course on Coursera, so I signed up. It’s geared toward teachers but the content is relevant for anyone who has to teach others. One of the things I appreciate about the LHTL crew is their willingness to look deeply at and interrogate widely accepted beliefs about how we learn. I am just a few weeks into the course but I already can see why some teaching and training methods aren’t that effective in creating learning that lasts. 

Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

New life for old glasses

I own a pair of oversized Coach sunglasses that I have had for about seven years. They are GREAT sunglasses, but the lenses had seen better days. These were spendy, so I was more careful than typical. But I am notorious for dropping my glasses and leaving them unprotected in all kinds of spots. I even ran over a pair of glasses once. 

Even though the lenses were scratched in a hundred ways, the frames were like new, so I started looking for a company that replaces lenses. This type of repair used to be impossible. But technology and the internet often make the impossible possible. And I found a company called LensDirect. I was so impressed with their ordering process and customer service. 

Here’s how it worked:

  1. I placed an order online that included describing my frames*, uploading a photo of the frames, and selecting lenses. I opted to send my prescription later.
  2. LensDirect emailed me a prepaid shipping label to ship my frames. 
  3. I was reminded several times by email to send my prescription. It was easy once I made a scan of it. I was able to reply to an email reminder and attach the prescription. 
  4. Then I was directed to an online site to measure my PD using my webcam (PD = pupillary distance, the distance between your pupils. This ensures that you can see correctly out of differently shaped and size lenses.) The technology was incredible.
  5. I also received instructions for marking the pupil position on my old lenses with a marker. (I used a silver Sharpie on my dark lenses.)
  6. I packed up my old glasses in their case and mailed them off, saying a little prayer that both would be returned to me.

I ordered the lenses on November 24, and my new glasses arrived on December 10. Pretty amazing! 

It was about $100 on sale for new polarized lenses, including shipping. I’m thrilled with my updated glasses. It’s like having new Coach sunglasses for a fraction of the cost. 

Here’s a link you can use to save $20 at LensDirect. 

*Recently I’ve learned a lot about frame and lens sizes after a lifetime of wearing glasses and making some bad purchasing decisions. Most glasses have three numbers on one of the temple arms. 

For example, 53  ᷨ 17  145

  • 53 the width of the lens in millimeters
  • 17 is the width of the nose bridge in millimeters
  • 145 is the length of the temple arm in millimeters

Another helpful measurement is the height of the lens. It’s easy to find this measurement with a ruler. 

If you have a pair of glasses that you like, you can use the shape of the lens plus these numbers to find similar frames. 

Also: a tip if you are having difficulty reading the numbers on the temple pieces: take a photo with your phone. You’ll be able to enlarge the image so that you can read the numbers more easily. Understanding these numbers helped me realize why some of the frames I’ve selected over the years were perfect, and others are awkward or uncomfortable.

Rethinking everything

A woman in a gray sweater throwing dried maple leaves in the air

One of the hardest things to do as a human is to reassess long-held beliefs, behaviors and traditions. 

There’s a lot holding us in place. Our families, the media, and society keep us hanging on long past the time that it makes sense. I once had a job where I had to be careful of suggesting new ideas because if we did something once it became a tradition. Inspired by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Adam Grant’s Think Again and J. Milburn’s Responsive Parenting, I have been interrogating my beliefs. Recognizing preferences for identity-first language over person-first construction, I stopped thinking of autism as a disease, I started to understand addiction as a perfectly reasonable response to trauma, and I am letting go of hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday for a long time until it wasn’t. On the surface, it seems laudable: family togetherness, good food and gratitude. But as an adult navigating the holiday, I learned that Thanksgiving can be miserable for many and not that great for vegetarians. Everyone means well.  Even though I am not evangelical about vegetarianism (it’s hard and it’s not for everyone), I have felt like a freak on Thanksgiving more than once. No surprise: that kills the good feelings around the holiday. 

A couple of years ago, I decided to be very selective about Thanksgiving companions. I was tired of explaining myself and tired of less-than-hospitable behavior. Last year, the day was a non-event, spent like any other day off. And it felt … good. There was no pressure, no cooking marathon with piles of dishes, and no overconsumption. 

This year, I am questioning a holiday that is as much about overindulgence as it is about family–maybe more. And it’s based on a false narrative that from an indigenous person’s point of view is hurtful. For some, the third Thursday in November is a day of mourning

So I’m letting it go. 

I know that’s controversial. And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to let go of a lifelong tradition, one that is deeply entrenched in U.S. culture. I respect the meaning and importance it has for others and I will try to feel thankful every day. But like hands on a steering wheel, I can shift.

After all, Gardein turkey cutlets are available year-round.