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. 

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.

Homemade chile oil FTW

Red chili peppers on a gray surface

We ran out of chili onion crunch sauce from Trader Joe’s recently. OMG, buy two of these when you can. (Chile or chili? Here’s helpful guidance from Merriam-Webster: Chili, Chilli, and Chile: Explaining the Difference.)

Two of my new favorite go-to recipes call for chile oil or crunchy garlic and it turns out chile oil is an easy DIY! 

I used this recipe from the New York Times and was amazed and happy with the results! Tasty! (The whole recipe is really good but I didn’t think it was necessary to bake the noodles.) Also found this one: Chile Crisp Recipe – NYT Cooking, and this one How to Make Chili Oil: The Perfect Recipe! 

Next up is this homemade vegan Worcestershire sauce from Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen! There’s a non-alcoholic version of a tomato juice-based drink in the near future with my name on it. 

Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

Amaryllis Girl

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

This summer, inspired by Amaryllis Man and my friend and fellow MG, Darrel, I successfully hand-pollinated my red amaryllis after two failed attempts. It set seed — lots and lots of seed. Wait for the seed pod to mature. It will split open revealing papery black seeds.

Amaryllis is a blooming bulb often sold at Christmastime in the Northern Hemisphere. It belongs to the genus Hippeastrum. Amaryllis is the common name. 

The technique I learned to propagate the seeds is to float the papery seeds in a dish of water until they sprout one leaf and one root and then plant them in small pots. I was hoping for a handful.

I now have 32 amaryllis starts in addition to five full-grown bulbs.

You might be wondering how long it takes amaryllis to go from seed to a  flowering bulb, and it takes 4-5 years.  

I recently transplanted mine from 2-inch to 4-inch pots, and they have bulbs the size of small green onions. Belatedly, I realized that I could have put a bunch of seedlings in one big pot. I’ll be ready for the next time. 

We try it first, so you don’t have to

Crocheted chickens sitting on nests

Two new novel foods we tried this month: Just Egg, a vegan egg substitute and Beyond Meat’s Brats. Two thumbs up for both. We tried three different Just Egg products: the liquid (makes scrambled eggs, 5g protein), folded (7g protein, and heats up in the toaster! C’mon!) and egg bites, like little quiches, maybe?

I have never eaten a brat before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it smelled and tasted great (16g protein).

A lot of people wonder about the allure of vegan meat substitutes. There are two draws for me: 1) variety. I mean, do you like eating the same thing all the time? And 2) it lets you experiment with all types of dishes and recipes. To me, it’s like any other type of substitute you might make when you don’t have all the ingredients for a recipe.

Tweaking your Zoom settings for a singing bowl or bell

Brass singing bowl on fabric with small white crystals in the foreground
If you incorporate the ringing of a bell into your Zoom sessions, you may have experienced the sound cutting out as Zoom tries to filter what it perceives to be unwanted background noise. 

You can adjust this by going to Zoom > Settings > Audio

I selected all options under Music and Professional Audio and it worked like a charm. Or should I say, “clear as a bell”? 🙂

Ringing a bell creates a nice centering moment to start and end the session. I use a singing bowl similar to the one pictured above and I love the sound. 
Screenshot of Zoom’s Audio settings

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

Ode to Coffee

A white Coffee LED signage

There are people who love coffee, and then there are people in love with coffee. I am in the latter group.

I started drinking coffee at 18. It’s a comfort, a hobby, integral to my wake-up routine, and a way to socialize.

How do you take your coffee?

I like dark roast coffee with cream, enough so that it’s the color of cardboard. Sugar, too, if I am being honest. I adore raw sugar in my coffee. But I gave that up a while back. I switched to vegan cream a couple of years ago. I like the sweetened kind but watching my sugar intake has led me to explore low sugar options like Trader Joe’s coconut creamer and my current favorite, Silk Half and Half, a combination of oat milk and coconut milk. A milk frother makes all creamer better–ours is a Nespresso frother.

Coffee equipment

I use a Keurig with reusable K-cups for the first cup or two. The Nespresso machine usually serves up cup number three. Depending on how the day is going, there might be a cup number four. Research of coffee seems to indicate that some coffee is good for you but too much caffeine is not (Check out this coffee research round-up in Understandably by Bill Murphy*), so there’s some half-caff in the mix and cup number four is almost always a decaf Nespresso. If I am gifted ground coffee that is too fine for the K-cups, I have a ceramic pour-over cone. The pour-over cone also comes in handy when the power goes out.

Conscious consumption

Ah, the story of coffee production isn’t always pretty. Fairtrade issues and environmental concerns loom large over every cup. So it’s fairtrade shade-grown coffee and swiss water process decaf for me whenever possible. Drinking less is probably helps me and the planet. (Would love to hear about strategies to be a more ethical coffee drinker.)

Mushroom coffee?

I haven’t gone for the mushroom coffee yet but I have tried the mushroom creamer: BetterBody Foods Vegan Organic MCT Creamer. It’s good — earthy — and especially good mixed up with a frother. It’s a little spendy but also very good for you with a healthy dose of B vitamins.

flat lay photography of eight coffee latte in mugs on round table

Zoom coffee date, anyone?

The pandemic — and my remote location — has put most in-person coffee dates on hold, but I love to share coffee via Zoom.

  • I am a long-time subscriber to Understandably and recommend it. Subscribe here.

Photo by Lexie Barnhorn on Unsplash

Parmesan in a pinch: no cow required

two brown cows

We recently tried this caramelized zucchini pasta recipe by Ali Slagle in the New York Times. It calls for parmesan, and I haven’t found a good vegan option locally, so I googled for a recipe. Cookie and Kate came to the rescue with this easy recipe! It’s just 5 ingredients mixed up in a bowl–nutritional yeast flakes, hemp seed, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder–no food processor required. I know many people put nutritional yeast on everything. I am not that vegan. For me, texture matters as much as taste, and the hemp seed gives it the right granular texture.

Two suggestions on the zucchini: a spiralizer works well in place of a grater! And it doesn’t *need* to be cooked for 20-25 minutes, but you may discover the longer cook time enhances the taste. Be forewarned that this dish does not resemble zucchini. It’s more like pesto. We layered it with our all-time favorite pasta puttanesca sauce over red lentil pasta.

(Hemp seed and nutritional yeast flakes are available at Trader Joe’s.)

It’s not working

Concentric yellow circles painted on asphalt surround the phrase “And so I chose to begin again” painted in white. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’ve temporarily lost my quilting mojo. I find myself not wanting to make any wrong moves for some reason. I know that mistakes come with the territory and that experimentation can go wrong OR right. It can all work out. But still, I sit among the carefully folded, color-coordinated stacks, not knowing where to begin—not wanting to begin. 

So if you feel stuck right now, I feel you. I’m right there with you.