Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Keep on Keeping on

This post contains some sponsored content (or links).

Did you have a good weekend? Were you able to 'break it up' from the everyday?

With the kids back to doing school work, the weekend was a nice break for them from spending their day doing school work. We learned yesterday that the schools will remain closed through April at this time, with a reevaluation towards the end of April. Next week is spring break, so the kids won't have work that week but then will have three more weeks of online learning. They seem to be doing good with keeping up with it and still finding down time.

The weather was pretty good at the end of last week and into the weekend. If we have to be at home, warm and sunny weather is definitely a welcome break. Somehow it makes me feel less 'locked in'. We were able to leave our doors and windows open and get some fresh air in the house. We were able to get out and get some fresh air, on walks and runs. My son got a chance to get out and do a some throwing and a bit of hitting at a nearby field and batting cage. My daughter spent some time playing on the swing set and then did some chalk art on the driveway. Look at the intensity of the colors in that art, I am pleased with the crayola chalk we picked up. (you can see that even following a rain, the color is still pretty intense) On my walks, I took in the sights and sounds of spring. There were daffodils blooming and birds singing, there were people grilling out and and having bonfires. It was also fun to see the different chalk drawings, pictures and encouraging messages. There were several notes written to friends and teachers on the sidewalks. Some made me smile, some made me a little sad - it is not in our nature to be isolated and not interacting, especially the kids.
Being home all day, every day has also caused us to think more creatively with eating and trying to find some old favorites to mix in to avoid feeling like we are always eating the same thing. I also have been saving some new recipes to try that friends are sharing...I am hoping that they leave a review so I know whether to try the recipe or not. I am still trying to cook once and eat multiple times and providing 'flex' options for the protein each night. I am also trying to make sure that we use up everything and don't allow any leftovers or food go bad or be wasted. Last week when I made a chipotle sauce for a restaurant knock off that is a family favorite, I threw in the remaining fresh tomatoes that were starting to get soft and a little bit of enchilada sauce that we had from dinner earlier in the week. Last night, I made homemade drop biscuits (usually use a mix) for having chicken in gravy over biscuits. I made a whole chicken in the pressure cooker and when I cleaned the chicken I set some aside to be used for Chipotle-style bowls and put the rest in the gravy. We are trying to mix up the sweets too. On Sunday, since we couldn't get donuts, we made beignets and this morning we used up some milk to make mini-muffins. When I go shopping (or do grocery pick up), I always include a good amount of fresh fruit, knowing that if it isn't all eaten that we will freeze it. Then, when the fresh stuff is out, the kids can still get fruit by making smoothies. I really appreciate the Ninja blender we got in the fall because each kid can make their own fruit combo and I don't have to hear about she used that or he didn't use that.

The cats are content. They don't seem to mind that we are hanging out more. We continue to tackle our puzzle and to play games. The other night, I even made my kids both answer one of those 'ask your kids' that is out on Facebook. I didn't share their answers on Facebook but I did keep them for my own memories.

This morning, I set an alarm to go to the store. I didn't need it, I was tossing and turning all night worrying about making the trip to the store. Unfortunately, pick up times are all booked so it was the only option that I had. I am trying to stretch time between shopping trips and got a little more than normal today to help facilitate that. They were in stock on most things on my list, except yeast, soap and toilet paper. On other items, I had to use a different brand than normal but things that were out last time I went were back in stock. I'm hoping that I might be able to do a small pick up order sometime early next week to get the couple things that were out of stock and a few things to extend the time to my next visit to the store. Thankfully, I was able to use Scan, Pay and Go and keep my time in the store to a minimum and only handle the groceries once. There were several people at the store wearing masks or scarves to cover their mouth and nose and I saw some wearing gloves as well.

Out of an abundance of caution, I let most of the pantry type items sit outside in my garage for several hours before bringing them in the house. For the refrigerated and frozen, I did what the one doctor suggested and saturated a paper towel with cleaner and gave them a quick wipe down before putting them away. For the fruit, I cleaned it and put it in a bowl, throwing out the original package. I don't know how much is too much or too little. The articles I have read seem to be contradictory (who do you trust - NIH or CDC - normally, I see them both as authorities but the data they have is not consistent) but many have talked about the fact that although the virus can be detected on the different package types that the risk may not be as high because the virus begins to decay right away, so even though it can be detected there is likely a diminishing risk over time; someone would have had to cough or sneeze right on the package or into their hands and touch the package to put virus on the package to be transferred to you; and even then you would have to touch that 'right' spot and then touch your face. So, I feel like giving them a few extra hours for any potential virus to decay before handling the packages again to put them in the pantry and knowing that we aren't going to 'touch' them until we use them which may be a few days or more, I feel I took ample precaution.

How are things in your area? Have you tried any new dishes?

This post contains some sponsored content (or links). All opinions and content are my own.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bright, Sunshiny Day

Wednesday is Day 12 of Social Distancing and Day 2 of the Stay At Home order. I've started to lose track of how many days its been and sometimes have to count what day it is.
Wednesday was a bright, sunshiny day with birds chirping and reasonably warm out. When I went out for my daily walk, there were simply more people out and lots more cars too. Most of the groups out were families playing basketball or scooting around the block but there were reports that there were groups congregating at parks (wondering how much was they all had the same idea and how much was coordinated meeting). (Un)Fortunately, on Thursday morning they posted a note saying that the skate park (as an example) was closed. They had hoped to keep it open for recreation and fresh air but because too many people were gathering there that to be compliant they had to close it for the time being.

My kids got out and spent some time in the backyard, my son and husband threw the baseball, my daughter spent time playing on the swing set and riding scooters.

Wednesday evening, with my doors and windows open, I also decided to bake. We have stuff in the house but everyone seemed to be looking for that baked good option, so I made a batch of chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies, a batch of caramel macchiato biscotti and a batch of M&M and chocolate chip biscotti. They smelled great and tasted even better. Hopefully, they last us a week or so, but with everyone home all day, I'm not sure how likely that is.

Wednesday evening was spent like many other recent evenings. Curled up in the family room watching some tv.

I'm looking forward to Thursday, which is supposed to be more sunny and warmer.

How are you holding up? What are you doing to occupy your day?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Exploring Grocery Pick Up Options

I am an in person shopper for most things. There are some things that I always buy that I am comfortable ordering online through Amazon or have used Target pick up for but otherwise, I am inclined to head to the store for most things. During these unprecedented times though, I have turned to online ordering for pick up at store. Some of my learnings may not apply to normal times but still are included below.

Giant Eagle - I know that normally you don't have to book over a week out but that is the current norm...if you can even find a pick-up time. As such, my pick up this week from Curbside Express may be a one and done scenario. I loved that I was able to update my order once placed until about 24 hours before pick up. This was nice because I was able to reserve my spot a week out and then add to the order based on what we needed and the current sale deals.

I was disappointed that you can't rely on their online status once order is completed. There were several things (not surprisingly) cut from my order that were either missing from the order summary and others that said unavailable. When I saw those cuts, I used the information to head to another store on the way to fill the gaps. Only, when I got to Giant Eagle to pick up my order, they had in fact filled many of those things with substitutions.

I recognize that currently stock is limited and they are doing their best with substitutions but I learned that I need to be much more specific in my notes and/or simply don't allow substitutions. Unfortunately, their choice is allow substitutions or don't, and they offer a spot for notes regarding the item on your list. They don't seem to use the notes for your substitution - at least not in the one that I put a note about what to substitute. They do however review the substitutes and allow you to decline items, so that was good. As an example, I had ordered 3 x approx 1# packages of boneless, skinless chicken breast from their current sale. They were out and the swap was two value packs, each just under 3#. Unfortunately, they couldn't honor the discounted $/# pricing on the larger packs - not sure if that is typical or due to the current situation. I know that in the past, I have been able to have them honor the sale price and/or repack to smaller counts for me, when I was shopping in store.

During this time, I was appreciative not to have to spend the time in store but some things were things I wouldn't have skipped when the item I wanted wasn't in and should have said no substitutes. The produce selection was okay. The tomatoes were softer than I would have bought but not bruised, the red peppers were too heavy for their size but still sweet and the avocado was not as firm as I prefer. The meat that I ordered looked good. The expiration dates were good. All in all, they did okay with the shopping.

Giant Eagle offers Curbside Express free with a $35 order (at my location, since it says varies). I would be most inclined to use it when I need a couple of items and don't want the hassle of running in the store but that is not an option.

Acme Fresh Market - Acme I was very lucky and able to get an appointment for pick up within 2 days of placing my order. The first day I scheduled, only 2 of the items on my list were available. They called me before completing the order and I was able to cancel the order and then copy it into a new order for pick up on a different day. The shopper who called was even able to check the schedule to see when the next truck was coming in and I was most likely to find more items in stock.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way in the system to change the order once submitted. This was disappointing because there were things I would have liked to add or update after placing my order.

Their substitution approach was more comprehensive. Their drop down allowed you to select whether to up count or to change brands or flavors or no substitution and they also allowed you to choose a substitution from a recommended list. I only got one substituted item on my list but it followed my request.

When I did my pick up they had about 1/2 of what I ordered. I did not get a call that time.

Acme typically has a nominal fee for picking up an order, so I could use it for a small order but if I want to maximize the value probably wouldn't.

Target - As I said, I have used their drive up and/or pick up for items in the past. The biggest issue that I have is that it is not offered for several items, including dairy, frozen, produce or bread and (I know because we tried to order them for pick up) windshield wipers. Aside from some limitations on the selection that qualifies, it is great and during normal times your order is typically ready to pick up in less than 4 hours. I have used it get ingredients for baking, soup and medicine in the past.

Most of the time, their app is accurate on inventory but I did have an item cut from my order that had shown in stock and was likely purchased between my order being submitted and shopped. This past week, I used it to get Gatorade and shop ahead for Easter treats (since I'm not sure when we will have the chance to get treats for the baskets). The drive up process is super easy and once you tell them you are coming, if you leave the app open it knows when you arrive and alerts them. The order was out within a couple minutes of my pulling up.

What has been your experience with online ordering groceries for pick up? What is your favorite thing about shopping that way?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The week ends the week begins...

The past two days have been a tale of two seasons. In the wrong sequence. Yesterday it was beautiful, when it wasn't raining, and today we woke to snow flurries and some light accumulation on our deck and playset. We took advantage of the warmth yesterday. I had the windows and doors open to let in the fresh air. I just love the way the fresh air smells when it is blowing into the house. It's funny, when I am outside, I don't really notice how the fresh air smells (at least when I'm not in the country) but as soon as you open the windows you can smell the fresh air. It's that smell that sheets hung on the clothes line to dry smell like. I went for a walk and my husband tried to fit in a long run...unfortunately, his run was about a mile too long. The skies broke open with him about a mile from home and since I had just returned from my walk, I was able to drive out and rescue him. Today was a typical Saturday, modified. All of our beds have been washed and remade, I ran to Target to get a drive up order, we picked up dinner out, and we plan to enjoy some beer from the local brewery as we watch a movie as a family tonight. It felt good to go out and patronize two local businesses that are carry out only for the time being. I was even happier to see the steady stream of people picking up food and beer, properly social distanced within the establishment. The brewery is collecting perishables to share with the local organizations that are helping to make sure that families have food during this unprecedented time (sorry, couldn't resist using the word).

It is a little crazy to think that this social distancing began a week ago, today marks the first day of week two. This time last week, restaurants were still open and gyms were still open. School had been closed and we were advised to keep distance. Stores were crazy with long lines and sold out of everything.

I find that days and hours blend together, even with trying to create some sense of order. Starting Monday, the kids have school assignments, so maybe that will help redefine days. Some of the classes have provided a daily schedule for next week, others have provided a week by week schedule of what needs to be done. One teacher plans to have daily Zoom meetings to meet with the class and share the content. The one worrisome part to me is that it is all enrichment and review. Technically, during the next two weeks we are closed they aren't supposed to be teaching anything new (with the exception of the one college course my son is in). I know that they won't be taking the time for standardized testing this year so they will have time the rest of the year to teach but it still feels like it could be hard to be motivated reviewing things remotely.

Some observations from week one.
- We have created a lot less trash this past week. I would have expected that with all of us home all day that we might have created more. I'm not really sure why it is less. Any thoughts?
- The dishwasher fills quicker and has to be run about every other day consistently. That one makes more sense.
- The laundry is less than normal. I guess without the gym and sports we have less changes of clothes, even with daily running, walking, playing outside.
- We don't eat as much snacks when we are home. We still snack but we snack on different food I guess. I know that no one has grabbed a granola bar this past week. I may have to start suggesting them just from an overall shelf life perspective.
- I miss listening to music. The kids will play things on our Alexa from time to time and we have music stations and radios in the house but I am realizing that most of my music listening is done in my car. I might have to take advantage of some of these live streams coming up - James Taylor has a thing on Sunday and Garth Brooks is doing a live stream on Monday night.

What have you noticed? What was different than you expected it might be?

Now that I wrote that title, Dave Matthews music is running through my head. Maybe I will go turn on the radio.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Sense of Normalcy

Not sure how things are at your house but here days are starting to run together. I find that I have to check my phone to figure out what day of the week it is and we are only on day 6 of this social distancing. I am doing my best to try to ensure a sense of normalcy at our house.

Each day, we all get dressed. It would be so easy to stay in pajamas all day, and on holidays and snow days, we have been known to do that but there is something about the act of getting dressed that helps the day feel more normal.

Each day, I make a family dinner. Those dinners are a little 'looser' than they have been in the past. I make a protein and each person can choose how they eat it. Yesterday, I made chicken breast. My daughter ate it as a chicken breast with a side of parsley red skin potatoes and a bowl of berries. My son and husband enjoyed it as a Chipotle style bowl with brown cilantro rice, fajita veggies, salsa, lettuce and shredded cheese. I had mine on a salad.

Each day, we sit down together and watch a show. Most days it is Jeopardy but when one of our series has a new show, we try to catch up on it. On some days, we have a snack tray to go with it.

The rest of the day is pretty do as you do. Time on schoolwork, time watching shows, time walking or running, time reading, time building puzzles and playing games, time on the computer and such. That is less structured than real life but the structure of doing little things is helping us not feeling like days are simply running together and allowing us to have some sense of being individual days.

How are you keeping a sense of normalcy at your house? What are the standards in your daily routine?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Staying Active - Mind & Body

This experience really is unlike any other. I think I have heard the word unprecedented at least 1000 times in the past week.

Here in Ohio, I think we are at the point where it might be easier to keep a list of things that are open. I get it, whether you refer to it as sheltering in place, isolation, social distancing, or some other phrase, the goal is to keep people apart to mitigate or at least slow the spread.

With schools closed, our library closed, and the gyms closed, keeping the mind and body active is a new challenge, an unfamiliar challenge. It is funny how dependent you become on the outside world for things to engage your mind and keep you moving.

Our schools are treating this week as a series of calamity days, because fortunately, we hadn't yet taken any snow days this year. This is to allow the teachers to put together plans for distance learning and to find ways to remedy for students that don't have access to a computer and/or the internet at home. Even with that, both the kids start their day with some reading. My daughter because she likes it and my son because he has a book that they are reading in school that he figures he can at least pick away at. Then, my son does the homework from his math syllabus that his teachers gave him a while back. I'm leveraging LinkedIn Learning to learn some new things and to enhance my resume. I should be reading...but just haven't been motivated to read a book, maybe too much time reading on the computer. In anticipation of the closure of school, I also picked up a puzzle and we are spending some time working on that.

My daughter is also interested in baking and cooking, right up until when she isn't. She is great at starting but soon I find that I 'can just finish' it. We have had cupcakes and muffins so far. I am sure we will do more baking and cooking. It helps pass the time, is a good life skill, and is entertaining. My daughter also was supposed to be in home ec starting this week. I offered to bring out my sewing machine and teach her but she is willing to wait on that one.

We are trying to get outside each day for some physical activity too. Fortunately, we have had some decent weather and we can get out before or after the rain on days where it has rained. I have been walking. My husband has been running. My son is getting together with one friend to throw and hit. My daughter is using the swing set with a neighbor. Our one principal also sent out a challenge that includes planks, crunches, push ups and squats, another way to stay active. Working out at home, alone, is hard. Sure there are apps and streaming and I even have equipment and videos I could use, but the challenge is the motivation...what's the hurry, I can do it later, I have no where to be and nothing specific to do.

The rest of our time is downtime - movies, shows, internet, video games, and such.

How are you staying active?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Observations at the Grocery Store

As I mentioned, I had done a mid-week shopping trip last week which was well timed with the crazy out of stocks and checkout lines that occurred over the weekend. The reality was that trip was a standard trip for me. I bought extras of things that were on deals and a few things that we consider staples that I knew we might be low on but I didn't buy extra of things like bread to get me through this week. If I had thought about it when I made my quick stop on Friday, I might have grabbed a few extra things. Although, knowing that they were out of chicken, eggs and water, I might not have found it anyway.

I decided that I would get groceries mid-week this week and give Curbside Express a try. I'm a shopper, it is part of the experience to choose the food that you are eating, to seek out new and different, so although it sounds convenient it was not something that I have used. I do use Amazon and Target for ordering things that we always use and don't need to 'shop' to choose and explore. And, I do love their app, it lets me compare prices between stores in real time (reflects current ad) so that I can get the best deals/values.

I organized my freezers and took stock of what I had figuring that I would do a stock up purchase on things beyond staples, so that I could only have to worry about fresh staples each shopping trip in the near term. I compiled my list and sought input from the family on anything that they wanted and sat down to place my order. The next available pick up time was 6 days out. I was good on most things but would be out of fruit and bread long before that pick up.

I debated placing that order for stock up items and doing a quick drive up order for Target. However, when I checked the Target app, I couldn't order most of those things for drive up (some were simply out of stock).

I came back and started to build my order. I struggled. Most of my everyday items I could find but there were a lot of things missing or wouldn't come up in a search. (I later learned that I could use the app to browse by aisle and find some of the things that didn't come up and likely some of the other things were out of stock.) I also realized as I was choosing what type of bagged lettuce that the current sale would end and I could be choosing things that wouldn't be on a deal next week. This frustrated me (it probably didn't help that it was late). So, I made a new plan.

I narrowed my list to the things that we needed and a few that I couldn't find online and decided to arrive at the grocery as they opened. The store was well staffed. There were a few employees in the lobby area that were sanitizing carts. There were employees in nearly every department that were stocking products. There were other shoppers but everyone went about their own business with little conversations. I was able to get most things on my list but I made a few observations in the process.

Produce was well stocked. I assume that they get this on a regular basis since it is perishable. Their in store bakery was out of most bread until they were able to get a shipment. In the bread aisle, they had bread and buns from the local bakery and a good amount of bagels but not much else. I was able to get the bread I needed but paid more since the store brand was out of stock. Pizza crust and pizza crust mixes were out of stock, there were some kits and some shells but the area was mostly bare. The rice row was low on stock but pasta was well stocked. They were out of ground meat (beef, turkey, etc) but had a good stock of chicken breasts, thighs, legs and such. They were out of most hot dogs and sausages. Pancake and waffle mixes were wiped out. Cereal and snack bars were well stocked. Milk, juice, cheese, and eggs were all well stocked. Again, I assume that this is product that comes in on a regular rotation so the replenishments were already planned. Ice Cream had a very limited stock - stress eaters perhaps?

As I headed to check out, I learned that the Scan Pay and Go app is usually not up until 8 am but I was able to scan everything on my phone ahead of that (but not before 7) and even though I checked out well before 8 am, it seemed to work without an issue. I had to wait in a self check row since the SPG register was not open but appreciated that I had used the app and was able to check out quickly and go.

I did learn that I can edit my Curbside Express after placing the order. So, when I got home, I built an order of staples to meet the $35 threshold and reserved my pick up time for next Monday. When I get my ad tomorrow, I will add to my order if there are any specials that I want to pick up and any thing that we might discover we want or need. I will give them my coupons and pay when I pick up. Fingers crossed that I get nice looking fruit and that they check the expiration dates (I assume they do but it's a new process for me). I think that my new 'habit' will be to set up that next week pick up once I return from the grocery and hold my spot in line.

How are your grocery stores? Have you used/do you love the pick up services that the stores offer?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Social Distancing

It has been a while...

as a Busy Mom of Two it really shouldn't be a surprise that life gets busy and crazy at times.

In fact, the course of change and challenges in the past week here in the United States is evidence of that.

The stock market. Wow! I don't know what else to say. I am confident in the advice that has been shared, we have never not seen it come back. Right now, looking at my retirement and other funds in the market and seeing the changes year to date is disheartening to say the least.

A week ago was the first confirmed case of Covid19 in Ohio.

Today marks 3 days of Social Distancing for my family.

We learned on Thursday that the schools would be closing for three weeks (plus a fourth week for spring break) at the end of the school day on Friday and that all extra curricular activities will cease until school reopens. My daughter was told to empty her locker and bring everything home. The schools are treating this week as calamity days, since we didn't use any for snow or cold weather days this year. Then, they hope to have a plan on how to support remote learning. I will give both of my kids credit for taking the initiative this morning to do something educational. My daughter read a few chapters in her book and my son read a couple of chapters and worked on some math problems on the homework syllabus they got earlier in the year.

I have been sharing some resources on Facebook for remote learning. I have seen everything from virtual tours of museums and national parks to online art lessons and cooking lessons to rebroadcasting of concerts and shows, that will allow your kids (and you) to be engaged and learning in unique ways. In addition, there are more traditional learning sites for math, reading, and science. I have even seen online gym classes/activities. It is amazing to me how the country is pulling together to make these things available and sharing them. If I get the chance, I will put them all together in one post for more easy reference.

On Saturday, we learned that the library would be closing. We grabbed a movie that we had on hold but opted not to look for additional books or movies at the time.

We learned on Sunday that all bars and restaurants will be closed starting last night at 9 pm. They are allowed to do take-out/delivery but no dining in services. For some of my friends that own restaurants, this will be a tough time. Some haven't had those as part of their standard services in the past and are having to adapt - how do you take orders, how much to prep, etc. I do like that several of the smaller places are setting up family style meals - designed to serve 2, 4 or 6 and with starters, entrees and sides. The local craft breweries and wineries are setting up limited hours to do curbside pick up of their brews and vintages.

We learned today that all gyms, theaters, rec centers, bowling alleys will close at 9 pm today. Logically, I was surprised that they didn't do this earlier. The only one that applied to me was the gyms and I was disappointed. I had been using the pool 5 times a week over the past couple of months. I had even done research to confirm if chlorine in the pool would kill the coronavirus after the first case in Ohio was reported.

Grocery stores seem to be hard hit. Last week I made a mid-week run to the grocery store for a typical shopping trip which turned out to be well-timed as stores were hit pretty hard by the weekend with out of stocks. I did head out Friday to pick up a few things, like a baguette - part of our typical Friday evening snack plan. In our area, they have shortened hours so that they have time to stock the shelves and clean. This weekend, I took inventory of my freezer stock and have a list of things that I hope to pick up to fill out the gaps in what we have on hand. I don't plan to go crazy but to get some stuff to get me through so that I can go to the store less frequently.

What are things like where you live?