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Today's post is a more of a journal entry than our typical project post. When last week's post went live we were watching the novel coronavirus outbreak unfold mostly outside the US but within the span of a short week, we've now seen it hit closer to home.
As I write this in Minnesota we have 50 confirmed cases. It's easy to look at that small number and wonder, "Yeah but how likely is it I'll be near those people?" except that it may be closer than you think. We know now of at least one close friend who is a healthcare worker that is asking to be tested. That person attended a small gathering less than 5 days ago with our other friends and extended family. If those people were exposed, they all went back to their homes possibly bringing it with them. It's scary to think about. We didn't attend and we haven't seen this friend in-person for two weeks but that's also as long as it can take to ensure you don't have it.
In those two weeks, we had lunch with family (including at-risk grandparents), went to stores, went to work, went to daycare, went to the salon, had a small get-together, well, you get the picture – it was before all the social distancing measures were put in place. At any point had we unknowingly become carriers, there were plenty of avenues for others to be exposed.
We may never know
We just don't know. I think that's what it comes down to. We may never know if we contracted COVID-19 because it's unlikely we'll have a test done if we only are mildly affected.
So what are we to do? Well, we're holed up in the house. I've cancelled all my travel plans for this week (I was going to London. It was going to be amazing.). I'm working at home until the end of the month at least if not longer. Cassie's role and responsibilities are up-in-the-air as a school social worker. Her duties might morph to helping kids remotely or something.
What's more is that our kids decided this was the perfect time to come down with mild fevers and a cough 😓 Luckily, as we understand the virus so far, it only mildly affects children if at all and our kids are in daycare so they are constantly sick during the winter. It is hard to tell whether it's just a plain-old cold or the new virus. We are just defaulting to being cautious and self-quarantining until they feel better. It is hard as a parent not to worry about it though--what if, what if, what if.
Circle of concern vs. circle of control
There is a lot to be concerned about right now. Your family, your health, the virus, the economy, your financials, your stockpile. It's enough to make anyone stressed. Doubly so if you already were stressed about any of that before this.
One thing I am trying to keep in mind is the idea of decreasing my circle of concern and focusing on my circle of control.
What is in our control right now?
- Where we go
- Who we spend time with
- How we take care of our kids
- How we save money
- How we spend money
- How we prepare
These are what our efforts should be focused on. That's why I've tried hard in the past few days to just avoid scrolling through Twitter or refreshing local news sites. Doing that will just make things worse. It is hard, though.
Social distancing is hard since we routinely see friends weekly. We've been trying to do a few different things to cope with this:
We would usually have some friends over each week to watch some shows. This week we are trying to organize a virtual watch party so we can still watch the same show at the same time but also keep everyone in a group call for commentary or reactions.
We haven't landed on a solution yet but the Kast app seems promising. The other way is to try and sync it up manually on each person's end and have a video chat open. Kast appears to solve that issue by letting one person host and stream their screen to multiple people. I think it only lets you stream either a screen or webcam though and not both?
Virtual board games
Every other week I try to go to a boardgame night where we do tabletop games like Gloomhaven or other games. Obviously we've put that on hold now and are trying to think of other remote options.
This past weekend we tried playing the card game Hanabi using Board Game Arena. The free games available are kinda limited but if you're a Premium member then you get games like Terra Mystica, Seven Wonders, Puerto Rico, Love Letter, and more, you know, good games 😁
We basically just had a Google Hangouts, some whiskey, and it was a lot of fun! I think one of us will spring for a Premium membership. One issue we had was that it doesn't seem like you can make a "private party", a game can be open to anyone but you can boot people, so we just made sure we all joined the game and then booted any random people (sorry!). This might be a Premium feature.
This isn't anything new but we have multiple group threads with our friends. It keeps the conversations going throughout the day and makes us feel closer even when we're far apart. We are pretty simple when it comes to this, using our native messaging programs like Apple iMessage or Google Hangouts.
Discord / Slack
One of my friends set up a Discord server for our group so we can hop into voice chat or stream a game anytime we feel like it. Again this is a nice way to feel more connected, leaving voice chat on while you cook or do chores or whatever to have conversations. My work also has their own Discord server for other gamers or work-at-homers. Slack can be used in the same way but one major advantage Discord has is persistent voice channels meaning you can join voice chat anytime and you can split them up into different channels related to specific topics.
Managing money during uncertain times
We haven't really touched on how we manage our money even though this is a frugal-focused blog. We are privileged to have pretty stable jobs and at least one of us (me) could work fully-remote if needed. It is less certain for Cassie, though it's possible she might do remote one-on-ones with students or put together curriculum material for teachers. It's tough because she is mainly asked to handle kids in the classroom when a teacher can't and now with the district moving to distance-learning, it's unclear how her role will evolve.
So there's uncertainty. We want to be sure we can weather a storm if one of us loses their job. To help with that, we had already begun saving a lot of our income last year thanks to discovering financial independence. I'm glad we took action and cleaned up our finances because this situation would be much more stressful if we also had to worry about money.
We have enough to last us awhile and we plan to shore it up even further in the coming months. In the worst case, the kids could stay home and we'd have to end daycare (luckily, we are only two months away from summer break, which they have off). You may recall I mentioned in my last update that we are saving for a new vehicle and that is still the plan but could change given the circumstances – we aren't in a rush and we may have to cancel our plans for a road trip in June to Colorado which is what we'd need the van for primarily. The funds we save for that can become an additional cash buffer if needed.
If we are heading into a recession I think it would be wise to channel your energy into building out an emergency fund and trying to reduce extra spending. This is top of mind for us with the possible van purchase, HVAC replacement for next winter, and exploring solar options. These all become discretionary line items for the next year until we see how this pans out.
While I wasn't sure how COVID-19 would pan out two weeks ago, I did heed the advice of some friends who were starting to prepare for 2-3 weeks of self-quarantining. I managed to avoid the panic rush of last weekend (that is still continuing in some capacity this week).
I can fully admit here that before this pandemic, we were only halfway there to being prepared for a full-on disaster. I took this as an opportunity to really prepare the household for an emergency but it's something we should have done when we moved in.
Food and essentials
Unlike some I did try to keep it reasonable for about 14 days of non-perishable food and extra essentials like toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish washer soap, medicine, etc. We have a support network of friends and family where if we were really running low on something, I think we'd be able to get something. We also have "mutual aid" groups popping up in the neighborhood and at my work which we can lean on as well.
This past weekend we did grab some extra meat to freeze. We have a chest freezer in the garage that has mainly been used for breast milk but is now finally emptying out. We'll continue to add to that each week. I stocked up on some of my Pakistani essentials: lentils, spice, and rice. I think if we just ate lentils and rice for the next year, my kids would be perfectly content 😅 Oh no! We'd become those "only eat beans and rice" weirdos! But hey, it's Pakistani beans and rice, so it's way better, trust me. It works really well though because all of the ingredients basically can last for months (if not a year or more) without spoiling.
Rotating the food: the point of getting non-perishables is so they don't go bad for awhile but they do eventually expire. This is where we can outsource our brain to Todoist and set future reminders 30 days before the end-date to consume and replace the stock.
We did some other preparation too such as getting water containers in the unlikely event of a water shut-off. We also have two sump pump wells that continually collect groundwater in a total armageddon scenario.
As far as power outages, we should be set there too. We have matches, lighters, candles, a camping lantern, flashlights for everyone, and extra batteries. We had all that stuff from before so kudos to past me on that. 😁 One thing we don't have that I think I'd like to prioritize is battery backups for the sump pumps. Wonder if I can DIY that? 🤔
For cooking, I refilled some propane tanks I have for a total of 3 that we use for grilling. Our range is a gas one so no worries there too!
Stay safe and be prepared!
We hope this outbreak doesn't last too long but it seems inevitable that the fallout from this pandemic will be ugly and have lasting effects on all of us. The best we can do for now is to focus on our circle of control and prepare ourselves for what might come then try to stay present, keep each other up, and find enjoyment the best we can.