Monday, September 14, 2020

Money Diary: COVID-era Staycation, Part 2

And here's part two of the COVID-era staycation money diary I started last week! When I left off, a contractor was in the process of replacing a large swath of floorboards in our living room, and we'd relocated our coffee table and office chairs to our bedroom for the duration of the work. The repairs were going to take three days total, factoring in that certain things needed time to dry or set. 

Only day one of the work had been completed so far, and the contractor needed to come in at 9:00 AM the following two days. This meant we needed to set our alarms for 8:00 AM to have enough time to get dressed and eat before the contractor came by. That's a very early wake-up call by our standards, alas, but we'll be glad to have the repairs done before we're technically back to work next week. 

We wake up at 8:00 AM so we can cook and eat before the contractor arrives at 9:00. The easiest and fastest dishes we can make are either grilled cheese, like we had on Monday, or eggs and bacon, like on Tuesday. So it's grilled cheese with mozzarella (Trader Joe's pre-sliced fresh mozzarella log, to be exact) and prosciutto again! I cook and K cleans up after. 

We mask up when the contractor arrives, before letting him in, and then we stay masked if we're in the living room while the contractor is working. We have an ample supply of disposable surgery masks, because my mom and her friends in California participated in charity drives to order dramatically large quantities of surgical masks and other PPE to donate to local hospitals, senior centers, and the like. While doing those orders, they also bought enough surgical masks for their families, so my mom has kept my sister and I well-supplied. 

That being said, now that K and I know we need to settle in for the long haul when it comes to COVID precautions, we're trying out some reusable, washable fabric masks. A friend of a friend recommended "Happy Masks" a small company that sells masks with an extra filter layer sewn in, and that's what K and I use today. I find these Happy Masks very comfortable because the elastic ear loops are quite secure, yet also quite soft, causing no discomfort even after several hours of staying masked up. The front of the mask is shaped so there's some space under the mask (like with a N95 or a cone-shaped mask that's molded or sort of 3D in shape, so only the edges of the mask sit on the face) and the fabric isn't directly in contact with the nostrils and mouth (like with a standard disposable surgical mask that's fully touching the face). I like the Happy Masks a lot, but I don't have enough knowledge about the science to vouch for the relative merits of the extra filter layer they sew in. 

But I think my face may be slightly too big for the "M" size Happy Mask that's supposed to fit most adult faces to suit me. When I have the nose wire folded correctly and set at my nose bridge so the mask stays in place, the edges of my chin peek out around the bottom edges of the mask. This isn't a safety issue becaue my nose and mouth are still fully covered, it just doesn't look like a perfect fit. K's face is also fairly large, but he gets a better fit from the "M" size than I do. In other words, my face may be slightly bigger or longer than his, even though I'm several inches shorter. 

I have an unusually large head and wide face for a woman of only 5'3''. Most "one size fits all" women's hats look comically small on me, and sometimes they don't even fit. Back when our head circumference was measured for our law school graduation hats, I saw on their list that my head was as big as - or bigger than - that of many male classmates significantly taller than me. Of all the things a gal might be made to feel somewhat insecure about...

For the most part, I hang out in the bedroom while the contractor is there. Some of the work is very noisy today. I keep an eye on my work email throughout the day, but nothing comes up that I need to take a close look at, so I don't bill. 

We're running out of toilet paper, so I order some from Staples. Target - our usual source in pre-COVID times - still can't keep toilet paper or hand soap in stock for online delivery orders. It's $21.17 for a 12-pack of Bounty mega rolls, which feels really expensive. I swear we got a better value for a 18-pack in June, but the 18-pack is currently out of stock. It's strange, but Staples has been doing free delivery on orders of any size since March. Most items we order - including toilet paper - are shipped next-day by courier, a very expensive means of delivery. Chances are, this order will get to us tomorrow. 

I'm a little sad that, with the current furniture layout to make room for the contractor to work, I can't get to my desk and spend much quality time writing and journaling with my fountain pens. Oh well. Instead, I spend most of the day on my computer reading blogs or Reddit, working on blog entries, and watching YouTube videos. I've been enjoying June's videos for Delish (but golly, after Bon Appetit's YouTube channel turned out to be such a discriminatory, underpaying mess, I really hope June and her colleagues are fairly compensated) and I also enjoy Chetna's channel (she was on Great British Bake Off!). 

Though we're not the ones doing the work on the floorboards, K and I find ourselves too tired to cook a real dinner this evening. Frozen pizza it is. I feel like this money diary is making it look like we don't eat many vegetables, which isn't true, I swear! This is an unusual week because the contractor has been in and out all day, so we haven't been able to cook our typical meals. (Normally, we'd have eaten a salad for at least one lunch so far, and maybe a vegetable and tofu stir-fry for another.) K prepares the food and I tidy up afterwards. 

In the evening, I decide to order an A6-sized leather journal cover from a small US-based business called Chic Sparrow. They're pretty popular in the "planner community" online, and I've seen from a few YouTube videos or Instagram pictures that their A6-sized traveler's-style notebook (not the folio, which would be too small) should comfortably fit the five-year Hobonichi I just ordered from Yoseka a few days ago. It's maybe a bit odd to buy a fancy cover for a book I plan to keep at home, but if I'm going to be using the same journal daily for five whole years, it's good to give it some protection. My total comes out to $93.50

Another 8:00 AM wake-up call so we can finish eating brunch before the contractor arrives. Today, I cook bacon and eggs and hash browns, and K cleans after we eat. 

During the day, I end up needing to do some non-billable administrative work. Some research I did in August using one of the main online research databases for law - Westlaw or LexisNexis - is apparently being associated in my workplace's records with a billing code for an inactive case I haven't worked on since May. Subscriptions to those research databases are extremely expensive, so clients are generally charged a small fee when attorneys need to do research using those databases for the client's matters, as part of the client's monthly bills. (The Westlaw or Lexis fees are only ever a tiny percentage of those bills. Attorney time is far more expensive.) 

I'm confused because I'm quite careful about making sure the correct billing code is used every time I log in to do research. (If I was actually traveling during my vacation, I could probably put off dealing with this until I got back to the office. But since I'm just hanging out at home, I might as well handle it now.) I log in to the research platform and skim through my search history, and I confirm that everything I did in August was in fact associated with the correct billing code on my end. It takes maybe a half hour to figure out what's going on, the research site must be glitching. It's a technical problem on Westlaw or Lexis's end, so one of my supervisors will need to talk to the vendor to make sure this is fixed. 

In addition to browsing the web and watching YouTube videos, I'm also working my way through a few books on my Kindle. I've been reading The Changeling by Victor Lavalle and The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin (affiliate links). Both are quite good, but I haven't been able to focus very well on reading, so it's going very slowly. 

The contractor finishes fixing our floor in the late afternoon, and then K and I mask up again and head out to one of our neighborhood grocery stores - not Trader Joes - because we're out of garlic and milk. We haven't been to this grocery store since March, in part because we've hard they're not as good about crowd control as Trader Joes. We figure it's about time to try shopping there again. This particular store is quite spacious, and it isn't too busy when we go, so it feels quite safe. 

We decide to buy a fairly large quantity of food, so that we can wait a good long while before our next in-person grocery outing. It costs $159.60 total for garlic and jalapenos; a dozen eggs; milk; bread; tortillas; packaged guacamole; enough chicken and pork for approximately four lunches or dinners for two; bacon and sausage that should be enough for maybe six brunch meals for two; and then a bunch of snacks and other odds and ends. There isn't much produce in our cart because we still have a lot of produce from SAFG in our fridge at home. K puts these groceries on his credit card. I'll be responsible for half, or $79.80, when we look at bills at the end of the month. 

Once we get back to our apartment, I pick up our packages from the building's doorman. My five-year Hobonichi techo from Yoseka Stationery is here, as is the toilet paper from Staples and also my Alighieri necklace. Alighieri uses DHL for international shipping, so things arrive in NYC very quickly from their home base in London. I'm super excited to try on my new necklace!

Dinner today is chicken curry with potatoes and fried tofu puffs, made using Tean's Gourmet brand curry paste, and then a side of sauteed yu choy with garlic. K is generally the one who cooks this chicken curry dish for us when we make it, but he's feeling unusually tired this evening, so I'm happy to do the cooking instead. I chop up boneless skinless chicken thighs, peel and chop the potatoes, and get everything else ready for dinner. I also start a batch of rice in our trusty little three-cup rice cooker (affiliate link). 

This particular curry paste only needs half a can of coconut milk to cook up a large batch (enough to make three meals for the two of us), so we immediately freeze the other half of each newly opened can for a future batch of curry. Today, we're using frozen coconut milk, which has been thawing in the fridge since yesterday night. Previously frozen coconut milk tastes just as good when cooked into the curry, but does cause the curry to have a less smooth, slightly curdled-looking texture (it's not the prettiest). This brand of curry paste makes a very spicy Malaysian-style curry. K cleans up after we eat. 

Another no-spending day, who would have thought! 

We get to sleep in today now that our floor is fixed, and we both wake up by 11:00 AM or so. I make us a dutch baby pancake for breakfast, a job made a little easier and more efficient with that new silicone whisk (affiliate link) I mentioned in a recent blog post.  (And yes, that's two Smitten Kitchen recipes I've now mentioned in this diary, I use her recipes for both shakshuka and dutch baby pancakes.) We like to have the dutch baby as a sweet breakfast, topped with maple syrup and cinnamon sugar, so I add a tablespoon of sugar to the batter as instructed. 

Today, we finally sort through a big pile of letters and correspondence we've collected over the past two months or so. There's two pieces of important mail addressed to me: My new health insurance card is here, as is a replacement card for my Citi Double Cash Back credit card. Actually, there's two replacement cards, but only the more recently mailed one is valid. And that's the one I'm going to activate. My Citi card was compromised last month, with a bunch of fraudulent international charges popping up overnight. Citi shut it down right away and cancelled my original card, but another fraudulent charge or two popped up on the first replacement, so they cancelled that one as well and sent along the second one. Everything's been fine since. 

Now that we've been able to move our living room furniture back to where it originally was, I can sit at my desk and journal with all my fountain pens again! This makes me very happy. Later in the day, I also do another roughly 50-minute cardio workout on our stationery bike. 

We'll have leftover chicken curry and rice today, and I make another vegetable side dish for us. Today, I'll be making a stir-fry with chopped-up gai lan and thin slices of five-spice pressed tofu. I make a sauce with light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil,  a bit of sugar, and some water. I probably should also have added more water to dilute the sauce, however, because the dish turns out a bit saltier than I wanted. It still tastes good though. 

And that's it for my 2020 money diary! 

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