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Blessings abound

Even in the midst of a pandemic, blessings abound. I’m approaching my 8th week of telework already and it has been an adjustment. Yet, my stress from the work commute is zero. I’ve been meeting some work related goals such as hiring another brilliant person to my team. My family and I have been spending unprecidented amounts of time together without being at each other’s throats. My son got hired at Walmart about a month ago. I feel loved, safe, and healthy. I’m actually reluctant to return to the office whenever that is and my agency is definitely in the planning stages.

My husband, Bryan, and I have had our share of hardship over the years, but particularly since 2016. We have serious battle scars, so as I’ve indicated in previous posts, this pandemic pales in comparison to what we’ve been through. Hell, I even took the COVID-19 test and never worried about the results. We were so thrilled when we received the FABULOUS news that Bryan’s social security disability was finally approved after two years since he applied.

Bryan’s social security disability hearing with an administrative law judge was held in March… right when COVID-19 was solidifying itself as a global pandemic. I think it’s cruel for a person to be forced to wait so long (years) to get results. When I worked at an outpatient mental health clinic years ago, I saw my clients struggle with housing, food, and health issues as they waited on disability. On some level, I’m assured that the government doesn’t just grant it to whoever who asks. You have to prove you need disability. It is what it is and ours was approved during a time when many people are living through very tough financial circumstances due to COVID-19.

I’ve financially supported my household solely for almost 3 years. I would be lying if I didnt tell you it was a struggle at times, especially in the last 6 months. It did force us to be very careful about spending and stick to a budget. We’ve accumulated so many medical bills due to both of our health issues. After a while my credit score began to suffer, but I knew in January 2020 things would get a little worse before they got better. That didn’t stop me from making a plan. See my previous posts about my 2020 financial goals.

I’m so grateful to have been able to support my family and will continue to do so. Bryan’s social security disability determination puts an end to the waiting, wondering, and stressing. A huge weight has been lifted from Bryan’s shoulders more so than mine. I also find the news bitter sweet because it confirms he has a disability, but we’ve known this and are coping with it just fine. Now, Bryan gets to put this process behind him and plan what his future will be.

This past week was one of the best weeks for us in a long time because we were able to pay off some debt, add to our savings, and gift funds to our family. We did make a few purchases. The gifting was the most exciting part. We also tithed to our church. On top of that, on Thursday, my boss told me I received a raise (without asking)!!!

And the ultimate activity that almost took me over the edge on Friday was telling a few members on my team that they would be getting raises, unbeknownst to them. They were so surprised and one told me her spouse had been impacted by COVID-19, so the raise was shocking and much appreciated. I was grateful I had a window of opportunity a couple of months back to make this happen for them.

I wasn’t sure about posting this message because I never want it to seem as if I’m tooting my own horn. I struggle with embracing the good in my life with humility. If you get anything out of my message, I hope it’s that with patience, faith in God, positive action, and perseverance, you can get through just about anything. Just keep moving forward.

How have you been coping? What blessings have you seen come out of this pandemic?

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Sometimes things get worse before they get better

I type this post as I lay in bed awakening from a nap on this lazy Sunday afternoon. I rolled over and felt the urge to share my progress. If you read my previous post, you know on Monday, 4/13/2020, a nurse called to tell me I did not have COVID-19. SWEET! That news was relieving although I was not surprised. By Friday, 4/17/2020, I had spoken to 2 more nurses and my primary doctor because I was miserable and not feeling any relief in symptoms despite taking a full regimen of antibiotics and prescription cough medicine.

Esperanza plant. LPC

I want to be as perky and bright as the beautiful bells of my Esperanza plant… I’m not there yet. Yellow is one of favorite colors. The dress in the cover photo is one of only a few pieces of yellow clothing I own. Yellow is my go-to color when I want a pick me up and I need one right now more than ever.

I bought the Esperanza plant because it was planted all over the property of a beautiful house one of my best friends rented for us in Wimberly a few Father Day’s ago. Wimberly, located just outside of Austin, is considered the “Hill Country” and it has a woodsy, lush, and lazy charm. We spent the weekend with my husband and kids, my friend, her niece and nephew, and her parents.

I’m thankful to have pleasant memories such as those to dwell on and perk up my spirits. I think I’m on the way to the other side of this thing called bronchitis, but not without more medications.

Advair inhaler

I haven’t seen the likes of this device since my son, Caleb, was first diagnosed with asthma years ago. His medications have since evolved to different types of inhalers. I’m grateful Caleb’s asthma is under control, but because of his asthma, he would be considered high risk for contracting COVID-19. I worry about him as he goes to work at the Walmart near our home. However, he’s given personal protective equipment on his shifts and tells me he washes his hands often.

I never imagined one day I’d be taking the same medications Caleb used to for his asthma. I haven’t been diagnosed with asthma, but I have significant upper respiratory inflammation. I tend to be conservative with medication and prefer natural remedies where applicable, but I need some relief. I’m not sure if I’ve noticed a change yet since using the inhaler for 2 days. I do feel a little better as my doctor also prescribed another medication for the cough.

I’ve been telling myself it is necessary for me to take care of myself and I shouldn’t feel guilty because I’m sick. I do struggle with the demands of my job, especially when I’m not at my best. I took off work Friday afternoon and I’m still not sure if I will work tomorrow. I know my husband, Bryan, would prefer I take off another day. I will see how I feel in the morning.

The main things I’m doing right now to get better is listen to my body, take my medications, drink lots of liquids, continue to eat healthy, exercise, rest, and be comforted by my loved ones. If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend this regimen for you too. As with this whole COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes things get worse before they get better. One day this will be behind us and the world will be better. I’ll be better soon too.

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COVID-19 Chronicles: Test results are in

Personally, I find there is so much to be thankful for despite this unprecedented pandemic we’re all forced to deal with at varying capacities. In a previous post, I wrote I was built for this pandemic because as a breast cancer survivor, I’ve experienced the worst news of my life at this point. To top it off my mom passed away within 9 months of my diagnosis and my husband, Bryan, has a chronic illness that blind sighted us all. I’m not one of those people who walk around FLEXing my muscles, but I am pretty strong.

Alive is a good. Thriving is better. When times are hard, being alive might be all you can manage and you can be thankful for that. My heart goes out to all people who have lost their lives to this illness, and for their loved ones who’ve not only lost them, but who can’t properly bury them. My heart also goes out to those recovering. I send my love and light to them and pray they come out on the other side, even stronger.

I never thought I had COVID-19 because of my symptoms, BUT I’m relieved knowing my test results came back negative. The nurse called to deliver the news this morning. There is no doubt my body is actively fighting some kind of illness, but I’m a FIGHTER. I will win and it will pass. In the meantime, I listened to Bryan and took the day off work (most of the day) to rest and recover.

A special thank you to my community of family and friends who’ve sent me warm, kind, and thoughtful words and PRAYERS. I need as many prayers as I can get. I also thank all of the healthcare professionals for the sacrifice and life saving work they are doing every day for all of us.

Be well. Be safe.

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COVID-19 Chronicles: I took the test

I’ve had a nagging cough for about a week. The cough has been accompanied by aggressive heart palpitations. I’ve been teleworking at home, which means business as usual – meetings all day whether virtual or conference call. The cough has been such a pain, causing me to not finish my sentences without interruption.

I doubled down on the over the counter medicine. For a little while, I thought it was doing something. Then, it got to the point where the cough was interfering with my daily activities such as talking. People were asking me if I was ok. I could see and hear their concerns. My husband, Bryan, wanted me to take off work a couple of days, but I didn’t.

“It’s probably just allergies”, I said more than once to different people, knowing full well I was tested for allergies a few years ago and tests came back negative. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t be sensitive to certain pollens in the air, the doctor had said. It is spring time.

Last Monday, I was miserable, then Tuesday, barely a cough the whole day but my mid-section, all around, was sore. The cough persisted again on Wednesday, progressively getting worse as the day went on. I decided to end my work day early to get some rest. The over the counter medications helped me sleep at night, but the cough and heart palpitations returned with a vengeance on Thursday.

I assured a member of my team that I would likely call my doctor Friday morning if nothing changed. We said our goodbyes for the work day. But I knew nothing would change so I decided to see if I could schedule a doctor’s appointment online. I think everyone else’s concern increased my concern. I’m one of those people who prefer to tough it out, but I could admit it was time for something to be done.

On the online portal, my responses to the questions about my symptoms directed me to call the clinic. I spoke to an after hours nurse at about 6:30 pm or so. Again, I could barely finish my sentences. She trouble shooted some symptoms and said it sounded like I had a bad cold and not COVID-19, but my symptoms warranted a call with the triage nurse. The triage nurse asked me a series of questions. No, I didn’t think I had a fever, but I haven’t been able to check because the sleeves for our ear thermometer are on back order.

The triage nurse gave me the option of seeing a doctor via telemedicine that evening or waiting to see my primary care physician the next day. The pain in my chest, cough, and heart palpitations were becoming unbearable. I knew I had to see someone that evening. My telemedicine appointment was scheduled for 7:30 pm, 40 minutes from then. I could expect a call from another nurse before I met with the doctor. I texted my siblings so they could be aware.

A nurse called me at 7:15 pm, asking me more questions. She assured me the doctor would be calling in a few minutes and that he did. By the time I spoke to the doctor, I had already spoken to 3 nurses and explained my situation each time. He asked about a fever and posed more probing questions about the cough and heart palpitations. He indicated I probably didn’t have COVID-19. He put me on hold for a couple of minutes, came back, and said he would prescribe stronger medication for the cough and a ZPAC. He also said he wanted me to go to the clinic to get the COVID-19 test.

At that point, I decided not to panic and was relieved about getting stronger medications. The clinic was right around the corner and so was my pharmacy. My husband and I put our masks on….pictured and courtesy of my daughter who said she ordered 6 masks (for fashion she said…???) a few YEARS ago (I question her sense of time). I may circle back around to this in a different post. When I’m better, I plan to sew in an extra layer of fabric.

Eerily, there were barely any people out in the shopping center comprised of several businesses, including the clinic, restaurants, and a gym. I was able to walk right up and check in with the lady in full protective gear sitting outside of the clinic. A man was ahead me. We were both instructed to wait. I could wait in my car or outside. I elected to wait outside.

My state of mind was calm, yet I almost couldn’t believe with all that was happening, this COVID-19 would hit so close to home. I was waiting to take the test. I told myself this is a precaution since I have a cancer history. Three of the four people in my household are in the high risk category, including myself. It was still very surreal. The test was brief – a cotton swab swiped in each nostril. I heard the nurse say I should get a call within 24 hours, but I realized later I didn’t hear the rest of what she said about the notification.

Today is Saturday and I still haven’t received a call with the results. I’ve never once panicked. I really don’t think I have COVID-19, but I won’t know for sure until I get the results. I think my immunity has been down from a cold I had in February. I checked online to see how long it takes to receive COVID-19 test results and it showed 2 to 10 days. On my online chart, I could see the doctor diagnosed me with “bronchitis”. In the meantime, my cough hasn’t gotten any better, but I did start the prescription medications yesterday.

The light in all of this is that whether or not I have COVID-19, I will be okay. I’m grateful I was seen by a doctor so quickly. Taking the test was also quick and painless. In a situation like this, I’d rather doctors be over cautious than not. I’m also very thankful that I decided to get this nasty cough checked out and that I have quality health insurance because I know many people don’t.

I’ll keep you all posted on the results. Unfortunately, my husband has been feeling sick today too. I’ve been coughing a lot so it was bound to happen. He decided to sleep downstairs. I pray my kids won’t get sick. Today, I started wearing my bandana as a mask in the house. Although it’s difficult, I’m going to try to get some rest so I can get up to view our church’s Easter service online before my husband and I cook our Easter meal. I also plan to do some cleaning and more resting after that.

If you celebrate, how will you be spending Easter this year?

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Cooking in the midst of ‘shelter in place’

I was made for this pandemic. As a breast cancer survivor, I believe I’ve already faced the most horrific news anyone could bare. And I survived it along with treatment. As the bread winner in my household for a couple of years, I’ve been diligent about planning our grocery shopping and meals within a budget. We will survive this COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m not gonna lie: it is a little unnerving to see empty shelves at the grocery store. There’s certainly a new normal of buying what you can find. Grocery shopping is like a scavenger hunt now. The brand of flour I like is not on the shelf. In fact, there is no flour on the shelf, except at Costco. Items that you take for granted are gone. Lysol wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, hand sanitizer (I barely used the stuff) are the highest commodities right now. Of the items noted, last week I was only able to find paper towels.

Our Grocery Cart at Costco 3-31-2020. LPC

Our grocery shopping strategy was different for April. I decided to do most of my shopping at Costco having gotten a peak at the grocery store shelves in our neighborhood stores. Empty shelves is the theme. I have the storage capacity to stock up on freezer items and pantry staples, so I took advantage. We purchased extra food. I do this type of shopping every month, so it’s not new to me. I’m just thankful I can do it.

For those who follow my site, you know I mostly cook homemade meals. Our household budget doesn’t allow much room for eating out, so we’re not missing much with the restaurants being closed for dining. However, I’m sad for all of the people who have lost their jobs, especially those in the restaurant and hospitality industries. There are many people who have lost their jobs in other industries also.

Chicken salad on naan. LPC
Sunday dinner 4-5-2020: Chunky potato soup and chicken salad. LPC

In uncertain times like these, I hone into doing what brings me joy such as cooking. I love feeding my family. My son asked me last week to make chicken salad. He actually wanted me to buy canned chicken. I was like, “NOOOO!!! Are you kidding me! I don’t make my chicken salad with canned chicken.”

Since I was craving a version of my potato soup with my homemade chicken broth, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I put a whole chicken in a large pot with water and added aromatics such as garlic, onion, parsley, celery, and spices. I let that boil for almost 24 hours. Then I removed the chicken from the pot, shredded it, and added the shredded chicken to a dressing of mayonnaise, chipotle mustard, pickled jalepenos, yellow bell pepper, diced celery, a dab of relish, and spices.

For the soup, I roasted 2 russet potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. In a stock pot, I sauteed onions, celery, fennel, yellow bell pepper, garlic, in olive oil. I sauteed about 2 tablespoons of flour in the mixture with a pad of butter. Then, I added my fresh chicken broth. I diced up the roasted vegetables and added them to the pot along with fresh parsley. I let that simmer a bit then added about a half cup of cream. I let it all simmer while I did some step aerobics.

Codfish sandwich and homemade french fries. LPC

My daughter’s school was providing free lunches to families a couple of weeks ago because school was out and they didn’t know what to do with the food. At that time, the schools were planning to reopen on 4/6/2020…so they thought. Although my daughter didn’t want to go because she doesn’t like their food, we made her go with us anyway. We explained that there is no shame in getting free food, especially since the school didn’t know what to do with the extra. We went about 2 days. There were other families too.

If you have no other options for food, I can see how this would be a valuable resource. My family ate the food both times that we went. However, we opted to not return. Other families need it more than we do and I’m conscientious of feeding my family more healthy options. I did greatly appreciate the fruit. The bun pictured on my fish sandwich is from one of the school meals. It took a matter of minutes to saute a small portion of cod to make that fish sandwich. It was so good!

In uncertain times such as these, I’m safe, surrounded by the people I love, and have endless options for cooking delicious and filling meals for my family. And I’m full…in more ways than one.

What do you plan on cooking this week? How are you coping?

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COVID-19 Chronicles: Adventures in grocery shopping-new normal?

Plan. I planned it a week ago after my experience last weekend. Give the people one week to get the panic shopping out the way, don’t succumb to the panic, arrive at grocery store at the new opening hours (7:00 am) on Saturday morning, get one pack of toilet paper (one more pack will make me feel better), paper towels, a few other miscellaneous items, and then go home.

Preparation. On Saturday morning, I got up early and prepped my morning tonic of hot water, lemon, apple cider vinegar and honey. I threw on some warm exercise clothes because a cold front came through the day before. I grabbed my jacket, travel mug, and purse and headed out the door to my car. Randall’s, one of my favorite grocery stores, is about 5 minutes away from my home. I arrived to a full parking lot at 7:07 am. It was still slightly dark outside.

Observation. Randall’s had a lot of activity for what would otherwise be a quiet, Saturday morning. As I drove up at 7:07 am, I saw a few people already walking out of the store with toilet paper in tow. I was greeted by a mound of toilet paper towards the front of the store with a sign indicating “Limit 1”. There were also lists throughout the store with purchasing limits on certain products. Although there was a plentiful amount of toilet paper (generic brand) in the display, I decided to go to the paper product isle to see all of the available options.

Product availability. To my dismay, there wasn’t much left. Most of what was left was the “value corner” brand of toilet paper and paper towels. Most all other name brand products were gone. I’m making this point not because I’m one of those people who feel compelled to purchase name brands. I’ve had to stretch my grocery budget on one income for over two years, so I started buying more store brand products years ago. Randall’s doesn’t have the best deals on name brand paper products on a regular day, but I could see people didn’t care. People purchased most everything despite the costs. The store did not bother marking sales from the weekly sales ad either. I gratefully picked up two of the main items on my short list because there weren’t any a week ago.

Randall’s Paper Product Isle 3-14-2020

Shopping strategy. I had a short list because as I’ve shared with my readers before, I purchase 90-95% of my groceries and household items in the first few days of the month. My monthly grocery budget for my family of four is between $500 and $630 depending on if there are holidays and which bills I have to pay that month. I split the shopping between Costco, Randall’s, Trader Joes, and Sprouts (in order of amount spent at each store, highest to lowest). I had no reason to panic as it became clear COVID-19 was becoming a pandemic. Officials began telling people to purchase 2 weeks of extra supplies. I knew my family was fine since I had already shopped for the month and tend to keep a well stocked pantry.

Some products I purchased on my shopping trip for March 2020: tuna, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. LPC

Plan Execution. I actually started typing this post as I waited in the long, line that extended down an isle at Randall’s. This was my first experience of waiting in such a long line at this store. I had perused the isles to pick up a few other items on my list and could see the store was busier than normal. Some isles/shelves were bare or getting there: pasta, canned goods, dairy, eggs, meat, frozen foods, and cleaning products. The produce section was plentiful. In my grocery cart (cover photo), I purchased: Almond milk (lady was just restocking when I walked up), bananas, frozen spinach (for my smoothies), bleach, 2 boxes of Ritz crackers (on sale 1.49 each), a package of paper towels, a package of toilet paper, and a container of bleach. I felt accomplished.

Pandemonium. Upon initially learning about the corona virus, I didn’t believe that it would affect me at all. However, the news stories kept evolving and it was clearly getting closer to home. Despite posts from my facebook friends of the long lines at grocery stores, I remained calm and told myself I was not going to succumb to the panic. There’s also been a frenzy at work. I work for a large public health agency, so I couldn’t downplay what was happening anymore. My agency has since required a number of staff who can telework to do so. Schools have closed, universities are resorting to online courses, restaurants are barred from in-store dining, and gyms are closed, to name a few of the recent changes. People are losing their jobs.

High demand, limited supply. I will say, having experienced with my own eyes how people are shopping as if there will be nothing left tomorrow, is unsettling to say the least. Some grocers spoke on the news about how there is not a food shortage and they are doing everything they can to replenish items. Either people are purchasing the products so fast that they are all gone after 10 minutes of the store opening or grocers are not restocking the shelves at a pace necessary to keep up with the demand. Perhaps, it’s both. We attempted to go to Costco to pick up another 2 cases of water. The line was wrapped around the outside of the store. We also observed they were only letting a few people in at a time. It was so unsettling, we drove off and vowed to try again on Tuesday.

Think of your neighbor. My heart goes out to the people who are not able to purchase supplies, let alone extra, because of their finances. Some are not finding what they need, especially for their babies. For the people that are going overboard, I understand ensuring your family is covered, but what about leaving some for the next person, who could be your neighbor. I have to admit, after experiencing what I did yesterday, I wondered what it’s going to be like when I do my monthly grocery shopping for April. Will I be able to get what I need? Will arriving to the grocery store at opening hours and waiting in long lines for whatever products are available be our new normal for a while? I think what’s happening is a reflection of the U.S. masses not having faith in what they’re being told. At the onset, we were told this was a hoax, and now the whole nation is practically on lock down as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

Light at the end of the tunnel. We haven’t hit the worst part yet, but I have a strong faith in God that we’ll get through this. We’ve been through so many other notable viruses and tragedies as a country, so I know we’ll get through this one. In many ways, I believe I was built for this. There are opportunities for everyone to slow down, reflect, recharge, reconnect, and start fresh. At the end of the day, the message we should all receive is preserving life is more important than all the other things. Let’s take the time to be grateful and look out for one another.

What have your experiences been with the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you plan to make the most use of social isolation? What lessons do you think you’ll get out of this experience?

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2020 Personal Finance: You can dig yourself out of a hole

Hello world! On February 3, 2020, after a glorious January of drinking delicious green smoothies and crushing my health goals, I came down with a vicious, RELENTLESS COLD! I haven’t had a cold in like…YEARS. I honestly think I haven’t had a cold since some time before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. Let me tell you, I don’t want another one again!!! I believe I picked it up from someone at work and passed it on to my husband. The rest is history. It was terrible! I’m mostly better, but I’m not 100% yet.

Despite spending the first half of February fighting a cold, I’ve set other goals related to my finances. Check out a snapshot of my vision board in the cover photo. (Ignore the weird smile.) Have you ever made up your mind about something to the point where you became obsessed??? This is me right now. I can barely think of anything else.

I’m not quite sure what clicked in my head that’s caused me to become so laser focused and determined to get out of debt, but I’m glad to be here. I’ve been reading and watching videos on YouTube daily, and mostly all day on weekends, about personal finance, getting out of debt, and building wealth.

Lucrece’s Financial reading

I’ve been toying with Dave Ramsey for years. I even bought his daughter, Rachel Cruze’s book and audio of “Love Your Life Not Theirs” (not pictured). I’ve taken on some of Dave Ramsey’s principles, many of which are from the Bible, but haven’t fully committed. For example, I’ve been doing a zero based budget for years. In my budget binder, where I track our household expenses, I can see I’ve been using the budget worksheet from one of his books since at least 2007-2008. I also have a Financial Planner I’ve recently recovered and have notes in there from 2008 (when my handwriting was much neater). What I haven’t done is save for the emergency fund and start the debt snowball yet.

For the last few years, I’ve been living in some kind of alternate reality, as best as I can describe, because I haven’t put much thought into my financial goals. Sure, I do a budget every month and pay my bills, but I haven’t planned much beyond that. Retirement and insurance are automatically withdrawn from my check. My husband hasn’t worked for a couple of years due to his health issues, so my income is all that we’re working with for this period in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things working in our favor with regard to our finances such as my salary and I’m fairly organized. However, there’s much, MUCH more work to be done. My husband is on board now too. Call it mid-life CRISIS or perimenopause, but there’s a sense of urgency in getting this part of my life together that I’ve not had before. I’d like to build wealth for my family.

Like most Americans today, a large chunk of my debt is student loan debt. If I had to do it again, I would definitely do some things differently; however, I can’t go back in the past. I must move forward learning the light lessons along the way. I’m highly educated (my student loans are my receipt of this education) and am going to use the tools I already possess to reach my financial goals.

I’ve taken the time to total my debt, which I haven’t done in years and years. I think this is a sign I’m serious. I actually wrote down the numbers. The amount is mind boggling. However, I know if we (my husband and I) put our minds to it, we can dig ourselves out of this hole. You can too.

The best place to start is to: acknowledge there is a problem, decide to do something about it, decide on the best course of action, plan, and then put your plan to ACTION. Also, surround yourself with information and successful stories of people who have reached your same goals. And then often VISUALIZE yourself reaching your goal(s). IMAGINE what it feels like. How good does it feel to make that accomplishment?

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

What are your financial goals for 2020? How much progress have you made? Planning on getting a 2nd or 3rd job?