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COVID-19: Day 262

The current situation isn’t great: since I wrote last, cases have continued to rise. Increased restrictions don’t seem to be bringing the numbers down. The daily confirmed case counts are higher than they’ve ever been around here, but it’s hard to compare the various peaks since we’re always increasing the number of tests being performed. The death count is probably a better way to compare, but it is a lagging indicator. It takes people a while to die once they get it and then reporting takes more time. The chart below (source) shows where it’s at now, but it feels like we’re going to hit close to the peak from March. Hopefully it’s not worse than that. It will be hard to tell because the reporting is going to be wonky during Thanksgiving week because of people traveling, the day off, etc.

Despite the increasing death count, there has been some very encouraging news about vaccine trials and we could be a few weeks away from it being approved for emergency use. In the first world, the rollout could easily take a year and it will take much longer than that to cover the globe. Given that we aren’t frontline medical workers or in a high risk group, I expect it will be next summer-ish before my family gets it, but we’ll be lined up and ready to go when our turn comes. It’s easy for me to get bogged down dreading all the misinformation that’s going to spread causing more deaths because some people won’t get the vaccine, but I’m trying to stay positive. It’s incredible that we can even have the discussion about vaccines already, and I’m thankful for all the rules and regulations that are in place to produce a safe and effective treatment. What a bonus that there are a few vaccines that all look promising. I keep thinking about going through this 20 years ago. How would we have even gotten information about the vaccines? And yet today I searched around for info on the vaccine and was immediately presented with CDC pages including this page for individuals and a deeper page targeted at health care professionals. The road ahead won’t be easy, but it’s the way out of this mess. Stick that needle in me so I can safely leave my home and figure out what our new normal looks like.

Continuing the positive internet news, the seemingly unlikely duo of Bill Gates and Rashida Jones launched a podcast. I’m not all the way through the episodes they’ve released so far, but I’m really enjoying it. Rashida Jones asks the questions we’re all thinking, Bill Gates has devoted his life to global eradication of diseases, and they bring in additional experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The episodes aren’t all focused on COVID, but the series starts off in that subject area.

On the home front, we had a very different Thanksgiving, but as with all things this year, we looked for new opportunities to make special memories. We made all our favorite foods, baked Christmas cookies and got started with Christmas decorations. We had already planned to do Thanksgiving with just the three of us many weeks ago, but that decision was reinforced by a strong request from health officials to not celebrate outside of your household. On top of that, Elijah has a cold and got a COVID test on Tuesday (a negative result came back within 24 hours) so with all that piled on, we were thankful that we already had plans to stay in our bubble. Christmas will be the same way.

As I wrap up this check-in, I’m taking comfort from Deuteronomy 31:8:

The Lord himself will go ahead of you. He will be with you. He will not abandon you, and he will not forsake you. Do not be afraid and do not be overwhelmed.

Those words were from Moshes to Joshua and all the Israelites just before they entered Israel. Their situation was so much more stressful and complicated than this lockdown but those same promises apply to us. God is a constant. God is guiding our path. God is here.

How To Be A Cheapskate

I’m not an extreme coupon person, but I do love the low-effort ways to save an extra $10/month. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Most of our groceries come from Safeway and all of their coupons are available online. But who has the time to click through hundreds of coupons? This calls for automation! I previously blogged about how to make a quick button in your browser to click every coupon in a few seconds. This is probably the single most valuable piece of code I’ve ever written outside of work. It saves hundreds of dollars a year.
  • For every $100 we spend in groceries, we get $0.10/gallon off of our gas purchases at Safeway. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it does add up, especially with the bonus coupons that give extra gas discounts. To maximize our savings, I only use the gas discounts when filling up the truck because it takes around 20 gallons per fillup while the Escape is about half that.
  • The gas savings from Safeway expire eventually so I keep an eye on that and if we’re going to lose some before we can use them for gas, I use one of the “use 7 gas rewards for $10 off your next bill” deals. It’s not quite as good as filling up the truck but it’s better than using it on the Escape.
  • Our bank gives us a better interest rate on our checking account if we meet a few criteria every month and the main one is making 12 debit transactions. We use credit cards for everything just for the cash back so I have to plan out debit purchases. Amazon is a great way to knock these 12 purchases out. I hook up my debit card to my Amazon account and then buy 12 $1 gift cards and send them to myself.
  • We have splurged on Hello Fresh during the lockdown but it is pretty pricey. We pause it for a few weeks and Hello Fresh sends us a coupon for $10 or $15 off our next two orders. Then we unpause, use the coupons, and pause again.
  • Similarly, we limit our streaming subscriptions to only what we’re watching. We burned through a bunch of Netflix shows, canceled the service and then switched to Hulu. As we near the end of some Hulu shows, we’ll flip to another service and watch a bunch of shows there. I keep track in of all the shows we want to watch in One Note and Just Watch.
  • There are a lot of credit card rewards out there but we use two specific ones. The American Express Blue Cash card averages just under 2% cash back for us each year. We use that for almost everything except Amazon purchases which all go through the Amazon Visa card. That gives 5% back on Amazon purchases which is impossible beat.

None of these are going to make us rich, but they add up to a decent chunk of money each year and none of them take much time.

Onward Christian Soldiers

I finished another song in Jon Schmidt’s “Hymns Without Words” book. This time it was “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The title of the hymn can lead to some misunderstanding. The hymn isn’t promoting a militant church body as the world would see it. It reminds us that the battle against the devil is real and requires daily focus. (See Ephesians 6:10-18 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.) You can view the full hymn text on hymnary.org.

Yard Watering

My sprinkler controller is an Open Sprinkler model and I wrote a program which periodically pulls the logs off it and stores them in a database. I was checking out my yearly irrigation water usage and noticed that I’m generally getting better every year about keeping the yard alive with less water. Obviously this is heavily weather dependent, but generally our summers are exceedingly dry so the main variation is in the start and stop of the watering season.

The y-axis roughly equates to the number of gallons used but this is far from accurate. The year to year comparisons are completely valid though.

I have similar data showing my HVAC (furnace, AC and fan) usage over the years but I’ll save that for another time. I don’t want to pack too much excitement into a single post.

Cats!

It feels good to finally talk about this! We got two cats!

The story starts long ago. Tyla and I have had lots of discussions about pets. She especially loves dogs and was heartbroken where her black lab Oskar died in April of 2015. (It’s a long story but he lived with her parents so it was never really “our dog”.)

Lots of people around here have dogs, but when I think about having a dog, I want to have a big property where it can run around.

Years went by. Elijah loves watching the neighbors’ pet rabbit and the guinea pig of some friends from church. He regularly asks for various animals, but finally in the past few months, Tyla and I started talking more seriously about getting cats and decided it was time. Then the question was how to tell Elijah.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing a devotion at school on Matthew 7:7 (ask and it will be given to you.) I’m not sure I really got the point of the devotion, but I went home and asked my parents if we could get a cat. To my total shock they immediately replied with “Yes!” Turns out they had been thinking about it already. I was hoping to say “Yes!” to Elijah but we got tired of waiting and sat him down for a family meeting to talk about getting a cat. We walked through the decision making process together with him and explained all the prep work we’d have to do and for how long this decision would impact our family. With some luck he’ll be in college before the cats die!

We also used this as an opportunity for Elijah to try to keep a big secret, and he did really well! He’d come home every day telling us how hard it was to not tell his friends.

We spent a day shopping the interwebz for cat supplies, learning how every choice was bound to kill our cats, and then had fun watching the packages pile up. Once they all arrived, we got more serious about applying for cats. Some places had 6 page forms asking incredibly personal and probing questions while others just said “call and leave a number.” Cats would appear on petfinder.com and then be taken off in mere hours. It was amazing how quickly they all got adopted!

So when we got a call back on Thursday, we agreed to take Elijah out of school a little early on Friday to drive up to The Noah Center in Stanwood. It was an appointment only situation and we nervously waited in the parking lot for them to come get us. When we walked in, we were so excited to see around 15 cats waiting to be adopted! They put us in a room with half a dozen cats and gave us time to get acquainted.

Throughout this process, Tyla has had her heart set on an orange cat, but she said she’d be happy with anything as long as it wasn’t just a couple of all black cats because those are boring and common. (In this climate I feel bad saying we didn’t want a black cat. But this is ok, right?) So of course, I sat down on the floor in this room and immediately an all black cat comes walking directly towards me, curls up in my lap and starts purring. She sat there the entire time and when I moved her to leave she hopped back in my lap. Meanwhile, Elijah had found a striped cat that he was having fun playing with and Tyla was getting attacked by the most rambunctious cat in the group. We looked at some other cats but we ended up deciding on those the one that sat in my lap and the one that Elijah was playing with.

They’re both females (not sisters) and are about two months old. They got spayed yesterday so we’re supposed to keep the activity level down (HA!) and we have to watch their incisions to make sure everything heals ok. And because they’re so young, the recommendation was to keep them in a small room for a couple weeks. We cleared everything out of the room at the top of the stairs and set it up with food, water, litter box, blankets, a bed and some toys.

They came with names from the shelter but we are probably going to pick new ones. Hopefully we get that figured out soon because it feels awkward to not refer to them by name.

Prepare for floods of cat pictures on our Instagram accounts!