Frugality: Celebrating Quarantine Birthdays with Freebies

Remember in March when we circulated memes about those who had to celebrate their birthdays under social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions? Joke’s on us, we who thought we would escape from such circumstances. By now a third of the population has probably experienced celebrating quarantined.

Characteristics may include gatherings of less than ten, standing awkwardly six feet apart, something that gets in the way of the hugs and kisses more than masks do. Candles on a cake anti-climactically put out by a clapping of hands – as if a child saying “ta-da” after making a wish. Also, gifts running belated as shipping companies struggle to continue working in a safe environment despite an influx of online orders.

I myself had to celebrate a restricted birthday, although how happy was I when restaurants opened up for dine-in during that week? Back to normalcy we go – I was sure of it!

So when I asked my husband a month out what he wanted to do for his July birthday, I was quite surprised when he said he wanted to sign up for rewards programs and run around town picking up freebies.

I thought to myself, “Sounds lame.”

His birthday landed prior to a four day weekend which I happened to have off from work and I was imagining a trip somewhere (local, of course). Or at least a sort of beach activity or party. Perhaps a restaurant reservation with our closest friends?

Lo and behold, when it came to the week of his birthday, all of my would-be plans went straight out the window as California was called to partially shut down once again. Due to the rising numbers of COVID positive patients and upcoming holiday, all beaches were shut down, along with dine-in options at restaurants, movie theatres, and family entertainment options. Turns out, his request to get birthday freebies proved to be the only solidly COVID-proof idea.

I thought to myself, “My husband’s a genius.”

To be honest, it turned out pretty nice. It was a sunny Friday, and we started the morning with free bagels (to-go) and coffee, which we ate at home with my brother and roomie for a late morning breakfast. We all were recovering from hiking Mt. Baldy the day before, so it was one of those restful mornings wherein one rolls around in bed, drags feet across the floor, with nary an obligation to rush you towards the next to-do. You know those mornings that feel like you’re on vacation instead of just sitting at home? Speaking of vacation, I need one of those soon.

For lunch, we headed over to a shopping center that had Jersey Mike’s and The Habit. Jersey Mike’s was giving away whatever free sub you wanted plus a 22 oz. drink, which we took away lidless and straw-less to reduce plastic waste. It is, after all, Plastic-Free July.  The Habit was giving birthday celebrants a free burger. Both were wrapped in paper. In the shopping center, there was an outdoor seating area with tables perched ‘neath umbrellas. The tables were spaced out more than six feet apart, with no more than a pair of seats at each table. We plopped ourselves down on cool metal chairs and ate our wins with the first official signs of summer.

In the evening, we had a number of friends meet us at a local park to eat pizza as we sat in a circle on lawn chairs social distancing by household, with an imaginary bonfire in our midst. Excited Santa Anians were shooting fireworks a day early, as mosquitoes bit our legs in the setting sun. It was the first time since February that we’ve seen these faces and it was nice to hear familiar laughs dangling in the night sky. When dusk settled, we packed up our lawn chairs like a bunch of soccer moms and waved our cheerful goodbyes, grabbing left-over pizza boxes and stuffing them in reusable grocery bags.

What’s amazing about the freebies is that they can all be taken to-go and the majority of them last for the rest of the month.

On paper, all of this probably sounds lame. But I can tell you that it was actually extremely fun. I just might do the same next year for the month of June.

For COVID in particular, it was a fool-proof plan to celebrating. If you’ve got a birthday coming up in the next few months, why don’t you try it? Take out and delivery have stood the test of virus and according to a Harvard study, we need to all be prepared to social distance until the end of 2021.

In order to prep for the big day, you should check out a list of Birthday Freebies and sign up for their Rewards program. On your day of birth, each place will email you a coupon or offer with the requirements and the expiring dates.

Below are a few of Mike’s favorites:

  • Denny’s – Free Grand Slam on the birthday month
  • Chili’s – Free dessert for the birthday week
  • Red Robin – Free burger
  • Sprinkles – Free cupcake, redeemable until the month after your birthday
  • Auntie Annie’s – Free pretzel, redeemable until two months after your birthday
  • Wetzel’s Pretzel’s – Free pretzel for downloading the app, and another free pretzel on your birthday
  • Baja Fresh – Free Burrito (with purchase of beverage) , valid until the month after your birthday
  • The Habit – Free Charburger, valid for two weeks
  • Jersey Mike’s – Free Sub and 22 oz. drink
  • Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream scoop
  • Ben N Jerry – Free ice cream scoop
  • Buffalo Wild Wings – Free birthday wings valid until end of the month
  • BJs – Free Pizookie for signing up for rewards and also for your birthday
  • Breugger’s Bagels – Free bagel with cream cheese for signing up and also on your birthday
  • Einstein Bagels – Free bagel egg sandwich with purchase on your birthday
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes – Free Bundtlet valid for one week

It may not be much to celebrate, these free wins, but it sure is a silver lining. There are some things they still haven’t taken away.

How to Care for House Plants

We’ve been mulling a question for a while, tossing it around, letting it linger on our lips. “When this is all over, what will be the first thing you’ll do?” We’ve got answers up the wazoo that show signs of who we are, and what we miss – the little things that meant more than we could even know. Happy hour cocktails and cheap pub food surrounded by a large group of friends; Gym memberships to be rid of the COVID-15 and to be a part of a community; Sand in my hair and thongs between my toes.

To the last one, I say “Cheers!”

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Rather than lamenting the current situation and wallowing in self-pity, I do think that we can start to amend for the last bit of longing by bringing the outdoors in, or at least, introducing a bit of nature to our internal spaces. Houseplants can be a reprieve from the cabin fever signs and symptoms that we have all been exhibiting. They are especially useful in calming the distraught and frustrated, feelings which I’m sure have surfaced during this time of personal introspection. Additionally, they boost overall mood, purify the air of toxins, boosts creativity, and makes the indoors more aesthetically pleasing.

We are all dying to get outside. The weather is turning nicer by the day and we’ve pretty much written off Spring and moved on to summer. But despite the long list of “firsts” that our house has planned once the stay-at-home mandates lift, I have also been enjoying this time at home (truly!) and it would be a shame to rush on to to-do lists and whatever the future holds when there is so much work left to do here in the present.

Today, I go over a few houseplant care routines to help refocus the mind into the now, to facilitate a continual tending to the home, and to, well, bring the outdoors in.

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  • Repot plants in new, healthy soil. Plants outgrow their vessels and their soil. Every year, around Spring time, we repot our plants by gently easing them out of their current vessels, removing some of the soil around the roots, and placing them in their new home. It may take a while for a plant to adjust to a new pot, so don’t be discouraged if you see a pause in growth. Over time, you will find that the soil helps to grow your plant much quicker than before.
  • Wipe the leaves of your plants. Some plant leaves take up a large amount of real estate. All the more to take in sunlight! But also, all the more to collect dust particles. Plants like Monsteras and Fiddles can accidentally collect too much dust, which will then prevent them from absorbing light. Try wiping down plant leaves regularly with a cloth towel and water. Be gentle so as not to damage tender greens. Get ready to admire your plants even more – they’ll look fairly glossy and polished!
  • Rotate plants a quarter turn every week. Technically, you can follow a different rotation schedule, but just try to rotate the plants every once in a while for even growth. Plants are in love with the sun and if they aren’t rotated, they can start to lean towards a single direction or grow unevenly, which doesn’t make for a pretty sight.
  • Prune off dead or wilted leaves. When leaves start to yellow and wilt, don’t take it as a sign of failure. Perhaps the plant is making way for new leaves to grow. I can’t recount how many times yellowing leaves have been a signal for two more to grow in its place. However, you will want to remove these leaves as they can affect the health of the rest of the plant. Don’t wait until they start to rot, as this can cause unwanted fungus or mold to start cohabiting with your favorite shrub.

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  • Mist plants with water.  Plants love a good misting. The cat, however, hates my spray bottle and runs away until it’s all over. I place water in an amber bottle which remains at hand on a shelf for random spritzes throughout the week. The leaves definitely perk up after a nice splash. I like the effect so much that sometimes, when I water my plants, I haul them into the shower to mimic a rainforest environment and drizzle the water right over them. Unfortunately, my Monsterra and Fiddle are getting way too large to move around, but I’m not complaining!

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  • Propagate. When you’ve done all you can to care for your existing plants, the only thing left to do is … MAKE MORE PLANT BABIES! My favorite to propagate are fast growing plants like our Pothos. It’s quite easy to do. Snip off a few stems with the node still intact, and place them in a glass container filled with water (no soil). After it starts to root (about a month later), gently pot the plant, surrounding the baby roots with healthy Earth. Plus, plants make great non-material, frugal gifts and I have gifted two propagated Pothos plants in the last year!

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I hope these tips have at least helped to pass another five minutes of your morning. I hope your plants have calmed you down, and you are energized by the fact that you’ve already taken care of one small aspect of your home today.

I know we are all itching to get outdoors and for quarantine to be over, but mayhap our discomfort with being at home signals an even deeper mal-alignment. I encourage you to hang in there and stop burying unrest with things to do in the future. It’s what we’ve always done … but it wasn’t working. It takes a great deal of strength and courage to sit in an uncomfortable situation but a presence of mind can really bring light to what is at the root of our malaise. Whenever you feel like moving on to “better days”, I ask that you pause and take the opportunity to dig just a little deeper.

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Below are a list of my favorite indoor houseplants. I favor sturdy greens over flowery or delicate types.

  • Split Leaf Philodendron
  • Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
  • Pothos
  • Snake Plant
  • ZZ Plant
  • Rubber Plant
  • Pilea

Restorative Quarantine

Despite being of the general stance that gym memberships are far from a frugal person’s prerogative, I have had BlackTag Membership at CorePower Yoga a few times in the past, typically when my schedule was most full and I needed the external stimuli to help dedicate to myself some form of self-love. Out of all the classes CorePower offered, my favorite was a class called Restorative Yoga, which was essentially nap-time yoga. The class was only offered once or twice a week per studio, but I made sure to attend those classes religiously. Instead of the more popular classes with weights or high-temperature yoga sessions, the restorative classes were always held at night, in the dark, at room temp and on our backs (well, mostly). The teacher guided students through a series of poses, sometimes in candlelight, all of which were held in stillness for five minutes at a time.

For beginners, this could feel like eons. Some postures were more painful than others, depending on how your body best contorts, but in that darkness and quiet, with your mat facing away from the other students and towards the wall, you must sit through that discomfort and pain in solitude. There always comes a point where you think you can’t hold the posture any longer and you have no option but to relax into it and let yourself go, and in that letting go, one may find themselves suddenly waking up after having slept through the rest of class or sprawled out, off the mat, in complete relaxation. The classes were generally never full, and there was always space to stretch out, which is unfortunate, because as a fellow yogi exiting a restorative class once expressed, “this is the best class this studio has to offer. It’s a shame not more people go.” A sentiment with which I concur wholeheartedly.

This is the class the world can use more of.

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Now, I would wager that there is a group of people in this space wishing to do a bit of restorative work themselves during this stay-at-home movement. So careening towards the other side of the spectrum from productivity, I decided to focus today on ways to make quarantine time productive in generally socially less accepted ways.

While life pre-COVID had us running around with shoes to fill and duties to perform, the current state-of-affairs presents the world with a rare gift of a lack of responsibility – a state which many of us haven’t experienced since childhood. This lack of responsibility frees up much needed time for introversion.

I would liken a majority of the population to living as if sleepwalking, unknowingly performing tasks that are pre-determined by a social upbringing, without any form of individual choice on the matter. This may offend some, but all truths have the potential to cause pain to the unknowing. However! If you’ve been suspicious of this for some time but haven’t had the head space to figure it all out yourself, maybe what you seek during this period of slow isn’t productivity at all, but rather, an awakening.

Socially unaccepted forms of productivity are my personal favorite, not only because I have always had a soft spot for going against the grain, but also because I find them to be ironically more successful in living a meaningful life. By socially unaccepted forms of productivity, I am referring to a slew of activities that are thought to be a general “waste of time” by modern standards, but actually have many life benefits that we have under-valued, for parts of ourselves too-long ignored.

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If restorative quarantine is what you seek, then here are some easy activities that will help you tune in to your true self, perhaps the same self that you lost along with your childhood, as adulting became the center of your being and you forgot who you were to begin with… Isolation is the perfect setting for self-discovery.

  •  Sleep – My most favorite activity since birth. My parents can bore you to death with an endless array of stories that begin or end with me falling asleep. Every aunt and uncle can only seem to recall one unifying memory about my childhood – that I would fall asleep at every gathering, at restaurant tables, on neighbor’s couches, through any noise, commotion, or movement. Even my husband will comment, “Boy, you sleep a lot”, after a ten hour night of rest. As I grew older, my sleeping became less and less as my energetic self started accumulating roles, titles and projects. But when work suddenly became non-existent (was it really only one week ago?!), I reverted back to my restful state, sleeping by ten P.M. and waking around eight in the morning. Sleep is the most under-rated restorative practice and is arguably the most helpful activity to our well-being. Sleep is the state where you process all of your daily observances into something with meaning, as it pertains to you. Sleep is closely tied with memory formation, which essentially forms our entire reality. We constantly live in the past or future, the past which is no longer existent except for in memory, and the future which is based on past experiences but which also is not in existence. This is what Deepak Chopra talks of when he says that humans live in a continually dream state. Our reality is dependent on sleep and until we can create that reality will we be able to start separating ourselves from the past and the future, and start living in the “vivid now”.

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  • Meditate – Meditation is a practice in staying in the present moment. When I first started doing yoga, I had a completely different expectation for meditation. Namely, I thought meditation was the ability to sit in complete zen, without thought or feeling or motion. I thought it meant complete nothingness, and required utter silence, empty rooms, devoid of any and all distraction. After much practice, I realized that meditation brings up a lot of observances that could act as distractions – noises you never noticed before like the ticking of a clock, the hum of a fridge, or the silence itself; and aromas that you never smelled before such as last night’s dinner lingering in the air, the age of a book’s page, the must of an old couch, the smell of a fresh breeze – distractions such as thoughts that stubbornly make their way into your mind’s eye, an elephant in the room. Meditation is not the separation from all these things but rather, the physical connection to their presence without any emotional or mental ties. In essence, its having a free-flow state of mind and physical surrounding without any sort of affect. You notice a thought and let it come and go, without any emotion after it. You hear a sound and think or feel nothing associated with it. This disconnection is what connects you to your present moment. It is when you unlock your being, separate it from past and future, from surrounding and your physical body, and you see yourself in complete clarity.
  • Dissociate Time – Time is a mental construct. Someone once decided for the rest of us to divvy the day into twenty four hours, each with 60 minutes, each with 60 seconds, et cetera. But how long does a second really last? In my opinion, it lasts as long as you perceive it does. You have external stimuli (such as a clock or a watch or a phone) telling you when one second is up, but what each person experiences in that one second can be completely different things. One person may experience a slew of emotions, another may experience nothing at all. One person may experience a life-changing event which registers in their mind as so impactful that they recall that second lasting what seems like forever. I have been recently obsessed with this idea of expanding time by controlling my consciousness’s perception of it. I came across this idea during a slow living experiment, when I realized that my slowest days felt much longer than days where I was busy with to-do-lists. Think about a day of work. When you are busy, work flies by, but when you are slow, work drags on. Everyone has experienced this. So I have been conscientiously taking note on how certain slow-living activities expands the time I have to experience, well, life. Yesterday in particular, I did an activity which I think is perfect for quarantined folks without work (or children, or worries, or distractions seeking your attention). I covered up every single indicator for time in my household. I took blue packing tape from the garage and covered every clock present, including the one on the bottom-right side of my laptop and the one underneath my camera on my I-phone. I wanted to know what it would feel like to experience a day in the life without any time restrictions or time indications. I wondered when I would wake, when I would get hungry, when I would feel like going to bed. I wondered what I would be interested in doing, and for how long. Let me be the first to tell you, yesterday felt like ages. I did everything I wanted to do and noticed the sun was still up. I ate whenever I felt like eating, and the only indication to sleep was my eyelids resisting the reading I was doing. I wondered to myself multiple times, what else shall I do? Which proved to myself that we can, in ways, expand time. Try it for a day. See what you learn about yourself.
  • Avoid Mirrors – Our self-perception is heavily altered by external markers. Self-confidence is tied to how we see others perceive us. Our self-worth comes from the titles and roles that we have been endowed or earned. When someone asks for a definition of self, most people answer first and foremost with their occupation or profession. It is these same external definitions of the self that prevent us from truly understanding who we are. So another personal experiment that I heard of previously in Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit that I highly recommend is to remove or avoid all mirrors. There have been many times where I am out and about (and have been for quite some time) and suddenly wondered, “What do I look like today?” Which in itself is a useless thought if you are trying to live a life of YOU-ness, but that’s how socially trained I am (and you are, and we are). Sometimes I’ll get through an entire day and then realize in the evening that I never once saw a mirror, never once brushed my hair, never once wore anything more than chapstick. It’s a really REALLY good feeling to have.
  • Live without modern conveniences – When Mike and I signed up for the Banks Peninsula hike in New Zealand one year ago, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. There were no modern conveniences to speak of during one of the nights. Hardly any modern conveniences during the entire trip. It was a terrible time, mostly caused by dreadfully rainy weather. We both slid on slippery rocks and landed our behinds on sharp stones. We treaded fearfully past at least a hundred cows, which look innocent enough standing on the side of the road but which are extremely intimidating when in a horde at arms reach. I shed many tears and whined in disdain. We never finished the hike, because the storm eventually became so bad. There were seven of us travelers huddled in a hut, all seven debating on calling a ride back to town rather than hiking through the third and final day. We were on farmland with nary a sign of civilization nor electricity. The shower was outdoors underneath a spider’s web inside the trunk of an old tree. We lit our rooms with candlesticks. We huddled around a furnace fed with acorns. We cooked meals over a gas stove lit by matches and sat together on a rickety wooden dining table, telling stories although we came from all over the world speaking different languages. There was a tub heated by a furnace fed by wood that needed chopping. You had to sit on a plank to avoid burning your stone-poked-bottom on the porcelain. It was where a family of three took a nice bath underneath the rain that fell from the sky. I wielded an axe for the first time, was scared of the storm not for the first time, hated spiders and bugs more than normal, loved fire more than normal, slept like a baby through the dreadful night. Your deepest demons and fears come out to play, and after it was said and done, your biggest strengths carried you through. (I did mention that sleep was my strength!) All of this to say that in retrospect, it was the most romantic moment of my life. They were the deepest connections I had ever formed, with strangers no less. It was a different universe and time altogether, separate from this one. And I learned a lot about myself. Now I know that the current COVID recommendations do not include running off to a cabin in the woods, but ways in which we can spare ourselves of modern conveniences include spending a day without lightbulbs, forgoing a shower, or avoiding the microwave and using a stovetop to reheat left-overs. For people who always dine out, it could mean prepping your own meals, and for those who drive down the street, it could mean taking a walk and lugging groceries back. Spend a day trying to live without modern conveniences, and see what rises up.

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  • Read Fiction and Poetry – When I was a child and teen, I only read fiction and poetry. When I became an adult, I preferred to grab non-fiction, in order to “improve” myself. I started to view fiction and poetry as unnecessary, nonsensical blathering that was not worth an ounce of my precious energy. Recently, I’ve decided against my original decision. Fiction and poetry is necessary for the soul. It is the reason I have been able to shape the world around me into what it is. It was my best friend in my youth, and it reveals to me what we already know but forget. I say, read fiction and poetry, even if you don’t have the time.
  • Listen to Music – If someone asked me today what I like to listen to, I would most likely reply with, “I don’t listen to music.” Which is true. And extremely peculiar coming from a girl who sang in the church choir for a good 17 years and who took voice lessons until she was 27 years old, who locked herself in her room with a microphone and who showered with the radio on. But three (-ish) years ago, I stopped listening to music. At all. In the car, in the shower. I preferred silence. I valued my thoughts more than my feelings. I wanted my mind to focus on tasks, not sounds. When you make decisions like that, a part of you dies. But with the advent of the quarantine, I decided to put music back on my radar. I still haven’t picked up a guitar and am thinking of donating my recording studio to a friend. But on my to-do list, I added “listen to music” in the morning somehow. This one is a personal restorative activity. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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How to Separate Work from Home

A majority of you may be finding your work office suddenly within the confines of your home. While this is the dream situation for many Americans, I would wager that there are an increasing number of people who have found that this is not exactly ideal. Even if you don’t have the extra weight of caring for kids or elderly, I am sure there are still challenges to productivity that we all have to face (hence why you’ve found yourself reading this blog post instead of working on your task). It could be that after just a few days of trying to work from home, you are struggling to find that balance.

I wrote once about how to find a Separate Peace Space for work-at-homes, but I decided to follow up with a succinct list of tips that newly quarantined workers might find useful.

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  • Designate A Work Space – Isolation helps tremendously with focus. Think about the monks who have retreated into a shrine on a mountain. The less distractions you have, the better. You may even find that you’ll need to work less as long as your focus is well-honed for a good chunk of time. I prefer to have really tidy and clean work spaces that face a wall or a corner of the living room. When possible, I like to have natural sunlight nearby so I can feed off of the sun’s energy. For those with little ones at home, a separate room all-together may be necessary too.
  • Create A Schedule – A schedule will greatly help with keeping you on task. Each morning, assign a block of time to each activity you need to get done, and follow the schedule strictly. It will greatly increase awareness for when your mind starts to wander or when you find yourself doing chores instead of work. There will be time for distractions later. I mean, you ARE stuck at home!
  • Fall Into Good Habits – Good habits include waking up at the same time every morning, exercising to increase your energy, limiting coffee to a certain cups per day, and getting enough sleep at night. Good habits also include eating only at designated times for designated meals (no snacking allowed!), creating a schedule every morning, and staying focused on the task at hand.
  • Learn to Prioritize – Perhaps the hardest thing about working from home is now, you are suddenly presented with a to-do list that includes house chores. Before, when you went into work, you had a designated space for professional duties only. But as you check your emails, you might find a sudden callings to clean out the fridge, or do a load of laundry. It’s a quick task, so how can it hurt? This is when prioritization comes in handy. Know what is most important and do those first. As I said before, you have all the time in the world later.
  • Know How You Best Operate – I best operate in complete silence. My sister best operates with music in the background. My mother best operates with ten pen options lined up in a row. My husband seems to best operate later in the morning rather than earlier. Knowing how you best operate will be essential in setting yourself up for success.
  • Have a Conversation with the Household – It’s easier to change what is in your complete control, but it is difficult to shape the world around you. Many of you may be finding yourselves at home with roommates, children, and significant others. The best thing to do is to communicate with each other what works for you and what doesn’t. Maybe some members are better sitting through 8 hours straight of work, while others need occasional breaks. That’s fine, as long as you all know each other’s boundaries. Perhaps setting aside time to hang out is essential, especially when little ones are around. It gives them something to look forward to and motivates them to stay-on-task in order to get that reward at the end. Whatever it is, talk with each other! #distantyettogether, am I right?

How about you? Feel free to share some tips here, I am sure others will be reading. And then afterwards, BACK TO WORK!

With love, of course.