Year of the Walk

We are approaching the end of a year of challenges we never imagine. Some of what happened this year was under our control, but other things were clearly out of our control. COVID insured that everyone had things happen this year that were not included in their plans. This year we often were asked to stay home when possible and practice “social distancing” when we could not. It was the year of the pandemic which will be the cornerstone of so many memories regarding 2020. For me this resulted in 2020 being the year of the walk.

We live in rural Montana which gave us lots of advantages over those who live in more urban settings when we were asked to avoid close interactions. I imagine lots of people became stir crazy and suffered cabin fever trying to be safe and smart. We had some of that as well. Even the best introvert needs some time with others, or at least not just those folks who are in the same household.

You can walk forever before you see a sign of another human being. You are also reminded how small you are in the universe and why they call Montana Big Sky Country.

Our first “stay home orders” came in March in Montana. Spring was coming early this year so we were able to bundle up and get out into the sunshine for our first late winter walks. Late spring and early summer brought some relaxing of the Montana standards for COVID protection. We followed what we felt was the science and kept our distance and avoided indoor venues when we could. We became walking crazies. We walked everyday, sometimes twice a day and rarely but it was not unheard of to walk three times a day. We were blessed and fortunate that we could walk out our front door and be assured we would not see another person. If we chose to go somewhere different it too was just a few miles from home with different scenery but no greater risk of running into some one.

Walking outside gave us Vitamin D which I am sure improved not just our bones but also our mood. We were more acutely aware of the changing of the season this year as well. We watched the days lengthen and late evening walks become possible. We felt the warm of the sun intensify as it rose further overhead.

Unlike parks in more urban areas, we were able to take walks and seldom see another walker.

When our first snow came in September we were reminded that we needed to prepare for winter to be more of the same isolation and distancing. The sun no longer warmed us to our core. The sunset was done and dusk set in by 5pm. It was then I talked to RangerSir about our plans for winter.

Our treadmill had died in early 2020 and we had planned on not replacing it until we got to our retirement destination. We like thousands of others put in an order early fall for a new treadmill. It arrived 45 days later just as promised. I’ll admit a treadmill isn’t like walking outside, but it isn’t Montana stinking cold nor is the wind cutting through your outerwear trying to free unnamed parts off. I still get out and take quick little walks outside, but my treadmill is a godsent for me. It allows me to keep active by eliminating the excuse of weather.

So 2020 will be remember for many things for all of us. In some way COVID impacted it all, but I am not going to let it define the year. One of the things 2020 was for me, it was for me was the year of the walk.

New Way of Thinking of Thanksgiving

With the current crazy wave of COVID most of us are choosing a new type of Thanksgiving gathering this year. For most folks it will be a smaller gathering. Just your immediate family. Just your household and one or two friends. It will be different that is for sure.

One of the greatest challenges is how to scale back a holiday that is laden with more food, friends and family than almost any other time. It is full of long standing traditions for every family on what we must do and have. So the idea of making a Thanksgiving dinner for less than six is hard to imagine. You have spent years getting the biggest turkey you could find. You have juggled ovens and timing to get it all done at exactly the same time. Doing the holiday smaller may seem daunting. Scale back may seem reasonable for some things and others elements smaller may seem impossible.

Turkey is one of those things that just doesn’t scale down. However one thing you can do is have your grocery store meat department cut your turkey in half down the breast. I have been doing this for years. There are lots of advantages of having a half turkey this way. It takes less time to cook. You get an assortment of white and dark meat. You don’t need a roaster or huge pan; instead you can use a sheet pan.

Two halves of a turkey, each having one half breast, thigh and the famous turkey leg.

Be forewarned that there are some grocery stores that don’t have meat cutters on site or meat cutting equipment. Our local Walmart has neither. Our local Safeway does have meat cutters working during core business hours. We also have several local meat markets that will be able to help you as well. You need to be prepared to take both halves of the turkey. So if you have a deep freezer this idea will present no problem. If you don’t look for a friend to split a turkey with you.

This half turkey makes and easy turkey dinner.

Another option is to opt out of turkey for some other meat. Chicken is an obvious choice because you can stuff it. Don’t let that be your limit there are game hens and duck. Or maybe you do chicken all the time because it seems to be a healthier choice, so go wild and do beef or pork.

My mother, a high risk individual, is not going to anyone’s home for Thanksgiving, and she doesn’t want to risk any of her children coming to her place. She is geographically unfit for me to take dinner to her. I have come up with a different solution for her. The local grocery is going to have ready-made dinner for pick up on Thanksgiving day. She is going to have plenty of food and lots of left overs, but the grocery store feast promises to be provide her with the essentials for a Midwest Thanksgiving dinner.

I encourage you to look around if this avenue sounds interesting to you. My mother lives in a little town of 4,000 people with one grocery store. I was surprised at the options they have. You may be surprised what your local grocery store will offer.

Another option would to to do pickup from a local restaurant. They sure could use your support right now. It is another case of you not having to cook and having all the special trimmings you want.

One of my dear friends will be doing a turkey picnic on the beach for two. Her food will have elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. When you list the recipes you see Brussel spouts, turkey, cranberry, corn and bread but it is all updated. It sounds like a wonderful alternative to a woman who is looking out the living room window as a the wind howls and the third winter storm of the season blows over the mountain.

Maybe what this year is in disguise is an opportunity to update our Thanksgiving traditions. This is being said by a woman who Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. For years I hosted the holiday and rented hall tables and chairs to seat all my friends and family who came from near and far. When I no longer did that I was included with friends as part of their holiday traditions and large gatherings. This year it will just be RangerSir and I. I am just fine with this. It is a moment in time when despite all the changes I have so much to be thankful for.

What Did You Do For Summer Vacation?

When I was a kid, one of the first projects school children were assigned was to write about what they did on during their vacation from school. It was always a hard assignment for me because my family did not go on summer vacation. I suspect I was not alone in the small working-class agricultural community I grew up in. There was no money or time for the local families to leave Dodge on some great adventure.

This always seemed a daunting assignment to me as a child. It somehow implied that you were supposed to report some amazing trip that would leave others in awe. As we enter the next season of COVID and I think back over my summer season in Montana for our family. It seems like writing about what I did with the season of good weather would be hard when all the plans we had were blown away with the sensibilities of limiting our exposure.

Dining out and eating new things is a form of recreation for RangerSir and I. Suddenly the idea of going out and eating just held no appeal. We regularly participated in “Take Out Tuesday.” We called ahead, don our masks, and picked up dinner from all sorts of local joints. We discovered new places. We mourned old favorites who decided to call it quits. We want local businesses to weather this storm, but take out just isn’t the same as sitting in a place and knowing when it is over you get up and the same folks who have taken care of making your dinner, will clean up after you leave. There are no cleanup fairies at our house. I miss this most of all. I don’t know what a comfortable eating out will look like to us, but I am looking forward to it.

Another of my favorite things to do this summer was to meet up for picnic lunches with friends. Some friends bought into the idea and others not so much. I ended up eating lunch out at least once a week, sometimes twice, and on one rare occasion three times. Sometimes we’d pick up carryout from a local place and other times we’d collaborate and make a picnic lunch each of us bringing food to share. The local park had a lovely pavilion where you could people watch and sit in the sun or shade depending on the day. It was relaxed because for a little while I did not worry about the virus and I caught up with friends. It was fun because my friends who liked to cook got a chance to show off their skills, and I did the same. It was nice because we did “show and tell” on our creative adventures and cheered one another on. I renewed friendships and discovered that others were feeling as alone as I was, but they were just as concerned as I was about reducing risk.

Now I wish I had take pictures of the many picnics I had gone on. I wish I had captured those simple moments of human connection. We have had our first serious snow and the temperatures dropped so lunch in the park is over. Now the ladies who I met so often at the park that allowed us to relax and stay in touch are now trying to figure out what we can do to keep up the momentum. Simple safe gatherings of friendship. We are batting around ideas. I am sure we will figure something out.