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With all the ups and downs that happened during COVID this past year, it's undeniably been an eye-opening and reflective period for all of us. Looking back, I realize how much our world shifted dramatically, both physically and psychologically, some of it perhaps permanently.
As I live on a rural farm, we lived much the way we always do: planting a supersized garden, harvesting, canning and freezing, taking long walks on back roads and trails, watching wildlife, stacking and burning wood. That said, my significant other and I didn’t enter a store or any other building other than our home, except for scheduled dental and healthcare checkups.
And while neither of us learned a new language, took up birding, quilting, or woodturning, adopted a companion animal, or maintained a sourdough starter—there's no question our lives were affected in both positive and negative ways.
I longed to see my loved ones, but found new ways to connect
None of my close or extended family live nearby. My sister and other family live in Vermont, my brother in Albuquerque, my daughter and her husband in Maryland, others in Utah and California.
My biggest worry throughout the year: I might never see them again.
Early on, my daughter, who lives in Maryland, invited me to a fitness challenge she’d set up for a group of co-workers and friends who use the same brand of sports watches. I didn’t want to do it at first, feeling like an old lady horning in on the younger folks’ fun.
But my daughter insisted I’d find it motivating, encouraging me to do a lot more daily walking than I would have otherwise. I doubted that, but she was right!
I wasn’t “in it to win it,” the way my watch kept reminding me, but I did walk between three and eight miles a day throughout the pandemic year, even during the winter months on deep-woods snowmobile and logging trails. I enjoyed the other members’ encouraging remarks, and felt comforted by seeing my daughter’s daily steps (way more than mine!) These weekly challenges had a steadying influence on me, and I’m still enjoying my weekly participation.
My daughter had given me an iPhone just before the pandemic hit, and even though we live in a rural dead zone, and I can’t use it as a phone from home, I discovered that texting vastly relieved my anxiety. I texted loved ones every day, sent and received hundreds of photographs, links to interesting articles, and stayed on top of everyone’s news.
The phone did function well within a few miles of home, and we were grateful to have it for notifying stores and healthcare offices that we’d arrived for a pickup or a visit. Another big anxiety-reducer.
My sense of time changed
Many of you who stayed home for months probably experienced a Groundhog-Day sense of time, where every day flowed into the next and you couldn't remember what day it was, or whether the task you thought you needed to do you'd actually done yesterday (or maybe you thought you'd done it yesterday, only to learn you hadn't). Pre-pandemic, I could run to the corner store to buy a quart of milk or to the nearest ATM to get some cash, or the hardware store to buy some screws to repair one of our raised garden beds. I could have people in or stop by a friend's house for a visit. Life offered many opportunities for seeing and doing. During quarantine, I mostly saw one person, and we did the same things for days on end, depending on the season. It still feels strange, heading out to shop for groceries or gardening supplies indoors.
Goodbye to waistbands
Like many Americans, during the entire pandemic year (also now) I wore only tights, stretchy shorts, sweat pants, or winter long johns and sweat-wicking shirts. Crocs, running shoes, or boots completed my look.
No waistbands! No zippers! No stockings or nice shoes. No collared blouses.Like many of you, I don’t want to go back to anything fancy, fitted, or waist-banded. I’ve noticed articles recently reporting that the fashion industry has begun rolling out lines of stretchy pull-ons and pull-overs, even tailored suits without waistbands, linings, or shoulder pads. I salute them!
We found unusual ways to meet our needs
Some supplies were impossible to obtain in local grocery stores during the early weeks and months of the pandemic, including baker’s yeast, flour, toilet paper, and paper towels. We located them by shopping online and by taking advantage of the rise of contact-free pickups.
I located a 50# bag of whole wheat flour from an online bakery-supply outlet; when it arrived, I repackaged it into 5-pound bags and tossed them into the freezer. I found a supply of organic unbleached white four (for Saturday-night pizzas) from a Montana farm outlet.
Office-supply stores were closed, as were most of the offices they furnish, so we ordered bulk supplies from our local outlet—restroom dispenser-type paper towels, toilet paper, and boxes of tissues—and had them delivered, along with notebooks, pens, and other home-office supplies. We stashed them on our front porch, and we’re still using them up.
We bought a lot of stuff
Our usual extreme frugality gave way to a rash of ordering new stuff: Two iPads, an electric lawnmower, a battery-powered weed-whacker, an electric hedge trimmer, a snowmobile, a set of Cuisinart knives, some home and garden hand tools, and some of those comfortable stretchy clothes. In retrospect it seems bizarre, yet at the time, each purchase (for home delivery or contact-free pickup) was a natural extension of our online-only shopping. Or maybe a stretch of "retail therapy."
I took a Twitter mini-course on backyard fruit-growing
Mississippi Cooperative Extension fruit specialist Dr. Eric Stafne held forth on a variety of different fruits growing in his (very fruity) backyard. I learned about passion fruit, figs, muscadines, kumquats and loquats, in addition to the more familiar pear and blackberry. You can read about it here. I wish more experts would make innovative use of Twitter like this.
What’s more, after I tweeted about never having seen or tasted a muscadine, two Alabama Cooperative Extension staffers sent me two jars of muscadine jelly they bought at a local farmers’ market. Lovely and yummy!
I learned about SIFT: a handy fact-checking tool
With such a plethora of confusing political and pandemic misinformation and disinformation circulating, I picked up a great tool anybody can use to sniff and sift it out.
Called SIFT, it was developed by Mike Caulfield, a digital information literacy expert at Washington State University. It’s a simple tutorial to help people sift fact from fiction, especially on the Web. Designed for college students, it’s handy for anyone. Do check it out.
Banana peels! Cooking with a clothes iron? Who knew?
In addition to spending way too much time enjoying cat, dog, and wildlife videos online, I also looked at a lot of interesting online food posts and articles.
Most surprising discovery: Don’t waste your banana peels. Eat them! Mouth-watering banana-peel breads and cakes, meatballs, bacon, chips, and chutneys. I haven’t tried any of them (yet), so I won’t post recipes. But they’re easy to find online. By the way, banana peels are nutritious, containing dietary fiber, potassium and other minerals, B vitamins, and protein.
Finally: Few people were traveling or living in dorms, but I came across a trove of wonderful instructional videos of people cooking all manner of tasty foods on their clothes irons (or the clothes irons in their hotels). Grilled cheese, s’mores, quesadillas, crepes, hot dogs, bacon and eggs (maybe some of that banana-peel bacon)...and many more.
Naturally, each little food find gave me a chuckle and a lift. We humans are ingenious. There’s hope for us all.
Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles