Surviving COVID-19 and the Holidays

By Dr. Peaches Henry

As predicted by infectious disease experts in the summer, coronavirus infections are now surging across the nation during the winter and holiday period.  COVID-19 hospitalizations in McLennan County hit a record on Monday, November 24, and local health officials said that warnings about Thanksgiving gatherings must be taken seriously.  If not, the McLennan County’s medical capacity could be strained in the weeks afterwards.  The scientists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are pleading with Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving and to celebrate only with members of our immediate households.  Put starkly, spend Thanksgiving with family; spend Christmas in the ICU. 

Facing these dire consequences, many of us have decided to forego our traditional holiday celebrations to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.  My own family, stretched across several Texas cities and involved in various conditions of employment including completely working from home, working hybridly, and working face-to-face all dealing with students, has decided to forego a face-to-face Thanksgiving this year.

Though I am disappointed not to be with my family, I wanted to reach out to others to offer some ways that we are trying to get through this time.  Let’s face it.  We might have to spend Christmas separated as well.  We might as well prepare for the entire holiday season—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, all of them. These are safe activities that are good for our emotional and mental health that abide by the recommendations of the CDC and local doctors.

Be grateful.

  1. If you are reading this blog, be thankful.  Though 2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways, we still have much to be thankful for.  Count your blessings.  Since it is 2020, count up to twenty blessings.  Go ahead and count twenty more, because it’s 2020.

Reach out to others.

Though apart, we are in this season together. Some people suffer from depression during this season even when we are not in a worldwide pandemic, so you can imagine how down they are feeling now.  We know that giving to others helps build resilience and diminishes some of the isolation many are suffering.  Therefore, it is important to be purposeful about reaching out to people and making them feel part of the community.

  1. How about that new neighbor who just moved in?  Write a note of welcome with your phone number for emergencies. Or that family whose children have been learning remotely for weeks?  Leave a puzzle or a card game on the front porch. 
  2. Give poinsettias to several of your neighbors. 
  3. Deliver a meal to someone you know will be alone for the holidays.  Bake cookies and let your children deliver them to neighbors (remember, contact free!).  This is one of the CDC recommended substitute activities.

Find new ways to observe your family’s traditions. 

  1. One of the activities I miss most is cooking and chatting with family the night before the big day, especially with my mom (now gone to heaven) “suggesting” that I add more of this or that ingredient. This year I’m cooking and chatting with my sister via Zoom.
  2. Among my family’s time-honored traditions is playing board games.  From Connect Four to Monopoly to Bible Trivial Pursuit to Trouble to Uno to Jenga to Sorry to Scrabble, we play them all.  To say that we play games is a milquetoast description of what my family has done over the years.  We play ferocious, competitive, winner-take-all games.  We game out which games we are going to play weeks ahead.  We pick our teams with winning in mind—my late mom, the Sunday School superintendent, for Bible Trivial Pursuit; my son, the strategizing law student, for Monopoly; my brother, the sports fanatic and movie enthusiast, for Trivial Pursuit; and me, the English professor, for Scrabble.  Good sportsmanship is a must:  winners and losers must shake hands and smile at the end of the game.  My sister and I still crack up remembering the grimaces that passed for smiles when we were children.  Then we gloat all year till the next holiday (really for years).  The family still gives me grief for not remembering Robert Ludlum as the author of the Bourne Identity which would have won the game for the girls in 2006! Argh!  So how will my family replace this tradition when we will not be together?  We are still going to play games.  We are going to harness the power of technology—Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc.  One game we are going to play is the #Hashtag.  This will advantage millennials and GenXers, but I plan to get one on my team.  Whatever your family’s tradition is, find a new way to celebrate it.
  3. Enjoy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while you prepare dinner?  The full 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on YouTube.
  4. Watch your favorite holiday specials together on Zoom.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air free on PBS on December 13.  One, two, three, click!
  5. Put “the game” on at everyone’s house and watch it “together.”
  6. Sing Christmas carols together via Zoom.

Bring back old traditions. 

  1. A Christmas card arriving via the USPS in a mailbox would lift the spirits of someone who is spending the holiday alone and away from family.  Writing the cards together as a family over cookies and milk or tea could create some great family moments.  The benefits of a paper card is that it can be hung up in a barracks, stuck to a refrigerator, or placed on a desk.

Create new traditions. 

  1. Plug your charger into your phones and have a conversation with a group of friends or family members.  This can easily be done via Zoom, but if folks are tired of Zoom, everyone can kick back on couches and chat.  We play a conversation game called “Favorite” at dinner parties that is easily transferable to a phone conversation.  It works for all ages and leads to great conversations and reveals surprising tidbits about players.  Sample topics:  What is your favorite childhood television show?  Dark Shadows, anyone?  What is your favorite book?  Favorite mystery? Favorite car?  Favorite animal?
  2. Have a drive-by parade for sick-n-shut-ins at your church.

Put on your favorite soundtrack.

  1. A good soundtrack can make any situation bearable.  Put yours on and dance the night away.  Take your pick of music streaming platforms:  Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music.
  2. Go a step further and dance.  Use YouTube videos to learn the steps to line dances.  The Electric Slide (old school favorite), the Wobble, the Cupid Shuffle, the Cotton Eyed Joe.  Dancing is a much more enjoyable way of getting those endorphins going than running.

Breathe, relax, release.

  1. Embrace the fact that you don’t have to cook a twelve-course meal for twenty family members plus that family of six who will show up without notice.
  2. Be happy that Uncle Blank won’t be at the table to ask uncomfortable questions.  Do give him a call though.
  3. Go to bed early the night before Thanksgiving Day.  Better, get up late on Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Put your holiday decorations up early.  My neighbors seem to already have decided to do this.  Lights lift the spirits.  My family usually waits till Christmas Eve to go see the lights.  This year, I’m going early.

Bonus:  Have hope and faith!

  1. Know that we will get through this time.  History is our witness.  The world got through the 1918 flu pandemic.  We will get through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Peaches Henry is the president of the Waco NAACP and an English professor at McLennan Community College.  She will be spending Thanksgiving with her best friend and black Lab Samson and Christmas with her son Corey and Samson.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

The Act Locally Waco Thanksgiving Cookbook

Happy Thanksgiving, Waco! A few weeks ago, I put out a call in The Whole Enchilada, asking for people’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes. I wanted to create a blog post that could serve as a community cookbook for Waco. And, boy, did you deliver some fantastic recipes! Read on for three great recipes from your Waco neighbors: a show stopping side, a fun and easy dessert, and a unique twist on Thanksgiving leftovers! Then, click here for a special Act Locally Thanksgiving recipe card you can print off and use to keep these recipes for years to come!

The Recipe: Hasselback Butternut Squash (Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

This recipe was submitted by Rachel, who has lived in Waco on and off for the past 10 years, and whose favorite Waco spot is Lula Jane’s porch! Rachel made this recipe while celebrating Thanksgiving in the UK and added the serrano pepper and sorghum syrup for a little Southern flair once she returned to Waco.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced

¼ cup pure sorghum syrup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

6–8 dried bay leaves

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of oven; preheat oven to 425°F. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a large spoon. Using a peeler, remove skin and white flesh below (you should reach the deep orange flesh). Rub all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in a baking dish just large enough to hold halves side by side until beginning to soften (a paring knife should easily slip in only about ¼”), 15–18 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring chile, sorghum syrup, butter, and vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally and removing chile as soon as desired heat level is reached (set aside for serving), until just thick enough to coat spoon, 6–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and keep glaze warm.

Transfer squash to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using a sharp knife, score rounded sides of squash halves crosswise, going as deep as possible but without cutting all the way through. Return squash to baking dish, scored sides up, and tuck bay leaves between a few of the slices; season with salt and pepper.

Roast squash, basting with glaze every 10 minutes or so and using pastry brush to lift off any glaze in the dish that is browning too much, until tender and glaze forms a rich brown coating, 45–60 minutes. Serve topped with reserved chiles.

The Recipe: Cinnamon Walnut Pecan Pie Bites (From the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)

This recipe was submitted by Lindsey, who has lived in Waco for 5 years and loves walks along the Brazos River! This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or even halved, depending on how big or small your Thanksgiving crowd is!

Ingredients:

15 mini phyllo shells, frozen

1/4 cup liquid egg substitute

3 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon room temperature butter

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 drop vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon chopped walnuts

2 tablespoon chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine egg substitute, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.

Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped pecans and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts into mixture. Arrange phyllo shells on baking sheet and distribute the mixture evenly among the shells. Combine remaining nuts and sprinkle them on the top of the shells.

Bake in the oven until edges are crisp, 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. If you like, top each piece with a squirt of fat free whipped cream topping. Enjoy!

The Recipe: Thanksgiving Leftovers Lasagna

This recipe was submitted by an anonymous Act Locally reader, who has lived in Waco for 49 years and whose favorite Waco spots include Cameron Park and the River Walk at the Waco Suspension Bridge! This recipe is a great way to use up leftovers; feel free to swap any ingredients based on whatever leftovers are in your fridge!

Ingredients:

3 cups leftover cornbread stuffing

1 (14-oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 ¼ lbs cooked turkey breast, sliced into ¼ inch slices

3 cups cooked mashed potatoes

2 cups green beans, corn, or mixed vegetables

6 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 ½ cups)

Gravy, for serving

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a square baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread half of the stuffing in a layer in bottom of prepared baking dish. Spread half of the cranberry sauce in an even layer over stuffing. Layer half of turkey slices on top of cranberry sauce, then half of vegetable of choice, then spread half of the mashed potatoes on top of vegetables. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese on top of potatoes. Repeat layers once. Bake in preheated oven until lasagna is warmed through, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to broil, and broil until cheese is golden, about 2 minutes.

Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before cutting into squares. Spoon gravy over each square to serve.

Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.