I know that the past two posts have focused a lot on why I started this blog and the epiphany(s) that led me here, but for this post I wanted to focus a little bit more on one of the ways I feel I have “chosen happiness.”
The week after Mother’s Day, I was feeling down. I knew I needed a pick-me-up, but what could I do? COVID-19 had forced most of the places I would have turned to for fun or relaxation in the past to close.
The thought lingered in my head for a couple of days without much coming of it. It wasn’t until I was scrolling on Pinterest, just procrastinating a little at work, when I saw a post that said “Ten Cheap Date Ideas.” Of course! That was it! I needed a good old fashioned date night, the kind we had done back in college when we never had any money to go on an actual date.
But as I started looking through some of the ideas, most of them seemed to be centered around a movie night at home or a trip to a free play or local museum, which of course I couldn’t due because of the pandemic. I didn’t want to do a movie night that wouldn’t feel much different than us just sitting in front of the TV as we ate dinner, like we normally did every night.
I scoured the depths of Pinterest for more creative ideas, and I found more than I bargained for. There was a make-your-own-mini-golf, a game night, a scavenger hunt, a themed movie marathon, a paint and sip night at home, and lots more ideas.
I quickly realized, mostly excitedly, that I was not going to be able to do just one date night over the course of the upcoming weekend. Instead, we needed the make the whole weekend a series of “mini-dates” or an extended staycation.
I quickly texted my husband with some of my ideas.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“It sounds pretty cool,” he said.
I knew for sure that I wanted to do the mini-golf idea. It seemed fun and quirky, and knowing the two of us, I felt that we would have as much fun designing and making the course as we would actually playing the game. We had also done mini-golfing on a few trips in the past and always seemed to have a really good time. I did more “research” on Pinterest and found lots of inspiration pictures from an after hours mini-golf game that had been done at a library. Initially, I didn’t really have much of a plan on what we would end up doing, how many holes we would have, what materials we would use, etc. I just knew I wanted to do it, and we ended up winging it. I plan to do a more in depth on what we ended up doing and some tips and tricks on how you can plan yours out a little bit better. Overall though, we used mostly materials we had just lying around the house, with the exception of a few random things I grabbed from work and golf clubs I borrowed from my sister, but we did not purchase anything.
Initially, a lot of my focus was on the mini-golf because it seemed like such a fun idea, but I knew I wanted to do more than just that over the upcoming weekend. After I was able to calm down a little and narrow down some of the multitude of ideas that were just floating around in my head. I knew I wanted to do a nice dinner that felt somewhat like a restaurant. I wanted us both to dress up, like we would if we were going to a nice dinner, and I wanted at least two courses: some sort of appetizer and a main course. Ron, my husband, had been wanting to “cook” dinner for me for a while, and we had a baked ziti in the freezer that was ready to go. I decided on that for the main course because it would allow him to be involved, and him taking care of everything would also let me actually get ready, as if we were going to a restaurant. We didn’t have anything that jumped out to me immediately as a great appetizer that you might get at an Italian sort of restaurant, and we’ve obviously been trying to avoid going to the grocery store as much as possible, so I decided to go with a fairly simple charcuterie board. I made some seasoned saltines (recipe below), sliced some apples, roasted some pecans we had in the freezer, threw some pretzels on there, and sliced some block cheese (given to me by my sister). It was very simple and easy, but it added a little something to the baked ziti. And don’t underestimate the power of getting dressed up, even for a dinner at home! This is true during quarantine, or if you’re just tight on money during regular times and doing a date night at home.
Not long after we sat down to eat our appetizer, we realized that it was incredibly hot in our apartment. Like hotter even than it should have been for the oven going with the baked ziti. When we checked the thermostat, it showed that it was 79, despite it being set at 72. After messing around with for a few minutes, we realized very quickly that something was broken or malfunctioning in some way with the unit. It was a Friday night, and there would be no one we could contact from our apartment complex until Monday morning. Although it was warm outside, being early May in South Georgia, it was not going to get dangerously hot over the weekend.
At this point, it would have been easy to get discouraged. To call off the whole weekend we had planned and the loose ideas of things we wanted to do before it even really started. We could have spent the whole weekend pissed off and complaining, and that would have been completely understandable.
But we decided to continue with all the date ideas. Why not, right? We already had it in our minds that we were going to do it. And even more than that, I think that was a moment where we were choosing happiness. We were choosing to continue on with our plans despite the unfortunate wrench thrown into them. And that is something I try to remind myself of now, when I have a bad day, when I wonder why me? when it comes to the situation with losing my parents in such a brutal and tragic way.
And so we continued on with our weekend. After our “restaurant dinner” full of stimulating conversation about life and death and my mother and what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives, we pulled out the bed on our pull out couch and watched a movie called “It’s a Disaster,” which was essentially a dark comedy about the end of the world. Darker comedies are usually more up our alley, and we thought it would be a way to laugh in an on the nose sort of way at the pandemic happening around us.
The next morning we had a nice breakfast and then quickly set about setting up our mini-golf course, using mostly our supply of dry food and some cardboard, but again, more about that in an upcoming post. After we got the course set up, we packed a picnic lunch and walked to a nearby and recently opened park to eat it. The walk, although along a major city street, still seemed peaceful, and it was nice to feel like we were actually in nature. I realized as we walked under the pine trees that day that that was the closest we had been to any sort of woods or forest besides just driving by in months. There were other people at the park, but we were safe and kept our distance. After our picnic lunch, we walked to one side of the park where Ron had helped to plant some trees and shrubbery as part of a volunteer project last year, just to see how they were all doing. We saw a red bird on the way, a little sign that Mama was with us, at least to me.
When we got back to the apartment, we played our six holes of mini golf and then decided to watch another movie. It was not one I would recommend to someone else, so I won’t talk much about it. That night, we decided to cook a recipe for something we had never cooked ourselves before, and we choose gumbo. I grew up eating Cajun food at my grandparents’ house because my maternal grandfather grew up in Louisiana, and I always loved it. I had always been a little scared to try something like that on my own though, but we had sausage, seafood, and chicken in the freezer, and it seemed like something fun to try. Ron and I donned aprons and based the recipe off of an amalgamation of gumbo recipes from Paul Prudhomme’s cookbook, but again, we hadn’t been to the grocery store in a while, and so we ended up improvising a few things or straight up omitting them. Overall though, it turned out really well, and I think we both had a great time in the kitchen.
And as simple as all our activities were that weekend and as cheap as they were (considering we spent no money on them at all!), that weekend really seemed to jumpstart me in a way. It became the first of what I can truly call “Life’s Little Adventures” after the death of my parents, and in many ways, it’s what I would really call the true beginning of this blog. And sure, we had to constantly move our two box fans back and forth between our bedroom and our living room, propping them up on chairs and sitting them directly in front of us, and we were both incredibly sweaty and red faced while cooking the gumbo, but we chose happiness. Despite the heat and the extreme inconvenience of having no A/C in May in South Georgia, we both still look back on that weekend as the best one we had in a long time. And we needed that. We needed to choose happiness, and maybe you do too.
Recipe for Saltines:
2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup olive oil
- Pour olive oil and seasons into a large bag (preferably a reusable one like the Stasher brand) or a large bowl. If using a bag, seal and mix the ingredients well. If using a bowl, use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine.
- Place both sleeves of crackers into container and gently toss with oil mixture (be sure to reseal the bag if using this option!).
- Let the crackers sit for 8-16 hours in the bag or covered bowl, occasionally turning bag or gently stirring if they’re in the bowl.
- Remove crackers and lay out flat on a baking sheet. Bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.