By Kathryn McLean

Throughout November and December I was hearing a lot about “what is the one word you would use to describe 2020?” and seeing a lot of ornaments to that effect. Which I understand: 2020 was not a great year for us, collectively. We missed out on so many get-togethers and play dates, and couldn’t celebrate birthdays and holidays our usual ways. We weren’t able to visit each other to celebrate the births of new babies, but we were also not together to share grief when loved ones died this past year.

One day when I spoke with my mother towards the end of December, she told me she’d been seeing the same “one word” trend on social media, but she didn’t share the popular words. Her words are “grateful” and “hopeful” and “promising.”

My mother was diagnosed with cancer late in 2019 and had scheduled surgery in January 2020. She was meant to be in and out in one day, and stay at my house for a couple of weeks while she recovered. But it didn’t go that way. She spent five days a week for five weeks going for radiation treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and wasn’t ready to move back to her own home until well into June.

So yes, there were many let-downs for us last year, and yes, we all agree it was “gruelling” and it “stink, stank, stunk.” But I think we can also be grateful for what we do have, and those we didn’t lose to the coronavirus or otherwise. Let’s be hopeful that this coming year will be better. Until we can celebrate with those we don’t live with, let’s celebrate those we are with and make some of our ordinary January days special.

One Saturday, instead of opening a bag of chips, open the fridge and cabinet, put a little of this and a little of that onto a platter and make a shareable snack board for movie night.

Set your dinner table with some candles, use your cloth napkins if you routinely save them for special occasions, or use the “fancy” glasses that spend most of their time in the cabinet. Are you ordering take-out? Tip the warm food from their containers into your own serving dishes and set them out on the table rather than using the foil and plastic ones that your dinner arrived in. 

Maybe you’re not buying take-out this month, and instead are looking to stay on budget. There are still simple, inexpensive options for our meals.

Do you take part in Taco Tuesday? If you’re looking to save a few dollars, replace the ground beef with black beans in your dinner. Or try a latin-inspired dinner: instead of buying a tray of chicken breasts or thighs, buy just a couple of pieces and use them to make a soup or stew.

Here’s the method for a simple chicken soup: cook the chicken pieces in a large pot with chicken broth. Add vegetables such as a diced onion along with chopped fresh sweet potato and green pepper, frozen corn, black or pinto beans (drained and rinsed from a can is fine), some rice, chopped fresh cilantro and some ground cumin. Remove the cooked chicken, shred it and return it to the pot. Serve this easy soup with tortilla chips.

And make the meal special by serving lemonade or another drink that you typically don’t offer at dinner. I’ll be doing that because I plan to make the most of what I do have, while being hopeful about the year ahead.