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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A Dry Run for Our Outdoor Thanksgiving Celebration in the Sometimes Wet and Chilly Seattle Area

Yesterday, we decided to test out an idea for how to celebrate Thanksgiving with our son and daughter-in-law, safely. The two of them live just 15 minutes away from us, but we've only seen them 4 times in all of 2020. They are our only in-person social contacts, while we are one household of a couple for them. So, we want to make sure that nobody passes anything on to anyone else in our family.

Sharing a meal safely during this pandemic means eating outdoors for us. During the summer, we could spend time with our son and daughter-in-law with barbecues on the grill and cook-outs over a fire ring and feel safe. 

For a couple of months, we've been brainstorming how to do the holidays. Our best thought was to simply have another cook-out. We held a dry run yesterday to see if this was even do-able in cold weather for us. 

Our area has had a stretch of unseasonably cold temps, making this the ideal time to try this in weather similar to what we can expect at the end of November. It was 44 degrees F outdoors when I was starting the fire. The average high temperature for late November is around 48 degrees F. Of course, we could very easily have colder than normal weather or even wetter than normal. If that happens, we'll need to consider Plan B or Plan C.

What we discovered

It takes longer to get a fire going when the air is so cold. 

We will need a larger fire than we might normally use in summer, so the warm air can reach further away from the actual fire.

A couple of us needed to go inside and add extra layers of clothing, including hats, and parkas.

In the end, it was warm enough to roast our hot dogs then sit and talk around the fire, so long as the fire was kept good-sized. I think this will be a possibility for us for Thanksgiving. 

Some thoughts on doing our Thanksgiving outdoors -- 

  • We'll need to be flexible about the day we get together, and choose the warmest and driest day of the 4-day weekend.
  • We'll want to be eating about the time of day when we hit our peak high temperature, which means a mid-afternoon cook-out for our yard.
  • Obviously, we'll be skipping the turkey this year and opt for sausages like bratwurst to roast over the fire. I can still make all of the traditional sides to a Thanksgiving dinner, including pumpkin pie for dessert.
  • I'll keep a crockpot of hot apple cider going on the deck, using an outdoor electrical outlet.  I can also keep an electric kettle filled with water  and plugged into the same outlet for those who'd like a cup of tea. The rest of the Thanksgiving foods can be brought out to the deck table, and we'll eat around the fire ring on the patio below.
  • We have several throws that can be taken outside. I'll wash 6 of them, so we each have one for our backs and shoulders. And I'll advise my son and daughter-in-law on the attire that worked for all of us yesterday. I wore a thick, long-sleeved tee, covered by a thick fleece jacket, then topped with my parka, as well as a knit hat for my head. It looked like we were ready for snow. When you're just sitting around, the body cools off quickly in 44 degrees F.
  • I'll need to check our wood supply and move what I think we'll need into the garage for the next few weeks to keep it out of the rain. It was a little slow-going getting the fire to start yesterday.
I think this is do-able for us. Now, to see if our son and daughter-in-law are as adventurous as the rest of the family.

Anybody else plan to celebrate Thanksgiving outdoors? If not, have you come up with a plan that will keep you and your family safe while eating indoors? 

Trying to find positive ways forward in this pandemic.


  1. I think we will be staying in MI this year and foregoing the extended family get-together in Illinois. I'm bummed, but it's important to be safe. Our covid numbers are ramping up around here.

    However, my daughter's birthday is November 8. We are planning to have her little group of friends over for an outdoor bonfire. We may have to be flexible on the day it occurs if the weather is bad (and we've had a lot of rainy weather--today it was rain and snow mixed). I think it will be a dessert-only occasion--I'm thinking about cupcakes. I also like your idea of a hot beverage--I think if I'm the only one handling dishing out the food, we will be fine (it worked ok for my son's Eagle scout project--we served food, but I was the only one touching any utensils and made sure my hands were very clean). I'm also toying with putting up our beach shelter in the yard in case it's windy. Or maybe trying to clean out the garage enough to leave doors open for ventilation in the case of bad weather. Our garage is ... not pretty .... so I'm not excited about that idea.

    Sorry, I got carried away thinking "out loud" here. Thanks for your ideas and I would welcome any other thoughts that people might have.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I think you're wise to forgo the extended family Thanksgiving.

      Good ideas for your daughter's birthday party. Cupcakes sound both fun and safer -- everybody has their own portion and they can eat standing or sitting around a fire, plus no forks needed. I hope you have good weather for that day. Your back-up plan for a garage celebration is actually our Plan B. We've thought we could set up chairs in our garage and leave both the car and human doors open. We wouldn't eat at a table, but off our laps, so each household could remain 6 feet apart. Our garage is nothing great to look at either. But it is Plan B, if needed. I've thought about stringing up some colored Christmas lights in the garage, if we can't do a cook-out.

      When my son and daughter-in-law came for cook-outs and BBQs this summer, I set the food up on the table on the deck. I placed a bottle of hand sanitizer on the table, just before the dinner plates (all turned upside down in a stack). Then all of the side dishes and condiments were loosely covered with a lid or plastic wrap, so we could use a spoon under the edge of the wrap to serve ourselves, without actually lifting the lid/wrap. We served ourselves by household, with son and DIL going up to the deck first, then after they filled their plates and returned to their side of the fire ring on the patio, the 4 of us went up to the deck to get our meals. It worked well for us.

      However it works out, I think what your daughter will most like is just having her friends over. Wishing your daughter a happy birthday, Kris!

    2. Kris, like Lili said, I think your daughter will be happy to just have a few friends over. And I bet she won't care as much as you do that the garage is not that pretty. When I had my book club over (only two people, the rest were virtual), we met outside on our porch and I served water and individually wrapped brownies. That was easy and worked well.

    3. Thanks for your support, L&L and Lili. I'm not so worried about our garage being, well, garage-ey but I want it to be fun and it's easier for teens to have fun outdoors than it is in a garage. But we'll figure it out.

    4. Kris, I think you're right that the teens would probably enjoy time around a bonfire much more than standing around the garage. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you have good weather around the 8th.

  2. So sad that we have to be so cautious of even family. But I understand that it's safer this way. Never would I have thought we would ever look like this. We normally host a big dinner with parents and some siblings. I think we'll forego that this year for a large group. We do mingle with our parents during this crisis. Only because they are elderly and they won't be around forever. We cherish the time we have with them. They come over briefly and we often do have coffee together. MIL comes over every Sunday for dinner.

    We won't even be doing turkey because this year I developed gout which I inherited from dad. I can no longer have turkey, cauliflower and a list of other things. Strickly chicken from now on for Thanksgiving.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I'm so glad that you can spend time with both your parents and your MIL. I think this probably means everything to them for these opportunities to be with you and your family. I've read how isolation is really causing harm to many of the elderly. We take for granted that we have full households most days and have that social aspect of family life. Not so for many elderly. So, your get togethers are probably helping your folks and MIL a lot.

      That't too bad about turkey and your gout. I don't know much about gout or even that turkey was a food that was on the do not eat list. Personally, I like chicken more than turkey. And you can have all of the same sides with a roasted chicken as you can with a turkey. It would be the other vegetables that I'd be sad to not eat any more. But on the positive side, if changing your diet can mean fewer medications, that's a good thing. I have read that cherry juice is supposed to be good for gout. And some folks use cherry juice powder on a daily basis for their gout. (I sometimes read oddball nutrition articles, even when they don't apply to me.)

      Have a wonderful evening, Alice! I hope the case counts in your area are remaining stable.

  3. We are in the middle of discussions about what to do for Thanksgiving. We do know that my father-in-law does not want to be part of a big family gathering, but would entertain small groups where there would be room to social distance. My sister-in-law will probably be having something at her house, but there may be more people there than I'm comfortable with. I haven't heard the details yet. My son may come over and be just the four of us or I may add my sister. We have a big porch and outdoor space and plenty of space to spread out inside if need be. I do know that if we have others here, everyone will have to do a thorough hand wash and wear a mask when they serve themselves food. However, I'll be happy if I get some time to visit and talk with whoever is here or wherever we are.

    It sounds like you've got a plan with contingencies, so I think you'll have a good day that you will make special as you always do.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      This is hard to figure out, isn't it? We don't have much family nearby, and maybe that's a good thing. There isn't a lot that we'd be missing out on. For you, it sounds like you do have extended family in your area. I can totally understand your father-in-law not wanting to be part of a large gathering. From his perspective, the risks are too great and he can get some socializing in in less crowded environments or at a different time.

      Is the weather still pleasant in your area at the end of November, typically? Your outdoor spaces sounds like they could be a good gathering spot with minimal risk due to the airflow outdoors. I like your idea to have everyone wear a mask while serving themselves. I think I'll ask for my family to do the same. Masking might also be good for the time when just socializing and not eating.

      Good luck with your decision on this. After Thanksgiving, we still have to think through Christmas plans.

      Enjoy your evening, Live and Learn.

    2. The weather is usually not pleasant around Thanksgiving, but we'll see. Every once in while Mother Nature slips a warmer day in.

    3. I hope for you that this year is the exception to the rule for weather on and around Thanksgiving, Live and Learn.

  4. One thing I would add to the preparations is someplace under cover to get out of rain if needed.I live around here and it seems if you are prepared for rain it's less likely to happen. Happy Thanksgiving!-Kathryn

    1. Hi Kathryn,
      Isn't it funny how it seems to work that way -- I plan for bad weather, and it turns out beautiful, and vice versa. We're limited to 1 patio umbrella, the shallow eaves of our house, and the garage for cover from rain. I'll be keeping a back-up plan of using the garage in my mind while I plan the day.
      Thanks for your input, Kathryn. Have a wonderful day!


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