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Sarah’s Cucina Bella 2020 Year in Review

As 2020 draws to a close, here are some of the year’s highlights, lowlights and challenges behind the scenes of Sarah’s Cucina Bella.

Usually, writing a year in review is an easy task. I start with the highlights, fill out a few details and it’s done. But 2020 was a tough year. It’s hard to recap the year without writing about the hardship.

This isn’t an extensive look at 2020. So much happened this year nationally — the pandemic, the election, etc. For my family, the litany of things that didn’t happen is long. But there was still much to remember.

And one last note: we have been fortunate and I know that.

2020 by the Months

In January, the year began with great hopes and expectations. I wanted to savor it, to live big, to make it the best year ever. In fact, I wrote in a post published on December 31, 2019, that I wanted to have a “slow, meandering year.” I had no idea that statement would be so apropos for this year.

In February, I finished writing my fifth cookbook.

In March, everything changed. The coronavirus pandemic arrived in Maine. My office closed. My children’s schools closed. My son’s track season was pushed back. My daughter’s dance school closed. Rehearsals ceased. The university that I teach at extended spring break and instructed us on how to move our classes online. So we stocked our fridge and pantry, planning to stay home until the pandemic ended — or for at least three weeks. We watched in shock as the pandemic devastated families and upended lives. And it was also shocking to see grocery shelves and meat cases bare as everyone tried to prepare for the unknown.

In April, the pandemic still raged. So I started ordering curbside grocery pickup and worked on buying for several weeks at a time. I began to take long walks every day. I’d listen to audiobooks and explore my neighborhood, imagining what it would be like to live in this house or that. We continued working and schooling at home. We didn’t see friends or family in person. Lunch together became a daily event. In our attic, I cleaned up and prepared a large open space for dance, yoga and music lessons. It’s not fancy, but it serves the purpose. My kids started Zoom music lessons. I started a writer’s group that began to meet weekly. I prepared our outdoor space for summer fun.

In May, we began planting our garden at the community garden. We started hiking together on the weekends. I tried not to think past June because the amount of unknown was overwhelming. My college course wrapped up. We kept grocery shopping infrequently and cooking for nearly every meal. At some point, I started occasionally going into BJs at a low-traffic time.

In June, my first nonfiction food history was released. Classic Diners of Maine looks at the rich history of some of Maine’s most beloved diners. Unable to host an in-person launch event, my launch party was held online and family and friends near and far were able to attend. That was pretty cool. Oh, and I turned 40. School wrapped up for the kids. It became clear that I would be teaching my fall course remotely. I relaunched The Lunch Box Ladies, a food blog dedicated to all things lunches.

In July, my fifth cookbook was released. Easy Frugal Cookbook is filled with flavorful recipes that won’t break the bank. It’s perfect for new cooks, those just learning to cook and for anyone looking to spend less on the food they eat. It’s also filled with some of my very favorite recipes ever. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a launch party for that one so the release felt more like a fizzle than a happy explosion. Meanwhile, Will turned 15.

In August, with the summer nearing a close, I was tasked with making the impossible decision of how my kids would learn this year. Our district offered three options: full time in-person, hybrid and remote. Ultimately, I chose remote to continue to limit our contact with others. But I decided I was willing to accept the risk associated with my son running cross country in the fall and my daughter returning to her dance classes. Both involved masks, distancing and lots of precautions.

In September, school resumed. As remote learners, my kids had to arrange their own schedules and find new workflows. I began teaching a new course online, using our attic dance space as a classroom.

In October, my son’s brief cross country season came to an end. My kids didn’t trick or treat. They dressed up in costumes they already had, just for fun. This is also about when I realized that I actually like using grocery pickup because it frees up my time for other things.

In November, my daughter turned 13 and though she didn’t have a party, her friends still helped make it special. I ended up making a massive Thanksgiving meal so we’d have leftovers for days, as per my children’s request. I also started work on a new cookbook project. More on that another time.

In December, we celebrated. The halls were decked and the stockings hung. We cut down our own tree and got it all fixed up. And we settled in for a Christmas spent at my own home for the first time ever. And the vaccines were approved, so we look forward to the time when we can resume activities we ceased back in March.

2020 by the Numbers

  • 0 … trips taken.
  • 2 … books published.
  • 97 … recipes and recipe-related posts published.
  • More than 100 … posts published.

About My 2020 Goals

As 2020 began, I declared that this would be my year of being fearless. What a strange word to guide 2020, but I was fearless in the kitchen, adopting new practices and cooking in ways I’d never before. So, that’s something.

What about my goals?

  • Be Smart with Money — Success! The goal was to not just spend less or save more but to do both, and to earn more too. And I did that, mostly. I’ve grown much more thoughtful about where, when and how I spend my money. I’ve focused heavily on saving. And even if I didn’t earn more (I am really not sure on that count), I definitely had a smarter year financially.
  • Eat Less Meat — Success-ish. I’ve concerned about the health of our planet and how our meat-eating tendencies are hurting that. So in 2020, I set out to reduce our meat consumption. And we did, a little. In addition to having at least one meatless meal each week, many of our lunches were meat-free.
  • Manage My Time Better — Success, I guess. Time management in 2020 was a whole new beast. The goal was to cut back on time-sucking activities so that I could find more time for things I actually wanted to do. And, although I did continue doomscrolling more often than I should, I did spend less time doing it. As a result, I read a lot, walked a lot, cooked more and found more joy in the mundane.
  • Read, Read, Read — Maybe not. My goal was to read 31 books this year. I typically read about 30. And while my reading log says that I finished 26, I am not convinced that it’s not missing some. Honestly, though, I am surprised I didn’t read more.
  • Write More — Success, sort of. The goal was to write more — short stories, emails, essays, whatever. And I did-ish. I wrote more blog posts on SCB than I have in years. I began writing a novel. I sent more Christmas cards than I have in years, some even handwritten. But I didn’t write as many essays and I didn’t pitch much to editors. So it’s hard for me to call this a certain success.

Over the weekend, my mother asked what my goals are for 2021. I didn’t have an answer then. I like to review my year, my previous goals and think about what I want before setting new ones. But I will set those goals soon.

Tell me about your 2020. What were the highlights? Even in an impossible year like this, there are silver linings to be found.

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My Goals for 2021