We made it through the summer, but suddenly it’s November.  The beaches are closed, the leaves are falling, the wind is coming down the lake from the north and we’re stuck inside.  The question on everyone’s lips seems to be, “How will we survive the long COVID winter ahead?” 

With a little ingenuity, a lot of pluck and some long underwear.   Here are 10 ideas for passing winter time during the pandemic:

“TO BUILD A FIRE.”  Backyards all over Evanston now sport portable fire pits.  You can buy one of these on-line for anywhere from fifty to four hundred dollars.  BYO firewood.  If you want to use someone else’s fire pit, try Temperance Brewery at Dempster and Dodge.  For thirty bucks, you get two parking places for two hours, a pit, starter kit and wood.  The second parking place is for your car which also separates you from the next pod.  Temperance will be glad to sell you beer, but you can bring or order your own food.  Stacked and Folded on Noyes Street serves burgers, beer etc. and has five sidewalk tables with built in fire pits. 

TAKE A WALK, JOG OR BIKE RIDE OR CROSS-COUNTRY SKI.  We are surrounded by parks, beaches, trails and forest preserves, and last winter (admittedly it was mild), we had only 11 days when the high temperature was below freezing.  So dress warmly:  layers, lined boots, ski gloves, a cotton or wool toboggan hat, an insulated coat and most important, a really warm cotton or wool scarf that wraps around your neck and can be pulled up over your chin.  (Mine is a kaffiyeh, like Yasser Arafat wore, that I bought in a flea market in Amsterdam 30years ago and is only slightly ratty).  Now, stay out of the wind and keep moving. You will create your own heat.

EAT OUTSIDE.  Yes, even in winter.  Many restaurants have propane heaters.  Downtown, these include Prairie Moon, Tapas Barcelona and Giordano’s.  On or near Central Street, Ten Mile House and Bluestone have heaters, as do Oceanique, and Firehouse Grill in the Main Street shopping district.  Down on Howard Street, Peckish Pig has a tented, heated courtyard and Good to Go Jamaican Cuisine has individual plastic pods on the sidewalk where you can eat the food you purchase inside. 

“LET’S ALL GO TO THE MOVIES!”   Outdoors, that is, COVID style.  The Evanston Starlight Concert and Movie Series will close its season with a free showing of “Moana” at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7 in Twiggs Park, Simpson Street at Dodge Avenue.  Meanwhile, The Davis Theater has opened a pop-up drive-in theater in the Lincoln Yards Lot at 1684 N. Throop Street in Chicago.  They’ll be showing “The Breakfast Club” on Nov. 19 and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” on Nov. 27.  Buy tickets online.  Admission starts at 7 p.m. And keep your eyes open.  Other pop-ups may pop up.

GO FOR A DRIVE FOR ITS OWN SAKE.  My family did this every Sunday afternoon after church and dinner.  We called it “going for a drive in the country,” but that’s because we lived in West Virginia.  You can also go for a drive “in the city” or “up the North Shore” or “to see the fall leaves” or “to see the Christmas lights” or…?  As you go, listen to music, an audio book or a podcast.

PICK UP COFFEE OR PACK A LUNCH AND CALL IT A “CARPICNIC.”  Then, of course, you’ll want to stop and eat.  My favorite places for doing this are Lee Street Beach in Evanston, Gilson Park in Wilmette (no city sticker required in the off-season), Montrose Harbor for a view of Chicago from the north and Adler Planetarium for a view of the city from the south.    


GO TO THE ZOO.  We have three good ones at our disposal:  Lincoln Park, Brookfield and Milwaukee County.  All three are largely out-of-doors, have modified programs and exhibits and require masks and social distancing.  Lincoln Park Zoo is free, as always, although it will charge five bucks for its Zoo Lights exhibit this year, and it is limiting admissions.  It has established a social distancing path and its food service is from outdoor kiosks.  Make reservations on-line.  Brookfield Zoo has reopened with safety procedures in place.  It is selling tickets on-line (there are still selected free days) and admitting guests at 20-minute intervals.  Its Holiday Magic light show will be available on selected dates, and its DINOS EVERYWHERE exhibit has 40 life size animatronic dinosaurs on display. The Milwaukee County Zoo is open for business out-of-doors and at 25% capacity for indoor habitats.  It has one free day every month.  Buy tickets on-line.

GO TO A MUSEUM.  Yes, they are indoors, but they are big, open and airy spaces with good ventilation.    At the Field Museum of Natural History some exhibits that aren’t big and open are closed.  Floors are marked for social distancing, there are many hand sanitizer stations, and daily capacity is limited.  Your ticket, which you will buy on-line, will give you an entry time.   The Art Institute is open selected days and times.  Go on-line to find these and to make reservations.  Admission is limited to 25% of capacity.  The Museum of Science and Industry is also limiting capacity, issuing time-limited tickets and temporarily closing some exhibits.  All museums require masks and social distancing. 

 GO SAFE-SHOPPIING.  Local malls are trying to make shopping easy and safe.  Common areas at Old Orchard are outdoors to begin with, and the mall is also providing sanitizing stations, social distancing markers and curbside pickup.  It has received Bureau Veritas Safeguard Hygiene Excellence and Safety Certification.  Northbrook Court has large, open indoor spaces and a new air filtration system designed to trap viruses.  It also offers curb side pick-up and a service called Spot Holder that allows you to reserve a shopping time.  Masks and social distancing are required. 


GO FISHING.  That’s right, for a real getaway, try ice fishing in Wisconsin.  Dean Gordon at Hooked Up (hookedupsportfishingcharters.com tel. 920 495-5586) on Sturgeon Bay will set you and your private party or pod up with your own sanitized ice house, rods, reels, bait, tackle and even lunch (brats grilled on the ice) for $125 for an eight-hour day.  Plus, he’ll clean your catch.  For small lake open-water fishing, try Mark Miller at Inlandwaterfishing.com (920-627-3500).  He charges $200 for two people for 4 hours and $50 more for each additional person.  He also is an ice fishing outfitter who will set you up for a bit more depending on the lake. 

So there you go from the silver linings department.  This might just be a winter you tell your grandkids about.