When a global health pandemic cleared the calendar, we all adjusted. The more focused family time remains what our family needed more than anything this summer.

As a family, we’ve journeyed through the slowest summer I can recall, resulting in new experiences for our family. And yes, the calendar says the summer solstice lingers into September, but anyone preparing for back to school knows we’re in our final days and weeks of summer break, with many unknowns ahead in the fall and winter.

My husband, Nathan, helped make three areas accessible for our son, Hunter, after his spinal cord injury this past winter. A lesson as parents we learned at Craig Hospital during Hunter’s rehab was if you make travel as easy as possible for your paraplegic family member, new experiences and travel are easier to share together. As a family, we stayed at my parent’s farm, visited our family’s Minnesota lake place and returned to visit hometown Wishek, N.D., when our house there was accessible and ready for Hunter to stay. I’ll forever be grateful for the slow summer of 2020 that has allowed Hunter and our family this adjustment time and the ability for him to have new experiences in home locations.

After a long winter of many life changes and then finishing the school year with distance learning, our daughters, ages 11 and 12, started weekly horseback riding lessons the first week of May. For three months, they learned to saddle, ride and groom horses. Horses Fred and Amigo, alongside their instructor Savannah, instilled confidence in our daughters. By the end of July, our girls trotted around displaying newfound skills. In the past, a usual summer for our girls included more team sports and camps. But this summer, less is more, I’ve learned. We hope to continue the simple routine of weekly horseback riding again this fall. Maybe I’ll get back on a horse with the girls after taking a few decades off myself from riding.

I joined a weekly women’s Bible study group by Zoom this summer, mostly with women I have never met in person and a few who I haven’t seen since high school or college days. This study, utilizing technology, would not have occurred without a global health pandemic, as it would have been in a church face-to-face setting. The new style of study renewed me spiritually and centered around friendship.

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Even my (always working more in the summertime) husband carved out a new experience in our slower than usual summer. Nathan played baseball again for the first time in 26 years, playing with former high school teammates and hometown guys in the state amateur tournament a few weekends ago. While they didn’t win any games, they enjoyed the sport and camaraderie enough that they discussed making it an annual event.

On weekends in a usual summer, we often explore rural areas to find new eateries, cafes and small-town festivals. This summer, we’ve finally spent time smoking meat for hours on the smoker we’ve sparingly used in past years. Each pork shoulder or beef brisket we smoke is tastier than the last one. On a few Friday nights this summer, rather than go eat out at a nearby restaurant with our family, we “picnic” on the pontoon by ordering walleye dinners and a bucket of chicken from a small resort and pick up it dockside.

Simple new experiences for our family this summer won’t leave us when COVID-19 ends. I am holding onto the new individual and shared adventures we allowed ourselves to experience and hope we purposefully continue to carve out more time for empty spaces on the calendar to be filled with new experiences.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.