One of the ways Jill Guthrey Andrus has been coping with the pandemic is getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine while taking 3-6 mile walks every day but a different path on each day's journey.
"The adventurer in me hates walking the same place and same path every day so I've been changing it up," Andrus said.
So far, she has gone walking at Sam Houston Jones State Park, the Westlake High School track, Pinederosa Park in Westlake, Center City Park in Sulphur, the Creole Nature Trail walking paths and Rutherford Beach.
Of course, even taking a walk during these times can be a little different than walking during normal times.
One of the spots Andrus has enjoyed, the Center City Park, has a book drop off/pick up area. "I usually bring a Clorox wipe with me, use it to open the latch, use it to grab a book and immediately wipe it down," she said.
But there's a fun part, too.
"Then I leave a book or two," she said. "I left a Melissa & Doug Smarty Pants game last week and some fruit snacks and a joke book this week. I was excited to pick up John Grisham's ‘Playing for Pizza' because I hadn't read a Grisham book in a while."
Andrus, who is the curriculum coordinator at Vinton Elementary School and also has a clothing resale shop, Jack and Jill's of Westlake, said it's a good feeling knowing she has used this unexpected free time in a productive way.
"I've used this weird time in life to walk every day, read more (she's on her sixth novel), and enjoy all sorts of Louisiana nooks and crannies — from city parks, beaches, state parks, walking paths, and highways, creeks, etc."
Her husband, Aaron, does social justice work and also works as an operations manager of a tugboat company. They have four children, Abby and Zane, who are both in college; Sophie, a freshman in high school, and Grey, a sixth-grader.
"In a strange way, this time has been a gift," Andrus said. "I've been able to soak in the goodness of each day. I generally walk twice a day. During my early morning time, it's just me and Jesus. Walking outside reminds me how lucky I am and how often I overlook the simple things — blooming flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass, a turtle sunning himself on a log, a gentle breeze."
Family members have also joined her on walks at times.
"My husband had been walking or jogging on and off for about a year so he was our inspiration for afternoon walks," she said. "We love the trails at Sam Houston Jones Park. We've seen an armadillo, squirrels, deer, daddy long leg spiders and more. It's been great family time and sometimes we bring our boxer Callie along. When it's really hot we sometimes wait until evening and go to the school track or on the walking trails at Pinederosa. Both places are well lit and have plenty of space for family walks."
Like most families, the Andrus family stays incredibly busy when things are normal. As in, prior to the pandemic. With both parents working, all of their children in school and having extracurricular activities, and being active in their church, having a lot of free time isn't something that they were accustomed to until now.
"Our afternoon walks have given us some feeling of normalcy as a family," she said. "It's been a sweet, sweet time for us."
Andrus said after a few weeks of walking, the family began to expand their areas to explore.
"We went on parts of the Creole Nature Trail and even down to the Gulf and walked along the beach," she said. "Growing up here, you forget how unique this place is: the wildlife, the swamps, the marshes. I had really only previously brought my kids down the Creole Nature Trail once or twice. Now we go once a week."
On one trip, the family counted 18 alligators.
"My son was amazed," she said. "Then on a return trip we decided to bring a crab net and go crabbing before our walk on the beach. It's been great family bonding time and I've enjoyed watching my 12-year-old and 14-year-old work together to scoop up crabs or race one another down the beach. It's like we are in slow motion and for us, as a family unit, it's been nice."
Andrus said she realized this has been a very difficult time for many and she didn't want to diminish that.
"I can feel empathy for others and still live life being true to who I am," she said.
"Our family walking routine is special because it's hard to be ungrateful or frustrated when you are seeing the sunrise amid a backdrop of greens and blues. Sunsets on the beach of pinks and oranges set the sky aglow. Being outside and soaking up the sun and fresh air makes me feel more alive, more me. I think the outside time has had a positive effect on my whole family's frame of mind."
The uncertainty of these times is difficult for everyone and Andrus said it's not any different for her family.
"Navigating the uncertain times definitely has its challenges," she said. "Instead of focusing on all the things we can't control, however, I think we can choose to live responsibly and do the best we can for ourselves and our families. This might look different for different people. For our family, this time means the opportunity to grow healthier — physically and mentally — as well as the chance to soak up the natural beauty of Southwest Louisiana."