Month: April 2020

Things to do during a pandemic (Part 2)


We’re finishing off Week 5 of sheltering in place at Chez Small.

I have to be honest and say that this last week was probably the hardest by far. I think it’s the same as writing a book: the first 1/3 and it’s still new and shiny, but then you get to the next 1/3 which we call “the saggy middle” or why did I think this was a good idea for a book syndrome and oh god, I’m the worst author on the face of the planet neurosis.

This last week has been just like that.

But this morning, I woke up and decided to kick my own ass and stop feeling sorry for myself and to implement the same method I use when writing, which is the the only way through it is through it philosophy. And in that vein, I’ve had a couple of more things that I’d like to add to last week’s list of what we can all collectively do at home to keep from going insane.

Here we go . . .

6) Take an Online Course

screensYou know that thing you’ve always wanted to learn, but never seem to have the time to learn it? Well, now’s that time. The Internet has exploded with online course options. From make-up classes with Bobby Brown to learning a new language, there are more online classes than ever before and many of them are free. Check out Coursera or EDX for hundreds of free choices. There’s also MasterClass if you want paid content and many many more. I personally am thinking about taking Korean, but languages have never been my strong suit. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, there are many things out there waiting for me (and you) at just the click of a button. 

7) Play a Board Game

Put the joystick or controller down and rewind back to a time when the whole family would sit down and play a board game together. I know, mind blown, but these days, board games are more than just Monopoly or Scrabble and they’re not just for children like Candyland. Board games are a perfect way to entertain the whole family at once without everyone being glued to an electronic device. It’s old school – way to go hipster!

Board games have made a comeback and there as many flavors of games as there are icecream – that is to say a ton. If you’re feeling intimidated by Settlers of Catan, why don’t you try Ticket to Ride? Or if you’re looking for something in the adult variety there is always Cards Against Humanity. There are many options for easy to pick-up-and-play games that don’t require you to read a manual for an hour to set up the board. But if all that seems like too much effort, pull out Connect Four or even Game of Life or Clue. You can never go wrong with a classic and you might just reconnect with your family along the way.

8) Clean the House

There are audible groans everywhere, but let’s face reality, with all those people living at home under one roof, cleaning is inevitable. When Benjamin Franklin said ” . . . in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he should’ve added cleaning to that list.

But here’s the deal – cleaning is good for the soul. Having a proper tidy up not only gets you off the couch and burns off calories, but it also gets you out of your head. Recite poetry as you clean, wax on and wax off like the Karate kid . . . whatever way you wanna do it, get the rubber gloves out and grab the vacuum. In this time of germ and disease, a tidy house is more than just a tidy mind. It’s also a way to keep your family healthy. It’s a win-win and you’ll feel better for it.

9) Send a Letter

Today, I’m writing my British father-in-law a letter. He’s stuck quarantined in his studio apartment in his senior living facility, which is not great for any senior. You think we’re going crazy being stuck at home with our Netflix and snacks and spacious living space? Try being an 80+ year old 6’3″ nimble man with macular degeneration who has no internet streaming, no ability to read books, no contact with the outside world except for someone bringing your meal on a tray in an assisted living center in a space that is smaller than my garage.

It’s grim and in a bid to lighten his spirits, I’m going to compose a letter. I have no idea what I will say and I have to be very careful to make sure that my handwriting is large and legible for his poor eyesight, but I feel like it’s something I have to do. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something that I would encourage all of you to do especially for the seniors in your life who might be scared or frightened of the changes that are happening around them right now. 

Like journaling, you don’t need fancy pens or paper. Even copier paper will do. Jot down a quick note, let them know how you’re doing, or send them a poem if you’re feeling creative. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact your small missive will make in someone’s life. And by using a stamp, you’ll also be saving the USPS. Two good deeds in one!

10) Try Something New

I’ve left number 10 blank because this one is up to you. This is your chance to find out what makes you tick and once you do . . . are you ready for it . . . TRY SOMETHING NEW. It doesn’t matter what it is – whatever you try will alter you even the tiniest itty bitty bit. And that’s good in my books. Never stop being curious about the world. Never stop seeking to enrich your life because once you do, what’s life about at that point? To be healthy and happy is to stay engaged, to be involved, whether in someone else’s life or your own . . . but let’s focus on you here. Let’s make it all about you. Make time for yourself. Figure out what interests you and try it out.

And whatever you do, whether it’s something on my list or not, keep your chin up, and hold onto hope. This is just a bump in a very long road and you know what we do with bumps? We hold onto the steering wheel, drive over those little bastards, and keep on trucking.

Stay sane. Stay safe. See you on the other side.

xo – Shawnee

Things to do during a pandemic (PART 1)

As of this week, Chez Small is entering Week 4 of the Great Pandemic of 2020. I gotta say that the first two weeks of this madness were pretty disorienting (as they were for everyone) and we just couldn’t find our groove no matter how hard we tried. My focus was completely shot and suddenly, the whole world was full of bakers and alcoholics or drunk bakers, I’m not sure how to tell the difference. That pretty much sums up the beginning.

But now, we’re finding some semblance of normal in what is now some abnormal times. I don’t know when we’ll get back to where we were or even if that’s possible any more, but given the fact that I’ve still got at least 8 weeks being house-bound (thanks, shoddy immune system), I’d thought I’d share some insights into what has helped us to get through these stressful and uncertain times:

1. Take a Walk

I’m not a scientist (nor do I play one on TV), but walking is essential during this time of prolonged stress and curtailed activity. Without access to a gym or fitness center, walking really can make a difference to your physical and mental well-being. Google the benefits of walking just 20 minutes a day and you’ll see what I mean. If it’s good enough for Harvard then it’s good enough for me plus I always feel so much better after walking even when I have to push myself to go.

For those who are literally house-bound because you live in an apartment or somewhere without easy access to the outdoors, you can still walk inside your house by stair stepping. Going up and down your steps at a brisk pace will elevate your heart rate and boost your mobility. Bonus points for carrying that laundry basket with you!

2. Keep a Journal

journalI do this every day, 365 days a year, and have done so for the last eight years. Part of my motive was my desire to write (hello), but the bigger part was having a place to put my anxiety when I was diagnosed with a life-altering illness. I needed to take the stress and negativity out of my relationships, yet at the same time, still needed a way to get it all out. And a journal did just that.

Journals and pens is where I allow myself to go hog wild – I use high end Italian journals and top end fountain pens and inks, but any paper and pen will suffice. Your instruments of choice don’t matter – only your dedication does. You need to write every day without fail. Doesn’t matter what you vomit out onto the page. That seems harsh, but to make it work, you’ve got to build it into your routine. Create a habit. You’ll find after awhile, you get cranky if you don’t get your thoughts down on paper. When you get to that point, congratulations you’ve passed the threshold. 

3. Plant a Row

It’s amazing to me how much gardening is making a comeback right now. I guess it’s not too surprising given that people are worried about food shortages, but also, let’s be real, people are stuck at home with their loved ones and kids and need something to do – preferably not in the house.

That’s where container gardening comes in and I’m going to let you in on a secret. Are you ready for it? You don’t need no fancy boxes to grow vegetables. Hell, you don’t even need a container.

You can grow tomatoes directly in a bag of potting soil! In the UK, they call them grow bags and this video will show you how. In the US, they are literally the big 45-50 liter bags of potting soil you can pick up at any nursery or large box chain store. If you’re planting cherry tomatoes then you can probably get away with 3 plants in a bag like they would have in the UK, but for beefsteak sized tomatoes, I’d err on the side of caution of no more than 2 plants per bag of compost/potting soil.

Still, if you do have containers, you have more choices. I’ve used garbage cans and plastic bins for planting potatoes, carrots, eggplants, and melons to name a few – just make sure you drill holes in the bottom for drainage. This year before the pandemic hit, I picked up two cow troughs to give my garden that hipster look.

Shawnee's cow troughs

There are plenty of Youtube videos and websites that can give you some good ideas and you don’t have to limit yourself to just herbs or cherry tomatoes. If you haven’t tried container gardening before then I’d suggest picking up Square Foot Gardening off of Amazon or Fruits & Vegetables in Pots by DK Publishing. Lots of great photos in the latter and great for inspiration. Get out there and get dirty!

4. Make Bread

When the world falls apart, apparently, the first thing people do is bake. If I had a dollar for every Facebook post or Instagram pic that showed a picture of some tasty delicious morsel that my gluten-intolerant body can’t have, well, I’d be worth thousands of bucks by now. It seems like the vast majority of people have lost their ever-loving minds and watched too many episodes of The Great British Bake Off. I’ve seen more loaves of homemade bread just in the last couple of days then I’ve seen at a state fair. Everybody be baking!

And honestly, good for you, if you’ve dusted off your hands and gotten into the flour. Even the husbot who doesn’t cook (does toast count?) knows how to use a breadmaker and has started using it weekly. We have an Oster breadmaker (unavailable on Amazon), but both Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma do carry other brands and are in stock. I would highly suggest the Bread Machine Cookbook. You can always make bread the old-fashioned way by hand and I love this Sourdough Youtube video.

5. Read a Book

And last, but not least, drumroll, please . . . . . .

When all else fails, grab a book and read. Yes, the author is recommending books, no surprise there, but that’s what books are for – a way for us to escape our world and to jump into someone else’s. Nothing else quite satisfies like a book. The fearless heroine. The flawed villain. Or maybe non-fiction is more your thing so go peruse your online retailer for a biography or history book. Whatever you choose, books help get us out of our heads and they distract us from reality even for just a little while. Jump on board the written word train and let it take you to a new destination.

So, that’s it for this week. I’ve got 5 more suggestions for you on how to survive Corvid-19 without strangling your children or losing your mind. Stay tuned next Friday for Part 2.

See you on the other side.

xo – shawnee