99 Activities to Stay Busy During a Pandemic

*without spending extra money.

Like nearly everyone in the world these days, I’ve been practicing social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I am privileged enough to be able to work from home full-time, plus I’m lucky to live in a rural area where I can go for a walk on my cul-de-sac, or in the woods behind my house, without coming within six feet of anyone.

And, as the saying goes, noblesse oblige.

So what have I been doing to occupy my time–and to keep my anxiety from screaming “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” at high volume sixteen hours a day?

Well, first, I made a list! My list is titled “Activities to stay busy during social distancing (that don’t cost extra money & aren’t spending too much time on social media).” Since this is my list, it contains many items that may not be relevant to you (what, you mean you don’t want to finish watching Escape at Dannemora?) I encourage you to make your own list, perhaps generalizing from some of my specific examples.

(And I’d love to see your lists!)

I used a couple of things for inspiration here: my personal to-do list, my DayZero lists (my latest 101 goals in 1,001 days period has ended, but there are a number of things I didn’t manage to do), and this “103 Things to Do on a Money-Free Weekend” article, by Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar. (Sadly, a good number of his suggestions don’t work while practicing social distancing, but some do! I’ve just picked a few that appealed the most to me).

Without further ado… my list!

  1. Read books I already own–on Kindle or physical copy, new or re-read. I gotta admit, I’m not doing as much reading as I would like, because the news and/or social media is very distracting (especially while reading a book in the Kindle app on my phone)! But recently I finished the steampunk fantasy romance, The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook, and I read the YA portal fantasy Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, for a virtual book club that my friend Becky put together. I’m also re-reading The Goblin Emperor, because Tor.com is doing a “socially distant read” of it, and also because it’s a fantastically comforting book. And hey, my tweet about it was featured prominently on this article!
  2. Play games from my Steam library. Like most gamers, I have a zillion games in my library I haven’t played, or haven’t played much. Before the pandemic hit, I was playing a ton of Rimworld–and man, is it easy to lose hundreds of hours in that game!–but for whatever reason, it’s been less compelling to me recently.
  3. Finish watching Escape at Dannemora. I’ve been watching this dramatization of the events of the 2015 prison escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, which hey, happens to be very close to where I grew up. It’s compelling, and I like seeing how they portray a place that I’m very familiar with. But, in classic ADHD fashion, I got distracted and haven’t gotten back to it.
  4. Watch other stuff that is free (or that I’ve already purchased) on Prime video. I mean, Vincent Price’s birthday is coming up (May 27th!), and I do own much of his oeuvre on that platform…
  5. Try a new recipe with stuff I have on hand. I’m not much of a cook, but I have definitely been doing some stress baking–first making Alton Brown’s cocoa brownies, and then a Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie recipe, with the addition of brown butter. Next up? Lemon bars, I think.
  1. Work on the Never-ending Cross-Stitch Project. This came from my 101 goals list. And it is called that because, literally, I have been working on it for half my life.
The Never-ending Cross-stitch Project. Making a lot more progress now, though; it’s recognizably a basket of flowers.
  1. Work on my current coloring project, or start a new one. I recently found my old Prismacolor colored pencils from high school, and I’ve been getting back into coloring again–aided by my pal Chava, who has been posting daily coloring pages on Facebook during the pandemic.
  1. Draw some wild plants from my nature photos. Matt got me The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling for Christmas, which has inspired me to work on my art. It’s really a whole course in drawing from nature, but as someone who still isn’t a very practiced artist, it’s much easier for me to take photographs in the moment and do the drawing later.
Page of nature journaling from January
Page of nature journaling from January. Yes, I drew that dang laurel while sitting on a log in 20 degree temperatures; witness me.
  1. Go for a walk in the Hickory Woods. This the conservation area behind my house, owned by the Hickory Hills Landowners association, of which I am part. Or, as I recently learned, this is actually one of FOUR conservation lands behind my house. I keep thinking I’ve thoroughly explored it, and yet I still get lost back there!
  2. Go for a walk in another local conservation area, i.e. Cowdrey Nature Center, Lane. The Lane property actually abuts HHL, so this is easier than I originally thought!
  3. Put up a batch of mead. I have the ingredients to make a few different varieties, but Matt is really hoping for me to make a cardamom-orange one next.
  4. Start seeds for springtime. I’ve already started seeds for Roma tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, and sweet alyssum, but I have a few more spots in my planters, which I’ll probably use for flowers.
My seed starting flats: ITS ALIIIIIIIVE! Well, except for the peppers.
  1. Clean out the raised beds from last year. Or, er, from the last time I actually had a garden.
  2. Work on quilt repair project. This is an old quilt my mother gave me several years ago, which I would like to hang on the wall over my staircase. Unfortunately I discovered some damage to it, so I need to do a bit of a patch job. (It’s not so nice nor antique a quilt that I’m worried about proper restoration; I’m just gonna stick a tightly-woven patch on the back and hand-sew a lace doily over the damage).
  3. Clean up my old dollhouse. This is the dollhouse my mom built for me when I was… 11 or so? It’s been sitting in my basement for years, but we just moved it upstairs. I want to clean it out and get all the furniture set up again.
  4. Tidy, clean, or declutter a space.
  5. Watch DVDs/Blu-rays from my collection. A few Christmases ago I bought Matt the Mel Brooks movie collection, and recently we watched Blazing Saddles and Silent Movie together. (A first time, for me, for both)
  6. Journal. I have been doing a lot of this during the pandemic. It helps me, somehow, to remember that I am living through a historic period and I can give value by being a primary source.
  7. Make a collage of memes, headlines, etc, to illustrate the story of the pandemic. This is something I’ve pondered doing, as another way to provide a first-hand account of what it’s like to live through this. So far I haven’t done anything towards it, though.
  8. Email my neighbors to see if they need anything. I’m trying to improve my relationship with my neighbors, and making a little progress, I think. This is an especially good time to check in on them.
  9. Set up outdoor lights for “unity tree.” Our town put its Christmas tree back up, and many people are getting their lights out of storage, in the grand human tradition of, “Shit’s bad? SET STUFF ALIGHT.” I live at the end of a private drive, but I could always put lights on my mailbox or something (…assuming I actually own any outdoor lights).
  10. Go for a run. Zombies, Run! seems very appropriate right now, and Sam Yao is always there for me…
  11. Work on Lioness edits. Another project that seems never-ending (in my defense, I finished the first draft on Election Day 2016!) Although I do seem to be making slow progress again!
  12. Work on a new piece of writingBuilt-Up Fairyland, more stuff in the world of Lioness, etc. As much as it’s a Bad Idea to write more in the world of a novel you haven’t sold, GUYS I HAVE SO MANY IDEAS for Yfre and pals.
  13. Drive to a part of my town I’ve never been to before.
  14. Work on my language studies (Spanish/French/Hindi). At some point in the last year I got to the point where I could almost read the devanagari script that is used to write Hindi, Sanskrit, and a bunch of other Indian languages. (Not that I knew what the words said, but I knew roughly what they sounded like and could look them up). I have basically lost all that, and need to regain it. Man, I just do not retain stuff like I used to…
  15. Finally finish Wes Bos’ React for Beginners course. I bought this on sale at Christmas time and I’ve been slowly working my way through it. (All his courses are on sale for 50% off right now, too, if that’s something that would appeal to you).
  16. Watch NERD Summit sessions that I couldn’t attend. This was the virtual conference I attended in March for work.
  17. Convert my WordPress blog to a static site using a static site generator. Probably Hugo, but I’m open to other options.
  18. Organize my photo collection
  19. Organize my music collection.
  20. Reach out to relatives, especially ones I’m not often in contact with.
  21. Reach out to a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. There’s been a lot of this going on! I’m sure people are sick of hearing from me ๐Ÿ˜‰
  22. Write a letter or postcard.
  23. Get my tax forms ready. I did this the other day! Of course the deadline has been extended by 90 days…
  24. Practice identifying countries on a map. I did this as part of my 101 goals, but I’ve definitely forgotten a few. (All the islands of the Caribbean and Oceania are hard, yo!)
  25. Print postcards offering assistance to my neighbors, and leave them in the mailboxes on my street. I’d probably use something like this as a template.
  26. Make masks for hospitals. I haven’t yet done this, despite my sewing skills — mostly due to a lot of confusion about the right pattern, which hospitals would accept handmade masks, whether they actually help, etc. But a mask just for myself wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.
  27. Identify some observations on iNaturalist.
  28. Repair NPC costuming for Madrigal 3. Some day larp season will resume. Some day…
  29. Work on my character concept for Cottington Woods 2. I have a rough idea of it, but it’s different enough from what I planned to do in CW1 that I need to look into the world background and write out a few new things.
  30. Work on costume for CW2. I need to look like a Russian babushka.
  31. Take a bath. I have a few nice bath bombs from Lush I need to use up!
  32. Brush off my resume. Right now I’m still gainfully employed, but every business is struggling right now, and it can’t hurt to be cautious.
  33. Work on my Secret Knitting Project.
  34. Check finances in Mint. I honestly haven’t even looked at this since late January, and our first trip to the emergency vet with Brianna. I honestly don’t want to think too hard about how much we spent on that!
  35. Make an extra payment toward debt. I guess this doesn’t really count as “not spending additional money.” But hey, it will save me money in the future?
  36. Join a MOOC (massively open online course).
  37. Make soap. I’ve had a melt & pour soap kit in my basement for yeeeeears, and I promised Matt that if I don’t use it up this year he can throw it out ๐Ÿ˜‰
  38. Start a new lace knitting project with materials I have on hand. I have so much yarn. So much.
  39. Teach myself how to crochet. I’ve got yarn and time — seems like a decent use of both.
  40. Mend clothing that needs it.
  41. Scan boxes of nostalgia.
  42. Eat weird foods that EB sent me. This was in pursuit of one of my 101 goals to eat more foods off the Omnivore’s 100 list. So I now have chocolate-covered insects and nettle tea in my cabinet that I should probably consume at some point.
  43. Submit some of my short fiction or poetry to a market.
  44. Call an elected official about an issue I care about.
  45. Teach myself to play Go.
  46. Do a project out of one of my homesteading books, i.e. grapevine wreath.
  47. Take virtual tour of a museum, garden, or historic place.
  48. Write a poem. I do intend April to be my own NaPoWriMo, since it is National Poetry Month, and I’ll be celebrating by… well, at least trying to write a poem and read one poem a day. We’ll see how it goes.
  49. Meditate. Very important in this tough time. Relatedly, Calm, the meditation app I use, made a bunch of resources available for free during the pandemic.
  50. Play a board game with Matt. We’ve started a tour of our board game collection, where we attempt to play each one (or at least each one that plays well with two players!) So far we’ve played Carcassonne, Lost Cities, and Kingdom Builder, and he’s won all of them. It’s a good thing I like him so much ๐Ÿ˜‰
A thoughtful portrait of Matt, thoroughly beating me at Lost Cities.
  1. Call or text/video chat with a friend.
  2. Finish and post a languishing blog post. GUYS I HAVE SO MANY. I can’t promise I’ll actually get to them, but maybe?
  3. Do a tarot reading.
  4. Visit an (outside) Atlas Obscura site. Somewhere I can actually practice social distancing!
  5. Look for Find a Grave requests in local cemeteries.
  6. Set up my dev environment for working on Intercode 2. This is the codebase behind the Intercon website. I’m not inclined to get too deeply involved in its development–I have a position on staff this year that has nothing to do with tech–but the tech stack is one I want to learn more about, and I wouldn’t mind being an emergency resource.
  7. Stream on Twitch. I haven’t streamed in months, and my ESO account in currently inactive, but I have tons of games (see above) that I could stream.
  8. Take a nap. Being in the middle of a global pandemic is sometimes exhausting, yo.
  9. Listen to a podcast. I do a lot of this while doing housework, or walking/running. Stuff to Blow Your Mind and Stuff You Missed in History Class (both of which I’m a long-time fan of) have been getting a lot of play lately, perhaps because they both released collections of older podcasts that I’ve been diving into.
  10. Record myself reading a Millay poem for Youtube. I started doing this! I began by recording these videos on my laptop–despite all my streaming equipment being connected to my desktop–because I was lacking space to save video files on that computer (see #73). But as it turns out, the requirements for streaming are very different than those for recording video, and my laptop might be my best tool after all…
“Lise Reads Millay: The Bean-Stalk.” YouTube thumbnail image from the last video I did.
  1. Clear some disk space on my desktop. I probably don’t need to keep a copy of every Skyrim mod ever, even if they do have an alarming habit of disappearing from the Nexus…
  2. Inventory board game collection. To assist with #62, of course ๐Ÿ˜‰
  3. Learn how to edit video in iMovie (Mac) or Shotcut (PC). Right now I am just recording my Lise Reads Millay videos in one take and doing what minimal editing I can do in the Photo Booth app on iOS. I tried importing my video into iMovie and maybe editing out the worst of my ums and ahs…. yeah, I couldn’t even get that far. And I consider myself pretty tech savvy. As much as I recently railed against watching videos in order to learn stuff… this is complex enough that I need to watch some videos about editing videos ๐Ÿ˜‰
  4. Clean out my email inbox–get to inbox zero. I don’t fetishize inbox zero like some productivity gurus do, but it certainly makes it easier to find important stuff.
  5. Do a bill reduction. I got this from the Simple Dollar list. I’m not sure what else I can reduce, but if nothing else, I can try to get my credit card to remove that $28 late fee because in the stress of the pandemic I was a day late paying my bill.
  6. Practice juggling. Another TSD-inspired addition, though their item was “learn to juggle.” I actually already know how to juggle, but I’m out of practice. And I have a Mad3 NPC who juggles, so I’d like to get better at it!
  7. Make a will. I mean, Matt and I don’t have kids or major assets except for our house, so there’s not a lot of question as to where stuff will end up when one of us dies. But as lots of people are thinking now, it’s worth doing.
  8. Do some boffer sparring with Matt. One day larp season will resume and we will be glad we prepared…
  9. Attend a virtual religious service. I wonder if the UU church I used to attend in Groton has one…
  10. Make homemade holiday gifts. Even just with what I have in my house, I could be making holiday gifts!
  11. Pet or play with the cats. They are already very put out that we are home all day every day; now I can also annoy them by petting them while they’re sleeping ๐Ÿ˜‰
  12. Practice calligraphy. A fun, useful skill to have in larp! I have all the equipment, but I haven’t done it in years.
  13. Explore a blog I like.
  14. Go on a Wikipedia crawl.
  15. Play one of the Sherlock Holmes games with Matt. These are mystery/click adventure style games that Matt has in Steam; we have played them together before.
  16. Watch a Twitch streamer I like, and really participate in chat. A lot of times when I watch Twitch, it’s just something I have open in a tab while I do something else. But this is a much better way to really connect with a streamer.
  17. Put together a submission packet for Lioness. No, I haven’t finished edits between #24 and this bullet, but I will need to pull together a query letter and synopsis at some point, and begin researching agents. No reason I can’t start now.
  18. Brush my teeth. Boring, but my oral hygiene has a tendency to go out the window when I don’t have to leave the house for a few days.
  19. Dive deep on a quality YouTube series, i.e. Journey to the Microcosmos. Or War Stories, or Technique Critique. Less so Dr. Pimple Popper, though I do love her. And for the love of gourd, don’t read the comments.
  20. Co-watch a show/movie/video with someone. You can use apps like Kast or Netflix Party, or just time it yourself. I’ve been rewatching Monk with EB, since it’s all on Amazon Prime now.
  21. Give myself a manicure or pedicure. This is assuming I have any nail polish that’s still usable…
  22. Make a schedule. I dunno about you, but I do better when I have a schedule I feel beholden to. Rebel that I am, I don’t always stick with it — but I appreciate a schedule created with forethought that tells me where I should be at what time.
  23. Try one of the Zombies, Run! Home Front missions. ZR (mentioned earlier) has released a set of at-home exercises to do while sheltering in place. (I think they’re available with a free account, too). Despite my fortunate rural position, I’d still like to try these and see what they’re about, if only to have an option for bad weather days.
  24. Copy old fanfic from fanfiction.net to Archive of Our Own. I still have some old fics that are published on ff.net and nowhere else. They aren’t exactly my best work, having been published in the early 2000s, but seeing as the old fics I have moved over still get kudos and comments from time to time? They might give someone some enjoyment during this rough time.
  25. Sort through my indie perfume collection. God, I’ve been needing to do this forever.
  26. Make a new 101 Goals in 1,001 Days list. Mine ended in February, but given how much of a century the past three months have been, I haven’t had a chance to make a new one.
  27. Hold a virtual writing/coworking event. I’ve been doing these every Saturday and Sunday (barring other commitments–like I have any of those any more!) at 11am Eastern. Generally we chat for 15 minutes and then work quietly for 45 minutes, and repeat this 2-3 times. If you’d like to be involved, let me know!

I hope this gives you some ideas for how to keep busy and mentally healthy during this difficult time. Let me see your lists!

Weekly Update: September 8, 2019

Peach picking, getting back to editing, my talented friends and their awesome books, and NATURE.

It’s been a while — I spent a big chunk of August on vacation. I’m working on a longer travelogue, but in the interest of writing regularly, here’s what I’ve been up to since I got back, or stuff that was tangential to my vacation.

Peach picking

Last weekend I went peach (and raspberry, and blueberry) picking at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, MA. In addition to crossing it off my 101 goals in 1001 days list, it also meant I got to spend some time with my excellent friends Becky, Arnis, Kim, and Dave.

In the process Iโ€ฆ

  • Learned how to tell a peach was ready to be picked. (Half yellow/half pink, with the ridges on the top yielding to the touch)
  • Had some fantastic falafel from Chez Rafiki, a Mediterranean restaurant that has a food truck at the orchard.
  • Discovered that the orchard plays alarm calls of certain birds in their raspberry patch — presumably to keep birds from eating the fruit. What a great idea!
  • Bought a case of their amazing Shandy Stand, which I tasted and loved at the Johnny Appleseed Beer Festival.

Now I have SO MUCH FRUIT to eatโ€ฆ

Reading

I of course got a ton of reading done while traveling!

I finished (at last!) The Unbound Empire, the final book of my pal Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy. That it took me so long to finish is not a mark against it; once I was able to sit down and concentrate, it was engrossing! I kept wondering how various things were going to resolve — the love triangle, Ruven’s machinations, etc — and I can truly say that it delivered an end to the series that was surprising, but, in retrospect, inevitable. I’m truly, truly pleased with the conclusion, and I’m excited to see more of Vaskandar in the new series.

In continuing adventures of “I have incredibly talented author friends,” I finally read Django Wexler’s Ship of Smoke and Steel, the first book in his YA fantasy trilogy, the Wells of Magic. I actually had read part of it already, it turned out; he’d sent it to me to critique back when he was still calling it “Deepwalker.” It’s the story of ruthless mob boss with combat magic, Isoka, who gets thrown onto a giant ship/city, Soliton, and has to figure out how to commandeer it in order to save the life of her sister.

ANYWAY it’s just fantastic. I agree with the reviewer who said that the action scenes are cinematic — in particular I thought the dredwurm fight, with mushroom spores flying around, was particularly colorful. It’s also paced beautifully, pulling you from one adventure to another with curiosity about the magic system, this ginormous ship, and wtf is going on.

Isoka is also a fascinating character; she starts out kind of a terrible person, which is something that’s super rare for a female, first-person protagonist. But her ruthlessness is a tool that she uses to climb the hierarchy of Soliton, and that? That I looooved. (Also she is marginally less awful by the end of the book, in ways that totally make sense).

There wasโ€ฆ kind of a love triangle? Although I felt that if you’ve read anything of Django’s, you knew exactly how it was going to end ๐Ÿ˜‰ I was rooting for Zarun, either way. I like my charismatic assholes.

After I marked it as “read” on Goodreads, though, I made the mistake of reading some reviews of it andโ€ฆ man, there are some people willfully misreading the romance in that book. It left me with a combination of “did you read the same book as I did?” and “DING DONG YOU ARE WRONG.” Ultimately I think a lot of people don’t know what to do with a female protagonist like Isoka.

I’ve already preordered the next book, which comes out January 2020, so I think that tells you my ultimate opinion ๐Ÿ˜‰

While I was in Stratford, I also read Jeannette Walls’ Half-Broke Horses, which she describes as a “true-life novel” about her grandmother, who was a homesteader, horse trainer, bootlegger, and teacher in New Mexico and Arizona in the early 20th century. I liked this way better than I did The Glass Castle, which was way too intense for me. It turns out, I just really like stories about people homesteading and being self-reliant! This was definitely a story I wanted to linger in.

Writing

I have been getting back to editing Lioness. Still on draft 3, as I have been for the pastโ€ฆ year? Two years? (Too long!) Every time I’m away for any significant period of time, I have to do what I call “reuploading the manuscript into working memory,” which is basically just re-reading it. At 120k words, that takes a bit of time!

However, this reupload, I was pleased to make two discoveries: 1) there were bits that I didn’t remember writing that I found quite clever! and b) I was further along in my edits than I had thought. So that was heartening.

Still, editing continues to be painful. It feels like closing the doors on so many possibilities.

Mead chronicles: the meading continues!

Batch #1, the semisweet mead per Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker, is still in secondary fermentation. It is supposed to remain there until it clears and all fermentation has stopped for two weeks. It has cleared, but fermentation is still going, verrrrrry slooooowly, so I’ve left it there.

I’ve picked up a few goodies for bottling it, namely some swing-top bottles, and some Saniclean/iodophor, because I’ve heard so many negatives about sanitizing with bleach.

Last week I put on a new batch of quick mead, cleverly called batch #2, using the recipe from the Elder Scrolls cookbook and a spice blend of my own imagining: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, juniper berries, and grains of paradise. I have no idea how this will turn out! It may be utterly undrinkable! But at least I only have to wait another week or so to find out.

The mystery mead! How will it turn out??

iNaturalist, and a recent walk in the woods

I’ve become utterly obsessed with iNaturalist, an app and website which allows you to engage in citizen science out in the wild and get feedback on your observations. I started using it when I was up in Canada, and then went through MY ENTIRE CAMERA ROLL and uploaded every nature picture I had, getting identifications for most of them. I just started using it in mid August, and I’ve already logged 80 observations, most of them flowering plants, because that’s kind of my thing.

What I’m beginning to discover is that no matter how many times I tread a certain path, there is always something new to discover — even if it’s just opening my eyes to something I’ve overlooked a million times. For example, I went for a walk today at work, along the Cochituate Rail Trail — a path I probably walk at least a hundred times a year — and saw velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), which was entirely new to me. (And, unfortunately, an invasive species). I’m also starting to branch out (haha) into tree identification, and suddenly I notice Eastern redbud and witch hazel and shagbark hickory when I pass them.

(P.S. I’m lisefrac on iNat, if you want to look me up there).

Anyway, this past weekend Matt and I went on a long ramble through the Hickory Hills woods and Lunenburg Town Forest, visiting some parts we’d never seen before. It’s kind of amazing how quickly it changes from a dense undergrowth of heath (mountain laurel, partridge berry, wintergreens, etc) toโ€ฆ well, almost nothing, in the parts to the north of the lake. Probably a sign to how recently different parts have been reforested, I would guess.

The bugs were pretty awful — and I was covered up pretty well, due to the high risk of EEE in Massachusetts right now — so it was not the most pleasant or comfortable walk in the woods I’ve ever had. However! I did see some species I’d only read about before, like downy rattlesnake plantain, or cardinal flower.

(When I saw the cardinal flowers, I was, no lie, about 100 feet away, and this flash of brilliant red caught my eye. I had a brief moment of hope — because this was the right season for it, if nothing else — but then almost brushed it off as “nah, it’s probably just foliage of some sort.” But as I got a little closer, it seemed more floral in shape, so I went bounding, literally into a marsh, to take a picture of it).