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How to make the most out of staying at home

Reading a book, trying out a new recipe or playing a new game can make social distancing more fun

In this file photo, Sarah Ndakola gets some help from her son Aron while cooking dinner in her apartment in South Salt Lake City on Dec. 10, 2015. With many stores running out of frozen food and restaurants shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no better time to try out new recipes.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country, health care experts are recommending Americans do a few things to avoid a catastrophic outbreak: stay at home, wash your hands and minimize contact. Emphasis on the stay at home part.

In other words, the best way you can do your part to fight a global pandemic is by doing something that doesn’t sound that hard: spend more time on your couch.

Except, for some people (like me!) the thought of sitting on their couch for days, weeks, maybe months, is horrible. I don’t like to sit at home, especially as winter is finally starting to dissipate. I’d rather be going on road trips and going on hikes in new places.

But, I am also worried about the possibility of spreading a disease we learn more about each day (or hour) to vulnerable populations. For that reason, as much as I hate it, I’m staying put as much as possible.

But maybe there’s silver lining. Perhaps we can turn a period of self-isolation into one of spiritual and intellectual improvement. We can do the things we’ve been meaning to get around to, but just never seem to have the time for, like reading the collected works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. We can reconnect with friends and family on FaceTime or Google Hangouts.

Maybe, we can come out of this whole period of time as better, more empathetic, intelligent and fulfilled people.

So here’s a guide (from someone who really doesn’t like spending time at home) for making the most of it.

Read the books that have been gathering dust

The books that friends gave you, the ones you bought but never cracked open, or the ones from the library that were nearing their due date before libraries closed down. You could have a good old fashioned read-athon. Set an ambitious goal, and make it a competition with your friends.

Or, take this opportunity to read the great books we’ve all been pretending we read but never did (please don’t ask me about “The Grapes of Wrath”).

If you don’t already own classics like “Great Expectations” or “Don Quixote,” Project Gutenberg has 60,000 free e-books, plus most libraries also have e-books that you can check out.

Maybe, it’s the perfect time to read Proust’s “Remembrances of Things Past,” and finally find out what happened after he bit into that iconic madeleine cookie.

Get to really know your favorite director

There’s the Netflix and chill approach, or there’s the purposeful consumption of every movie ever made by a director. Maybe don’t pick Ken Burns, you may not have time for that even with weeks of self-isolation.

Maybe you’re in the mood for some rom-coms and want to see all things Nora Ephron, or you’d like to experience the fund kind of suspense and binge all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. For those who want to read and watch movies at the same time, maybe it’s time to fall headfirst into the world of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (or, at least, do yourself a favor and watch “La Strada”).

Don’t have these films on hand? Many libraries also offer movies you can stream. If you are lucky enough to have a library that offers Kanopy, get it stat. When we all emerge from our homes, you can impress your friends with your new found film knowledge.

Try new recipes (err ... learn to cook)

With many stores running out of frozen food and restaurants shutting down (some are still providing curbside pickup) there’s no better time to try out new recipes. I spent my weekend making The New York Times’ Cauliflower, Cashew, Pea and Coconut Curry.

I’ve also been reading Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” a book designed for the amateur cook (it’s also a Netflix series).

There’s a whole stack of more complicated and timely recipes that I’ve been meaning to try. I may even try to overcome my lifelong fear of baking. If you’re already a baking expert, you could attempt making the practically impossible croissant.

Bon Appetit magazine published 15 comforting recipes, which includes items like Butternut Squash Baked Pasta and Warm Chickpea Bowls with Lemony Yogurt. Eating good food is an important part of keeping stress levels low.

Plus, you can freeze leftovers and voila, you’ll be a little more prepared if you do become sick.

Work on the instrument you purchased but never learned to play/do something creative

Did you buy a guitar in hopes of learning to play? Or maybe a mandolin? With a plethora of online resources (just Google it) for learning, now is the perfect time to wipe the dust off your instrument.

This may be less practical for those with roommates, families, husbands or wives that may not appreciate hearing the A chord played over and over again. But for those with larger spaces or their own home, practice away.

Or, maybe you always wanted to learn to paint or draw. Is there a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles you’ve neglected? A photo album you’ve been meaning to assemble? You can surprise your loved ones with thoughtfully curated scrapbooks when it’s time to meet up again.

Fix things you’ve been meaning to

That doorknob that’s a little loose and you pray doesn’t fall off each morning. The squeaky door that makes that ghastly noise.

Since you’re spending more time at home, why not take this time to make some small improvements? Paint a table whose color you’ve always despised, hang up artwork that’s been sitting in your closet. Reorganize your Tupperware drawer.

Marie Kondo your home, and finally fold your sweaters in a way that makes sense.

I recommend doing these tasks while playing some music, or listening to a podcast you haven’t had time to catch up on (like “Serial” or “Dolly Parton’s America”).

Get a workout routine

Just because you aren’t going to the gym doesn’t mean you can’t keep working out. Many gyms and yoga studios are offering courses online. Plus, if you aren’t sick, you can go running or ride your bicycle outside (make sure to maintain a safe six-foot distance from those around you). I’ve discovered Salt Lake City has miles of bike lanes and have been appreciating the architecture of the homes and building while pedaling around.

Again, if you aren’t sick, get some fresh air by sitting on your porch, or taking a walk around the block.

Reconnect with friends and family in faraway places

Take the time to call or FaceTime friends who you don’t ordinarily see in person anyway. Catch up on what they were doing with their lives before the coronavirus. It’s easy to lose touch when we move and the chaos of day-to-day life makes us forgetful.

Sit down and think about who you’ve been meaning to call and spend an evening giving them a ring.

If you have the privilege to work from home and have an internet connection, staying in has never been easier. We can learn for free online and stay connected through our phones. We can, with a little bit of effort, do our part to protect others and ourselves, and improve our homes and our brains while we’re at it.