Next Avenue: 17 more links to keep you busy while staying at home

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This article is reprinted by permission from It is part of The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need To Know Special Report

You know all those things you say you want to do — then don’t? As disruptive as the coronavirus is proving in all our lives, there’s a silver lining: confinement is creating the time, as well as the hunger, opportunity and need, to pursue those interests, whether that means specific activities or a deeper connection with others.

Topping my own list of delights these days are phone conversations with my 25-year-old daughter. Until now, she, like many millennials, has regarded her phone as a texting device and actual phone calls (at least from me) as an intrusion. Lately, though, we’ve been talking. And it’s lovely.

I’m not the only person surprised and delighted by the uptick in filial phone calls. Friends tell me they’re hearing from their kids frequently now.

Also see: Help for frazzled parents: 20 virtual field trips to keep your kids occupied (and learning)

Repeatedly, I’ve been told that, like my daughter, these young adults are not only eager to be in touch, but are declining to come home until they’ve sheltered in place for 14 days because they don’t want to risk infecting their parents. Even in my chilliest moments, I find this outpouring of affection and consideration heartwarming.

A lot of ‘Zooming’ around

Then, there’s been the escalation of Zoom ZM, +5.68% in my life. Pre COVID-19, I’d tapped into Zoom only for virtual, video meetings of a nonprofit board I sit on. These days? I teach a memoir workshop on Zoom. My writers’ group holds its monthly meetings on Zoom. An hour ago, I attended a Zoom call with a group of writers I met for the first time last week — on Zoom.

Tonight, I’ll be dialing in for a family Zoom call with my daughter, my husband and his two adult children, all of us (I assume) with wineglass in hand.

Be sure to read:Zoom Video lurches from boom to backlash amid privacy issues, ‘Zoom bombing’ attacks

That’s a lot of Zooming around — and I’m relishing it. People have more time to talk. Reflect. Encourage. Support one another. I find all of that lovely, too.

Finding new communities

The increased appetite for communing and sharing has also given rise to a proliferation of online resources that enable to us to pursue our passions, free of charge.

Rather than sitting home worrying about what tomorrow may bring, we can sit home delving into our personal interests. Some of the links below provide opportunity for community; others enable us to explore a variety of endeavors solo.

Bottom line: at a time when it feels like our lives have ground to a halt, it’s possible to be busier than ever if we use this unasked-for stay-at-home time to enjoy the many opportunities now available to build community and skills. A sampling:

Community in your backyard: The Nextdoor app can connect you with people in your immediate area to share information, resources and conversation. Locate and tap into the community nearest to your home by following these instructions. You can also create your own group.

See: 9 ways to help isolated neighbors

There’s also the option of starting an email chain in your neighborhood, a great way to connect, chat and exchange useful information. My own nabe has been networked this way for years and it’s now proving invaluable. Right now, the debate is on: Is it OK to hold a street cocktail hour this week, as we did last week, if we again maintain the 6-foot distances we observed last week? Or have such gatherings become too risky? The conversation is fascinating and distracting (in a good way).

Cooking: Is your repertoire beginning to feel a bit tired? If you type “free cooking tutorials” into the search window on Facebook, you’ll find a trove of cooking videos that can help you conjure creative meals.

If it’s been a while since you spent much time in your kitchen (guilty, as charged), you might find it useful to visit Instructables to brush up on the basics.

Exercise: Now is not the time to become a 24/7 couch potato. Select your preferred form of exercise, then type whatever it is — yoga, Pilates, qigong — into your finder with the words “free online classes.” If you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, here’s a selection of free classes you can live stream on your computer.

Be sure to read carefully what’s being offered. Sometimes, the instructions or classes are free for only a limited period. (My own strategy for free Pilates classes is to copy the free links onto a document so I can access them again. I’ve accumulated enough free links to keep my workouts interesting and nonrepetitive.)

Drawing:  Skillshare offers a trove of options, from calligraphy to portraiture, at no cost for 14 days. Or you (and your grandkids) can draw along with children’s book illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka (This one looked like so much fun that I may give it a try myself).

Meditation: To tap into community, connection and a bit of calm, the Garrison Institute in Garrison, N.Y. is offering online communal meditations, readings and discussions every weekday at noon.

Mindfulness experts Tara Brach and Jack Kornfeld guide listeners through a half-day, at-home meditation retreat. Similarly, Oprah and Deepak Chopra are offering 21 days of free meditation guidance.

You might like:Doing this relaxing habit every day could help your heart — even while you shelter in place

Want some journaling and hands-on projects stirred into your meditation practice? Self-help guru Melody Ross has created a social distancing/serenity kit.

Pet loversMy Virtual Cat, a Facebook FB, +0.52% community, promises to post only the “most annoying drivel you can imagine.” Ah, bliss.

For dog lovers, Sidewalk Dog offers a place for you and your pup to connect and hang out online with other canine lovers. If you need a puppy fix (and who doesn’t), go over to the Love Puppies Facebook page, then ooh and ah to your heart’s content.

Photography: Finally, you’ve got time to learn the ins and outs of your camera! If you’re into real cameras (I know, I know, terribly old-fashioned), these courses may interest you.

If you prefer to shoot pics with your iPhone, there are lots of useful tips at iPhone Photography School. (I confess I’ve hung onto this link for months, with never a chance to look at it. Now, voilà, time!)

Reading: On the prowl for a good book? A Mighty Blaze is on top of the latest offerings from the publishing world. You can hear interviews with authors and weigh in with your own comments about the books under discussion. Reading with Robin offers a daily assortment of interviews with authors.

If you have a reading group, think about hosting your next meeting on Zoom. Or maybe now is the time to start a book group of your own?

Touring gardens: Without ever leaving your living room, you can explore some of the world’s greatest gardens. Never has there been a better time to stop and “smell” the roses.

Jill Smolowe is the author of “Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief.” To learn more about her book and her grief and divorce coaching, visit

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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