Quarantined: 14 ideas to keep you from losing your mind at home

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

As the phrase “social distancing,” has become a new, ominous part of our vernacular, I’ve heard an understandable amount of wringing and solemn but depressive consent on Twitter and from friends.

After all, staying confined to our homes is something almost un-American — an unnatural deprivation of the social and consumerist culture that marks our very identities. Here in El Salvador, it defies the local culture, too. Days, here, are typically marked by trips to multiple independent vendors of eggs, produce, tortillas, bread. Breaks for lunch in the neighborhood park, the nucleus of all activity. Stopping for a minuta at the cart on your way home. 

Still, when I first heard that we might need to hunker down, I secretly loved the idea. I’ve always thought I’d do pretty well amidst the bowels of a bomb shelter or in the clutches of zombie apocalypse. Being alone, cooking off of spare ingredients and endlessly entertaining oneself while managing a routine-like schedule? Yeah, we’ve basically just described my personality.

Even as a world traveler, I’ve still maintained the heart of a hermit, gleefully hibernating for days at a time in the midst of editing and writing sessions, cooking with whatever I have on hand and cranking up the music to dance, sola.

When I first wrote this column, a few days ago, I was feeling optimistic. Wartime Amelia and Peacetime Amelia are not that different, I wrote.

However, I’d just been in the midst of a semi-hibernation when the news hit — knowing I had some national and international travel coming up, and attempting to grind and save money as much as possible. I was about at even my own break point. Now, a week into this new reality, it feels different, heavy. The international airport in El Salvador has now closed, cutting off the burgeoning idea that I might venture home. I feel far away from family and friends and — though plans to lift these quarantine measures and reopen the airport are currently scheduled just over two weeks away — I can’t help but wonder just how long it might be until I’m truly able to go. Thinking worst-case scenarios is not necessarily helpful, but they’ve likely crossed most of our minds.

So in an effort to be helpful during this time of solidarity, I thought I’d share some ideas for those of you  secluded in your homes for whom hermit-ing might not come so naturally. And in doing so, I hope to remind myself. All right, quarantine, here we go. Let’s do this.

Schedule Twitter/news breaks. First things first. Step away from Twitter. Literally mark off certain time periods in which you’re not allowed to maniacally scroll/browse/scratch that one place on your arm that is getting a little raw.

Ingredients of instant noodles, chili sauce, lime, sesame seeds, scallions and an egg on a plate.
Now cook it.

Finally learn to cook. You made it through college and a hefty chunk of adulthood and with restaurants popping up on every corner everywhere, you thought you were finally in the clear. You were wrong. It’s time to learn how to cook. Let’s start simple.

Fancy-pants Instant Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 1 instant noodle bowl, such as Cup o’ Noodles, flavor of your choosing
  • 1 c. broth (could be chicken or beef or vegetable or some kind of fancy-pants homemade broth that your mother insisted you put in your freezer after last Thanksgiving)
  • 1 tbsp-ish of some oil that isn’t olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 c. chopped cilantro
  • 1/8 c. chopped scallions
  • 1/4 lime
  • A big pinch of sesame seeds
  • A heaping spoonful of chili sauce

Directions:

Look at the sad instructions on top of the lid of the instant noodles that you plan to mostly ignore. Heat up your broth and pour it over the noodles as directed with water (you’re using broth instead of water, because you’re not a chump). Follow the directions for covering the cup and letting it sit. While it sits, heat up your oil (could be vegetable or peanut or safflower oil) in a pan until it is screaming hot. Seriously, wait a minute; stop being impatient. Break the egg into the pan and watch the whites bubble up and go nuts (like at a Trump rally). Remove it from the heat after the white is cooked and put your egg on a paper towel for a minute. Now that your noods are ready, add the lime, some of the cilantro and scallion, then the egg and then the rest of your cilantro and scallion. Top this beautiful, bursting bowl of vittles with the sesame seeds (if you have ‘em) and some chili sauce, whatever you’ve got. If you don’t have chili sauce, use some dried chili flakes. If you don’t have sesame seeds, maybe you could chop up some roasted peanuts or almonds. If you don’t have scallions, you could thinly slice some regular yellow onion. I’ll even advocate parsley over cilantro if that’s what’s in your cooling machine. Some other additions if you’re feeling wild: cooked bacon, roasted chicken, cooked and chopped shrimp, fried tofu, seaweed, sautéed vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, beans, broccoli or eggplant. Use what you’ve got people, we’re in war time, but even in peace time, it would still be delicious.

Do yoga. I mean, yoga is great to do anyway. But the practice might be even more valuable at the moment since the gym is probably no longer an option, and your sanity is crouched in the fetal position. (I recommend SaraBethYoga on YouTube.) Yoga, done properly, contains some meditation properties, which you definitely probably could maybe use a little bit of right now. The stretching is great for someone who has been curled up playing video games in the dark for the last 17 hours. And you literally need nothing for yoga — maybe a towel if you haven’t cleaned your floors in a while. Speaking of which…

A woman's legs in yoga pants sitting on a yoga mat cross-legged
Yoga is great for warding off impending doom.

Spring cleaning begins now. Clean out the fridge. Scrub the toilet. The floorboards. Wash your rugs. Your duvets. (Do you have more than one duvet?) Your shoelaces. Your shoe soles. Dust your ceiling fans. The insides of your light fixtures. You could give yourself one horribly boring yet wildly satisfying chore like this per day and feel like a spiffy-clean boss. Or if you’re more like “my sink is overflowing with cups and bowls and I’m thinking about my duvets?” maybe, yeah, just do the dishes and focus on that.

Help someone out from afar. Venmo/PayPal a little couch change to someone who has lost their job or regular work. Are delivery services still functioning? (Lord knows, this is changing by the minute.) If so, you could send a meal (or perishables or books) to someone in need. If your favorite restaurant offers gift cards online, you could buy one now to help them stay afloat in the moment, and also give you something to look forward to later. We will only get through this if we work together!

Plan a lovely experience that you would actually anticipate if you weren’t currently viewing your apartment as a cage. Maybe you run a bubble bath and pop open a bottle of wine (god, I wish I had a bathtub rn). Maybe you take a 2-hour nap (whoa). If you’re living with a partner, you should absolutely be giving each other a massage night (but not one after another because that sucks for the first person).

Playlist images
With classic tunes such as “Stay Away,” “Everything Has Changed,” “Contaminated,” and “Postcards from Italy.”

Make a Coronavirus soundtrack and turn it up. Or just use this one. Dance around your apartment as if no one is watching (because they’re all similarly confined to theirs).

Have high tea. Yes, outside the world is chaotic, but inside, why shouldn’t you be living out an episode of Downton Abbey? You could: make a big pot of the best tea you have in the house and serve it with cucumber sandwiches (cucumbers, cream cheese mixed with mayo, black pepper) with the crusts cut off and quartered into triangles, and little Hostess cakes, scones, muffins (or something better) on fancy plates with some berries. Break out the china if you’ve got it. Feel delightful.

Books stacked on a table
In these books, people are allowed to hug each other.

Read. You should be doing this anyway, but here’s just another well-timed reminder. Now’s the time to pick up all the books you ordered but never started.

5 non-fiction recommendations:

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, Suzy Hansen — A reexamination of the American existence, the author’s upbringing and everything she thought she knew about her own country. I recommend this book to everyone.

White Fragility, Robin Diangelo — A brutally honest lesson on why it is so difficult for white people to talk about racism, how that holds the system of oppression in place, and what to do about it.

The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump, Max Blumenthal — Connecting the dots between past and present U.S. military forays into the middle east and what is happening now at home, and around the globe.

How to Hide an Empire: a History of the Greater U.S., Daniel Immerwhar — Retelling the U.S. timeline of events in a way that might make you rethink the way you remember our own history.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister — Looking at the historically transformative nature of female rage, all the way up to the #MeToo movement.

Move happy hour online. Just because you can’t physically be around all your friends, doesn’t mean you can’t hang out. Organize a time with your buds, BYOB and do a Skype/FaceTime/G-Chat sesh in which no one has to worry about driving.

Start learning something new. Pick a topic that you’ve always wanted to know more about, like the IMF or Communism or renewable energy (crickets? fine.) and send yourself to class with books, an online curriculum of articles you save in an email or YouTube videos. Maybe you want to start learning a new language on Duolingo. Or maybe you just want to learn how to fold a fitted sheet. The schools in your area may well be closed but Hibernation Academy is absolutely open for business.

Watch old sports. Since the current world of athletics has dropped off the map, you can pick 2020 to be literally any year you’d like it to be, a time when your favorite teams were thriving and stadium beers still cost less than $15. YouTube has got you.

An open drawer full of pantry ingredients
Damn, I should have cleaned the drawer first.

Organize things. A drawer. The pantry. Your wallet. The spices, in alphabetical order. Your record or book collection. The computer desktop. Your dog’s chew toys, by color. Achieve the OCD within.

Hold a wine or liquor tasting for one (or however many live in your household). All those bottles that have been collecting dust? Now is the time to parade them out and sip them one by one. Make notes, Instagram it, feel warm in your tummy, and don’t feel the worry of hitting the office tomorrow — that’s probably just your living room.

Rum and various wine sitting on a counter.
Rum: a reminder of that time you were outside your apartment once, and like maybe on a beach or something.

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