Let’s face it, there are only so many days of Netflix, Hulu or YouTube videos a person can absorb before their eyes begin assuming an oblong configuration. So here are 10 simple low-tech activities for singles, couples or families looking for ways to survive the weeks ahead of home confinement as we all struggle through the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Faux lava lamp
Electricity not required. Just raid the pantry for some cooking oil and food coloring and the medicine cabinet for Alka-Seltzer tablets. In a tall narrow clear glass or container (the taller the better), place about an inch of tap water with several drops of food coloring. Slowly pour cooking oil down the side of the glass until it’s about a half-inch from the top. Drop in an Alka-Seltzer tablet and watch the bubbles of carbon dioxide rise up through the oil, swirling around in a colorful “boiling” bubble dance. Lasts for several minutes. Add another tablet to repeat. Eventually you will need to replace the water, so carefully pour off the oil into another container, discard the old water, replace with more colored water and reuse the oil.
2. Learn the capitals
Why not engage in some brain expansion during your time off? Create flashcards listing a U.S. state on one side of each and its capital on the other. You may even finally learn the capital of South Dakota. Taking it one step further, create more flashcards for the world’s countries and their capitals. Test the family or just yourself. Who wouldn’t want to learn that Yamoussoukro is the capital of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (aka the Ivory Coast)?
3. Word a day
Know what tittynopes or winklepickers are? You might, if you selected a random new word from the dictionary each day and learned its meaning. Returning to work or school at the end of your confinement, imagine how your expanded vocabulary will bring smiles to agelast (look it up) colleagues.
4. Memorize a poem
As a university student many years ago, there was a time (a very brief time) I thought memorizing a few poems to recite at an appropriate moment might impress the college girls. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn sweet sonnets that might sweep a fair maiden off her feet. What response did I get by reciting all 18 verses of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” during a date at the local KFC? Nevermore! Best stick with the romantic Brits such as Tennyson or Shelley and when you’re out and about again you might have better luck than I did (choosing a more upscale meal might help win over your date, too).
5. Write a funny family story and get it published
It might be easier than you think. Did your family ever go on that vacation from hell? Did a new pet create havoc in your house? Do you have an outrageous family member who makes everyone laugh? Sit down with the family, reminisce for topics, then flesh out the story together. My dear mother, rest her soul, often misunderstood science facts I tried explaining to her. I once told her not to buy colored toilet paper (quite common back in the 1970s in our neck of the woods) because the dyes only polluted the environment and that some dyes used in consumer products caused tumors in lab animals. Some weeks later, I heard her warn a friend on the phone, “Don’t buy colored toilet paper, it causes bowel cancer.” Family members who misunderstand or exaggerate make us laugh, so maybe an expanded funny family story will amuse your local newspaper editor enough for printing.
6. Getting stacked
As a child, I loved stacking objects - cards, dominoes, dice, blocks and even books. Yes, there was nothing like watching an 8-foot stack of hardbound classics from the family library come crashing down on the living room floor. So look around the house for objects family members can (safely) stack. Challenge each other or yourself, to greater heights.
7. Salmon patties
Let’s head to the kitchen for this one and even kids can help. Got a stash of canned salmon to see you through the next few weeks? How about some potatoes? Peel, boil and mash some potatoes to make 2–3 cups. Drain and rinse a small can of red salmon and mix with the potatoes and a little salt and pepper. Shape into patties, coat in Panko breadcrumbs, and pan-fry in a little oil until brown. Serve with green beans - because you bought 5-dozen cans at the supermarket last week, didn’t you?
8. Write limericks about your friends
Wouldn’t it be fun returning to work or school armed with a load of amusing limericks about your colleagues? As a graduate student, I once spent a weekend writing a limerick about each of the professors in our chemistry department, basing the rhymes on their research interest rather than personal traits. For example, we had one prof named Brown who was a microwave spectroscopist - he used radio telescopes to detect complex molecules in space. Thus was born:
A microwave spectroscopist, Brown,
Through telescopes always would frown,
For he hoped that one day,
He’d find DNA,
In space, just floating around.
Just remember to be witty and nice. Sure, you have a colleague named Rose who happens to be blessed with a rather oddly shaped nose but resist the temptation or you may find your own nose suddenly misshapen, too.
9. Learn the presidents
Years ago, I memorized the U.S. presidents in chronological order. Here’s the first 12 using the first letter of their last names to form letter patterns I could picture in my mind: WAJ - M&M - AJ - VH - TPT. That’s Washington, Adams, Jefferson - Madison, Monroe (Ma before Mo) - Adams (Jr.), Jackson - Van Buren, Harrison - Tyler, Polk Taylor. When your isolation ends, you just never know when someone may corner you at a party for the name of that guy before Kennedy.
10. Make your own toilet rolls
Just kidding, you’re on your own with that one.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 800 newspapers and magazines. See www.getnickt.org.