A Suburban Guide to Social Distancing

Source: Lindsey Rose McGrath via u/statisticalblip on Reddit

A guide to social distancing in the suburbs? Isn’t suburban living already socially distancing?? Surprisingly, even suburbanites can go stir crazy when housebound. And as an introvert who has been practicing some form of social distancing for most of my life, I am really good at distracting myself, so I feel uniquely qualified to write about being holed up for days on end.

—————- GROCERIES —————-

Costco

If you are a Costco member, Costco offers 2-day delivery (free on 2-day orders over $75) on a pretty extensive list of items, including both shelf-stable goods and fresh produce/meat products. I love me a good Costco trip, but my local Costco is never not packed, and there’s currently no way to shop with some distance to other shoppers. As I’ve been baking up a storm, larger packages of raisins and chocolate chips feel a little less intimidating than usual.

Or check out BJ’s and Sam’s Club if don’t have a Costco membership.

♥ Regional Grocery Stores ♥

Nearly all of the mid-sized regional supermarkets near me offer delivery (powered by Instacart or Peapod), with a much more extensive selection available (usually includes frozen options as well!) than on Amazon or Walmart at the moment.

—————- ACTIVITIES —————-

♥ Go Hiking: I am lucky to live in an area with many scenic trails with little foot traffic, so I have been taking brisk walks or going on short runs whenever I start to go stir crazy. You can find local trails using AllTrails.

The Metropolitan Opera, which cancelled performances through the end of March, is offering streams of past performances for free.

♥ Work on a puzzle: I like to distract myself by solving Sudoku puzzles, but want to get one of these enormous jigsaw puzzles to keep on hand for boredom emergencies.

♥ Take virtual museum tours with Google Arts & Culture.

♥ Go on a Home Safari to the Cincinnati Zoo. Or watch the panda cam at Zoo Atlanta.

♥ What’s your creative outlet? Start a journal, dust off your art supplies, or pick up that forgotten DSLR. I used to love origami as a kid, and may take up moneygami at some point over the next few weeks.

Work-out at home: follow a YouTube work out, dance like no one (or everyone) is watching, or take an online yoga class.

—————- BAKING/COOKING —————-

Going to Wings Over (or getting really good Chinese/Korean/Indian food with some travel) is maybe the thing I miss most about having to limit the amount of unnecessary driving that I do. Naturally, I am baking and cooking more (and eating Shin ramen with 12-minute eggs even more). Here are some recipes that I love or have on my list to try in the near future:

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (source: Two Peas & Their Pod): I bake this recipe (and this Simply Recipes one) a lot as it’s very undemanding and difficult to botch. Just remember to soak the raisins and toast the oats beforehand. I add toasted walnuts and sometimes chocolate chips as well because I like cookies that have a high stuff-to-cookie ratio.
Healthyish (only in the sense that it’s Gluten-Free) Fried Chicken (Source: Bon Appétit): I don’t own many single-use appliances, but I do own a deep fryer. I plan to put it to good use.
Honolulu Cookie Co. Copycat (Source: whisk + wander): I have also made this macadamia nut shortbread cookie from Pint Sized Baker a lot this past winter and can vouch for its deliciousness. This is the recipe I bake when I run out of eggs.
Adult “SpaghettiOs” (Source: Bon Appétit): A super simple recipe that you can easily tweak to make it your own (it also reheats well). I use more aromatics and fresh herbs than prescribed, and prefer orecchiette or farfalle to the anelletti that’s used in the original recipe.
Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup (source: Damn Delicious): I like this chicken noodle soup recipe, even though I always take a short cut and make the stock with a Costco rotisserie chicken. Another great recipe is this Recipe Critic one which also comes together really easily.

Seeking: a foolproof monkey bread recipe (I have done the roll frozen-biscuit-dough in sugar thing, which I wouldn’t recommend, and have had to eat an uncomfortable amount of ersatz monkey bread as a result); and a flaky croissant recipe (can’t even look at a can of frozen pastry dough right now without missing the chocolate almond croissant from Maison Kayser).

—————- SNACKS —————-

One luxury I miss a lot is being able to raid Asian and other specialty supermarkets for international snacks. To sate this craving, I’ve turned to Amazon, where countless third-party (in this case international) sellers can be found. In the last few weeks I’ve ordered the following:

Meiji Yan Yan Dipping Sticks: My snacking habits have not changed since ~ age 5 so things like Dunk-a-Roos (which are supposed to be back on store shelves this year!!) and Yan Yans are kind of catnip to me. If you haven’t had Yan Yans, they are biscuit sticks with a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry dip. It’s like Nutella & Go but with a better vessel for dipping. In any case, the 10-pack price on Amazon is extremely reasonable (about $11 with free shipping; go ahead and make that a monthly subscription). This is the only food item (other than Ruffles) that I have hoarded in preparation for the lockdown.

If you liked YanYans (or even Nutella & Go), you might also enjoy Koala’s March and Hello Panda cookies.

Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles: I know I am in the minority here, but I like my gummy candies with a lot of chew. And the Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles (or the Nestlé Frutips in East Asia) has a super satisfying chew and a pleasant fruit flavor (though I only really like the blackcurrant flavor). And I always buy these in bulk on Amazon or through some British emporium, as the unit cost is unjustifiable otherwise. Speaking of gummy candies, I am thisclose to pulling the trigger on this 10-pack Meiji Grape Juice Gummy, which is a very reasonable price ($14.90 with shipping), but the seller has less-than-assuring reviews so I am a bit apprehensive.

Pocky Almond Crush: In case it’s not incredibly obvious already, I am a sucker for combinations of biscuit, chocolate, and nuts. It shouldn’t be surprising then that I really like Pocky Almond Crush, and the 10-pack price on Amazon is reasonable ($19.98, about what you’d pay at a US-based Asian grocery store).

Koike-ya Karamucho chips are somewhat spicy, a little sweet, and super savory. It’s the perfect chip (for me). But it’s expensive for potato chips, so expect to pay $5-$10 (with free shipping) for a medium-sized bag on Amazon.

—————- ENTERTAINMENT —————-

♥ PODCASTS ♥

I have had a “podcast favorites” post in the works for… years, but the list keeps growing and at this rate I don’t know that that post will ever see the light of day. Here’s the condensed version:

The Daily: I will happily listen to Michael Barbaro talk about anything, but the Daily is powerful (and the most subscribed podcast of 2018 and 2019) because of its ability to humanize news stories that often read as impartial and detached. I absolutely love that the episodes are edited to include ambient sounds and the pleasantries exchanged between the recorded parties. The Daily is made for ravenous consumers of the news, but is accessible enough for even casual listeners. It’s perhaps one of two podcasts that I never fall (far) behind on.

Mystery Show (and its cancellation) generated more coverage and controversy than its single season would normally warrant, but it was truly a fine show, and the six episodes in the first season were all delightful, with “Belt Buckle” being the undisputed favorite. The score is exceptional (with the distinct fingerprint of a TAL alum) and the editing superb, allowing mundane “everyday” mysteries that puzzled an individual to translate to a mass audience in a gripping way.

StartUp: The first season of StartUp is refreshing because of its transparency and sincerity, and “How to Divide an Imaginary Pie” will remain one of my favorite episodes of all time. Because StartUp is presented in a serialized format, you will have to follow a season in a linear fashion, so I normally wait until a season wraps to binge it in one sitting. While I didn’t like all eight “seasons” of StartUp, the seasons about Gimlet Media were all great, as well as the mini series about Church Planting.

More Perfect: You don’t have to be a Supreme Court junkie to enjoy More Perfect, because it is extremely accessible and free of the legalese that often render the law abstruse. The first two seasons examine some of the court’s most significant rulings and set up interesting context for the cases in question. My favorite episodes: Sex Appeal, Cruel and Unusual, and The Gun Show.

Reply All: It takes a while to get acclimated to Alex Goldman’s laugh (seemingly always a full-on guffaw), but you will grow to appreciate his willingness to put himself in the line of fire: like the time he harassed telephone scammers, or the time that he killed a website, or that time when he let his co-host PJ hack his phone

You Are Not So Smart: The first and only thing that you need to know about the You Are Not So Smart podcast is that it ends with a cookie segment. Yes, you read that right. The host, at the end of this very straight-laced, oftentimes somber show, has his wife bake cookies from listener-submitted recipes, and he eats it right into his mic. I don’t know why I love this so much; but I do. Apart from the winning cookie recipe, the show is also well produced and the guests are excellent. Sure, I could live without the excessive ad breaks, but it is what it is. One of my favorite episodes is Change My View.

This American Life: This one requires no introduction. A pioneer in the narrative nonfiction genre, each episode generally explores just one theme, which ranges from the serious to the frivolous. My favorite episodes tend to be pretty sad, so listen with a box of tissue nearby. Some of my favorites: Harper High School (Part One; Part Two), Switched at BirthTell Me I’m FatThe Giant Pool of Money129 Cars, Rom-Com, Right to Remain SilentThe Ghost of Bobby DunbarBreak-Up, Petty Tyrant, and Mistakes Were Made (which predates #sorrynotsorry).

Radiolab‘s tagline is “investigating a strange world,” and the way the show is edited sure is strange: it has a jerky rhythm, is littered with unexpected sound effects, and features interviews that sometimes layer on top of one another. And the strange world that the hosts–Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich–explore is one in which a-goat-standing-on-a-cow sighting led to a larger mystery, and one in which plants are subjected to experiments that were previously performed on animals. If ever I find myself becoming too comfortable with my reality, I put on an episode of Radiolab. My favorite episodes: Playing GodBlame, and Diagnosis.

♥ TV SHOWS ♥

Good Omens (watch with Amazon Prime Video subscription)

♥ Does anyone remember Pushing Daisies (ugh, so delightful!)? For some reason, Good Omens reminds me of that short-lived show; not in terms of story-telling or subject matter, but because they are both kind of quirky? Or because both use color in an obvious and intentional way? Either way, it’s easy to binge in one-sitting this six-episode series.

The Rookie (watch with Hulu subscription)

♥ I feel ambivalent about police procedurals, as I find self-serious ones like Blue Bloods a turn-off, but the Rookie is one show that I have been watching weekly. It’s created by Alexi Hawley and stars Nathan Fillion, so while it’s a drama, it’s got that Castle-esque lightness, which I quite enjoy.

Mozart in the Jungle (watch with Amazon Prime Video subscription)

♥ I am still sad about the cancellation of Mozart in the Jungle almost two years ago and occasionally rewatch the third season (my favorite… just super delightful) when I need some cheering up.

Hillary (watch with Hulu subscription)

♥ I only watched Hillary because a friend recommended it (I am still mourning Hillary’s 2016 loss), but I am glad I did. While this four-part documentary adds very little new information, it retells Hillary’s story in a way that links her life as a First Lady to her life as a politician in her own right, and how the former colored the latter.

♥ BOOKS ♥

A Gentleman in Moscow

Historical fiction isn’t normally a genre I am eager to carve out time to read (trashy bodice-ripper aside) but A Gentleman in Moscow is surprisingly accessible and not overwritten, as many “good” historical fictions are prone to do. This beautifully written book (with many charming and colorful characters), which opens in 1922 Moscow, follows Count Alexander Rostov, who is placed under house arrest at the opulent Metropol Hotel by the Bolsheviks. Maybe we can all find purpose and meaning without going outside.

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment

Shane Bauer, the author of American Prison and a senior reporter at Mother Jones, went undercover at the Winn Correctional Center in Winn Parish, LA for four months in 2014, and chronicled his experience in a 2016 Mother Jones article, which he later expanded into American Prison. The treatment of inmates at a for-profit prison unsurprisingly invites shock and disgust, but equally appalling is the flagrant and intentional mismanagement and negligence of Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic), the operator of WCC at the time of reporting. While American Prison was an interesting read, it left me feeling merely outraged and powerless about the broken U.S. correctional system, of which private prisons form just a fragment.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Behave, written by neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky (who also wrote A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, which is on my to-read list), asks many big questions: chiefly, how are humans capable of acts of both astounding cruelty and selfless compassion? I think Sapolsky’s most meaningful warning is the one against distilling complexity for simplicity’s sake (“In a reductionist view, understanding something complex requires breaking it down into its components; understanding those parts, add them together, and you’ll understand the big picture. And in this reductionist world, to understand cells, organs, bodies, and behavior, the best constituent part to study is genes.”). While Behave is a tome (naturally, as it took 11 years to write), it is very accessible for science writing: many topics are discussed at different levels of abstraction, but are rarely oversimplified.

—————- HELP —————-

Donate to Food Banks–use the Feeding America website to locate your local food bank–and other organizations, like No Kid Hungry and Meals on Wheels, that are supplying food and medical supplies to those who need them.

Support your favorite local establishments by buying their gift cards.

♥ If you know any vulnerable people who likely could use some assistance right now, give them a call and ask if you can help them get connected to local support systems (or bring them supplies if you are able).

♥ If you have unused medical supplies or protective equipment (e.g., surgical masks and n95 respirators), consider donating them to health care workers. Check your state’s COVID-19 response website for ways to donate, or consult this CBS article for donation options.

Don’t flush disinfectant wipes (or wipes of any kind, even if the packaging says “flushable”) down the toilet.

♥ Most importantly, and I know this isn’t easy, stay home (i.e., social distance or self isolate) as much as you can.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

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