I no longer make New Year’s resolutions — which only 8% of people keep anyway — but this time around I’m making an exception. And I’m serious. No matter how desperate I am for something new to watch, I will not stream the movie Songbird. Haven’t heard of it? Here’s the premise: It’s the 213th week of pandemic lockdown from Covid-23. I know, right? It’s beginning to feel like that already. But wait, there’s more. A hundred and ten million people are dead, officials can test you remotely, and if you resist going to one of the squalid quarantine camps, they shoot you on sight. Being an optimist, I watched the trailer and said to Rich, “See? We don’t have it so bad!”
Rotten Tomatoes gave Songbird a single star and called it “an appalling melange of insipid disaster drama and implausible romance with a bit of dystopian satire thrown in. This is a crass cash-in meant to prey on our pandemic anxieties, not grapple with them.” Yikes!
So I’ve already found one thing to make me happier in 2021: avoiding Songbird. Whew! I feel I’m making progress already and we’re only a week into the year.
I’m also determined to avoid impulse-buying unnecessary stuff — a pastime that gave 2020 yet another nickname: The Year of Buyer’s Remorse. Apparently panic-stockpiling toilet paper was merely the warm up; many people are now stuck with clothes they can’t wear, electronics they don’t need, even houses they can’t stand.
Paula Gillespie, for instance, was aghast when her husband surprised her with a camper. “The thing is too big for his truck and dangerous, and I absolutely refuse to go anywhere with it due to the dangers of it,” she said. The camper now sits idle near the fishing boat her husband bought, despite the fact they live nowhere near a boat-worthy body of water.
Maureen Rashidifard’s pandemic splurges include a resistance-training apparatus, a sewing machine, a TV with a DVD player, roller skates, and a program designed to teach her kids every language on the planet. So far, nobody in the family has buffed up or learned Mandarin. As for the skates, “I fell so hard that my hat flew off my head,” she said. “I had to walk home in my socks carrying my skates, and I haven’t touched them since.”
One of the hottest commodities? Puppies, especially the easy-care, ultra-adorable breeds that make you want to spend the rest of the pandemic snuggling on the couch with your new best friend. Sales of goldendoodles — a mix of good-natured golden retriever and low-shedding poodle — are reportedly up 700%, despite the fact that top breeders charge $4000 a pup. City folks reluctant to hit the streets on a schedule suitable for a puppy’s bladder have generated a 200% rise in the demand for doggie diapers.
Rich and I have resisted impulse-buying any pets, as we know it’s impractical given our plans to return to Spain when all the stars finally align. But I have to admit feeling puppy envy when I talk to my sister Kate, who recently adopted a miniature Australian shepherd. It’s her second of the breed, and while the first was a mild-mannered Clark Kent-type, this one’s a superdog called Bear who’s bursting with energy and creative ideas for enlivening lockdown.
Speaking of food, another thing I’ll be avoiding is restaurant dining. Luckily I love to cook, especially on Sundays. In Spain, that's when families gather for late, long, leisurely lunches, and early in the pandemic, Rich and I decided to maintain this satisfying European tradition. We devote Sundays to rest and relaxation (no writing posts, jumping on the stair stepper, or even taking long hikes) so we have plenty of time to experiment with new dishes. I find I do my best work to Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore,” “Volare,” and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” (which I’ve nominated for the pandemic’s theme song).
Thanks to Dean, I was inspired to kick off 2021 with an Italian dish: Potato and White Bean Puttanesca Soup.
This easy, heartwarming dish [see recipe here] is enlivened by a topping of capers, Kalamata olives, and fresh parsley. The recipe, now enshrined in our permanent collection, is the first — and apparently last — to be clipped from an actual copy of the NY Times. A month ago we subscribed to the Sunday edition, seeking a pastime that had the novelty of not including a screen. Week after week we received a flurry of apologies instead of the paper. Only once did a copy materialize at the end of our driveway; I can only assume there was a substitute delivery person who didn’t get the memo about the circulation department's mysterious vendetta against us. We're now resigned to the fact that subscribing to the Times is yet another activity we are destined to forego this year.
Fortunately, we found an alternative pastime in the latest craze: jigsaw puzzles. Sales are booming during lockdown. “The surge in demand,” CNBC reported, “is comparable to demand during the Great Depression, according to one puzzle historian.” So puzzle historians are a thing now? Who knew?
Most of the time, I find puzzles soothing and absorbing. Only rarely do I fling up my hands, exclaiming, “This one’s incomplete! Defective! There is no corner piece with a dog’s — oh wait, here it is.” Afterwards, disassembly requires the kind of spiritual strength Buddhist monks display in destroying their sand mandalas immediately upon completion.
“You know the cabin puzzle we just completed?” Rich remarked at breakfast this morning. “I just saw it on Etsy, assembled and framed, for $400.”
“Seriously? People buy one and — what? Pretend they did it themselves?” Hmmm, I thought. This could be a great little cottage industry for us.
But then I recalled the article “How to be Happier in 2021: Toss Out Your Usual List of New Year’s Resolutions, Says Study.” Scientists pointed out that most resolutions are essentially selfish (get skinnier, richer, more productive); their research showed happiness most often arrives as a byproduct of helping others.
Evidently Rich was thinking along the same lines. “I know!” he said. “When we finish, we’ll disassemble the puzzles and send them to friends as a surprise gift. Everyone’s looking for cheerful pastimes these days.” Genius!
So in addition to not watching Songbird, buying skates, adopting a puppy, or reading the NY Times in hard copy, we’re won’t be hoarding puzzles. Instead, we’ll set them free to entertain other families who need a break from screen time, politics, and pandemic headlines. The payoff will be a feel-good moment each time we drop one off at the post office. We’ll know that what we’re sending forth is not just a puzzle, but a message of comfort and fellowship in dark times. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution I can get behind.
What are you hoping to avoid in 2021? What new pastimes are you embracing? Please let me know in the comments section below.
[See Potato and White Bean Puttanesca Soup recipe here]
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This post is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor, however weird things get.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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