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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1/6/2021 05:08:44 pm
Karen, as usual, I got such a laugh from your post. Favorite line:
1/7/2021 03:20:30 pm
How lucky you are to know a public library that has puzzles, Lynn. I just checked and ours (only a block away) does not. Hmmm, maybe a project to take on, one of these days? Anyway, I am delighted that you too are a puzzler and wish you all success. We had a near catastrophe this week with our second puzzle — a missing piece! Luckily it eventually turned up face down on the carpet. Whew! Catastrophe averted! Happy New Year from California.
1/6/2021 05:41:33 pm
This is perfect! Many of our most memorable travel experiences are the ones we never planned, but just jumped (Fell) into. Years ago we were Lost driving around the south of France and came upon a strange little village deep in the country. We stopped for a lemonade and ended up staying 2 days. Now we can't remember the town's name, but the memories last forever! Great friendly people!
1/7/2021 03:22:25 pm
A wonderful example of how you never know where life will take you, Duane. A strange little village happened upon by chance ... now that's my kind of travel!
1/6/2021 06:32:03 pm
Oh my gosh. I hadn't heard about Songbird, and watching the trailer gave me a catch in my throat. Definitely will avoid. And I may try your soup. Thank for taking the time to write your blog, keeping us both informed and entertained.
1/7/2021 03:26:40 pm
I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog, Linda. I love writing it, and it gives me an excuse to research all sorts of goofy stuff that I probably would never have thought about otherwise. Like the role of puzzles in keeping people entertained during the Great Depression. Do try the soup; it's easy and yummy, my two basic requirements. I just discovered another version that has artichoke hearts in it. Here's the link to that one, in case you want to do a taste test comparison (which I plan to do next week): https://www.emiponcedesouza.com/recipe/cannellini-puttanesca/
1/6/2021 06:57:23 pm
What a good read this was!
1/7/2021 03:55:28 pm
Maria, I'm so glad you liked the post. And I really appreciated your comment about rediscovering a bit more of yourself during this pandemic. As grisly as the situation is, having our lives so disrupted has opened up opportunities for self-reflection and insights that we might never have gained otherwise. Thanks for sharing that!
1/6/2021 07:27:47 pm
Oy, talk about tone deaf. Songbird will definitely be on my Avoid At All Costs list. I love dystopian nightmare movies...except when I'm living in the middle of one (although this morning things are looking up!).
1/7/2021 04:06:38 pm
I like dystopian disaster movies too, Shéa. When I watched them in the past, I used to try and figure out how I would cope under such circumstances. Now I know! Morale is obviously a key factor, and I have learned a few small frivolous purchases now and then can be very therapeutic. I keep thinking about all the people through the centuries who survived plagues and sieges without Amazon or Neflix. I think we'll manage to find our way through this!
1/6/2021 07:28:19 pm
Thanks for the fun read! My only resolution is that I refuse to read or watch anything to do with a pandemic or end-of-the-world scenarios for at least a year, maybe more. Preparing 2-3 meals per day at home is getting on my nerves. And the amount of dishes! Cannot even imagine it without a dishwasher. Sitting in a restaurant where someone serves me and cleans up after is something I long to do, but that also has to wait for a while yet. Until a month ago, my husband and I had not done a jigsaw puzzle for more than 25 years. We have completed 3 and are working on #4. It's amazing how engrossed we can become.
1/7/2021 04:28:22 pm
Teri, I think you're very wise to avoid those dystopian movies right now, when you can get the same shivers just reading the headlines. Like you, RIch and I have recently re-discovered puzzles, which we really hadn't done since we were kids, and now we're hooked. Tonight we're starting #3, a gift from my sister-in-law. It's a great way to take a break from watching TV.
1/7/2021 05:30:59 am
What a day today! Not sure I can think clearly! I predicted a coup de état several months ago in conversing with my son but I don’t really think I believed it!
1/7/2021 04:42:12 pm
I think we're all still reeling from the events of the last 24 hours. Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier! And I had such high hopes for 2021. Let's keep our fingers crossed that things settle down and we can get on with more ordinary concerns. Like dogs (yes, Bear is just about the most adorable puppy ever) and cooking. Do try the soup, which is actually quite healthy. It even happens to be vegan, so it's good for the planet as well as your waistline, and you can enjoy it with a totally clear conscience.
1/7/2021 10:54:49 pm
Karen, I have a beautiful new puzzle I'd be happy to send your way -- but Bear has eaten at least 3 pieces that I know about. Talk about puzzle frustration!! xo
1/8/2021 01:06:08 am
It's a good thing puppies are so irresistibly adorable, because otherwise frustrated parents would be tempted to shoot them. Eating puzzle pieces is a death-penalty offense under ordinary circumstances, but when a puppy like Bear does it, you just can't stay mad for too long. Kate, I'm sure you'll forgive him by next Christmas if not sooner.
1/8/2021 03:25:01 am
We have been a puzzle family since the kids were little. Jordan even bought 2 for Tday. Why do you say, "Jigsaw?"
1/14/2021 03:15:52 am
So you and your family are puzzle aficionados, Kitty. I can just picture you all gathered around piecing one together. Rich and I are working on a really tough one now; I can see why the Spanish call them "rompecabezas" (headbreakers)! In English we often say "jigsaw" to distinguish this kind of puzzle from others (crossword, sudoku, etc). In the old days, they were made of wood and and the maker used a jigsaw to cut out the pieces. Enjoy the old posts and let me know if you try any of the recipes. Some of the Eastern European ones are really complex and time consuming, but the results are so worth it!
11/21/2022 09:05:43 pm
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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