Tagged Quarantine (Life and Culture)

Make a Finger Trap From Newspaper

Your Fingers Go In and They Can’t Get Out, Homemade Version

Weave a classic gag from newspaper, then find someone to fool.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Christy Harmon

  • Jan. 23, 2021

If you’re not familiar with a finger trap, it’s traditionally a tube woven from bamboo that “traps” the fingers of an unsuspecting person who places them inside. While the origins of the finger trap are debatable, the simplicity and joy of one never gets old.

Weaving strips of newspaper in a circular shape creates this classic gag puzzle. The basic over-under pattern is the same one used to weave a basket or a place mat, but you will be weaving in the round.

Creating this simple practical joke will test your dexterity, and maybe bring some giggles to your weekend. For an extra challenge, find different colors in the paper to weave with.


  • Two pages of newsprint: one mostly color, one mostly text

  • Ruler

  • Scissors

  • Tape

  • Two paper clips

  • White glue

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 1

Start with two pages of newsprint and fold each in half along the horizontal fold. Weaving the finger trap will be much easier if one of the sheets of paper is a solid color and the other one is mostly text.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 2

Using a ruler, measure and cut one 1.5-centimeter-wide strip off each page. Make sure to keep the strips even in width for their entire length.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 3

Cut both strips you just made in half at the fold. You should now have four strips, two mostly newsprint and two solid color. Moving forward these will be your “text” and “color” strips.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 4

Make two “v” shapes with the text strips on the left, and the color strips on the right and glue the ends together to form a clean point with the edges. On one “v” the color strip should be on top, and on the other the text strip should be. Set aside to dry.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 5

Use the leftover newsprint from one of the pages to roll a small tube. The tube needs to be a bit smaller than your index finger for the finger trap to work. Tape each end and the seam to secure the tube.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 6

Paper clip one of the “v’s” to the end of the tube with the point facing up, then do the same with the second “v” on the opposite side.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 7

To make the finger trap, you’ll weave your four strips together in a circular pattern. Start by crossing the color strip over the text strip on one side.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 8

Turn the tube slightly clockwise and wrap the text strip on the right under the color strip to its left, and over the lower color strip. Continue working around the tube with the over-under pattern, being careful to keep the strips flat against the tube and pulled tight.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 9

If you’re doing it right, a diamond pattern will emerge, without space between the strips. Keep turning the tube and weaving around it. Continue the over-under pattern until you get to the bottom of the strips.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 10

Glue the ends together where they meet in the same “v” shape as the top and let them dry. The ends should be woven as tightly as the barrel of the finger trap or it won’t work.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 11

Remove the paper clips and gently pull out the tube. Trim the excess paper at the bottom of the finger trap, leaving a “v” at each end.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Step 12

To use the finger trap, place your pointer fingers as far into the tube as possible on each side and carefully pull apart (or better yet, have an unsuspecting friend or family member do that). If the trap doesn’t work, it may be because the strips are not tight enough or because the ends are looser than the barrel of the trap. Try again. For an extra challenge, find different colors in the paper to weave with.

Simple Soup Recipes

Savor Soup Made From Scratch

With this foundation of vegetables and water, delicious, homemade soup doesn’t have to be complicated. Adding personality is up to you.

Carrot-Ginger soup
Carrot-Ginger soupCredit…Joel Goldberg for The New York Times
Florence Fabricant

  • Jan. 23, 2021

If a pot of homemade soup brings to mind a big kettle of many ingredients simmering for hours, think again. There’s an easy formula for preparing vegetable soups that requires only a few ingredients and minimal cooking time, yet yields the same rich comfort that soup is intended to provide. You need about a pound of fresh vegetables, three cups of water and a blender or a food processor (though a potato masher can be pressed into service). The result will be two generous portions of velvety warmth or four more modest servings.

Adding personality is up to you. The basic soup can be enriched by replacing the water with stock, adding heavy cream or coconut milk, or stirring in some olive oil, basil oil or a nut oil. Lightly sautéed ginger, chiles, onion, garlic or shallots can be puréed with the vegetables. The soup can be dressed with a dollop of Greek yogurt, fresh goat cheese, pesto or chili crisp; you can add a scattering of croutons, capers, chives or other minced herbs, some grated cheese, diced avocado, scallions, toasted almonds or pine nuts, sieved hard-boiled egg yolk or crumbled bacon just before serving.

The following is the template for a basic soup, done with carrots and ginger, and suggestions for some other combinations. Though fresh vegetables are the backbone of most of these soups, some canned items, notably black or cannellini beans and San Marzano tomatoes, also work well (consider drafting leftover cooked vegetables). For most of the soups, a splash of acid — lemon juice or a few drops of vinegar — is essential for brightening the flavor.

Basic Vegetable Soup: Carrot-Ginger

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 pound carrots (about 8), peeled, trimmed, cut in chunks

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon finely minced carrot tops or other herbs, optional

Credit…Joel Goldberg for The New York Times

1. Heat oil on medium in a 3-quart saucepan. Add ginger and sauté a few minutes, until softened. Stir in carrots. Add 3 cups water.

2. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a lively simmer and cook until carrots are very tender when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add 3 to 4 ice cubes to hasten cooling.

3. Purée in a blender or a food processor. Return to saucepan and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency if desired by adding water or by simmering for longer to thicken it. Add lemon juice and season to taste with salt. Spoon into warm bowls or shallow soup plates, strew some herbs in the center of the bowl and serve.

Other soup combinations:

Asparagus: If stalks are thick, peel them. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Consider adding a poached egg to each serving.

Broccoli or broccolini: Use stalks and florets. Season with chile flakes, smooth with coconut milk, spark with rice vinegar and reserve a few tiny florets for garnish.

Cauliflower velouté: You’ll need a whole head, well-trimmed and cut up. Add some half-and-half or heavy cream, and scatter capers, pistachios or sliced, toasted almonds on top.

Creamy tomato: Simmer canned tomatoes with garlic, then go mellow with cream or spicy with chiles or sriracha.

Lentil and sausage: Start with two-thirds cup of raw lentils; they’ll cook in about 30 minutes. Then add more water and sautéed sausage. Or start with two cups of leftover cooked lentils. A splash of red wine would be nice.

Potato-leek: This is a classic. You may want to add some cream and float some minced chives or salmon caviar, or both, on the surface.

Sunchoke and potato: Earthier than potato-leek, this variety demands garlic in the base and Greek yogurt on top.

Watercress: Use the entire bunch, stems and all, then add cream. Reserve a few little sprigs for garnish to drop onto the finished soup. This one is superb cold.

White or black bean: A 14- to 16-ounce can of beans, rinsed, can simmer briefly in water with seasonings like garlic, chiles or onion before hitting your machine. Bits of something porky complement the white beans, and crumbled corn chips can dress the black.

Making New Friends During a Pandemic

Find and Keep New Friends

The coronavirus pandemic has profoundly disrupted some social circles. Here’s what experts and new pals have to say about making, and maintaining, pandemic friends.

Credit…Abbey Lossing

  • Jan. 23, 2021, 11:23 p.m. ET

It took a pandemic, a layoff and last year’s racial-justice protests to impel Margo Gabriel, a travel and food writer, to finally fulfill a long-held aspiration: to move to Lisbon from Boston. “I was like, ‘OK, I really need to think about next steps,’” Ms. Gabriel, 34, said recently. “I’m getting older.” She applied for, and was accepted to, a two-year master’s program at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa. She arrived in October.

Forming new relationships in Lisbon was a priority, but she worried about making the connections she needed to thrive in her new home, especially during the pandemic. “I’m an introvert by nature,” Ms. Gabriel said, “so I’m easily overwhelmed.” An editor she frequently works with recommended she reach out to another expat. They hit it off over coffee, finding solidarity in their shared identity as Black American women in Portugal. “We’ve been hanging out ever since,” she said.

The pandemic has profoundly disrupted some social circles: Perhaps you’ve moved yourself, or maybe you’re looking up after a year of social distancing to find your close friends are the ones who have relocated. And the guidance of public health officials to keep your distance, to mask up, to limit gatherings and to remain six feet apart? None of these are helpful for meeting new people and nurturing new friendships.

Nevertheless, Niobe Way, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University who has studied friendship for more than three decades, has anecdotally observed what she described as an “explosion of friendships” last summer, particularly in her own Manhattan neighborhood — a display of optimism in the face of our oxymoronic collective isolation. It just takes a little more intention and a little more openness.

Here’s what experts and new pals have to say about making, and keeping, pandemic friends.

Get creative about meeting prospective friends.

“It’s a difficult time to connect with new people,” said Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert. “The first question you can ask yourself is, ‘Is there someone you want to reconnect with?’” According to one study, rekindling “dormant ties,” or those you’ve lost touch with, is often easier than making new friends, because the individuals already trust one another. Look through your phone to see who you were texting this time last year, or reach out to a high school or college club you were affiliated with.

Lean on existing networks of friends and acquaintances, too. Though chance meetings in corridors or cafeterias may be infrequent these days, you can still turn casual connections, whether neighbors or work colleagues, into friends, or reach out to new people through shared acquaintances.

Or if that fails, join a virtual book club or a volunteer effort to connect with a stranger over a shared pastime. (It’s still possible!) Last year, Emily Beyda, a novelist, joined a roller-skating club with two other women in Los Angeles. It has since blossomed to around nine members who share techniques for new jumps, spins and tricks and linger after their practice has ended, just to talk.

And, with no clubs for dancing or reasons to go out, the group’s members have taken to dressing up: “Everyone’s showing up at 1 p.m. on a Sunday just looking gorgeous,” Ms. Beyda, 31, said. “Leopard-print bell bottoms, a gold lamé jumpsuit — dressed to the nines in the public park.”

Even if you feel as if your social muscles have atrophied, don’t brace yourself for rejection. Approaching strangers in public places might not feel so welcome these days, but “in general, people underestimate how much strangers like them,” Dr. Franco said.

Stay connected.

Writing letters, sending voice memos, scheduling phone or video dates — keeping in touch during the pandemic doesn’t have to be impersonal, even if it’s not in person. Not long after Catherine Smith, 34, moved to rural Abingdon, Va., from Philadelphia, she started trading favorite hiking routes and local tips with a new friend over Instagram. A quintessential social media meet-cute, with one pandemic-specific hitch: “We still haven’t gotten to meet in person,” Ms. Smith said.

Aminatou Sow, who hosts the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” and wrote the book “Big Friendship” with Ann Friedman, suggested that friends try to avoid communicating over the same airwaves used for work. So if you video chat all the time for your job, don’t video chat your friends.

“We are two friends who love the Postal Service,” Ms. Sow said of herself and Ms. Friedman. Letter-writing can even be a way to meet new people across distances: In the spring, the writer Rachel Syme started a pen pal exchange called Penpalooza that has since connected more than 7,000 participants.

However you choose to stay in touch, keep it consistent: Send monthly postcards, tiny gifts or whatever baked good you’ve been perfecting recently, or get a weekly phone call on the books.

Talk frankly about your friendship.

A year ago, frequent, granular discussions about how you handle exposure to disease weren’t especially common among even close pals. Now, they’ve probably become hallmarks of your relationships. Having open, candid conversations can help buoy friendships along by establishing shared expectations and trust.

“Part of making friends in adulthood — in general, but particularly in this moment — is trying to figure out how you fit into someone’s life,” Ms. Friedman said.

Ms. Sow added: “The stating of intentions is the first place to start. In this pandemic moment, I think that is also really important to remember because so many people feel lonely and so many people feel overwhelmed and so many people feel scared.”

This means setting aside time to have conversations about how much friendship you’re looking for — whether a mere running buddy or a BFF — while still allowing for the relationship to evolve. Talking about the Covid-19-related precautions you’re each taking can also make any in-person meet-ups more comfortable.

“I tend to overcommunicate, especially now,” said Amanda Zeilinger. In July, Ms. Zeilinger, 23, moved in Minnesota to St. Paul from Northfield to start a new job at a mosaic workshop in the Twin Cities. She had anticipated it might be harder to make friends in a new city amid shutdowns, but that hasn’t been the case: Recently, she formed a pod with two colleagues so they could foster their friendship outside of work. “I think people are so starved for human connection that we’re that much more open,” she said.

Go on a date — or two or three.

“One of the defining features of our friends is that they’re exclusive,” Dr. Franco said. That means you have shared memories and experiences. So if you met through work or school or a club, plan a one-on-one virtual teatime or socially distanced walk. “Repotting” friendships, or moving them from one setting to another — a term the digital strategist Ryan Hubbard uses — can also help them gain momentum.

Developing a new friendship is not dissimilar to entering a romantic relationship, and initial meet-ups with a new friend can feel “sort of like a first date,” said Jordan Bennett, 31, a communications professional who lives in New York City. “You have the same nerves.”

Several of Mr. Bennett’s close friends left New York last summer; this, combined with a natural tendency to be “very, very social,” led him to start exchanging messages with a new friend through Bumble BFF. They met for the first time in September, and though it was platonic, Mr. Bennett said, he was also unsure how this prospective friend might react upon learning he is gay. “You don’t know if someone is an ally, or how comfortable they are,” he said. The subject emerged organically, producing a comfortable conversation about relationships; they’ve since ventured out to bars, the gym and watched the vice-presidential debate together.

After a successful initial get-together, make plans to continue meeting up regularly. Several experts agreed that consistency strengthens bonds. “Ritual is really important when it comes to connection, especially friendship,” said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, the author of the forthcoming book “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.” Attaching friendship to a shared goal — a regular yoga practice; keeping up with a TV show — can help reinforce the relationship and your new habit.

“Being intentional, being available, being reliable and being excited are all things that work in your favor,” Ms. Sow said.

Virtual Historic Home Tours

Tour a Historic Home, From the Comfort of Your Own

Bored with your surroundings? Walk the (virtual) halls of some storied grand houses.

The conservatory overlooking the garden at The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.
The conservatory overlooking the garden at The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.Credit…Gavin Ashworth/Preservation Society of Newport County

  • Jan. 23, 2021, 11:04 p.m. ET

Have you ever had the dream where you take a test that you haven’t studied for? Or the one where you’re caught in a public place in your underwear? Here’s another common one: You open a door in your home and discover a room you have never seen before. To make this one a reality, just charge your laptop.

Since the pandemic began, tours of historic American homes, once strictly in-person events, have proliferated online. There are houses with architectural significance, while others had famous former owners or are merely — and wildly — opulent. Encountering these domestic spaces through your screen means sacrificing vestibular sensation and any hope of surreptitiously stroking tablecloth or tapestry. But if you are looking for ways to increase your square footage — no contractor required — here are a handful of options.

Newport Mansions

The Gilded Age rarely gleamed as brightly as in late 19th-century Newport, R.I., which hosted summer cottages for the nation’s wealthy, assuming your definition of “cottages” extends to 70-room masterpieces of marble, alabaster and platinum leaf. With most homes currently closed, the Preservation Society of Newport County has made video and 3-D tours available of some of the more fabulous ones: The Elms, Marble House, Chateau-sur-Mer, Chepstow, Kingscote, Hunter House, and Isaac Bell House. Scroll and click through Italianate fantasia, Louis XIV pastiche, Gothic extravagance and high-end Victorian clutter. There’s also a tour of the Elms’s servants’ quarters, for a better understanding of the labor and austerity behind the that kept all of that splendor. newportmansions.org

The exterior of the allegedly ghost-occupied Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.
The exterior of the allegedly ghost-occupied Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.Credit…Albert Lam

Winchester Mystery House

Purchased in 1886 by Sarah Winchester, who inherited a fortune from her gun magnate husband (the second president of Winchester Repeating Arms), this San Jose, Calif., mansion underwent almost constant expansion until her death in 1922. (Why? A popular if unsubstantiated rumor holds that the design was meant to confuse the spirits of those shot by Winchester rifles.) Live tours of its 160 rooms are currently suspended, but the corporation that owns the house has prepared a 41-minute video, available on Vimeo ($5.99 to rent, $13.99 to buy), with an interactive 3-D tour ($8.99) that includes areas not usually shown. Both allow access to the creepy stained glass, the numerology-influenced light fixtures, the stairways to nowhere and the insane number of doors (2,000!) that Winchester bankrolled. Paranormal enthusiasts might particularly enjoy the séance room, with its single entrance and three exits. Neither viewing includes glimpses of the ghosts visitors have reported seeing. winchestermysteryhouse.com

The library and conservatory at Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn.Credit…John Groo

Mark Twain House

In 1874, Samuel Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) and his family moved into this Hartford, Conn., mansion designed by Edward Tuckerman Potter. The lavish interior, designed by Tiffany’s Associated Artists, came seven years later. Asked about the style of his house, Clemens said, “I guess we’ll call it ‘eclectic.’” Highlights of the free virtual tour include the library, the conservatory and the billiard room, which doubled as a writing room. It was a source of great sorrow to the writer when financial problems forced the family to abandon the house in 1891. “To us, our house was not unsentient matter,” Clemens wrote, “it had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with.” To learn where and how other writers and artists lived, also consider a 3-D tour of Alice Austen’s house (aliceausten.org), a video tour of one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s homes (okeeffemuseum.org), a live feed from Winslow Homer’s studio (portlandmuseum.org/homer#) and a remote tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore house (poeinbaltimore.org). marktwainhouse.org

The John Russell Pope-designed Garden Court at New York City’s Frick Collection.Credit…Michael Bodycomb

The Frick Collection

Before it rebranded as a sumptuous museum, this Upper East Side mansion, designed by Thomas Hastings, housed the wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick. A new renovation will close the building for at least two years, with its art collection moving to the Frick Madison (the former home of the Whitney and the Met Breuer). In the meantime, a detailed 3-D guide with a helpful audio component moves viewers through the ground floor rooms of the Garden Court, the Fragonard Room (once a drawing room), the music room and the Boucher Room (once a boudoir), to name a few. The free tour includes close-ups of the art and baroque furnishings that surround it, as well as archival photographs. The second and third floors? Those remain largely out of sight, even online. frick.org

Auto Insurance During a Pandemic

Pay Less When You Drive Less

Is your car spending more time in the garage than on the road? You may be able to reduce your auto insurance payments.

Credit…Abbey Lossing

  • Jan. 23, 2021, 10:42 p.m. ET

Given the constraints of virus lockdowns and worries over health and safety, the bulk of your automobile use may be from grocery-store runs these days. Regardless of where you have gone in the past nine months, you’ve probably driven less than you did pre-pandemic, and that pattern could continue for many weeks or months to come. With reduced driving, you may be wondering if you can reduce your auto insurance payments. Here are some ways you can potentially save money. (But when reviewing insurance policies, always read the fine print. Some come with stipulations.)

Pay only for the miles you drive.

Pay-per-mile policies differ from standard auto insurance in that the premium is based on how many miles you drive. Yes, standard policies offer a low-mileage discount, but pay-per-mile goes beyond that.

The Arizona company Metromile offers a pay-per-mile policy with a monthly rate starting at $29 and an additional charge of 6 cents for each mile driven. Mileage is tracked by a small device that plugs into the car’s OBD-II diagnostic port, which is standard equipment on all light-duty vehicles produced since 1996. The port is easily accessible under the dashboard, and the insurance company provides the device — the car owner simply plugs it in.

Factors including the driver’s age, credit history, driving record and prior insurance history, as well as the vehicle type, can increase the monthly payments and pay-per-mile policies may not be available in your state. Metromile’s policy is currently available only in Arizona, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

Nationwide also offers a pay-per-mile plan, called SmartMiles, which is offered in 40 states. Like the Metromile plan, SmartMiles determines a base rate and then adds a cost-per-mile amount. Here too, a device installed in the OBD-II port tracks miles driven.

With this policy, that device also records vehicle speed and other factors. If the policy holder drives with care during the first term, an additional 10 percent discount can be earned. The discount is applied at the next policy renewal and remains in effect while the vehicle is enrolled in SmartMiles.

Pay for the miles you drive and how you drive.

Usage-based policies, like Farmers Signal, Progressive Snapshot and Geico DriveEasy, track mileage and assess driver behavior to determine rates. In addition to counting miles driven, these policies consider how often you exceed the speed limit, brake hard and accelerate or corner aggressively. Most insurers monitor the driver’s cellphone and penalize those who talk or text while driving.

The policies generally provide a 10 percent discount on sign-up, although some state regulations limit the initial discount to 5 percent. Additional discounts are awarded based on the observed driving record. Some usage-based policies also use a device in the OBD-II port to keep an eye on the driver and track mileage. Others use the driver’s cellphone, which with its global positioning capability, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, can determine a lot about the way the car is being driven.

Consider the privacy implications.

Both pay-per-mile and usage-based insurance policies require allowing your insurance company to monitor vehicle use. The companies maintain that they do not track where drivers are going but rather only distance traveled, and, in the case of usage-based policies, how well the driver behaves behind the wheel.

But the data includes vehicle location and more, so letting your insurer ride along with you is a trade-off: You get a discount but sacrifice privacy.

Stay and save with your current policy.

If shopping for a new insurance policy is headache inducing, there are other ways to save. Do you expect to continue to drive infrequently? You may qualify for a low-mileage discount on a standard policy. You may be asked to verify mileage when speaking with your agent; maintenance records can help. Raising your deductible will reduce your premium as well.

Things To Do At Home

Learn About Lichen and Sculpt a Self-Portrait

This week, celebrate Australia Day, make masala chai and listen to Natalie Portman discuss her new children’s book.

Credit…Abbey Lossing
  • Jan. 23, 2021, 10:21 p.m. ET

Here is a sampling of the week’s events and how to tune in (all times are Eastern). Note that events are subject to change after publication.


Commemorate Australia Day, which falls on Jan. 26, by watching the WugulOra Morning Ceremony, performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers and singers. The ceremony, which honors Australia’s First Nations people, is held on the land of the Gadigal people and organized by the Government of New South Wales and the Australia Day Council of New South Wales, in partnership with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Infrastructure New South Wales and the Sydney Festival. This event is free.

When 3:45 p.m.

Where australiaday.com.au/whats-on/wugulora-morning-ceremony


Immerse yourself in art and music with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s “Art in Tune,” an event that pairs artwork from the museum’s current exhibitions with music. Local musicians will perform pieces, including original compositions, that are in conversation with works by artists such as Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Jean-Michel Basquiat. This event is free.

When 7 p.m.

Where mfa.org/programs/music/art-in-tune?event=10078


Learn about the history, biology and myriad uses of lichen in a workshop from Atlas Obscura. Over the course of a 90-minute workshop, Felicity Roberts, an herbalist, urban farmer, writer and textile artist, will teach viewers about various winter mushrooms, lichens and fungi, from the commonplace to the rare. Tickets cost $25.

When 5:30 p.m.

Where atlasobscura.com/experiences/foraging-in-a-winter-wonderland-of-lichen

Hear from Nikole Hannah-Jones and Chana Joffe-Walt, the hosts of The New York Times-produced podcasts “1619” and “Nice White Parents,” at the Hot Docs Podcast Festival. They will discuss audio storytelling and the impact their series have had on conversations surrounding racial justice. Tickets are $11.75.

When 8:30 p.m.

Where hotdocscinema.ca/podcast


Make a cup of masala chai (and even turn it into an ice cream float) in a cooking class presented by the Museum of Food and Drink and Malai, an ice cream company. Pooja Bavishi, the founder and chief executive of Malai, will share the story of her family’s recipe, which has been passed down for generations, and teach readers how to use her spice blend to make a melted ice cream masala chai cake. Tickets cost $15, and registration closes at 5 p.m.

When 7 p.m.

Where mofad.org/events/0128/masalachai


Enjoy a performance of Beethoven’s works during the latest installment of the “Piano Cantabile” series at the New School’s Mannes School of Music. Three pianists, all students at Mannes, will play the composer’s final three piano sonatas. This event is free.

When 7 p.m.

Where coparemote.com/mannessounds

Grab your popcorn and cue up a fun selection from the Sundance Film Festival, which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3: “Playing With Sharks,” a documentary about the shark hunter-turned-conservationist Valerie Taylor. (Ms. Taylor filmed the real sharks that appear in “Jaws.”) Tickets are $15, and capacity is limited.

When 11 p.m.

Where festival.sundance.org

Credit…Abbey Lossing


Gather up your art materials for “Open Studio From Home: Marisol,” a craft workshop for kids and families from the Whitney Museum of American Art. First, learn about the sculptor Marisol’s life and artistic practice, and then make a six-sided, cardboard self-portrait inspired by her works. This event is free.

When 11 a.m.

Where whitney.org/events/open-studio-from-home-marisol


Tune in to an all-day interview marathon from the Chicago Dance History Project, an organization committed to documenting and archiving Chicago’s dance history. Jenai Cutcher, the project’s executive/artistic director, will conduct seven hours of interviews with some of dance’s greats, all of whom have connections to Chicago. Interviewees include Twyla Tharp, the choreographer; Mark Morris, the founder, artistic director and choreographer of Mark Morris Dance Group; and Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Tickets cost $20.

When 12 p.m.

Where chicagodancehistory.org/events

Listen in as the actor Natalie Portman discusses her new children’s book, “Natalie Portman’s Fables,” a retelling of three classic tales, with Joanna Fabicon, the Los Angeles Public Library’s senior children’s librarian. This event is free; audience members can submit questions in advance until Jan. 27.

When 6:15 p.m.

Where crowdcast.io/e/skylit-portman

Eating Outside During the Pandemic

When Dinner is Outdoors, New Rules Apply

During the pandemic, wind chill and loaner blankets are the new considerations (don’t forget your handwarmers).

Credit…Zack DeZon for The New York Times
Steven Kurutz

  • Jan. 23, 2021, 10:02 p.m. ET

When the weather turned cold, Rachel Sugar, a contributing writer for the New York City food blog Grubstreet, thought people would give up dining al fresco. But, she said, that hasn’t been the case: “Restaurants, more than ever, are a place where people feel relatively comfortable.”

Indeed, in cities around the country, restaurants have adapted for colder conditions and diners are proving game, even in northern latitudes. On a recent weekday in Portland, Maine, where the high was 28 degrees, the eatery Little Giant turned its back patio into an outdoor dining deck, with 35,000 watts of electric heat. In Seattle, the seafood spot Westward has installed two fire pits to keep patrons cozy. Scarpetta, in New York, built private dining “chalets.” It’s a testament to local food cultures and the universal human need for social connection that people are willing to eat outside in the depths of winter.

But between the not freezing part and the not getting Covid-19 part, if you decide to visit a restaurant, eating out has become something you need to plan for: Whose outdoor setup promises warmth, what to wear to battle the elements, what to order that won’t get cold as soon as it hits the table (or maybe will still taste good even if it is cold). Getting a table used to be the main concern. Now you have to think about wind chill and the chance of snow.

How are diners and restaurateurs making it work? Here, the new rules for eating outside.

Know what you’re facing.

The pandemic diner will quickly discover that every restaurant offers its own version of the outdoor experience. Heated, custom-designed tents called Yurt Villages, a collaboration between American Express and the dining app Resy, have been set up at 13 in-demand restaurants across the country, including Zahav in Philadelphia and Arlo Grey in Austin, Texas. Many more eateries have erected cheap, rustic structures made of wood or plastic, which Ms. Sugar of Grubstreet has codified by architectural style, from Upmarket Shanty to Cold-Weather Cabana. You’ll want to do some research to know exactly what the set up will be — are there heaters at every table? Blankets on loan? How windy and exposed is the location?

“I generally won’t go to a restaurant without having seen their outdoor situation beforehand,” said William Li, a founder of The Hao Life, a wellness brand, who on a recent week ate out in New York nearly every night. “A lot of them are just tables outside without any heating whatsoever. Even if you’re dressed appropriately, it’s not comfortable.”

Jessica Siskin, a food artist behind the popular Instagram account Misterkrisp, follows the same rule but for different reasons. Ms. Siskin won’t eat inside plastic enclosures or structures that approximate indoor settings. “I don’t think of plastic as a ventilated material,” she said.

Ms. Siskin does a scouting mission, she said, for her sake and the restaurant’s: “The last thing I want is to get to a restaurant, feel uncomfortable and leave. That’s a reservation that could have gone to someone else.”

Which brings up another point about planning: Make a reservation where you can. Many restaurants are operating with far fewer tables than normal, and on weekends (at brunch especially, when it’s relatively warmer) those tables fill up fast.

Bundle up!

Jeremy Levitt, a founder of Parts and Labor Design, a hospitality design firm, has a piece of advice about dress. “Go as if you’re having a hot toddy outside in front of a bonfire that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Mr. Levitt, who lives in Manhattan, has learned the hard way that his feet become blocks of ice when he sits outside for an hour or more. He’s taken to wearing warm shoes with a few layers of socks, and he and his wife and children also make sure to bring blankets.

With their beanies, winter jackets and gloves, outdoor diners have the look of winter athletes. Erika Chou, a Manhattan restaurateur who operates the spots Kimika and Wayla, has seen people come in “with a full snowboarding outfit, like Burton head to toe,” she said.

Mr. Li swears by fleece-lined Heattech pants from Uniqlo and thick wool socks from L.L. Bean. Ms. Siskin has “a couple of tricks I picked up,” she said, including layering long underwear beneath her jeans and a thin Patagonia liner under her coat.

On a recent night, “I went out to dinner and wore those air-activated foot warmers that you buy for skiing,” she said. “I also got this hand warmer that’s been a game changer,” a rechargeable model by Ocoopa.

Restaurant owners are helping their customers stay warm, too. At the Odeon in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood, there are the ubiquitous infrared heat lamps, along with microfiber blankets to rent for $7 or purchase for $20. The restaurant also has mylar blankets like the ones given to marathon runners for customers to use for free. Many other restaurants are providing blankets, too, which they wash or dry-clean after each use.

Order the soup.

Even the best dishes don’t taste as good cold, so it’s worth considering how a restaurant has adapted.

Back in the fall, Cédric Vongerichten, the chef and owner of Wayan, which serves Indonesian food with a French flair, found that dishes like lobster noodles were getting cold in minutes. Inspired by his childhood in France, Mr. Vongerichten introduced a burner device like the ones for cheese fondue, which plugs into an electrical outlet at select tables, a concept he calls Indo-Chalet.

In addition, Wayan’s kitchen staff now plates hot dishes in cast-iron pans, which Mr. Vongerichten said would retain heat throughout a meal. Off the menu? Es Teler, a shaved ice dessert. And while the restaurant still offers ice cream, servers are suggesting hot desserts like a cookie baked in a cast iron pan.

When ordering, it helps to think about your courses, to minimize having dishes sit on the table for too long or to focus on warming items.

At Heights Café in Brooklyn Heights, a popular brunch spot even on frigid days, soups and hot toddies have become popular orders. The Odeon has been selling a lot of French onion soup and cassoulet, said the owner Lynn Wagenknecht.

It makes sense to adapt your appetite to the weather, as well. Shanise Djuhari, a dental resident who lives in Brooklyn, recently ate outside on a very cold, windy and rainy day. “I typically don’t go for stews,” she said. “But that day, we had a couple of stews on the table. It seemed weather appropriate.”

Even if a restaurant’s menu pays no deference to the cold, there are simple ways to warm up. “I always order hot water,” said Ms. Chou, the restaurateur. “I think that helps. It’s good for your digestive system as well.”

Do a time and temperature check.

With daylight hours limited, lunch is the new dinner, and dinner begins at an hour more common to retirement communities.

At Kimika, Ms. Chou now starts dinner service at 4 p.m. “It’s lighter out so maybe slightly warmer,” she said. “I’m sure people are trying to eat at earlier times when there’s less crowding.”

Ms. Wagenknecht said 4 to 8 is her busiest time on weekends. And anyway, a lingering, late-night meal is virtually impossible: In New York State, restaurants must close by 10. Massachusetts also enacted a 10 p.m. curfew, while other states and cities (like Chicago, which requires restaurants to close one hour later) have similar rules. The compressed dinner service may mean that your restaurant will no longer hold a table if one or more guests arrive late, so maybe ditch you friends who are always texting that they’re five minutes away.

“We have such a small window of service, if everyone’s late, we lose half a turn,” Ms. Wagenknecht said.

In addition to being conscious of time, check the weather during your planned dining hour.

Even worse than the cold, rain or snow is the wind. It rattles under canopy roofs, renders the portable heaters useless and frays the servers’ nerves. On blustery days, it’s better to stay home.

Embrace it.

For Mr. Levitt, who dines outside frequently, the cold is “part of the fun,” he said. “I’m going out to dinner and I’m going to be sitting outside for an hour. People need to embrace that.”

Mr. Li expressed a similar sentiment. He said he has adopted a Scandinavian approach to dining out: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Ms Wagenknecht perhaps sums it up best, with advice for eating outside if not for life itself: “If you don’t approach it with a spirit of fun and adventure, you’re probably going to be miserable.”

Breaking the Monotony of Winter

At Home Newsletter

Breaking the Monotony of Winter

No more Groundhog Days.

Credit…Michelle Mruk

  • Jan. 22, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ET

Welcome. Have you noticed how the weeks that sort of seep by, the ones in which you don’t schedule a socially distanced date or go for a hike in a new spot or otherwise alter your routine, are the ones you can’t account for? I’ve certainly had my share of these, entire weeks of Groundhog Days, in which I seem to always be making dinner again.

Sometimes we need to deliberately shake things up. In the absence of novelty, we need to create it.

In 2007, some friends and I mounted an experiment we called “The Daily Dose.” What would happen if, to intervene in the tedium of days, you purposely added some small variations? What would the butterfly effect be of wearing two different socks for a day, or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand?

It would, if nothing else, create a wrinkle in the starched sameness of the hours. If you wore two different socks, someone might comment on them, and you’d end up having a conversation that would never have happened if you’d worn matching socks. The experience probably wouldn’t be “life-changing,” but it would be life-changing.

The Daily Dose was easy to orchestrate. Two friends and I each wrote up 28 “doses” on tiny slips of paper. The rules were loose: The doses should be small and manageable enough to accomplish in a single day (no “Charter a boat and sail to Bermuda”), they should not be unduly embarrassing, and they should not include any activity you wouldn’t be willing to perform yourself.

We put each dose in a small, identical manila envelope; put all 84 sealed envelopes in a hat; then passed it, each drawing a month’s worth, a random assortment of doses, including some we’d written ourselves. We’d each open one first thing every morning, like taking a vitamin.

“Count how many glasses of water you drink today,” read my first dose. Easy enough. “Do a household task you’ve been putting off,” read the next. I replaced the broken hinge on a kitchen cabinet. Checking things off the to-do list felt good.

“Spend five minutes playing air guitar to the Rolling Stones before breakfast.” Silly, but fun, rocking out to “Emotional Rescue” first thing in the morning. It was exciting to report back on how the doses went, to hear how one friend felt to “go vegan for the day,” what happened when another was instructed to “call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time.” Some of the doses were absurd (“In conversation, refer to yourself as ‘baby’ twice, without explanation”), some just made a tiny dent in the day (“Buy a cheese you’ve never heard of”).

The point of The Daily Dose was to keep things fresh, to ensure that each day didn’t feel like the last. Knowing that I had a dose to open each morning was something to look forward to. Checking in with my friends to see how their dosing had gone was another. The whole experiment was a delightfully artificial way to add some excitement to an otherwise dreary winter.

  • If you need something else to get you through these months, try the poet Donald Hall’s essay “The Third Thing,” about how he and his wife Jane Kenyon found joy and meaning in the everyday.

  • Or check out this compilation of actors and others sitting in silence while film crews capture “room tone” for Criterion Collection supplemental interviews.

  • And here’s Tejal Rao on the Sichuan flavor that reignited her appetite after she had Covid-19.

Tell us.

This past year has weighed heavily on many of us. As the pandemic limps on, the small moments of joy that catch us off-guard have tremendous power to lighten the load.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we’d love to ask you: When did you unexpectedly witness an act of love? It could be something you saw on the street, or a show of care from someone in your life you hadn’t counted on before. It could be a grand gesture between lovers, or a moment of kindness between colleagues or kids in the playground. Tell us about it here.

As always, more ideas for leading a full and cultured life at home appear below. See you next week.

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Modern Love: My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner

Modern Love

My Unlikely Pandemic Dream Partner

We loathed each other quietly, until we made space for grief and good food.

Credit…Brian Rea

  • Jan. 22, 2021, 12:00 a.m. ET

Last March, before my mother flew from Washington, D.C., to visit me in New Orleans, we negotiated how long she should stay. I was having knee surgery after massively tearing my meniscus and A.C.L. during a Mardi Gras parade, and she offered to help me recover.

She wanted to stay for seven days. I said five days was the most I could handle. In the end, she stayed for 53.

That’s because the pandemic arrived, along with a citywide stay-at-home order. And this dullness set in. We ate in dullness. We watched movies in dullness, learning to alternate between my mother’s desire for old films about war and immigration, and my desire for reality dating shows that she found disgusting. We loathed each other quietly, not yet understanding how to change the dynamic we had built over 38 years.

Like many Americans her age, my mother didn’t take the pandemic seriously at first. It was a team effort for my siblings (in Los Angeles) and me to get her to wear a mask and stay home. I would find foods in the house like ice cream or braided anise-seed cheese, evidence of her escapes to Baskin Robbins and the local Palestinian grocer.

At first, I balked at her sadness and the collapse of my adult autonomy. My mother had replaced my first caregiver, Abby, a friend and healer from New England, who tended to me like a child before and after surgery.

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My mother wasn’t bright-eyed like Abby — yet. Her eyes were heavy. My father had died suddenly only a few months earlier, and she carried a broken heart from room to room like a backpack. I felt bad for needing her and guilty about all the work she had to do to care for me. She already had so much on her plate.

When I bathed for the first time after surgery, I grew faint at the sight of my stitches and started yelling. I expected my mother to zone out, but she rushed in with a stool for my knee and sat down at the foot of the tub, iced coffee in hand. Seeing her there, sitting with me, naked on a trash-bag covered chair, as if it were normal, I began to notice and appreciate how much she loved me.

I was struck by her simple acts of devotion. I had to trust her to lift my leg and help me from bed to crutches to the bathroom, every single time. I had to depend on her to carry my things from room to room, to find my clothes, to feed me. She made eggs and toast and matzo brei, learned how I liked my tea, made my bed and washed my clothes.

I hadn’t let anyone this close to me in years. She was becoming my dream partner.

A food writer, my mother went in cycles testing recipes. She cooked Dutch baby pancakes for a week, was strangely exuberant about her warm homemade hummus another, and made and remade several versions of Iraqi Jewish mujadara, a dish served to mourners, made with lentils, caramelized onions, and rice or bulgur.

I hate cooking for myself. She signed us up for the local C.S.A., ripe with local artichokes and peaches galore. We had fodder for trades.

And then came the emissaries. Josh, who lived behind me, showed up with strawberry jam from Ponchatoula, La. He was so sweet, leaving it 10 feet from where I was sitting on the porch. There was a caveat: “Would you mind,” he said, “if I went into your backyard? My chicken has flown into your loquat tree.”

This was the start of a lot of chicken escapes, and a lot of trading. We gave Josh and his boyfriend, Michael, cake and bread; they dropped off curry and let my mother pick their mulberries.

This was also the start of my mother and me falling in love. She came alive when the neighborhood did, leaving my father in the grave and joining the living as she harvested the mulberries down the street, meeting the neighbors who peeked their heads out the window to speak with her while she picked. She made dried mulberries, mulberry cake, mulberry muffins and mulberry jam. She loved mulberries like they were cocktails. I marveled at her.

Our neighbor, Annie, began coming by to harvest our kumquats and lemons with her two sons. She made us cookies and left them on our porch every week. We left her chili, stew and homemade challah.

Virginia appeared soon thereafter, from across the street. She and my mother began talking at the fence, and that bridged more trades. Virginia brought us ketchup, made us our first masks and then showed my mother her sacred Mardi Gras craft room, where the shoes for the Krewe of Muses were gilded in a den of glitter. She taught my mother about possums and brought us our own flat of Ponchatoula strawberries. We left a portion of smoked leg of lamb in her mailbox when Alon Shaya, a local chef, dropped one off.

The dullness of quarantine gave way to a socially distanced affair, evening dates and all. My mother’s eyes lit up as she shared stories of the day’s encounters over the dinner she made or the sinfully delicious food we ordered from local restaurants. I began to loosen, to lean into the care I felt so guilty for receiving, the three meals a day cooked by my mother, the needing someone, that letting go of an almost too fierce independence I had built over the years.

My mother glowed. She was taking long masked walks alone and exploring New Orleans by foot, discovering the hidden Jewish names in so many graveyards, the horrific confederate statues and the unreal beauty of City Park.

We eventually started processing our grief, finding space that is so hard to find when two people are grieving simultaneously. Sometimes it was in the middle of the night, like when I heard the screeching of a cat (either dying or mating) and woke her, scared. Or the time our neighbor’s chicken squawked its last breath when a hawk stole it from their yard, took it to my roof, killed it and dropped it outside my window.

Quarantine for us was not boring.

We started to learn that we were grieving two different men. Hers was the husband she met in the 1970s, a partner and friend who went to movies with her and around the world, who emotionally supported her, slept beside her, made space for her career.

And I was grieving the loss of my father, someone a bit more distant, who was mine for only 38 years, and who I ached to have with us on the sofa, laughing at bad TV, enraptured by old movies.

We ordered new clothes for her, as she had packed for only five days and needed things to wear for nearly two months. We started holding hands while watching our strange selection of movies: “Goodbye, Columbus,” “Baby Boom” and “Force Majeure,” or the delight of “My Brilliant Friend,” our companion for a whole week.

This touch between us felt like pulling up from the void. It felt like splicing open hell to have a quiet picnic.

We found a rhythm, her two-hour walks while I taught my Tulane students on Zoom, followed by lunch together and a review of my curriculum. On Sundays, a friend would take her for a bike ride, and later we would put on masks and drive through the empty French Quarter to the Bywater, where we waved to friends from a distance and got cocktails to go.

We had found our way.

When she perked back up, refilled with color and life, I helped her do her makeup and clothes for her Zoom seminars, and we sat at dawn, me in bed, her in the window seat, and talked about loss. But not both of ours at once. We learned how to weave in mulberries and chickens and fresh-picked flowers, how to bake and breathe and listen to the lives we were living, how important it was to be full in order to finally make space to speak of our emptiness.

By May, I was walking again. She started making muffins and stews for me, stocking my freezer. And then one Monday, she put on rubber kitchen gloves and a mask and went to the very empty airport to return home.

We had made it through 53 days of coronavirus quarantine. My father was still gone. Her husband was still gone. He wasn’t coming back. And in his absence, with no one else around, my mother and I fell in love with caring for one another.

Merissa Nathan Gerson is the author of “Forget Prayers, Bring Cake,” forthcoming from Mandala Publishing in July 2021. She lives in New Orleans.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

To find previous Modern Love essays, Tiny Love Stories and podcast episodes, visit our archive.

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When the World Opens Up

At Home Newsletter

When the World Opens Up

The things we’ll do.

Oh, to dance in the same space!
Oh, to dance in the same space!Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times

  • Jan. 20, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ET

Welcome. As people around the world begin to receive the coronavirus vaccine, our thoughts may turn — tentatively, still, but more frequently — to hopes for the time when quarantine restrictions are lifted. “The important thing about imagination is that it gives you optimism,” the psychology professor Martin Seligman told the reporter Tariro Mzezewa. Imagining what we’ll do, who we’ll see and where we’ll go when things open up — these fantasies sustain us while we are, for now, still mostly apart and inside.

Last month I asked about your dreams for the post-pandemic future, what’s on the list of things you’ll do first, as soon as you’re able to — the things large and small that you find yourself longing for. So many of us can’t wait to see loved ones, relatives who are far away, grandchildren we’ve never met in person. We’re excited to see unmasked faces, to crowd into public spaces, to grocery shop at leisure, to browse the library, to hold hands and to hug. Here’s some more of what readers are fantasizing about:

  • “I want to see a movie in a theater, sticky floors and stale popcorn and all. I miss the whole experience of going on opening night, when we all clap in unison during the credits and stay until the lights come back on.” —Kristina, Chicago

  • “Seeing people’s faces again. Their whole faces. The white of their teeth when they smile or how they chew their bottom lip when deep in thought.” —Laura B., La Crosse, Wis.

  • “I want to see live performance again — whether it’s dressing up and sitting in the symphony hall listening and watching as the performers tune up and start playing, sitting on the lawn seeing Shakespeare in the park or dancing to a Tom Petty cover band.” —Lynne M., Coppell, Tex.

  • “I am most eager to spend time with my grandchildren again, to hug them tight and read to them and discuss dinosaurs and assemble Lego sets with them again.” —Patricia S., Maitland, Fla.

  • “Flying to California and hugging my 90-year-old mother.” —Phyllis F., Kittery, Me.

  • “I’m looking forward to hugging. My father, the kids I teach, my adult son, I want to hug them all then have a great big dinner party where our friends come and gather and linger and watch each other smile, maskless.” —Sarah F., Natchez, Miss.

You can check out more post-pandemic plans from Times readers here and here.

When I’m not dreaming of jogging without a mask or having friends over to try all the recipes I’ve perfected during quarantine, I’m trying to memorize some of my favorite poems. I recently committed to memory the tongue-twisty “Spelt from Sybil’s Leaves,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and now recite it to myself like a mantra, in the shower, while walking home from the supermarket, interior music.

  • I read Jericho Brown’s “Inaugural” and immediately knew I wanted to memorize it, too. “Grown up from the ground,/Thrown out of the sea, fallen from the sky,/No matter how we’ve come, we’ve come a mighty/Long way.”

  • Here are 393 videos of different groups, all over the world, dancing Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line.

  • And there’s a second season out of the wonderful YouTube series “Group,” about a bunch of New Yorkers in group therapy, inspired by Irvin Yalom’s novel “The Schopenhauer Cure.” Check it out.

Tell us.

What’s on your mind? What are you thinking about, wishing or wondering? Write to athome@nytimes.com. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a good life at home appear below. See you on Friday.

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Getting Rid of Stuff

At Home Newsletter

Getting Rid of Stuff

How to declutter quickly.

Credit…Trisha Krauss

  • Jan. 15, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ET

Welcome. Before weekdays and weekends were indistinguishable, we left the house. Now, we’re inside, many of us, most of time. With the same people and pets, or on our own; the same routines and rooms; and, everywhere we turn, the same stuff, so much stuff. What used to be décor is now clutter. What once was cozy is now claustrophobic. This is when I turn to The Annoying Bag.

The Annoying Bag is any paper or plastic bag I have lying around, or — when disposable shopping bags are scarce, as they have been in my apartment lately — a clear produce bag or threadbare reusable tote. Annoying Bag in hand, I prowl my apartment, dropping anything I deem “annoying” at that moment into it. I collect half-burned candles and stray socks; broken sunglasses, old magazines, jars of condiments that have been squatting in the fridge so long I forgot they’re not on the lease.

The Annoying Bag is an exercise to be performed quickly, impulsively. This is not a closet overhaul or cupboard clean-out. You don’t hold an item close and ask if it sparks joy before it goes in the Annoying Bag. The KonMari Method, spring cleaning — those are thoughtful, sustainable processes in which clothes get donated and yogurt containers get recycled. The Annoying Bag is all remorseless id: You might throw away the T-shirt you’re wearing because it’s annoying you. Three pennies that have been gathering dust on the counter, waiting to be put into a coin jar? A set of cake-decorating tips that you’ve used once but are taking up half a drawer? Don’t think about it. Throw them in.

After about ten minutes of snatch-and-toss, I knot the Annoying Bag and take it to the trash — not my trash can, but the trash on the curb, permanently out of the house. I have never once missed anything that left the house in the Annoying Bag. The impulses for disposal that occur in these feverish bursts of decluttering are always correct. The relief is instant and exhilarating.

Online shopping has been tempting during the pandemic. My usual thinking goes something like, “Stores are risky, distractions are limited, I’m feeling blue, better buy this teakettle.” A friend told me once that everything you buy makes each thing you own a little less valuable. I’m trying to keep that in mind, trying to buy less and keep annoying stuff out of the house in the first place. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” wrote Wordsworth, exhorting us to dispense with materialism and get back to nature, which seems like a worthy pursuit right now.

Or, if you’re not feeling outdoorsy, consider Marie Kondo’s advice: “Use this time at home to take inventory of your possessions — and to re-evaluate your relationship with them. Cultivate an awareness of what you have. On a practical level, this will prevent overbuying things, but I hope it will also bring a renewed appreciation for all that you do have.”

  • Instead of stress shopping this weekend, check out “The Essential Octavia Butler,” our guide to getting started with the science-fiction writer.

  • The Hold Steady has a new single, “Heavy Covenant,” and it’s a good one for nostalgia. When Craig Finn sings, “It seems a single body is a couple different people in this one life,” it’s nearly impossible not to be transported to 2006.

  • And the community Ask MetaFilter has some excellent ideas for dealing with pandemic fatigue.

Tell us.

How do you contain your clutter? What are your best strategies for keeping your home tidy and organized? Write to us: athome@nytimes.com. Include your name, age and location and we might publish your response in a forthcoming newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for how to spend your time this weekend appear below. See you next week.

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How to Reimagine Your Relationship to Alcohol

Reimagine Your Relationship to Alcohol

For many, January is a month to rethink how much they imbibe, whether they’re worried about heavy drinking or just looking for a reset.

Credit…Jordan Awan

  • Jan. 15, 2021, 2:47 p.m. ET

Seven years ago, Laura McKowen started a drinking journal. She knew alcohol was an issue for her — she knew it when her 4-year-old daughter helped her clean up the morning after a blackout, and she knew it the 10th time she drove to work hung over — but she needed to see it.

“Something very interesting happens when we put things on paper,” Ms. McKowen said, “because we have a lot of cognitive dissonance around drinking.” She couldn’t deflect around what she saw on the page, though: two bottles of wine a night. She got sober, and went on to help others do the same through coaching and teaching workshops.

Last January, Ms. McKowen published “We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life” and in March, she began hosting free sobriety support meetings on Zoom. By May, she had 12 employees and a company called The Luckiest Club, which offers classes and access to its community.

It’s no surprise Ms. McKowen found an eager client base. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 14 million American adults suffer from alcohol use disorder (A.U.D.), which is a term medical professionals prefer to alcoholism.

You don’t need an A.U.D. diagnosis to find your drinking problematic, though. Alcohol can impair sleep, cause weight gain, exacerbate anxiety, or subtly change your personality. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation in September suggests Americans are drinking 14 percent more often in response to pandemic-related stress, especially women, whose heavy drinking days increased by 41 percent in 2020.

When we go to work every day during non-pandemic times and don’t have an inordinate amount of stress, it’s fairly easy” to limit drinking to Friday nights, said James G. Murphy, a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Memphis who published a paper in November about alcohol and drug use during the pandemic. “When all of that structure is ripped away — when you’re worried about finances and your kids’ home-schooling and you don’t have to be anywhere in the morning, so no one will see if you’re hung over — alcohol can be way more difficult to manage.”

This is one reason you might be seeing more Dry January hashtags in your social media feeds this year. One month off from drinking can be an opportunity for the sober-curious to examine their alcohol use.

If any of this sounds familiar, here are some suggestions to help you navigate your relationship with alcohol or bring it to an end.

Get curious.

Take note of how much you’re drinking, as well as the pros and cons of that consumption. Are you opening that bottle of Riesling because it pairs well with your Chinese takeout, or are you hoping the third glass will drown out those voices in your head that are telling you you’re mediocre? Study your own habits — and be honest about them.

To give you some perspective, the federal government’s 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than one drink per day for women or two for men (though some suggest fewer), and Dr. Murphy suggests the free alcohol screener at the website CheckUp & Choices. Take the questionnaire, which is used by health care providers, and use the score to assess your drinking. Similarly, Drinks Meter is an app with a daily calculator that helps put your own behavior into perspective using an anonymous database of over 6,000 people’s drinking habits worldwide.

“You don’t have to have things figured out, aside from wanting to make a change,” said Holly Whitaker, the author of “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” and creator of an online A.U.D. recovery program called Tempest. “You’re doing it right now, by being brave enough to read this article.”

Clear out the alcohol.

If you’ve decided alcohol is having a negative impact on your life, try distancing yourself from it for a while. Remove bottles from your physical spaces and booze-related content from your virtual ones. Cleanse your phone and computer of anything that might tempt you to drink.

It’s not about having a siloed existence or avoiding anything that creates an urge to drink, said Ms. McKowen, it’s about dismantling the myth that drinking is what makes life fun. “You want your online world to reflect the energy of where you’re going,” she said.

Then try not to drink for a month. Pick a date and stick with it. Experts say this is the best way to evaluate your alcohol use, and it’s a jump start on reducing your consumption, if that’s what you decide to do.

“Detoxification literally means removing the toxin,” said George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This can be done on your own unless you have moderate to severe A.U.D., in which case you should seek medical help. Untreated severe alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.

But fill the space with something else.

Alcohol does have positive effects: It squashes tension and lowers inhibitions. Remove it and you will miss it, at least initially.

So, identify other activities you love and increase them. Whether it’s exercise or spending time with friends, “we need another outlet to fill the void that alcohol leaves,” Dr. Murphy said.

Find your people.

You’re more likely to successfully abstain from alcohol if you have support. “Tell as many of your friends and family members who feel safe as you can about this,” Dr. Murphy said.

It also helps to connect with others who share your goal. In-person support meetings have become difficult to access in the pandemic, but help has proliferated online. Free sobriety support communities with virtual meetings include Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, SheRecovers, In the Rooms, Eight Step Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Recovery Dharma, and LifeRing, among others. Neither good lighting nor charisma is required or expected; join from your phone while walking in a park or sitting in your car.

“I go to two meetings a day now,” said Braunwyn Windham-Burke, a reality TV star whose sobriety journey is currently playing out on season 15 of “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” “It’s so easy, because it’s in my bedroom.”

One Tempest member, Valentine Darling, 32, of Olympia, Wash., finds virtual meetings to be more L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly as well. “I feel safe sitting next to my house plants, so I’m more fully present and I’m also more authentically me: I wear dresses and express my gender queerness without worrying that anyone will follow me home.”

Many organizations have meetings specifically for people of color, certain age groups or even professions. Ben’s Friends is a sobriety support group geared toward restaurant workers. “We speak a common language in restaurants,” said co-founder Steve Palmer. “You find out that, ‘OK, he’s a line cook. She’s a bartender. These are my people.’”

Understand what recovery means for you.

If your month of sobriety was relatively easy to accomplish, then simply consider it a reset. But if you’re having trouble sticking to your plan, you might need more than group meetings. You may have A.U.D., which is a disease, not a moral failing, and it requires treatment like any illness. The most effective form of recovery usually involves long-term behavioral therapies and community support as well as medication, if needed.

The N.I.A.A.A. navigator can help you find the right treatment for you. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has an online treatment locator.

Be flexible.

If you decide you want to maintain your sobriety long-term, understand that treatment plans may vary over time. “The same practices that helped you quit drinking might not keep you sober later on,” Ms. Whitaker said. Maybe you’ve unlocked a trauma along the way, maybe you’re going through a divorce or maybe you’re living in the midst of a pandemic.

You haven’t done anything wrong; you just need a fresh set of tools.

Dr. Murphy recommends continuing to keep a log of alcohol use. Apps like Drink Control and Drinks Meter can help, but even using a pen and paper, make note of any benefits you see, to keep your momentum going. When you backslide, make note of that — and how you feel about it.

It probably took a long time to develop your current relationship with alcohol. Changing that relationship, then, will require sustained effort — and it might take several attempts. If the first one doesn’t last, Dr. Koob said, don’t judge yourself harshly. Just try again.

What, if Anything, Can Psychics Tell Us About All of This?

What, if Anything, Can Psychics Tell Us About All of This?

Demand for their services has illuminated another kind of health crisis.

Krista Schwimmer of Los Angeles during a remote tarot session. She and her husband have been conducting virtual consultations since early in the pandemic.
Krista Schwimmer of Los Angeles during a remote tarot session. She and her husband have been conducting virtual consultations since early in the pandemic.Credit…Cole Barash for The New York Times

  • Jan. 15, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

A few weeks before the U.S. presidential election, Zulema Hormaeche, a tarot reader in Los Angeles, chose a card to reflect the state of the nation. It was the one that depicts a tall building struck by lightning, with flames bursting from the top and occupants leaping to their deaths.

“The Tower,” she said, “is the end of a system as we know it, the end of an era as we know it.”

Ms. Hormaeche has an intimate understanding of the ways this year upended people’s lives and sapped their optimism. She has peered into a huge number of homes during virtual consultations. Her clients tell her they are eating and drinking more, and that they feel desperately lonely. And sometimes they mention even more troubling details. One client, she said, described a dream in which they harmed their children.

“All of us are feeling the fear of everybody,” Ms. Hormaeche said, and that fear, coupled with uncertainty about when it might abate, has caused demand for spiritual guidance to soar. According to data from Yelp, interest in businesses in the somewhat niche “Supernatural Readings” category more than doubled in April. Keen, an online marketplace for psychics, has reported a steep rise in customers.

These consultations function almost as armchair counseling sessions: clients can open up and have their thoughts reflected back at them through a nonscientific — even mystical — lens. And while there is good reason to doubt the material of psychic readings (the mystical realm being inherently unknowable, or at least, endlessly interpretable), these consultations provide comfort for some.

James Alcock, a professor of psychology at York University in Canada, who has spent his career looking at belief systems and debunking scientific studies of the paranormal, said he is unsurprised (albeit concerned) by the appeal of such services. “If you look throughout history, whenever there has been some sort of upheaval or some sort of collective anxiety in society, interest in psychics has shot up,” he said.

“The reason is simple,” Mr. Alcock continued. “People experience a lack of control and anxiety. We’d all like the pandemic to end.” And without definitive answers from scientists, physicians or elected officials, people are turning to more spurious sources for reassurance.

A Growing Online Market

Online psychic marketplaces have been around for decades, though many of the businesses that host them didn’t begin with overt ties to the occult. Purple Ocean, which opened in 2016, was a spinoff of a site originally intended for nutritionists; Keen opened in 1999 as an online marketplace for live advice. As they grew larger, those sites began to embrace psychic services.

Warren Heffelfinger, who has worked in operations in many industries, joined Ingenio, Keen’s parent company, as C.E.O. seven years ago. The site offers clients more than a glimpse of the future, he said: “They come for prediction, but stay for ongoing counseling and therapy.”

Lynn Bufka, the associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, said that trained therapists were better equipped to talk to clients about mental health. “We have a license to uphold the health and well-being and safety of the individuals that we serve,” she said. “And there’s an accountability.”

But Mr. Heffelfinger isn’t concerned; he sees the trend of consulting psychics as part of a broader secular movement. In recent decades, institutional religion has declined; more than a quarter of U.S. adults now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Mr. Wamback and Ms. Schwimmer read tarot cards. These days, they can schedule readings between running errands and looking after their birds, Lily, a crow, and Sister Claire, a dove.
Mr. Wamback and Ms. Schwimmer read tarot cards. These days, they can schedule readings between running errands and looking after their birds, Lily, a crow, and Sister Claire, a dove.Credit…Cole Barash for The New York Times

And a surprising number of people say they’ve consulted fortune tellers: 1 in 5 Americans, according to a YouGov survey published in 2017. People go to psychics for all kinds of fanciful services, like palm and aura readings, astrological consultations, cartomancy, mediumship and animal communication. In 2019, the market research firm IBISWorld reported that those businesses had a combined revenue of $2.2 billion.

Even before the pandemic, the business, like so many others, was shifting online. In 2019, consumers spent nearly $40 million on the top 10 U.S. psychic and astrology apps, compared to $24 million the previous year, according to the app research firm Sensor Tower. And demand for services that support emotional well-being (such as counseling and wellness apps) has grown over a year of profound loss and collective anxiety.

“All of this opens up a tremendous amount of new business,” Mr. Heffelfinger said. Nine of Keen’s 10 highest revenue days during its 20-year history happened during the pandemic.

The Upsides of Remote Readings …

For many, performing readings by phone or computer has been a boon. Nicole Bowman, a psychic in Miami who charges $4.49 a minute on Keen, initially honed her skills in shops and bookstores, but she gets the appeal of anonymous platforms.

She prefers the telephone for technical reasons: “Phone sessions allow me to get into a more meditative state.” Its also works better for clients who feel “fidgety” or “nervous” during the session. She said that in her consultations, “the bulk of what I do is empowerment.”

Michael Wamback and Krista Schwimmer, who perform readings in Venice, Calif., are nearing 60 and take the risks of the coronavirus seriously. “I don’t want to end up dying just to do a reading,” Mr. Wamback, 58, said.

These days, they can schedule readings between running errands and looking after their birds, Lily, a crow, and Sister Claire, a dove. (They often swoop across the screen during consultations.) Mr. Wamback has enjoyed using virtual tarot decks; physical decks can lose their uniformity over time, and he worries he might subconsciously choose one card over another. (“I think you can cheat,” he said.)

Before the pandemic, the couple had been thinking of going digital. Not only did they want the freedom to travel, but the Mystic Journey Bookstore in Santa Monica, where they had worked for 20 years, was cutting shifts. The bookshop had more than $1 million in revenue in 2018, said the shop’s owner, Jeffrey Segal, but the rent was rising and they needed to downsize.

Covid-19 forced the couple’s hand. “In the long run, it will be very beneficial,” Mr. Wamback said. “In the short term, it’s a little chaotic.” The clients are fewer, but the readings often last longer. “They’re a bit bored and lonely and just want someone to talk to,” he said. Otherwise, their clients don’t follow a type: “Everyone and anyone — the janitor to the C.E.O., and everyone in between, therapists, strippers.”

Despite the overwhelming number of shared challenges of this year, “the questions really haven’t changed a lot,” Mr. Wamback said of those who consult him. Love and relationships dominate, though they’re filtered through the lens of social distancing. Clients have been asking about their jobs, but it doesn’t compare to 2008. “People felt more hopeless during the recession,” Mr. Wamback said. “They sort of see the virus as just a short-term complication.”

… and the Downsides

Thomas Rabeyron, a professor of clinical psychology and psychopathology at the University of Lorraine in France, recently published the results of a study on a group of 60,000 students during lockdown, where he found marked increases in depression, anxiety and post traumatic symptoms. He compared it to the aftermath of 9/11: the constant warnings of an invisible threat have wreaked havoc on mental health.

Though he is a scientist first, Mr. Rabeyron also conducts research on the paranormal. “Psychics are barometers of social anxiety,” he said.

While consultations can feel very therapeutic, he said, these online marketplaces are full of fraudsters, looking to trick vulnerable clients out of their money. “These people are dangerous,” Mr. Rabeyron said. “Anyone can be a psychic, it’s expensive, it’s the industrialization of clairvoyance.” He thinks limits on how much clients can spend should be mandatory on these sites.

Though Mr. Heffelfinger, of Keen, insists safety is a priority, he declined to say how exactly the site vets its psychics. “I’d love to share with you,” he said, “but maybe if I did, the bad guys would figure out how to get on our platform.”

“In the long run, it will be very beneficial,” Mr. Wamback said of virtual readings. “In the short term, it’s a little chaotic.”Credit…Cole Barash for The New York Times

Fraud and scams are undoubtedly a danger, particularly now. In September, the A.A.R.P.’s Helpline reported receiving at least one or two weekly calls from victims of psychic fraudsters compared to one complaint every couple of months in the past.

Even Mr. Wamback, who relies on videoconferencing technology to work, is critical of the platforms, which he refers to as “psychic sweatshops.” Ms. Bowman, on the other hand, is more skeptical of psychics who haunt the neon signs and small storefronts of New York City. (She’s not the only one; in New York, performing a psychic reading under pretenses other than entertainment is a class B misdemeanor, and those convicted of fraud can face multiple years in prison.)

“All you need is a handful of desperate people,” she said.

Bridging the Counseling Gap

In recent years technology has opened up new possibilities for counseling, in addition to traditional talk therapy. Apps that feature consultations with professionals and self-guided thought exercises have reached a wider population, and the evolving view that mental health is simply health has reduced some of the stigma around seeking help. The pandemic has only caused demand for such services to rise.

But instead of seeking out mental health professionals, some sufferers have looked to psychics. Mr. Alcock, the psychology professor, is worried they are using these sessions to make important life decisions. “People ask specific questions sometimes,” he said. “This gets really serious when people ask for medical advice.”

Indeed, equating therapists and psychics places a global mental health crisis in the hands of people with no training. And while many different kinds of counselors — religious, spiritual and mystical among them — may be able to help with temporary bouts of anxiety and depression, only health care professionals have the adequate qualifications to treat chronic conditions and more dangerous disorders like schizophrenia.

Dr. Bufka emphasized that people experiencing distress should reach out to professionals: “Whether it’s going to be a psychologist or other kind of mental health professional, social worker, counselor, primary care provider or a psychiatrist — somebody who has training in mental health concerns and understands what those are, and has expertise in how to best treat and address those problems.”

Mr. Rabeyron believes there are some benefits to nonpsychological consultations, like helping people carry out mourning rites in a new way, or simply listening. He said that clients may decide to consult a professional after talking to a reader.

“When it goes well, it can be an entry point into a process of self-examination,” Mr. Rabeyron said.

Therapy can appear daunting at the outset. The need for multiple sessions can also be a deterrent, along with the possibility of diagnosis or medicalization. “Some people are less frightened of psychics than doctors or psychologists,” Mr. Rabeyron said.

Still, there’s no match for a trained professional. Ms. Hormaeche, who also works as a nurse’s assistant, is used to dealing with vulnerable people, but she is receiving calls that are beyond her expertise. (The uptick could be due to the immense stress of the moment, but there have also been reports of a small number of Covid-19 patients experiencing psychotic symptoms, hearing voices and developing paranoia.)

She mentioned a new client who said he was hearing voices that were encouraging violence. She told him only a doctor could help him; she has not heard from the young man since.

“I hope to God he got some help, but that made the hair on my neck go up,” she said.

What Art Does for Us

At Home Newsletter

What Art Does for Us

And why we should support it.

Credit…Invisible Creature

  • Jan. 13, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ET

Welcome. When I was 22, I was a factotum at a nonprofit theater in New York City. I made fundraising calls and addressed envelopes. The job was pretty humdrum, but it had one massive perk: I’d frequently get free tickets to shows I’d never be able to afford otherwise: Cherry Jones in “Pride’s Crossing”; “Art,” with Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina; musicals like “Ragtime” and “The Lion King.”

I thought about that era of constant theatergoing — of sitting in the dark of the audience, overwhelmed by the grandness of the spectacle onstage and my luck at getting to experience it — while reading the critic Jason Farago’s suggestions for what the Biden administration can do to provide relief for the arts. He argues that the country is in urgent need of Aristotelian catharsis — of art, music, drama and the emotions they summon:

You go to the theater, you listen to a symphony, you look at a painting, you watch a ballet. You laugh, you cry. You feel pity, fear. You see in others’ lives a reflection of your own. And the catharsis comes: a cleansing, a clarity, a feeling of relief and understanding that you carry with you out of the theater or the concert hall. Art, music, drama — here is a point worth recalling in a pandemic — are instruments of psychic and social health.

Farago advises Biden to create a new Works Progress Administration-style program treating artists as essential workers, and to make it easier for artists to receive unemployment benefits, among other recommendations.

We’re all waiting for things to open up so we can resume what we think of as normal life. Considering what that will take is daunting, but it makes the promise of going to a play, hearing live music or standing awed before a painting that much more exciting to anticipate.

In the shorter term, I’m anticipating “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain,” George Saunders’s close reading of Chekhov. Parul Sehgal wrote, in her review of it, that Saunders “offers one of the most accurate and beautiful depictions of what it is like to be inside the mind of the writer that I’ve ever read.” Who could resist?

There’s also a new Sally Rooney novel coming in September. (Rooney’s last novel, “Normal People,” which was adapted into a popular Hulu series last year, gets more attention, but I’m partial to her first book, “Conversations with Friends.”)

And if it’s sunny where you are, or even if it’s not, you might find it thrilling, as I did, to take a stroll and listen to this episode of the podcast “Grounded with Louis Theroux,” in which Theroux interviews his friend and rival, the writer and filmmaker Jon Ronson.

Tell us.

When was the last time you had a strong emotional response to a play or film? The last time a book or painting freed you from “the feeling that there’s only one way to live, or only one way to go about your day,” as the writer Ben Lerner put it? Write to us: athome@nytimes.com. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a full and cultured life at home appear below.

Like what you see?

Were you forwarded this newsletter? Sign up to receive it yourself! You can always find much more to read, watch and do every day on At Home. And let us know what you think!

Well, So Much for Dry January


So Much for Dry January?

It’s been an intense and distressing month in America.

This you?
This you?Credit…Getty Images
Alex Williams

  • Jan. 12, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Well, that was quick.

Dry January, the social-media fueled month of voluntary sobriety, became Damp January in under a week for many temporary teetotalers. Many were horrified enough by the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the ensuing protracted situation to break their vow and reach for the bottle, as evidenced by jokes, confessions and memes ricocheting around Twitter and Instagram.

Among bandwagoneers, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conversation was happening offline, too, as many attempting four weeks as non-tipplers decided that a national crisis was bigger than a 31-day health kick.

Dry January at least seemed like a sensible way to start fresh in 2021, said Nina McConigley, an assistant honors professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie who swore off her extended pandemic cocktail kick.

But as she and her husband watched the tragedy unfold on television, feeling “sad and useless,” a nice dinner and a bottle of tempranillo seemed like the only balm, Ms. McConigley, 45, said: “I am of color, watching the Confederate flag being paraded in the Capitol, it was the worst. The act of a hot warm dinner and nice wine, it felt self-preserving.”

After five days of lemon detox tea, for example, Emily Titelman, an event producer in Los Angeles, detoured to tequila and orange juice on Wednesday, to ease her nerves after witnessing a mob send elected officials, their staff and media into hiding for their lives.

“As someone who is very politically engaged, I felt morally obligated to return to the news,” Ms. Titelman, 35, said. The drink, she added, “absolutely took the edge off my very real anger.”

People surround the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
People surround the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A year of quarantine had converted Adam Roberts, 41, the creator of Amateur Gourmet, a food blog, from social drinker to a regular home drinker, he said. It got to the point that he had vowed that very day, on a walk with his husband, the film director Craig Johnson, and their dog in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, to cut out drinking on weekdays during January.

“But when we got home and saw the images of a guy in a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt storming the U.S. Capitol, I said, ‘I changed my mind. Make me a Oaxacanite,” he said.

Others who had pledged a month of sobriety managed to stay dry through the crisis, if barely.

Hitha Palepu, a pharmaceuticals executive in New York, leaned on more than 20 Dry January accountability groups she had started on Instagram to convince her to to boil a kettle for tea (albeit, with a drop or two of CBD,) rather than uncork a bottle of pinot noir.

“I had spent the past four years numbing the feelings that the news brought me with wine,” Ms. Palepu, 36, said. “This time, I chose to fully feel these feelings and find a new way to process them. It was my own little act of resistance for my present and future self, against my past self.”

The vision of the president of the United States goading his supporters against Congress, the Senate and his own vice president proved to be a shocking test for Frauke Weston, who is German and a marketing manager in Brooklyn. She was wondering if she could stick with her alcohol-free month she began, as she awaits her final interview to gain citizenship later this month.

“I keep getting messages from German and American friends alike, jokingly asking ‘Are you sure you want to sign up for this?’” Ms. Weston said.

For those who signed on to Dry January as a wellness experiment, like a juice cleanse, it seemed all in good fun to ditch their resolve after a few days and post jokey memes on Twitter, like the oft-quoted line from the 1980 comedy film “Airplane” — “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

But for many with addiction issues, the crisis of Jan. 6 was a graver matter, particularly after a wearying 2020 that seemed like a stress-ridden version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” said Dr. Joseph Lee, the medical director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minneapolis.

“You’re seeing the intersection of pandemic stress, economic stress, political and social strife, and all those things have added together and predictably have increased the consumption of various substances by high-risk people,” Dr. Lee said in an email.

A lot of people, he said, were posting messages on social media like, “‘We made it five days, then everything went dumpster-fire-emoji,’” he said. “But on a serious level, when people are isolated and already over-interpreting the news, worrying too much, and losing confidence in our sense of democracy, all these things can be tipping points for people at risk.”

For those with the luxury of experimenting with sobriety by choice, however, the evenings of hot tea with lemon will last only through a month, even if the political chaos does not.

A day after breaking her Dry January vow, Ms. McConigley was back on the wagon, intent to last through the month. Well, most of the month, anyway.

“My one exception for the month has always been Jan 20,” she said. “We have a special bottle of champagne we are saving for Inauguration Day.”

Things To Do At Home

Hang Out With Clouded Leopards and Watch ‘Another Round’

This week, learn about the basics of perfume, listen to a string quartet or catch Regina King’s directorial debut.

Credit…Till Lauer
  • Jan. 9, 2021

Here is a sampling of the week’s events and how to tune in (all times are Eastern). Note that events are subject to change after publication.


Immerse yourself in the natural flora of Florida, with an introduction to the state’s native ferns. In a live presentation hosted by the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, Jennifer Possley, the South Florida conservation program manager for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, will talk about the common and rare ferns in the state, as well as the ancient lineage the plants share. This event is free.

When 7 p.m.

Where youtube.com/channel/UCFUrLQz1A2ymKCNYmx6hyTg


Stop by the first event in the Olympic runner Alexi Pappas’s book tour for her new memoir “Bravey”: a talk with the runner Mary Cain at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. Ms. Pappas, who competed in the 10,000-meter track race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, recently discussed mental health in sports in a video for The New York Times’s Opinion section. The book touches on her battles with clinical depression and how she’s overcome obstacles during her life and career. Tickets are free for the first 100 registrants or with a book purchase; the rest are pay what you can.

When 6 p.m.

Where politics-prose.com/alexi-pappas


Spend the afternoon with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s clouded leopards as part of a virtual field trip from the National Museum of Natural History. Juan Rodriguez, a zookeeper at the zoo, will introduce its population of clouded leopards and answer questions about their special characteristics and natural habitats. This event is free and suited for children of all ages.

When 1 p.m.

Where naturalhistory.si.edu/events/clouded-leopard-virtual-tour-juan-rodriguez

Hear the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley discuss her new book, “Perestroika in Paris,” with the writer Margot Livesey at the Harvard Book Store. Ms. Smiley’s latest — deemed “a feel-good escape” in a recent Times review — recounts the friendship between a racehorse, a German shorthaired pointer and a boy named Etienne. This event is free, with a suggested $3 donation.

When 7 p.m.

Where harvard.com/event/virtual_event_jane_smiley


Listen to new music from the string quartet Ethel, in a recorded concert and live conversation presented by The Greene Space and WNYC’s “New Sounds.” The Grammy award-winning band, which is the resident ensemble at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, will be joined by John Schaefer, the host of “New Sounds,” who will lead a discussion about working as a quartet and making music from a distance. This event is free.

When 7 p.m.

Where thegreenespace.org/event/new-sounds-presents-ethel/

Grab your favorite perfume and learn about the basics of fragrance with Jessica Murphy, an art historian, educator and frequent contributor to the perfume blog “Now Smell This.” In this introductory class, hosted by Brooklyn Brainery, Ms. Murphy will conduct smelling exercises and cover both the history of perfume and useful terminology. This event is intended for adults 18 and older. Tickets are $7, and attendance is capped at 100.

When 7 p.m.

Where brooklynbrainery.com/courses/perfume-101-fragrance-basics-online

Credit…Till Lauer


During Martin Luther King’s Birthday weekend, catch a discussion with the actor and director Regina King and the screenwriter Kemp Powers about their new film, One Night in Miami.” The movie, which comes out on Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 15, is a fictionalized account of an evening when Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown all convened to talk about the civil rights movement. This conversation appears as part of the Cinematters N.Y. Social Justice Film Festival, a weekend of movies and events emphasizing social action and activism.

When 7 p.m.

Where watch.eventive.org/cnysjff


Explore the Enclosed Garden, an immersive online art exhibition from Heroines Wave — an international online center for research and creation — that brings together the work of 30 female artists from 23 countries. With text, images, audio recordings and video, the exhibit is divided into virtual “rooms,” where viewers can observe and interact with each artist’s work. Entrance is free, but donations are suggested.

When Anytime

Where heroineswave.com/online-enclosedgarden

Spend a night at the theater and cue up the play “Julie,” a contemporary adaptation of the August Strindberg play “Miss Julie.” The actor Vanessa Kirby, who has received plaudits for her leading role in the new film “Pieces of a Woman,” stars in the title role of this 2018 production. It beams into your living room as the latest offering from the National Theater at Home. Tickets are $9.99.

When Anytime

Where ntathome.com


Check out Another Round,” the latest film from the director Thomas Vinterberg and the actor Mads Mikkelsen, who previously collaborated on “The Hunt.” In the new movie, a group of four schoolteachers decide to experiment with constant, low-grade intoxication as a route out of middle-age doldrums. “Another Round” is $12.99 to rent inside the United States, available from the Angelika Film Center’s Angelika Anywhere site.

When Anytime

Where angelikaanywhere.com/film/another-round

Six Superhero Movies to Stream

Let Down by ‘Wonder Woman 1984’? Here are 6 Great Superhero Movies

The Wonder Woman sequel received mixed reviews. But there are plenty of excellent and entertaining alternatives to stream, and many that never received the attention they deserve.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Fast Color.”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Fast Color.”Credit…Jacob Yakob/Codeblack Films

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 11:43 p.m. ET

Last month, Warner Bros. released the coronavirus-delayed “Wonder Woman 1984,” a sequel to the 2017 hit “Wonder Woman.” The action-adventure movie has done relatively well at the box office (in places where theaters are open), even though it’s also available for a limited time on the streaming service HBO Max. But compared with the enthusiastic response to the first “Wonder Woman” movie, the sequel has drawn a mixed reaction, with some critics and comic book fans complaining about the film’s unlikely plot and lengthy running time.

So for those who felt let down by “Wonder Woman 1984,” here are six other superhero options to stream — from the widely beloved and popular to films that have never received the big audiences they deserved.

‘The Rocketeer’

Stream it on Disney+; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

The moviegoing public was still developing a taste for superheroes back in 1991, when Walt Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures failed to draw crowds for this charmingly old-fashioned pulp exercise. Based on a little-known comic by the illustrator Dave Stevens, “The Rocketeer” is a fast-paced potboiler set in a 1930s Hollywood filled with glamorous swells and optimistic go-getters — including a bombshell actress Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) and her stunt-pilot boyfriend (Billy Campbell). The director Joe Johnston brings light and zip to the film’s Nazi-fighting plot — something he’d do again 20 years later with the mighty “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

Liam Neeson in “Darkman.”
Liam Neeson in “Darkman.”Credit…Universal Pictures Home Entertainment


Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

A little over a decade before the director Sam Raimi was entrusted with the 2002 blockbuster “Spider-Man,” he made his own twisted, R-rated version of a Marvel Comics movie, about a mad scientist driven by tragedy to become a vigilante, disguised in an artificial skin that dissolves in sunlight. Anchored by a zesty Liam Neeson performance (getting an early start on the “capable hero, out for blood” screen persona he’s mastered in recent years), “Darkman” combines elements of old Universal monster movies, gritty 1970s superhero comics and slapstick comedy. Though it’s rated R and not appropriate for younger viewers, the movie is a true original.

[Read The New York Times review.]

‘Fast Color’

Stream it on Amazon Prime or Hulu; rent or buy it on Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

In some of the most haunting superhero stories, the powerful dwell among us in the ordinary world, devoid of costumes or code names. One of the best-known of these is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable.” Film buffs who love that film should definitely catch up with the writer-director Julia Hart’s similarly low-boil “Fast Color,” about a family of women who hide their extraordinary abilities from a government agency that wants to exploit them. Hart and her co-writer/producer Jordan Horowitz add their own spin on this classic genre premise by focusing on human relationships and small moments of wonder.

[Read The New York Times review.]

Michael Fassbender, left, and James McAvoy in”X-Men: First Class.”Credit…Murray Close/20th Century Fox

‘X-Men: First Class’

Stream it on HBO Max; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

The X-Men movie franchise and its Deadpool and Wolverine offshoots have been hugely popular but inconsistent. “X-Men: First Class” is the best of the bunch because it isn’t bogged down by complicated mythology. Instead, the story starts at the beginning, in 1962, as two young mutant chums with different ideologies work together to recruit more of their own kind. The director Matthew Vaughn gives the picture the polish of a James Bond film, while James McAvoy (as Professor Charles Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (as Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr) lead an ace cast in an adventure filled with international intrigue.

[Read The New York Times review.]

‘Big Hero 6’

Stream it on Disney+; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

Given that the superhero genre became a phenomenon thanks to the ink-stained medium of comic books, it’s too bad there haven’t been more big-budget animated superhero movies. The Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6” is a fine example of how the exaggerated, cartoony illustrations common to animation lend themselves well to kinetic, fantastical action. The film is also kid-friendly, telling the story of a moody teenage genius who assembles a group of tech-savvy nerds to help him, along with his adorably squishy super-robot Baymax, unravel a conspiracy. At once cute and visually dazzling, “Big Hero 6” is an old-fashioned superhero tale suffused with positivity.

[Read The New York Times review.]

From left, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in “Birds of Prey.”Credit…Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press

‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’

Stream it on HBO Max; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

Comic book connoisseurs disappointed in “Wonder Woman 1984” had an excellent alternative last year for their DC Comics superheroine fix. In the “Suicide Squad” spinoff “Birds of Prey,” Margot Robbie reprises her role as the delightfully daffy Gotham City rogue Harley Quinn, who joins forces with some slightly more virtuous ladies in an explosive standoff with a local mob boss. The director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson load their movie up with foul language, bloody violence and self-referential humor, making the case that while strong female heroes are great, strong female antiheroes may be more fun.

[Read The New York Times review.]

Solve a Nonogram Logic Puzzle

Solve a Nonogram (a What?)

It’s a logic puzzle that uses numbers, and if that’s not hard enough, we’ve added a crossword twist. Happy New Year!

Credit…Andrew Dore

Andrew Dore and

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 10:41 p.m. ET

Nonograms are deceptively simple logic puzzles: You use digits to create a pattern of filled-in squares in the empty grid provided. Each number on the lines outside the grid represents a block of squares to be blacked out in that row or column (see 1 Across). Once all the correct squares are filled in, a picture emerges. This nonogram adds crossword-inspired clues to make things even more interesting. The answers are numbers that you write into the spaces provided, which then help you find the date-appropriate image.

Download a printable version of the puzzle here.

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Well Challenge Day 7

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Removing obstacles makes it more likely you’ll achieve a new health goal. The 7-Day Well Challenge will show you how.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Whether your goal for the new year is to lose weight, start exercising or focus on self-care, ask yourself: How can I make this easier?

In the scientific study of habit formation, the thing that makes it harder for you to achieve your goal is called friction. Reducing friction means removing an obstacle or coming up with a strategy that makes a task easier to do. And if you figure out how to make a goal easier, you’re more likely to succeed.

Friction typically comes in three forms — distance, time and effort. For instance, living far from the gym or a favorite walking trail makes it less likely that you’ll go. (One study found that people who lived 5.1 miles from the gym went only once a month, but those who lived within 3.7 miles went five times a month or more.) Time constraints can also get in the way of new healthy habits. If you don’t have much free time, it’s harder to start meditating or working out. And if something requires a lot of effort — like healthful cooking in a disorganized kitchen — you’re less likely to do it.

Sometimes adding friction to your life helps you achieve a goal. In one study, slowing down elevator doors by 26 seconds prompted more people to take the stairs. Removing vending machines from schools makes it harder for teens to snack on junk food or drink sugary soda.

“The friction you set up or remove in the environment is going to have an effect long after you’ve gotten discouraged and are less excited about the new behavior,” said Wendy Wood, a research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” “That’s why friction is so powerful. It persists.”

Pandemic life has altered many of our routines — so friction that used to be there may have disappeared, and new challenges may have added new friction. For instance, some people no longer commute to work, giving them more time to do other things. While online schooling has made life tough on many parents, families also may have fewer extracurricular obligations, making it easier to have dinner at home. To identify the friction that may be stopping you from achieving your goals, take a moment to think about the time, distance and effort the goal requires.

“Ask yourself, ‘What would make it easier for me to do this?’” said Dr. Wood. “You want to reduce the effort. The thing about friction is we often don’t focus on it when we’re changing our behavior. We focus on ourselves and keeping ourselves motivated and exerting willpower. But you have to recognize that you’re also going to be influenced by the things going on around you.”

For today’s final Well Challenge, try to make a new habit a little easier with these friction-busting ideas.

Day 7

Make Your Life Easier

Everybody has different goals for better health. Here are several different ways you can create a new health habit with less effort. Choose one or several to try or come up with your own easy health resolution.

Sleep in your workout clothes. If you’re trying to start a morning exercise routine, make it easy to get dressed for a morning run or workout. Sleep in some or all of your workout clothes. Put your shoes and socks by the bed. It’s one less obstacle to slow you down in the morning.

Put hand weights by your desk. Keep light hand weights nearby and do some reps while you’re on a conference call.

Hang hooks by your door. Whether you’re always losing your keys or forgetting your mask, creating a station of hooks or shelves by the door for masks, keys or any other essentials you need when you leave the house will help you make mask-wearing a habit.

Put extra masks in your coat pockets. I bought a pack of disposable masks and always have a half-dozen stuffed in the pockets of my coats. You never know when you might drop a mask on the ground, decide you want to double mask or offer a mask to someone in need. Over the summer my daughter rode a bike to meet me for an outdoor dinner and her mask blew away. She knew I’d have a replacement handy.

Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth is a way to practice balance. (Change legs after a minute of brushing.) Or use tooth-brushing time to practice mindfulness. You can find a tooth-brushing meditation here. When you add a new habit (like meditation or a balance exercise) to an old habit (like brushing your teeth) it’s called “stacking.” Stacking your habits makes them easier to remember.

Buy kitchen tongs. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to cook, toss a salad or serve noodles with the right set of tongs. In general, having the right gadgets for your kitchen is a way to make cooking easier, and easy is good. Read “These Are the Only Kitchen Tools You’ll Need,” from Julia Moskin, or check out Wirecutter’s advice for the best kitchen tools.

Organize your refrigerator. Often the tipping point in a kitchen is the refrigerator. When your fridge is a mess, it’s hard to know what you have available to cook, what food might spoil soon and what you need from the store. Wirecutter has the best fridge organization advice from Marguerite Preston, a former pastry chef, who knows how professional chefs organize a kitchen. “In restaurants, organization is important not only because it helps cooks move quickly and smoothly, but also because wasted food is wasted money,” she writes. “The same is true at home. You may not see the effects of a chaotic fridge in a bad Yelp review or a balance sheet, but they will show in the time it takes to cook dinner and the stress involved.”

Watch the jellyfish. One of the best mindfulness tips I came across this year was from Cord Jefferson, the television writer who thanked his therapist on national television when he won an Emmy. Mr. Jefferson told me he struggled with traditional meditation, but he enjoys watching the feed from a web camera showing the jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bookmark the jelly-cam on your phone or laptop browser and get lost in the jellyfish for a short mindfulness break during your workday.

Do the Standing 7-Minute Workout. All you need is a wall and a chair nearby for balance. You don’t even have to change your clothes. Our new workout video is a friction-busting workout for anyone who avoids exercise because it’s hard to get up from the floor after a push-up, plank or situps.

Complete a 1-minute task. One of my favorite health tips for dealing with stress is the one-minute rule. It comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” a book about forming new habits. This simple advice helps you decide what to tackle on a long to-do list. Just do the one-minute tasks first. Hang up a coat. Read some emails. Clear and wipe the kitchen counter. Tidy a book shelf. Whenever you take on a one-minute task, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment and quick boost of happiness.

Do a five-finger meditation. This is an easy way to calm yourself, no matter where you are. (I tried it in a dentist chair, and it worked for me!) Start by holding your hand in front of you, fingers spread. Using your index finger on the other hand, start tracing the outline of your hand. Trace up your pinkie, and down. Trace up your ring finger and down. As you do this, breathe in as you trace up, and out as you trace down. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down. You can find more tips for beating stress in my story, “Peak Anxiety? Here Are 10 Ways to Calm Down.”

Create a Sunday basket. I learned this tip from Lisa Woodruff, author of “The Paper Solution.” She suggests dumping your bills, receipts and various papers into a basket. (She sells a product for this, but I just use a regular basket.) Once a week, sort your actionable papers (those that need attention) from your archive papers (those that can be filed.) The Sunday basket approach (she claims it will add five extra hours to your week) is part of a larger system proposed by Ms. Woodruff that uses three-ring binders rather than a filing cabinet. (She suggests five binders for financial information, medical needs, household reference, school items and daily operations.) For me, the Sunday basket is enough, but if you feel chronically overwhelmed by paper, you can learn more on the Organize365.com website.

Buy partially prepared food. Buying chopped up food and meal kits costs more, but it does save time. “I always used to avoid buying cut fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, but I found I actually use them sooner, so in the end it kind of pays off,” said Dr. Wood.

Keep a tip jar. Tipping in person (rather than by credit card) is an easy way to add a gratitude practice to a delivery day. Pandemic life has meant a lot more deliveries to my door, but I never had cash, so I usually just added the tip to the card. I decided to create the tip jar and make an effort to tip in cash. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would get so much more enjoyment out of tipping in person. (I always wash my hands first, wear a mask at the door and keep it brief.)

Put a notebook and pen by your bed. Keeping pen and paper by your bedside allows you to do a nightly stress-dump of all the things on your mind that might otherwise keep you up at night. You get a head start on tomorrow by creating a to-do list. And you can end your day with a simple gratitude practice — writing down three things for which you are grateful.

Create a device charging station outside your bedroom. The blue light in your screen has the same effect on your brain as sunlight, which means it wakes you up just when you want to be drifting off. If you’re trying to cut back on screens at bedtime, add some friction by setting up a charging station in your work area, the kitchen — anywhere but your bedroom. “If it’s in the bedroom, it’s easier to use,” said Dr. Wood. “That’s part of the temptation of always staying online. Keep devices out of the bedroom.”

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Well Challenge Day 3

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Social bubbles have helped us cope with the restrictions of Covid-19. For today’s Well Challenge, look to your pandemic pod to inspire and motivate you toward a healthier and happier life.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Is your pandemic bubble a keeper?

Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the power of a trusted friend group may be the most lasting. This summer, nearly half of Americans said they had formed a “pod” or social “bubble” — a select group of friends to help them cope with pandemic life.

It took a pandemic to teach us what many cultures have known all along — that friendship pods can give us healthier, happier lives. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the habits of people who live in “blue zones,” which are areas around the world where people live far longer than the average. He has consistently found that cultures with long life expectancies value strong social ties. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, people form a kind of social network during childhood called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime. Members of each moai also appear to influence one another’s lifelong health behaviors.

Mr. Buettner has worked in several cities to try to replicate the moai effect. In Naples, Fla., for instance, he found 110 people who wanted to improve their eating habits, and he started by grouping them by neighborhood. (“If they live too far apart, they don’t hang out,” he said.) Then he asked questions about shared interests and values, like whether a person watched Fox News or CNN, whether they liked beach vacations or hiking, attended church or liked country music. People with shared interests who lived close to each other formed “moais” of five or six people, and then planned five pot luck dinners together.

After 10 weeks of planning healthy meals together, everyone reported eating more plant-based foods, Mr. Buettner said. And 67 percent said they had made more friends, 17 percent had lost weight, 6 percent had lowered their blood pressure, 6 percent reported lower blood sugar and 4 percent reported lower cholesterol.

Moais can form around activities like walking or bird watching, healthy eating habits or hobbies, like photography. The key is to find like-minded people with shared values and goals. And once the groups form, the members tend to support one another in other ways. When one member of a walking moai in Southern California was diagnosed with cancer, other members of the group stepped in to help with meals and caregiving.

While pandemic life has stalled many of our social plans, we’ve also learned a lot about friendships, who we can depend on and even who matters less than we thought. Even if you didn’t form a social bubble, the new year is a good time to reflect on the friendships that counted the most during a difficult year.

“It’s not only the importance of social connections, but also leaning into anything we’ve learned about the relationships that matter,” said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.” “What were the relationships that lasted during Covid is a really interesting thing to pay attention to. I’ll remember who kept texting when I wasn’t always texting back.”

Mr. Buettner noted that when it comes to forming healthy social groups, we sometimes have to re-evaluate friends who might be a lot of fun, but aren’t really making our life better.

“I used to have a group of friends who had a lot of unhealthy behaviors,” said Mr. Buettner, whose latest book is “The Blue Zones Kitchen.”

“They felt good to be around, but they weren’t good for me. I think it’s important to curate your pod. I’m not saying dump your old friends. I’m saying you want to be aware of the people who are additive to your life, who are going to give you the most good years going forward, and who aren’t going to infect you with their bad habits.”

To learn how to turn your pandemic pod (or any group of friends) into a health-oriented bubble, try today’s Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get the 7-Day Well Challenge in your inbox.

Day 3

Form a Health Bubble

The Challenge: Try to turn your pandemic pod into a lasting social group focused on shared values and better health. Add or subtract members as needed.

Take a compatibility quiz: Health bubbles are most successful when people have similar attitudes, values and goals. You probably already know if you and your pandemic podmates like the same movies, vacation spots and social media sites. Now focus on key questions around health and lifestyle choices. In the past month, how often did each person take part in rigorous activity? How often was someone sad or depressed? Does anyone in the group smoke? How many vegetables do they eat? Do they eat sweets or junk food? How much alcohol do they drink? You can take the full quiz online here.

Curate or strengthen your pod: Is yours a pandemic pod of convenience or shared values? The answers to the compatibility quiz will tell you if you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can help you achieve better health. If someone in the group is too negative or has lifestyle habits that bring you down, talk to them about their goals. If they want to make changes, support them. You may need to curate your pod or bring in new people who want to focus on healthy living.

Create a health goal: Start talking to your pod mates about long-term health goals. Do you want to exercise more? Try scheduling daily or weekly walk dates. Are you interested in cutting back on sugar or eating more plant-based foods? Make plans with your pod to share recipes and cook the same meals. Take Zoom cooking classes together, or do a Zoom exercise class of the 7-Minute Standing Workout. If you have Fitbits or smart watches, sync them so you can share step counts. Even if you can’t meet in person during pandemic restrictions, you can start supporting each other’s health goals now and build on them when we can all spend time together again.

“When you make a good friend, that could be a lifelong adventure,” Mr. Buettner said. “For those of us in middle age, having the right friends around us whose idea of something fun is physical activity, whose idea of eating healthy is plant-based, who care about you on a bad day, who can have a meaningful conversation — that beats any pill or supplement any day. It’s the best intervention you can invest in because it’s long lasting and has a measurable impact on your health and well-being.”

For an Exercise ‘Snack,’ Try the New Standing 7-Minute Workout

For an Exercise ‘Snack,’ Try the New Standing 7-Minute Workout

During pandemic lockdowns, many of us learned the importance of short home workouts. Take the 7-Day Well Challenge for a new exercise video and more ways to keep moving in 2021.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 4, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Make 2021 the year of the exercise snack.

Just as you might grab a handful of chips or nuts to break the monotony of your day, an exercise “snack” is a short burst of movement you can enjoy at home or in the office or outdoors. It can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. You can do it while talking on the phone or just because you want to take an hourly break from sitting in your chair. You don’t even have to change your clothes.

A number of scientific studies show that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. A recent study concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.

“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” said Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose lab has conducted several studies of exercise snacking. “Let’s get people out of the mind-set that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.”

For many of us, the exercise snack has already become a part of pandemic life, even if we haven’t been aware of it. Studies have shown that pandemic restrictions have slowed many people down. Average daily steps declined by about 5.5 percent during the first 10 days of a nation’s pandemic lockdowns and by about 27 percent by the end of the first month, according to data from more than 450,000 users of a smartphone step-counting app.

But to compensate, many people found ways to keep moving in their homes. An April study by Yelp, the local search and reviewing site, found that interest in fitness equipment had risen by 500 percent between March and April in the United States. Workout bands, kettle bells and exercise bikes sold out in stores and online, and exercisers found workout apps and videos to help them keep moving while stuck at home. Some people took short walks to make up for losing the morning commute. Others did jumping jacks or wall push-ups to break up hours of sitting at the laptop.

Several studies show that these small bursts of exercise can have a big impact on health. One recent study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, recruited 11 overweight men and women who were asked to sit for nine hours a day in cozy recliners, where they worked or watched television. They were all served three meals while sitting in their chairs. One day the participants never left the chair except to go to the bathroom. On another day, they left the chair just once an hour to race up three flights of stairs, which took about 20 seconds. Among the overweight participants, adding a 20-second burst of stair climbing to an otherwise sedentary day led to improvements in insulin sensitivity, a sign of metabolic health.

“We’re better able to process nutrients if we break up our sitting with these short bursts of exercise once every hour,” said Jonathan Little, associate professor in the school of health and exercise sciences at the University of British Columbia. “I don’t think it replaces regular exercise, but we think you can get some bang for your buck with a small amount of these exercise bursts. Working from home could make these exercise snacks a lot easier. If you have an exercise bike, you theoretically don’t need to change into exercise gear — in a 20-second burst, you’re not going to sweat.”

The study built on similar research at McMaster University that showed exercise snacks can lead to meaningful improvements in fitness. In that study, a dozen exercisers raced up three flights of stairs just three times a day for three days a week. After six weeks of these 20-second snacks of exercise, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.

Dr. Gibala said the lesson from the research is that with a little effort, we can stay active anywhere under almost any circumstances — no matter how busy we are. The key to getting the benefit of brief exercise is to pick up the pace.

“You need to push it a little bit,” said Dr. Gibala. “Get out of your comfort zone. If your normal exercise is walking around the block, pick it up a little bit. As you go about your day, as you’re playing with grandchildren, as you’re walking to the bus; the key is to encourage people to do it in a vigorous manner, and that may lead to some real health benefits.”

To learn how to add exercise snacks into your day, try the second day of our 7-Day Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get each day’s challenge in your inbox.

Day 2

Try an Exercise Snack

This week, try one or more of these exercise challenges to add short bursts of exercise throughout your day.

Add exercise to your phone call: A work or social call is a great time to add some activity to your day — and the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have to know about it. Just get up and start walking around your home as you talk. If you have hand weights, do some arm exercises. Do a yoga pose or a wall sit while you chat.

Add music to your movement break: Every hour or few hours, turn on a favorite song, and dance or do jumping jacks or another physical activity. If you’ve got children or another adult at home, ask them to join you. Adding music to a walk or just taking a short dance break will enhance the restorative benefits of exercise, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.

“Moving to music is one of the best ways to increase positive emotions and to connect with other people,” said Dr. McGonigal. “Think about something like a movement break to music if you need more energy, or if you need a big emotional reset.”

Do the 7-Minute Standing Workout: Take a 7-minute break during your day to try our new standing workout video. All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes. The workout was designed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and creator of the original scientific 7-minute workout. The standing workout was designed for newcomers to exercise, older people, pregnant women or anyone with an ache or injury that keeps them from easily getting down on the floor or back up. But anyone can take advantage of the benefits of this exercise snack.

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Video by Ruru Kuo, Rob Dozier, Jaspal Riyait and Tara Parker-Pope. Workout created and performed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.