Farewell, March

It’s been a hell of a ride, and April and May are going to bring even more challenges. The silver lining–albeit a very thin sliver of silver–is that now that we have a shelter-in-place order here, there’s no more wondering what we can do. We’ve been quarantining since March 14, but now everyone else is too and it makes things more straightforward. This marks the end of my daily posts, but I will be updating here much more frequently than I did in 2019. Providing some fresh content is one of the small things I can do right now. Here are a few last things that might help your quarantine:

*If you’re having trouble getting paper products–paper towels and toilet paper are pretty scarce around here–read up a little on zero waste practices. Using rags for paper towels and a bidet bottle instead of toilet paper can help cut down a lot on how much of those things you actually need.

*I’m doing an online book chat! Thanks to Anne Bogel who is hosting a Stay At Home Book Tour, I’ll be chatting via Zoom on Thursday, April 9 at 7pm eastern. Details in the link, and you’ll be able to ask questions at the end.

*We’re vegetarian now, but this recipe does not lie–it really IS the best roast chicken of all time. I even expanded it to be the method I roast the Thanksgiving turkey and it was the best turkey I ever made. Superb.

*M. C. Beaton recently passed, and she will be sorely missed. She was the creator of the wildly popular Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth mysteries, but she also wrote some truly charming romances. Like her mysteries, they are short, well-characterized reads with a dash of intrigue. Perfectly comforting.

*There’s never been a better time to think about starting a meditation practice. I’ve already recommended Neo; some of y’all love Calm. Here’s a site on Zen habits to get you started.

*Congratulations to Lynn Greiner and Becki Chambers, our winners of A MURDEROUS RELATION! Much love and many thanks to all of you for your suggestions and links. You are the BEST!

 

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I’ve been staring at this trying to think of a title

And I can’t. So there. We just ordered delivery from a local Mexican restaurant. They included a free dessert with a note of thanks and I almost cried. *sigh* Time to take a deep breath and regroup. My allergies are playing havoc with my head right now because all the neighborhood trees are having an orgy and their yellow sexytimes pollen is covering EVERYTHING. But apart from that, I’m well, and that’s what I’m focusing on. I hope you’re well too.

Onward! Things to amuse or distract you:

*Reader Susannah has been spending time with the Vogue weddings page.

*Reader Lynn suggests signing up for a service like Webex or Zoom and creating a virtual book club or family chat. Most folks are using it for meetings right now, but you can get creative with it.

*Reader Emily has been going through old family photos–reminisce or take the chance to make a photo book via Chatbooks or Mixbook. (A pal made one for a group of us who go on retreat together each year and it was AMAZING.)

*Elizabeth recommends the Strictly Ballet series on YouTube for dance fans.

*Reader Becki posted a link to Chawton House, Jane Austen’s home, and it’s FULL of good stuff.

*Cody suggests starting a pet show and tell channel on your company’s chat software. (Might be a good morale booster, and honestly, who couldn’t use some more animals?)

*Fay posted a reminder that Netflix party is a Chrome extension which lets you watch movies with people who aren’t in the same physical location–a great way to host a movie party with friends without breaking quarantine.

Reminder: respond to the tweet about this post with your own links/suggestions and you’ll be entered to win a copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION. New entries: Fay, Cody, Lynn, Susannah.

 

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Sunday, Sunday

I missed Saturday altogether, although time seems almost like an optional construct at the moment, doesn’t it? I got stuck in to a work project and by the time I was finished, I was fit for nothing but slumping on the sofa with a burrito and a glass of red wine. I also did my longest session yet on the rowing machine and finished the work project. Balance, right?

First, lovely news from the Fountain Bookstore–they’re joining in my quarantine giveaway and offering a copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION as well; that’s TWO chances to win! Just respond to this post when I tweet it with your own suggestions/links for quarantine activities and you’ll be entered.

*Reader Carol recommends the “Footloose in…” series of videos on YouTube. She says they’re soothing and, GOODNESS ME, if that isn’t just what we want now. (That link will take you to the Amalfi series. You can navigate from there to the others; if you just go search it, you’ll end up with a LOT of Kenny Loggins. But maybe that’s what you want and I’m not here to judge your choices.)

*Today’s adventure in comfort reading for me is cookbooks. I seldom actually make anything, but I adore reading Nigella Lawson, Elizabeth David, M. F. K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin. The newest addition to this list is Peg Bracken. After years of hearing raves about THE I HATE TO COOK COOKBOOK, I finally broke down and read it, and it’s charming. It’s full of utterly deranged recipes that have not aged well and that’s some of my favorite food reading. (Why does everything require canned cream of mushroom soup? According to “Grace Under Fire”, it’s because sometimes things struggle in the pan and cream of mushroom soup subdues them…) If you’d rather have beautiful pictures, try Tessa Kiros. Her cookbooks are ART. I also have a load of Julia Reed books on order and can’t wait until they arrive.

*From my Misfits Market box, I had some celery, carrots, green pepper, and broccoli that were hanging around and thinking about wilting. So, everything is diced up and ready to join some frozen fried rice for a sheet pan supper. It’s dead easy–just line a sheet pan with foil and preheat the oven to 425. Spread frozen fried rice on the pan, add diced veg. Toss everything with sesame oil, soy, ginger. (Fresh ginger and garlic are best, but if you’re cooking out of the pantry, throw something from the tins around. It’s better than nothing.) Bung it in the oven for 12 minutes. Serve with sesame seeds on top, some chopped scallions if you’re fancy, and hot mustard and soy. A side of egg rolls or dumplings are perfect with this.

*Another “bowl” meal I had several times this week: roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes with sweet peppers and red onion. I roasted them up on a sheet pan after cubing them and tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper. It made MASSES, so I stowed it all in the fridge. When I wanted to eat, I threw a helping into a small frying pan with olive oil and heated it up. It went into a bowl and got topped with sliced avocado and hummus. If you want to go Mexican flavors, add salsa. If you’re feeling Asian, throw some kimchi on it. It sounds revolting but it’s DELICIOUS. And pretty healthy too. I’m trying to cram in loads of veg right now–all the immune support we can get from every direction.

*The Fountain Bookstore and The Ripped Bodice are offering grab bags for sale–check your favorite indie and see if they are too! It’s a great way to support a small business and get a surprise in the post. (Many bookstores are doing online chats as well, so have a look and see if there are ways your favorite shop is building community right now.)

*Reader Kathryn recommends Stardew Valley for a farming game.

*Struggling to keep moving in quarantine? The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, has you covered. We first heard of Joe when we were in England a few years ago and he was just beginning to break out as a huge fitness expert. He’s an engaging, kind soul and we’ve very much enjoyed his content–videos, books, tutorials. He gives away a lot of freebies including some Instagram cooking shorts that are hilarious but very easy to follow. Since the virus hit Britain, he’s seen his revenue explode as homebound folks are signing up for his fitness plans; because he’s a quality human, he’s donating that money to the NHS to help fight the pandemic.

 

New entries: Kathryn, Frederick, Carol.

 

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It’s properly Friday, it is

It’s tricky to keep track of the days just because things are so much at sixes and sevens right now, but I’m told it’s Friday. (If it’s not, just let me dwell in delusion.)

Here are some links/suggestions to hopefully make your quarantine a little easier:

*Last night I got a DM on Instagram from a reader who is quarantined alone in her apartment and turned to my books for company. That got me thinking about folks who live solo and are feeling particularly isolated right now. I started a Twitter thread just for them. If you’re quarantined alone and missing your friends and family–or if you’d like to drop by and offer them some friendly cheer, here’s the thread.

*Jamie Oliver offering a tutorial on soda bread. If you haven’t baked bread before, soda bread is a great place to start because there’s no faffing about with yeast which is a strange and mysterious entity.

*Looking for a “whole family” activity? Jigsaw puzzles are back! You can work on them together for an evening or just leave one out for anybody to fit a few pieces as they like. My favorites are made by Mudpuppy.

*I haven’t checked out Animal Crossing yet, but lots of folks I follow on Twitter are completely sucked in.

*A fun rabbit hole of houses featured on film and TV. (My favorite will always be the house in “Practical Magic.”

Remember to reply to this on Twitter with your own suggestions and you’ll be entered to win a copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION by March 31.

New entries: Milena, Jessica.

 

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Friday eve

It’s very nearly Friday, and the sun is finally out here. It’s been a gloomy week, so it’s been a bit of a challenge to keep the spirits up. I’ve been countering it with projects–like starting my sourdough and planning the repotting of all my houseplants–but the best cure is just getting myself moving. It’s so easy to just slump on the sofa and BECOME a houseplant. (And honestly, I’ve gotten sucked AGAINST MY WILL into Netflix’s “Tiger King” and, sweet heavenly host, that is just ten foot of weird stuffed in a five foot sack. You’ve got to check it out.)

When I do hunker down to read, I’m wanting comfort reads. Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago on the subject.

And another.

More comfort authors: Laurie Colwin, Elizabeth Peters, M. M. Kaye (suspense novels, not historicals), Mary Stewart (suspense not fantasy), Nancy Mitford, M. F. K. Fisher, Dorothy Whipple, Mariana Dickens, Julia Reed, Sue Grafton, Gladys Mitchell, Sarah Caudwell.

*Hello Glow has recipes for natural skin care and beauty treatments–often with ingredients hanging around in your pantry.

*Round-up of the best places to buy houseplants online.

*Seeds of Change. They sell packaged food in grocery stores but also seeds for planting and the website has recipes and tips.

*Disney has launched a daily Draw With Disney feature where you can learn drawing techniques from animators.

*Incredibly soothing YouTube Channel of Liziqi as she goes about her daily farm chores. Peaceful music and ambient sounds included.

*Reader Sarah has been enjoying this livestream of Decorah eagles.

*Want to play a favorite card game but forgotten the rules? Pagat can help.

Remember to add your own suggestions/links to the tweet for this post and you’ll be entered to win a copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION by March 31. New entries: Jen, Sara, @ravenann87

There have been innumerable layoffs and times are uncertain for a lot of folks. If you have an extra buck or two, these organizations are doing their best to help:

*School closures mean that lots of kids are going without their biggest meal of the day. If you can help, No Kid Hungry is in need of donations to tackle this.

*Doctors Without Borders is on the frontline of the pandemic and another great cause if you have money to spare right now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday round-up

Are you taking care of yourselves? I hope so. One of my favorite tools for self-care is @tinycarebot on Twitter. It posts gentle reminders to drink water, eat nourishing food, take a deep breath.

*A delightful surprise this week was getting a proper letter in the mail from a dear friend. It has been so long since most of us have received mail for its own sake, hasn’t it? We still get holiday cards and wedding invitations, but how often do we get a chatty note? Dig out your notecards and a pen and write one. Even a postcard will do. (My pal very sweetly noted on the back of the flap “I didn’t lick this” which was both funny and reassuring.)

*Don’t forget your fruit. Eat that citrus fruit you’ve got hanging out in the fridge. It’s good for your immune system and when you’re done, drop the peel into some water to simmer with a little cinnamon. The moisture is good for your sinuses and throat–dry passages are more susceptible to infection, I’ve been told. And citrus is always an uplifting scent. Cinnamon is consoling.

*Make a note of the upcoming Hulu series “The Great” debuting in May. If you enjoyed “The Favourite”, this was done by the same writer and also features Nicholas Hoult. It stars Elle Fanning as a young Catherine on her way to becoming The Great. It looks wickedly funny.

*Have you checked on your houseplants? Mine are in dire shape. All need repotting and it’s weird to order pots and soil through the mail, but I’ve done it. Plants are great for cleaning the air–another support for your immune system–and the greenery is cheering. Since fresh soil is a little tricky to come by, I’m also feeding the older containers with spent tea leaves. (We don’t compost, but this might be a grand time to start.)

*Want to solve a mystery? Reader Haley recommended the Nancy Drew games.

*Always longed to knit but don’t know how? Reader Erin says Mason Dixon Knitting is the way to go.

*Are you remembering to move? It’s easy to get stuck in your office chair, especially if you don’t have coworkers coming by or a lunch break to take. @iamwellandgood on Instagram posted a great bodyweight workout graphic to keep you moving around while you’re working from home. It lists one exercise to do for 60 seconds at the top of each hour. Give them a follow on IG for more health and wellness tips.

*Reader Ella says Future Learn is a great resource for online classes–she’s taking one on Jane Austen and recommends one on the history of royal fashion as well.

Remember to add your suggestions or links to the tweet for this post and get entered to win a signed copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION by March 31. New entries: Haley, Jen, Erin.

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It’s Tuesday, right?

Keeping busy and sane during quarantine is not a sprint, y’all. It’s a marathon. Take it day by day, hour by hour if you need. There will be white-knuckle moments and times where you are able to block it all out for a short while and make some new kind of normal. Embrace those. I’ve seen the hurricane analogy several times and it feels apt. If you’re not coastal, you’re probably not familiar with the waiting. You know something bad is coming; you make preparations, and then there is the stillness between where the bad thing hasn’t reached you yet. That’s when you start to doubt if it’s really coming. You bargain. You obsessively refresh news feeds. You make bleak jokes. There’s a heightened sense of reality to it all. It’s difficult to make art; it’s hard to breathe. And the worst part is listening to the people who haven’t prepared at all and think you’re being hysterical for taking precautions at all. Their flippant remarks and glib jokes won’t age well.

In the meantime, do what you can to carve out those times of contentment. Store them up like a squirrel hoarding nuts, y’all. You’re going to be glad you did.

Suggestions and links:

*Coloring page subscription at Rad & Happy. Great if you have young ones at home or if you hopped on the trend a few years back for adult coloring books. Sometimes creating your own art feels too demanding. It’s okay to take the easy way.

*Having trouble getting fresh fruits and vegetables? I just got my first box from Misfits Market, a subscription service that delivers organic produce to your door at about 40% off of retail. They claim to be offering the misshapen rejects, but there wasn’t a single item in my box that didn’t look like it had just come from Whole Foods. Highly recommended.

*Acorn TV. I know I flog them a lot, but they’ve got great British programming, including the new Miss Fisher movie that just dropped this week. You can try them free for a week.

*Speaking of free trials, several streaming platforms are offering them right now. Smithsonian +, Showtime, CBS All Access. A good time to check out some platforms you’ve been thinking about.

*Reader Emily recommended a simple set of jumbo pick-up sticks to play with the kids. (I’d add Jenga to the list.)

*Reader Elizabeth suggested YouTube for Secrets of the Museum featuring the Victoria & Albert as well as historian Helen Castor’s documentary on Lady Jane Grey if you’re a Brit history buff.

*Virtual Jane Austen conference online in just a few days!

Remember to add your suggestions and links to the tweet for this post and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION. (Ends March 31.)

New entry: Elizabeth

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Good morning, my dears.

Morning? Afternoon? It’s easy to lose track. That’s the joy of working from home and also the challenge. Some mornings you crack on and get through your entire to-do list by noon, and other days you look up and realize it’s 3pm and you’re still in your pj’s with a breakfast dish on your lap. C’est la vie, non?

After today, I have five days left in quarantine and then I can venture out–with extreme precautions and for essentials only. We’ve left the house twice this week, once to go on a walking trail and once to meander around the campus at William & Mary. We maintained social distance, but it’s disheartening to see from a distance the people who just won’t. (And we’re not even going to talk about the local restaurant with the signs on the curb begging people to dine in. I will boycott them FOREVER for continuing to put people at risk instead of just offering delivery and carry-out.)

The sourdough starter is starting to feel ALIVE and the smell is kind of pungent, but I dwell in hope that at the end of the process, bread will happen! Also, we’re finishing clearing the April calendar which means canceling dental appointments for routine cleanings. This means being extra diligent about flossing. As Vivian in “Pretty Woman” told us, you shouldn’t neglect your gums.

Link round-up:

*Recommended to me is the Webtoon site and in particular a comic called “Miss Abbott and the Doctor.” I haven’t checked it out yet, but the site looks great for people who love graphic novels/comics.

*Stream your favorite Broadway shows on BroadwayHD.

*Got sewing supplies and skills? Here’s a quick guide to sewing face masks.

*Always wanted to learn to code? Check out the Grasshopper app. It’s basic–possibly written for kids?–which is honestly the best way to learn a new skill if you want to have a bit of fun while you work.

*This is a great time to rediscover board games. We just got Azul, highly recommended by everyone I know who has played it. It’s beautiful, based on Portuguese tiles, and lushly colorful. Tensions flaring in quarantine? Opt for Forbidden Island instead. It’s a team-building game where the players work together to beat the game itself. (If you enjoy those, each has spin-off games as well.)

*Trying to prop your “can do” and “make do and mend” spirit? Check out YouTube for “Victorian Farm” or “Tudor Monastery Farm.” They are living history projects where folks spend MONTHS living as our ancestors did and they’ll put a lot of our current challenges about adapting to shortages or procuring goods into stark perspective.

Remember to add your own links and suggestions to the tweet and get entered to win a signed copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION by March 31. Today’s addition to the giveaway list: Ella.

 

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Rounding up links

Happy Sunday, my dears. I hope you are well. Today we’re talking mostly physical wellness–food and movement. If you’re new to staying home most of the time, you might struggle a bit with how confining it can feel. This is why fresh air and sunshine are important, even in small doses. I have a pal who is taking laps around the deserted office park next to her apartment building because that’s the only available outdoor space. (Regular parks and playgrounds are off-limits in most locales.)

We are lucky enough to have a big yard and fairly decent weather this week, but I know some of y’all are stuck indoors because of weather or lack of private outdoor space. This is where movement can help a lot. Dance to a favorite playlist–disco, ska, whatever. Download a fitness app. Dig out your Zumba DVDs and then search “Zumba” on YouTube when you remember you don’t have a DVD player anymore. Pull out some apples and learn to juggle. Dust off your handweights and start lifting. (Don’t have weights? Canned goods and small children make great substitutes.) If all else fails, wash your sheets. Wrestling with a fitted sheet totally counts as a workout.

Tips and faves:

*Maria Dahvana Headley is a fabulous writer and thoroughly glamorous human who has a really delectable Twitter thread on pantry cooking. She’s adding to it each day and explaining how to use up various bits and bobs you might have lying around. (This counts as wellness but it’s also a good way to sharpen your skills and pass some time.)

*Down Dog Yoga. A fantastic free app that has recently branched out into Down Dog for Beginners, a barre workout, and 7-minute HIIT version. A perfect way to ease into a yoga practice that’s customized to you. Available for iPhone and Android.

*Sourdough Starter. Instructions from King Arthur Flour on how to begin your own sourdough starter from scratch. All it requires is whole wheat or rye flour and some all-purpose flour combined with water. It’s left lightly covered so that the dough can capture yeast just floating around in the air. A science experiment you can eat.

Once you’ve moved and fed yourself, you might need some entertainment. Here you go:

*My publisher–Penguin–created the hashtag #booksconnectus for authors and readers to share book recs over social media platforms. A great chance to see what others are reading and get suggestions to try something new or rediscover old faves.

*Several people have recommended “The Brokenwood Mysteries” to me saying it’s like “Midsomer Murders” but in New Zealand. Sold!

Remember to add to the Twitter post about this with your own suggestions of activities, sites, apps, etc. to be entered to win a signed copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION by March 31.

(Added to giveaway entries are Suzy Q, Pam Koury, Alanna Vernon.)

 

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Passing the time

Today’s quarantine round-up:

*Series to binge–Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Charming 1920s Australian series with a flamboyant heroine you will adore. (There is a 1960s reboot featuring Phryne Fisher’s niece. Very mod!) On Acorn. This is a great time to try a week’s free trial membership at Acorn and binge a few other things while you’re at it.

*Easy pantry recipe with just eggs and some bits of veg lying around.

*The India Hicks Podcast. That’s the Libsyn link but you can also just search “India Hicks” on your favorite podcast provider’s site. India is the daughter of Lady Pamela Mountbatten, first cousin to Prince Philip and former lady-in-waiting to the queen, and the podcast features a series of interviews with the 90-year-old aristocrat reminiscing about the incredible adventures she’s had.

*Twitter personality to follow: Samuel West. The English actor with the mellifluous voice is tweeting links to his SoundCloud poetry readings. He’s even taking requests!

*You can still catch the cherry blossoms thanks to the bloom cam!

*App to download: Marco Polo. Send brief video messages to friends and family to check in during the quarantine, lift someone’s spirits, start a progressive story or film project.

Remember to respond to the tweet I post for each day’s links with your own recs and get entered to win a copy of A MURDEROUS RELATION now through March 31. New entrants: @susanmasf, Karen Hinojosa,, Liv Lowe, Corrine Gunning, LV Robin, Emily Watts, @ludditeparent, Kathryn Wasinger, @jupiter_power95, Amy, Margaret Pinard. (I’m entering all of you whether I’m able to use your suggestions or not, and some suggestions are being saved for later posts. Thanks for the tips, y’all!)

 

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