4 Cheap Activities to Keep Kids Busy

When you’re working, keeping the kids busy is important. Yet you also want to make sure that they’re doing enriching activities that help them learn, foster their creativity and/or help them bond with their siblings.

It can be a hard balance to strike, and giving them the TV remote or a game controller can seem pretty appealing. But trust me, there are solutions to this problem! Here are some simple, inexpensive ways to keep the little ones entertained while you work.

1. Tangrams

Tangrams are old Chinese puzzle sets where you must create different shapes and designs using the seven pieces given. There are thousands upon thousands of different things you can do with tangrams, and can serve as a great tool for learning math.

2. Educational sites

From school-approved websites like Khan Academy, CoolMathGames and Funbrain to kid-friendly gaming sites like Poptropica and Webkinz, there are plenty of safe places online for kids to learn and play. Although most parents wouldn’t want their kids spending the entire day online, these sites will keep them busy while you wrap up all your meetings.

3. Creating paper dolls

Creating paper dolls was my obsession as a child. Designing them on a sheet of notebook paper, coloring them in, then carefully cutting them out was such a fun process! I’d create whole families with ages and names written on the back, and I’d design new clothes with tabs when I wanted to change their outfits.

Encourage your kids (even the older, middle school-aged ones) to really tap into their creativity and build a community of paper dolls – perhaps even with cardboard box houses! It’s a fun time-killer, and your kids will have new toys to play with that didn’t cost a thing.

4. Card games

Perhaps this is my inner geek speaking, but I’m always a sucker for a good card game. Whether it’s a fantasy strategy game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, or regular card games played on fun or educational decks, I could spend hours playing cards. Strategy card games offer thousands of cards for kids to choose from, and sitting down for a game or two promotes logic and critical thinking, as well as gives siblings quality time together!

Hope these tips help! And remember that it’s Mental Health Awareness Month; don’t forget to take some time just for yourself to relax and recharge!

Does Journaling Help with Isolation?

It’s no secret that expressing your feelings in writing is a great way to relieve stress while still maintaining your privacy. Journals are where you store your memories, secrets and feelings, knowing that you’ll suffer no judgment from the pages.

If you’re considering taking up journaling to help cope with the stress of COVID-19 and self-quarantining, good for you! There are many ways to go about it, and at the end of this you’ll have a record of your time in isolation – or even some inspiration for your next blog post or creative piece!

Don’t put rules on yourself

It’s your journal. This means that you can do whatever you want with it. Write down good memories, record bad events, scribble down some poems, whatever! Journals are private, which means the only person you have to satisfy is you.

And even then, you don’t always need to be happy with the results. If you’re anything like me, you want everything to come out perfect on the first try. This doesn’t need to be the case with journaling! It’s self-expression first and foremost, so getting out feelings and memories is the main priority. You’ll feel more and more satisfied with your entries if you just aim for clearing the clutter in your mind instead of publish-worthy pieces of writing.

Don’t feel pressured to share

I said it once in the previous section and I’ll say it again: it’s YOUR journal. Yours and no one else’s. You don’t need to share with anyone what you’re writing, no matter who asks. A journal is private – it acts as a window to your mind, and whether you choose to let others read it, share it through a blog or keep it locked and hidden under your bed is your choice.

If you especially value your privacy, writing at night is ideal. Everyone will be asleep or busy prepping for bed, and the events of the day will still be fresh in your mind.

Get a journal with pre-written sections

I’ve done this! There are plenty of books out there that ask questions and offer prompts to get the journaling juices flowing. These books typically have you write down the basics (date of birth, family tree, etc.), and then ask more in-depth questions that cover the span of your life (first love, college major, wedding day, birth of grandkids…). These books are meant to be kept for a lifetime, updated frequently and acting as a record for your life when you’re gone.

Even if you start another journal as time goes on, journals with pre-written sections are great for those new to the practice.

Stay safe, and keep writing! And thanks to Bustle for some of the tips!

3 Must-Listen Podcasts for Your Inner Writer

Podcasts are perfect background noise. You can listen to them while you’re eating, cleaning, working or exercising. Their flexibility gives you the ability to learn wherever and whenever.

But finding the right podcast for you can be hard! How do you know that the material will interest you? And what about having to sift through dozens of podcasts on the same subject?

Lucky for you I’ve narrowed it down a bit! Being a fiction writer, I always value a podcast that promotes creativity or gives one the tools to put out the best work possible. Here are a few I’ve found to be really useful.

Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty, Inc.

Though this doesn’t focus too much on the creative aspect of writing, having proper grammar and an excellent grasp of the English language are absolute necessities for writers, poets and playwrights. Episode topics range from semicolons to the history of the ‘XOXO’ abbreviation. I subscribed not too long ago, and I’ve been loving it!

The Good Place: The Podcast by NBC Entertainment

Hosted by the actor who plays Shawn the demon, this podcast provides behind-the-scenes insights on the creating of NBC’s hit sitcom “The Good Place”. The show’s been a personal favorite of mine for years, and the podcast will fascinate anyone who loved the show, who is interested in the process of making a TV show, or who wants some sweet writing tips. Everyone from actors to writers to Mike Schur, show creator himself, was interviewed.

Writing Excuses by Dragonsteel Entertainment

This podcast focuses on the novel-writing experience, and has been going strong for 15 seasons. Common episode topics include chapter creation, worldbuilding, author branding and picking your literary agent. The hosts also delve deep into fan-proposed writing questions; you’re sure to have many of your writing questions answered!

Good luck, and never stop writing!

3 Conference Alternatives That Aren’t Zoom

Zoom has become the go-to chat program, but with the site becoming the subject of recent ‘Zoom bombing’ controversies, some are now wary to use it. And with Skype and FaceTime trailing not too far behind in terms of usage, there are people jonesing for a safe alternative with less traffic. Here are a few alternatives you can use to communicate with co-workers, students, family and friends.

BlueJeans

BlueJeans is a conference software that’s great for schools and businesses. Depending on your plan, it can handle up to 100 participants and has subscriptions starting at $9.99 per month. Presenters can share their screen with ease, and people can mute their audio and video like many other conference programs. As someone who’s used it already for digital lectures, I can say that it works great!

Google Duo

If you’re an Android user who wants to chat with iOS users – or vice versa – Google Duo is a great neutral alternative to some of the more popular programs. Since it’s linked to your Google account, you’re automatically given access to Duo the second you set up a Gmail. All you have to do is log in, go to the Duo website/app, connect your cell number, and you’re good too go!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Credit – Nintendo
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62712014

Just hear me out! With all the network features in the game, people have been hosting all sorts of events on the platform for weeks now. From birthday parties to dates to even weddings, Animal Crossing has become a very popular social platform. And if you’re not in the mood to see anyone, it’s still a great game (and quite the time suck, if we’re being honest) to play.

Stay connected and stay sane!

4 Productive Pastimes

Looking for a fun hobby that isn’t Netflix or YouTube? Look no further! As a mild workaholic who is always looking for ways to fill up the day, I have found more than a few hobbies that are both fun and great for the mind.

Origami

This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “productive pastime”, but origami is excellent brain exercise! A Psychology Today article writes that origami is a good way to practice calmness and let go of perfectionism and harsh self-judgments. In addition, kids that practice origami have been found to have above-average spatial visualization and math skills. On top of it, you have a pretty, finished paper decoration that you can display in a shadow box or give to the young ones to play with.

Online classes

Sites like Udemy and MasterClass are great ways for adults to learn. These platforms have classes covering everything from cooking to digital marketing to interior design. The instructors on these sites are experienced in their field and offer high-quality content. Need to learn more about copywriting? You can find courses by former Wall Street Journal writers or tutors from Cambridge University. Need to learn more about the film and TV industry? Huge names like Martin Scorsese and Jodie Foster have lectures available.

If there were something you wanted to learn or a skill you wanted to perfect, now’s the time to do it!

Creative projects

Whether it’s writing poetry, composing music, drawing, jewelry making or something else, now is the perfect time to get your creative juices flowing.

And if you don’t think you’re a creative person, think again! We all have a creative streak in us, and now is the perfect time to find it. Outdoor walks, reading books and appreciating art online are some ways to find inspiration and

Sudoku

Sudoku was an addition of mine in middle school, and I’m excited to be picking it up again. Just like crosswords and other written puzzles, sudoku is both fun and productive. LifeHack.org points out that solving sudoku puzzles exercises your memory, your concentration and even reduces your chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

So get to writing, get to learning, get to puzzling and get to folding!

When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

When you’re home all day, it can be very easy to let the stress get to you. Your workload is all over the place, your schedule has been turned on its head – and on top of it you can’t go anywhere!

So what do you do when you’re one conference call away from snapping? As someone who’s been working remotely for some years now, here are some tricks I’ve found to prove helpful.

Take a long shower or bath

This one might sound simple, but it really does do wonders! Take some time to fill the tub with warm water and bubbles, listen some music and be sure to have a plate of chocolates nearby. Even if it’s just ten or fifteen minutes, your mind will thank you for choosing to prioritize relaxation for once.

And if you have little ones around the house, you might want to save the bath for early in the morning or late at night, when everyone is in bed and you don’t have to worry about work just yet.

Give yourself a makeover

Sometimes a bit of change is all we need. With everyone home it’s easy to let your appearance go. You shouldn’t do that! If you’re able to make the time for it, give yourself a new hairstyle, dye your hair or shave if you haven’t in some time. Resuming a simple bit of grooming that you neglected after the quarantines can help you feel refreshed.

Call out sick

If you’re able to, taking a day off for mental health purposes is just as valid as taking a day off for physical sickness. Even if you’re working from home, you can still feel overwhelmed by your workload, which has undoubtedly been aggravated by the changes that the virus has brought on.

A single day of sleeping in, snacking while watching Netflix and texting friends can do wonders for your state of mind.

Have something playing as you work

Working in silence can be very weird. The background noise that your co-workers’ voices, the phones and vending machines provided are all gone, and you might be left working in total quiet.

The best cure for this problem is to make your own background noise. That can be music, podcasts, TV shows, or even a movie. Having some sound going will help you feel less alone, and keep your mind from wandering into stressful directions.

Yoga/exercise/meditation/prayer

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are plenty of YouTube channels out there that give exercise and yoga tutorials. Taking some time to stretch your body, clear your mind and focus on you is a great stress reducer, and allows you to begin or end your day with a healthy, optimistic mindset.

Taking a few minutes to sit and meditate can help as well. Sitting on your bed and praying, or choosing to begin the day with the intention of being calm can help you deal with the day’s stress in a more relaxed fashion. Sometimes all you need to do is tell yourself to not sweat the small stuff.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane!

Quick, Filling Meals for Busy Days

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you aren’t busy! And as with any job, some days your completely swamped, and you just want a meal that’s quick, easy to make and still filling. Here are four easy recipes from Tasty.co that take less than half an hour to make and use three to seven ingredients!

Zucchini noodles

This vegan dish takes about ten minutes to make, and only uses seven simple ingredients. All you need is a zucchini, peanut butter, sriracha, lime juice, green onions, salt and water – and of course you can add or take away ingredients as needed. Making the noodles is simple: just use a veggie peeler to cut the zucchini into ribbons. The peanut butter, sriracha, lime juice and water come together to form a spicy peanut sauce, and the onions and salt are added last.

BBQ Chicken Tenders

These tenders only use three ingredients! A chicken breast, some seasoned bread crumbs and barbecue sauce are all that’s required. The chicken breast needs to be baked for fifteen minutes after being coated in sauce and bread crumbs, and then again for 10 minutes after the second coating of sauce.

Teriyaki chicken

Another three-ingredient recipe, this dish only needs chicken thighs, soy sauce and brown sugar. The chicken needs to be seared in a pan before the sugar and sauce are added, and then you just have to stir until the mix has boiled, reduced and coated the chicken. Goes great with buttered noodles or veggies!

Chili-glazed salmon

This meal only needs a few fillets of salmon, chili sauce and scallions. Take a minute to cover the salmon in the sauce and scallions, then bake for twelve to fifteen minutes. You can even make some garlic bread or rice while the fish bakes!

Thanks again to Tasty.co for the recipes! Be sure to visit their site for easy-to-follow videos on how to make each of these dishes.

Ways to Work Out Without a Home Gym

If you have the equipment at home already – great! Frequent exercise is important now more than ever, with everyone still at home. Not moving around enough can lead to serious health problems – and exercise is especially important for teens and growing kids, who are missing out on their daily gym class and sports practices.

But in case your family doesn’t have a Peloton at home, here are some ways you and your loved ones can keep in shape without leaving the house.

Exercise videos on YouTube

There are countless channels on YouTube where gyms and independent instructors share their expertise with viewers. They guide you through each exercise, oftentimes giving words of encouragement as you follow along. These videos can be anything from warm-up yoga routines to specialized workouts meant to strengthen a particular group of muscles.

And if you have kids home from school, there are even channels aimed at kids! Fellow kids and teens have their own channels where they guide viewers through age-appropriate exercise routines so that kids don’t miss a day of gym class.

Five-minute exercises

It’s suggested that office workers move around once every hour for their health. This is important to your overall health, as it helps prevent clotting and heart disease. It doesn’t even have to be a full workout; a few minutes of exercise throughout the day makes a huge difference.

These simple, quick exercises can be anything from desk push-ups to using a pair of small dumbbells to doing a set of sit-ups, squats or arm pulses. And of course, there are more comprehensive lists on the Washington Post and other sites.

Living room sports

If you have little ones around the room, a game of soccer or baseball with furniture-safe fabric balls is another way to get everyone moving. It’s a great way to get everyone moving and hungry for dinner as well, and helps keep your family from getting bored during the quarantines!

Exercise video games

Game systems such as the Wii and system accessories such as the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect are all great ways to get moving in your living room. From dancing games like the “Just Dance” series to the wide collection of sports simulation games out there, you’ll be able to find a game that gives you and your loved ones a tolerable family workout.

Bonus tip: if you still have your old Dance Dance Revolution mat for your PlayStation 2, you can also use that as a controller for any PS2 game!

4 Must-Have Accessories for Your Home Office

When you started working from home, chances are you just set up shop wherever and got to work. Now that you’ve been working from home for a while, you’re probably still struggling to accept this as the new normal. If that’s the case, one surefire way to get more comfortable with your work sitch is to make your home office feel more like, well, an office! Here are a few must-have accessories to get you started.

A Laptop Stand

A laptop stand is an absolute necessity for remote work! Despite the name, keeping your laptop in your lap all day is guaranteed to give you a sore neck. And putting a pillow on your lap might help for a while, but not for eight-hour days, five days a week.

Laptop stands, whether ordered online or made from stacks of books, will keep your computer at eye level and save you the discomfort of having a stiff neck for 1/3 of the day.

Back Pillows

You likely don’t have a fancy, fully-furnished home office; you’re just making do with what you have. And I’m willing to bet that your back is already bothering you from your awkward sitting positions and makeshift desks.

That’s where back pillows come in. They can be throw pillows from your living room, pillows from your bed or even a rolled-up blanket. They might not replace your ergonomically-designed desk chair from your office, but it’ll give you a bit of support and help with the slouch you’ve likely developed.

A wireless Mouse, Keyboard and Mousepad

These accessories just help with productivity. You’ll get more done faster if you use a mouse instead of a touchpad, and a wireless keyboard will definitely be easier on your wrists if you have your laptop on a stand. And if you’re working on a plastic-covered dining room table or gritty kitchen counter, chances are your mouse isn’t gliding that smoothly – that’s were the mousepad comes in.

Not only will these accessories make you 100x more productive and comfortable, but they’ll help you begin to truly see your makeshift desk as a real home office instead of a temporary workspace. That shift in mindset is crucial to keeping the remote work stir craziness at bay.

A Small Plant

No, I’m not joking. A small plant – whether it’s a succulent, a cactus or one of those tillandsia air plants – will make your home office feel more like a real office. And the pop of color will help, too!

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a plant. You could have a pencil mug your kids painted, a photo of your parents, or you could even go the Michael Scott route and have toys! The point is that your workspace has some decorations to give it life and personality.

Good luck, and stay healthy!

The Perks of Isolation

With so many people cursing social distancing and doing their best to keep the stir craziness away, it’s easy to see the COVID-19 lockdowns as a negative. But there are some upsides to being home all day!

More Family Time

If you’re like me, you’re a workaholic! Many of us are juggling school, work and side hustles, and unfortunately family time falls by the wayside. Now with everyone home, you can take the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones.

Board games, movie nights and talks over dinners are just some ways you can reconnected with relatives you haven’t had a chance to really talk to lately. If you have withdrawn family members who are particularly hard to get through to, fun party games like “Would You Rather?” or relaxing spa days might be what gets them to open up. Mix it up and see what everyone likes! You have the time, after all.

More Time to Think

While a lot of us might be isolating with partners, some of us are isolating away from our significant others. By not seeing your partner anymore, you can analyze your relationship from a distance and see if it’s going in the direction you’d like. If it is, you can make plans to help move the relationship forward; if not, you can start working toward fixing the problem, or just step away altogether.

A lot of people – especially introverts – communicate better over text and over the phone, so with everyone forced to forgo face-to-face contact, you can tell your partner how you’re really feeling while still keeping a comfortable distance.

The same goes for friendships and relatives! You won’t get a better time to cut off toxic friends, reach out to cousins you haven’t seen in some time, or finally send that friend request to your high school buddy. If there are people you don’t want in your life any more, or people you want to add to your life, now’s the perfect time to make some changes.

More Time to Be Creative/Learn a Skill

You know that book you were planning on writing? Or that language you were planning on learning? Now that you don’t have commutes to work or date nights anymore, now’s the perfect time to start those projects! This might take some scheduling if you have kids to homeschool or relatives to look after, but if you really want to make the most of your quarantine, then take time to pursue those side projects. You’ll be thanking yourself once you have the finished product.