Favorite Quarantine Quintessentials: What Can’t You Live Without?

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are sure things in that they’re universal and unlikely to go away anytime soon. But can you say the same about your favorite things?

For some, spring 2020 will go down as the season of cleaning out closets and paring everything down to the essentials. But as we spend more time at home, there’s something to be said for learning how to appreciate what we already have.

After all, we don’t really collect stuff just to shove it into closets or under the bed. It’s meant to enhance our lives and, ultimately, deepen our connections to others. So a few of our friends are going to share the quirky, random and invaluable things that are helping them through an indisputably hard time.

Our Range

Saul Montiel, executive chef of Cantina Rooftop in New York City

Cooking with my daughters brings me back to my childhood. I remember always being in the kitchen with my mom. She used to make me try many different dishes. This is one of my favorite memories, and I realized how I haven’t had time yet to create this with my daughters. Working as a chef, basically we have to be at work all the time, and we don’t have much time to spend with our families. Now, with this time off, I am cooking with my two daughters, Ella and Elena. The upside is getting to know them more: I know their favorite cartoons now and their favorite songs, I try to make cooking as fun as I can, even though they do get a little scared when I turn on the heat. When we cook together, they eat the food with less complaining. I guess they appreciate the food more when they have to help me, and it’s worth the mess and the occasional back-and-forth bickering.

A Ladder

Tamyra Gray, actress and American Idol finalist 

I’ve been doing a lot of home improvement projects, and our ladder is getting a lot of love. My daughter was missing going to the bookstore, so I decided to make a book nook in the loft area above our kitchen. The only way to get there? Up the ladder.

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Aliya LeeKong

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Deliveries (Including Sweet Surprises)

Aliya LeeKong, chef and author, Exotic Table: Flavors, Inspiration, and Recipes From Around the World — to Your Kitchen

Of course, we cherish our Zoom and FaceTime connections, but what I’ve found extra special is the deliveries and surprises they inspire. I’ll “meet” my friends for a virtual get-together after my daughter is asleep, and then a few days later, a package with something I mentioned, like an ingredient, will land on my doorstep. It’s the little things that make a big difference.

My Keyboard

Paulina Chávez, star of Expanding the Universe of Ashley Garcia on Netflix

Music is a HUGE part of what’s keeping me sane. I have a keyboard that I never really used and decided to learn a couple songs. I labeled the keys with sticky notes so I wouldn’t be so lost! At first, they kept falling off, but I finally got some masking tape to keep them in the correct place — LOL — I think it’s going great! There is obviously room for improvement, but I’m learning as I go and just experimenting with music. I’m also practicing the ukulele, guitar and trying to refresh on the violin.

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Paulina Chávez

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My Laptop 

Anthony Carrino, HGTV Host 

My Chief Architect design software, and the planning of my next project, is keeping me sane. When I can get down a “design rabbit hole,” it will be hours before I climb back out, and that is just what I need right now!

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Sneakers

Erin Carlson, author, I’ll Have What She’s Having

I avoid cabin fever … by taking leisurely strolls around my neighborhood and the parks beyond. Now that I can’t go to the gym, I find that getting outdoors on a daily basis — which involves hiking up hills and through the forest — is just as challenging as a Barry’s Bootcamp workout.

My Guitar

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, best-selling author, Pop Star Goddesses

Honestly what’s keeping me on track is that I’ve been posting daily videos of myself playing pop covers on guitar. Truly no one asked for this, and they are very amateur. But it brings me joy even on the darkest days — and, more importantly, gets me to shower, get dressed and put on makeup. And I’ve gotten feedback that indicates that it’s bringing some joy to others’ afternoons at home as well! We’re all sharing and doing what we can.

A Dish Rack

Alisha Marie, Instagram influencer and co-host of the podcast Pretty Basic

The thing that’s really helped me survive quarantine is this new dish rack dryer that I’ve recently invested in. It’s kept me sane with all the dishes we’re using and gives me peace of mind.

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JanLuis Castellanos

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My Drum Set

JanLuis Castellanos, actor, 13 Reasons Why

I noticed I had all these instruments laying around that I never got the chance to play. I set up my drums recently and have been playing almost every day. I’m just waiting on noise complaints from the neighbors at this point.

So, bottom line?

Whether you’ve bought something new, are relying on something you had or discovered something old that’s now become a daily-routine essential, it’s important to take stock of what you have — and make sure your belongings have the right protection. Because home isn’t just where the heart is. It’s where all your stuff is too. And most prized possessions, from Grandma’s fine china to your teenage son’s laptop, are vulnerable to breakage, theft, fire and water damage.

Renters insurance covers your property in case of the unexpected. Make sure you get a policy that protects what matters most to you — from dish rack to drum set — and check with an expert, such as a local insurance agent, if you have questions about your limits or coverages. Then enjoy peace of mind knowing that if something were to happen, renters insurance can help you replace the essentials that keep you going through the tough times.

Roommate Revolution? It’s About Way More Than Money

Splitting bills is appealing. But quarantine has taught us that living with roommates can bring a lot of nonmaterial benefits, including a powerful guard against loneliness. And living with roommates into your late 20s and beyond is no longer something that raises eyebrows. According to Zillow, the majority of 23-year-olds in 1980 lived independently, without family or roommates. But in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the average age of living solo crept up to 26. And there are growing numbers of thirtysomethings and older — both single and coupled — who find that renting an apartment with roommates makes sense, financially and emotionally.

Alexis Isaacs and her roommate, Kendra, both 31, have been living together for six years. Originally from Chicago, both women decided to share an apartment when they moved to New York at age 25. Now, even though both have successful careers, they have no intention of moving out on their own. “The only way we would stop living together is if one of us got serious with a boyfriend,” Isaacs says. “But we have been talking about moving to a different place together within the next year.” 

Isaacs adds that the recent quarantine has only made them closer. “I’ve been to other people’s apartments where no one really uses the living room, since they don’t feel it’s their space. It’s never been that way for us,” Kendra says, adding that they both love the security that comes from living with someone else.

People assume it’s a financial thing, but for me, it’s more lifestyle. I like living with people.

Sid Gupta, a developer in Southern California

While finding a place of your own used to be a rite of passage, shouldering rent alone has led to people across age groups seeking roommates, notes Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest, an app that pairs boomers and beyond with roommates. Last summer, Silvernest was involved in a pilot program placing Teach For America members in the Denver area in intergenerational roommate pairings — defined as a difference of 30 years or more. The results were positive, says Burkhardt, and she imagines that the recent pandemic will lead to more such pairings, as well as more people living in “doubled-up households” (which is how the Census Bureau describes roommate relationships). As of 2016, Zillow research found that 30 percent of people nationwide live with roommates, up from 21 percent in 2005. 

“Accepting roommates at any age can give people more financial freedom,” notes Burkhardt. But it also offers an opportunity for socialization and connection that people recognize is a key element in their lives, she adds, and a way to better connect with your community.

Sid Gupta, a developer in his mid-30s who lives in Southern California, made the decision to rent a four-bedroom apartment with several roommates after a bad breakup. “I never liked living alone, and even though I could afford to live by myself, I didn’t see the upside of it,” he says. “I work pretty intense hours, and I like having people to talk to and connect with when I am home.” For Gupta, one advantage of finding roommates is being able to live with a dog without having to take the responsibility of dog ownership. Another has been introductions to his roommates’ social circles. 

“I think everyone is different, and I was up front with the fact I wanted to be friends with the people I lived with,” says Gupta. “I think sometimes people assume it’s a financial thing, but for me, it’s more lifestyle. I like living with people.”

Burkhardt says she hears this more and more from people who use the Silvernest app. “We have such a culture of individualism, but I think people are realizing that they can live with a roommate and not lose themselves.” Still, Burkhardt notes that setting clear intentions and boundaries is key.

Isaacs agrees. “We split bills down the middle and take turns buying household items. We’re also considerate. We’ll have meetings together pretty regularly. If it’s getting messy, we’ll talk through how to handle it so it doesn’t become an issue.” 

Bottom line: Roommate relationships are what you make of them, and doubling up can be a smart way to save money and live a more well-rounded life. But, as Burkhardt cautions, “finding ‘the one’ can be a little like dating.” Know what you’re looking for, whether it’s a friend or simply someone to share the bills. Know your triggers, whether it’s a messy kitchen or a roommate who brings guests home at all hours. But once you find someone you click with, there’s no reason not to keep a good thing going.

Useful links: Renters insurance helps keep you and your belongings protected at home. Be sure to decide whether you and your roommate will share a policy or each have your own policy.

Here’s How to Move Apartments Without an In-Person Tour

Moving to a new apartment rental can be filled with question marks. No matter how well prepared you are, you’re going to wonder what your life will be like. What furniture will you need? What will become your local take-out joint? Who will your neighbors be? And what will be your overall cost of living? 

These answers can become even blurrier if you need to move sight unseen.

Because rent is a huge portion of your paycheck, it’s smart to be thorough. “We’ve always had renters who were willing to move sight unseen, but it’s been such a wild pivot due to recent events,” says Igor Popov, chief economist for Apartment List. “If you had asked me a few months ago if people would adapt to virtual tours, I would say it would take five or 10 years for it to be the norm. Now, it’s necessary.” This means 3D images, real-time virtual tours and comprehensive maintenance logs are what renters now use to assess potential homes.

But those data points don’t tell the whole story. Is the apartment that looks quaint and quiet in the video tour actually facing a highway? Does the lack of an on-site garage mean a parking spot scavenger hunt every day? “There’s a lot you don’t realize is important,” says Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate, an online service based in St. Louis that connects renters with agents. If you’re moving locally, Mizes recommends at least doing a drive-by of the area if possible. That way, you can get a feel for the neighborhood, including a safety assessment.

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Beyond the monthly rent, it’s important to consider other factors. For example, how much are average heating and air conditioning bills? Mizes recommends asking to see copies of bills, if possible. Asking about past maintenance — when was the washer/dryer installed, for example — is also smart. Also ask: Under what circumstances do appliances get upgraded? Is there a possibility that might happen before you move?

The disadvantage of a virtual tour also comes from limiting other sensory input. An apartment could be beautiful, but the scent of your neighbor’s 24/7 cooking could be off-putting. “I moved down to Savannah, Georgia, sight unseen and was really captivated by this romantic carriage-house-style apartment,” says Jenna Scott, 28, a fitness instructor. “What I didn’t know is that the buildings around me were primarily student housing. That meant a lot of late-night parties. My bedroom window also faced a back alley, which I called ‘Breakup Boulevard.’ At least once a weekend, someone would be crying back there because it was the alley that connected the party houses to the street. If I had known that, I probably would have moved elsewhere.”

Dogs barking or sirens blaring can also be problematic. To get a fuller view of what life would really be like, Mizes suggests looking on local Reddit threads and apps like Nextdoor. You may get some anecdotal experiences from people living in the neighborhood you’re considering. Taken with a grain of salt, these experiences can give you a more comprehensive view of the property.

Right now, it’s more of a renter market, so you may have some wiggle room.

Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate

Once you choose a place, Mizes says it’s important to see if you have any wiggle room in the lease. For example, a 30-day opt-out clause allows you to break the lease if the apartment isn’t the right fit. “This is unusual, because it can be risky to a landlord if a tenant moves in and damages the property,” notes Mizes. But it could be possible to ask for a six-month lease, or ask for a rent reduction if you are able to sign for a longer term. “Right now, it’s more of a renter market, so you may have some wiggle room.”

The other issue to be aware of is renter fraud, says Popov. This could be an unauthorized person “listing” an apartment online that isn’t really for rent — or one they don’t have the authority to rent — to try to pocket money from you. It could also be someone not being up-front with information. “I was in Tennessee, moving to a different state for a job,” recalls Kristin Luna, a digital marketing strategist who was 23 at the time. “I saw an ad online that sounded within my price range. The photos looked great, but the actual place was a dump. The advertisement said it was fully furnished, which meant an air mattress with dirty sheets. Never again.” Then, when Luna tried to back out of the short-term lease agreement, the scammer threatened to sue her. 

To avoid this type of scenario, it’s smart to pay attention to details and ask as many questions as necessary. Be wary if there is no background check. Most rentals will do a credit check and ask for certain details, such as proof of employment. It’s also smart to be wary of rentals that ask you to use a third-party platform, like a cash transfer app, for a down payment. You should also make sure you know the address of the property. Googling the address can confirm that the listing truly is an active rental. And listen to your instincts. Feeling pressure and anxiety, or second-guessing the landlord, is a sign it may be best to look elsewhere.

Finally, before you move, make sure to make a plan. Even if renters insurance isn’t mandatory, it’s a smart idea to obtain coverage: You’d be surprised at how much all your stuff costs when you add it all up and you’ll want to make sure it’s protected. Make sure you understand what the policy covers and how to make a claim. Update your address with bill providers, provide a mail forwarding address, and know the contact info of your management company or landlord. Moving can be stressful, but doing your due diligence can mean that the place you fell in love with online is absolutely perfect for you to move in for real.

Three Smart New Climate Change Books That Are Sort of … Hopeful?

When it comes to combating climate change, reading about it seems like a luxury. After all, we see the heartbreaking headlines every day. But books break down the issue and provide perspective in ways that graphs and news reports can’t — and offer up a roadmap from passive panic to emerging action.

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These new climate change books offer readers inspiration and information.

Books can also give you ammo to invite your climate-change-denying acquaintances into a conversation. And may also fuel the motivation your book club needs to finally do more than just talk, gossip and drink until someone spills red wine on the couch. In short, if you love books and love the planet, books covering climate change may not be harbingers of doom — they could be the ray of hope you need. Here, three new smart reads to springboard a discussion on climate change.

Weather by Jenny Offill (2020)

In this novel by the bestselling author of Dept. of Speculation, Offill intrinsically understands the way climate change anxiety seeps into your bones, making it impossible to separate the weather at large from your personal world. Offill’s prose is characteristically fragmented, with plot secondary to the emotional journey of her main characters, but the concept is rooted firmly in our shared reality. The main characters, Lizzie and her husband, tap into global anxiety through podcasts. There are still lunches to make, backpacks to fill, sex to be had. 

The strength of Offill’s book is capturing the uneasy tension all of us exist in: balancing global insecurity with everyday minutiae. It may not provide answers, but it does offer assurance that the anxiety you’re feeling is normal, human and deserving of attention.

Read it With: Your partner, your book club and your therapist as a way to talk about climate change anxiety.

But despite the terror and the urgent message — this is the decade to act — fewer than 20 pages talk apocalypse.

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (2020)

Remember that sense of relief you felt post-Paris Agreement? The future seemed brighter. Your lungs felt clearer. And then, like a dream, it was over. The 2016 elections happened, environmental protection rollbacks occurred, and the entire world literally seemed to be on fire.

This book, written by two architects of the Paris Agreement, doesn’t sugarcoat things. There isn’t an if there’s a climate crisis. There isn’t a when. There’s only the urgent message: We’re in it, and toting a reusable bag and limiting Amazon orders to once a week isn’t enough. 

But despite the terror and the urgent message — this is the decade to act — fewer than 20 pages talk apocalypse. Instead, the authors focus on hope, offering actionable suggestions and confirmation that everyone has a duty to the planet to take all the steps they can — both in personal actions and in the voting booth — to make a difference. It’s a book that makes you think (which is a far more workable action than despairing) and encourages you to finally give the planet the attention it deserves.

Read it With: Your teen family members to both apologize for the world you’ve given them and promise to do better. (Also, share it with your work Slack book club to encourage co-workers to dip their toes into corporate sustainability practices.) 

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Change Deniers by John Cook (2020)

Written by an Australian environmentalist and professor at George Mason University (and founder of award-winning website Skeptical Science), this illustrated picture book for adults (it runs a solid 150+ pages) makes no promise about changing people’s minds. In fact, Cook says, it probably won’t. But Cook believes that understanding the climate deniers point of view can arm you with smart discussion points — and at least help curb the spread of misinformation.

Cartoon illustrations and easy-to-digest facts trace how climate change went from general acceptance in the 1990s to a hot-button issue in the 2010s, as well as explaining how climate denial makes sense, from a psychological perspective. As Cook explains, our brains are built to fear a bear — not a global warming graph. But understanding our psychological quirks and preferences just may be the inroad to getting Uncle Ralph to listen to your POV — or at least stop tweeting those stories linking climate change to secret Democrat operatives to @realdonaldtrump.

Read it With: Uncle Ralph … and your cousins who totally get it.

How to Come Out of Quarantine in a Relationship

If you’re single, dating or at the beginning of something with a potential partner, social distancing can be uniquely frustrating. Yes, self-quarantining is the right choice for these times. Yes, you get to stay home and binge-watch Tiger King. But as you scroll through social media and see couples social distancing together, it’s hard not to feel lonely. And it’s also hard to find the point of firing up a dating app if you know there’s no way you can meet IRL for at least six weeks. 

Two people in masks talking from distance.Couple being divided by incurable infectious disease.Infection control,isolation.Loved one illness.Saying goodbye.Farewell.Toxic relationship.

Dating during coronavirus is possible — you just need to be creative.

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So should you press pause on your dating life, pull your adult toy of choice out of your drawer and hope that your love life picks up in summer? Not at all. Remember, everyone’s in the same boat, facing this scary, uncertain world. In some ways, meeting someone in this vulnerable time — messy apartment on full display in a Zoom chat, existential back-and-forths interspersed with flirty “what drink defines your personality” questions, swapping news story links — breaks down boundaries like nothing else, says Lisa Concepcion, a dating and relationship coach, and founder of Love Quest Dating.

People who are into each other can come out of this strong.

Lisa Concepcion, dating and relationship coach

Also? It’s not as if this is novel — romances have been built on anticipation. “Back before the internet couples wrote love letters to one another during wars! Marriages stayed together and children were born with letters bringing the news. We have video cameras and the internet,” reminds Concepcion. “People who are into each other can come out of this strong.” Here are some tips on how to keep your dating life moving forward — even when the rest of the world feels like it’s on hold. 

Start With Your Social Circle

Melissa Stewart, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles, realized that many of her friends were single — and complaining to her about the slowdown in their dating life. Stewart created a Google form for her single friends to complete about their ideal date, and invited them to share the form with their single friends. Then, she began compiling and comparing the forms, setting up blind dates between participants. So far, some couples have had multiple virtual hangouts, says Stewart. “I think there’s always a little bit of a stigma against asking for set-ups, but now, social distancing had added a novelty component. It’s not embarrassing because people think, well, what else do I have to do? There’s not this feeling that being set up is lame.”

Show Up

Have an invite to a Google hangout karaoke party? A Netflix watch event? A Zoom happy hour glow ball soirée? RSVP yes if it sounds remotely interesting. It’s the same principle as in real-life events — the more you get out there, the more likely you are to meet someone. Yes, it’s easier to hang out solo, but showing up to virtual events will keep your social skills strong.

Cheerful young woman watching movie and laughing

Have an invite to a Google hangout karaoke party? A Netflix watch event? A Zoom happy hour glow ball soirée? RSVP yes if it sounds remotely interesting.

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Another option: Quarantine Together is a new app that introduces singles and encourages virtual meets. Of course, Quarantine Together joins OG dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, but the point is that quarantine is a great time to shake things up. Even if you’re “not an app person,” what do you have to lose but a few minutes? 

That said, if your virtual hangout calendar is overloaded, it’s also OK to turn down invites and take some time to focus on you. “This self-isolation has forced people to look inward” and ask themselves the “bigger questions,” Concepcion says. So if you’re in a romantic situation you’re unsure about, think of this as a time to press pause and assess the situation. “Never make relationship decisions from a place of fear,” reminds Concepcion.

Have a Plan in Place

Going on a “date?” The couch won’t cut it. Have a rough itinerary, whether it’s drinking a glass of wine and chatting for 30 minutes, watching a movie together or playing a board game. Phone sex is also on the table — just make sure you trust the other person isn’t screenshotting or video-recording. Concepcion says the more you bring dating energy to your virtual hangout — dress up, use silverware, sit at the table instead of a sofa — the better it will be for both of you.

You also may want to advance your Tinder timeline, and get someone on FaceTime after just a few texts back and forth. That way, you won’t waste each other’s time or get caught in an endless back-and-forth volley of texts. 

Get Creative

And if you are dating and want to keep the spark alive? Consider sending surprise deliveries and packages to each other. Another option: Start a private Instagram account that only the two of you have the password to and upload pictures each day that remind you of each other. Start and add to a Spotify playlist together (or, if you’re really brave, swap Spotify passwords and see what they listen to in private mode). Send snail mail and add a drop of your signature perfume or cologne to the paper. Read a chapter of a book to each other on the phone. Feeling frisky? Make it an erotica classic. The point: While touch is out, try to use your other senses to increase your connection. 

Work Remotely Without Losing Your Mind

Working from home (herein: WFH) can seem like a dream: Unlimited access to the fridge. No annoying “how was your weekend” back-and-forths when all you want is to use the communal coffee maker. And of course, pants-optional dress code.

But when you’ve been told to work from home –– as many of us have been in efforts to lessen the spread of the coronavirus –– that can be stressful. After all, you had no time to prepare. And the thought of all that time at home (which may involve listening to new annoying sounds –– like your guinea pig squeaking –– or realizing that your neighbors like to roller-skate around their flat) can be anxiety-inducing.

But fear not, new WFH-er. Here are some ways to make it, well, work.

Create a Routine

Fail to plan, plan to fail. It’s a cliche found in management books you now have time to read. If you’re used to commuting, you now may have a few extra hours to yourself each day. How will you use that time? Not panic-reading Twitter. Instead, go for a run, do an online workout (exercise boosts brain action — it’s science!), read a book or prep meals for the day. When you use those hours for yourself, you’ll be ready to dive into work.

Set Up an Office Space … and Have Some Fun in It

You’re going to be spending a lot of time in space that’s not your usual desk. Look at making your at-home desk as comfortable as possible. If you can, find a quiet space –– preferably one with a door –– and a quality chair (lumbar support is a plus!). Once you’ve got the basics covered, make it fun. Decorate your space with stuff that makes you feel good, just like your desk at work: photos, silly trinkets, stress balls. And that includes being creative about what appears behind you in video meetings!

Turn on the Camera for Meetings

Yes, you might need to shower, but since part of COVID-19 prevention is practicing good hygiene, you should be lathering up regularly anyway. If you have a video meeting, make sure your face is seen, and encourage co-workers to do the same. That’s because you likely get more out of a conversation if you have visual and auditory cues. Not only does your brain process the information better, but turning on the camera helps you avoid the temptation to multitask. And you can keep up with Danielle’s ever-changing hairstyles.

Make time to goof off or prep a lunch you’re excited to eat instead of a sad desk salad.

Have a Virtual Coffee Klatch 

All that time spent by yourself might end up making you feel lonely. It’s a common problem amongst remote workers. Proactively finding ways to connect is key. Maybe that’s a 2 p.m. FaceTime hangout with your favorite co-workers. Or setting up some off-topic Slack channels so you can talk Outlander or your new favorite book (I love seeing peeks into my OZY co-worker’s Kindles.). The point: Bringing in these small social interactions into your remote work situation can help you fight loneliness and make you feel part of a team.

Be Upfront About Availability … and Your Challenges

COVID-19 is changing the way we work. You might have to pick up your child, have elder care responsibilities or check in on a housebound neighbor. Maybe you need some time to decompress or eat lunch or do some meditation. Put that time on your calendar and let people know you’re unavailable, even if it’s just for half an hour. If your job demands active availability, make it clear how co-workers or clients can reach you more immediately in your email signature line.

Treat Yourself (and Your Coworkers)

Even the most monotonous at-work day can come with bright spots: A conference room birthday party with cake. Sharing a hilarious GIF or creating a killer communal playlist. Bring some of that light into your at-home office. Make time to goof off or prep a lunch you’re excited to eat instead of a sad desk salad. You get the point. And the same goes with co-workers: Ask for a catch-up call from that person you love chatting with at the elevator, but don’t actively need to communicate with for work.

Listen to Your Coworkers (and Staffers)

Are you a manager? In the office hierarchy, you’re now also the captain navigating your employees through this weird new situation. It’s okay to admit you don’t have the answers. But let them see your human side. Share app suggestions for keeping calm or send out virtual awards for the best pet or best meeting background decor. The more you can provide room for questions and admit it’s a learning curve for everyone (face it: most of us are winging it!), the more reassured everyone is going to be.

Go With the Flow

Here’s a truth: Remote-working is never going to be as magical as you may have dreamed from your cubicle. Sometimes you might feel isolated or lonely (you could always set up a virtual office for staffers to enjoy virtual watercooler chats). And it might actually be tougher to create boundaries between your work and personal life. There will always be distractions. A “where are you?” missed message from your boss will always cause your stomach to sink. And the saddest truth: When you WFH, you will never, ever get a “cupcakes in the kitchen!” email.

But with solid coping methods, you’ll be more in control of your time, your mental health, your productivity and your Spotify playlist. Now get to work. 

For Senior Citizens, a Laptop Becomes a Lifeline

When her patient mentioned the long, one-way commute he had taken to get to her office, Dr. Mary Lajoy, a psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon, began doing the mental math — nearly 150 miles, add in a stop or two, factor in the return trip — and the 50-minute appointment turned into an eight- or nine-hour journey. Lajoy’s patients, elderly veterans living in the rural Pacific Northwest, were spending the better part of a day traveling for what might need to be a monthly assessment. They couldn’t skip the medical care, but devoting a day to driving or navigating public transportation seemed to come with dangers too, especially for seniors. “As patients age, they may be dealing with pain or vision issues, or may need frequent stops,” says Lajoy.

For psychiatrists, medication management appointments like the ones Lajoy oversees are key to assessing how well treatments are working, reconsidering dosages and discussing any side effects. This is especially critical for elderly populations, says Lajoy, as their bodies may metabolize or react to medications differently than younger people, and they’re more likely to be managing multiple medications.

She and a colleague, Nathan Hantke, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist at Oregon Health and Science University, conducted a pilot study to assess the efficacy of virtual visits. In this setup, patients would visit a local clinic, where they could connect via the internet with a virtual medication management appointment. “Instead of driving three hours, they might drive 10 minutes,” explains Lajoy.

Although the study was small — only about 40 people — the results were promising:

Ninety percent of participants said they were happy with or even preferred the virtual consultations.

“There’s this notion that we ran into that older adults would be skeptical of video, or would be intimidated by the technology, but our findings did not support the assumption,” says Hantke. When it came to telepsychiatry, seniors were excited for the option.

Hantke and Lajoy’s research confirms other findings that suggest telemedicine can offer quality and convenience to vulnerable populations like rural seniors, says Dr. Arpan Waghray, a geriatric psychiatrist and system director for behavioral medicine at Swedish Health Services and the chief medical officer of Well Being Trust. For example, a 2011 study from Canada found that 85 percent of patients and 92 percent of caregivers were comfortable or very comfortable during telehealth appointments — and the option reduced participants’ travel by more than 200 miles round trip. But even though seniors may be amenable to telehealth services, programs need to be implemented. A 2019 study conducted by Harris Poll of over 400 seniors found that 52 percent of seniors were willing to use telehealth services — but only 1 percent of seniors had ever had the opportunity for a telehealth visit.

Senior woman using laptop, focus on hands

Telebehavioral health options give senior patients the ability to manage medication and mental health challenges — which can lead to a better overall quality of life, as well as a more positive health outlook.

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Recognizing the need for accessible mental health support, health care provider Providence St. Joseph Health launched a pilot telepsychiatry program throughout Washington state in 2018. One element of the program is the ability to teleconference psychiatrists into general clinical care visits if a patient needs behavioral health care.

This is critical in Washington, as only 3 percent of the state’s 727 psychiatrists practice in rural areas — where nearly 14 percent of the general population lives. For one, while mental health resources are disproportionately centered around urban areas, rural residents need services just as much as their counterparts do. But studies have found that rural residents are less likely to recognize the need for mental health services, and stigma, accessibility and provider availability may further limit their options for behavioral health support.

And senior citizens, who may be vulnerable to brushing off mental health challenges as just another aspect of aging, can benefit from regular care and access to geriatric psychiatric specialists, says Waghray. “For our senior populations, we think about physical, psychological and social characteristics that may be impacting quality of life. One thing a mentor taught me, and I think about it a lot for the senior population, is instead of asking ‘what’s the matter with you?’ ask ‘what matters to you?’” says Waghray. “It’s a way to key into what a patient is living for, and what might be holding them back from an optimum quality of life.”

Telebehavioral health options give senior patients the ability to manage medication and mental health challenges — which can lead to a better overall quality of life, as well as a more positive health outlook. “Medical and mental health struggles are intertwined,” says Waghray. “For example, depression and pain do more than exist — they can cause each other and make each other worse.” But with a Wi-Fi connection, an understanding practitioner and access to mental health services, seniors can get on the road to wellness. 

For a Dream Trip, Plan a Lot … and Savor the Adventure

No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain is a travel classic, beloved by backpackers and five-star seekers alike. But as anyone who’s heard that phrase uttered at check-in can attest, it can also be the first two words of a travel horror story.

That’s what Natalie Moe, founder of the travel blog Happily Pink, discovered when she and her girlfriends booked a dream tropical getaway. The front desk had no record of their travel plans, Moe’s cell phone didn’t work … and when the hotel manager was finally able to get the group a room, they found it infested with ants.

“In the end we had our dream trip … but the biggest lesson I have learned from this is to always read the fine print.”

But here’s another travel truth: Sometimes, the biggest “what have we done with our time, money and PTO” travel disasters become the best stories. There’s nothing like 45 minutes of waiting solo outside immigration to make the reunion with your travel companions that much more celebratory. And as Moe found, successfully talking your way out of an ant-infested room makes that drink under a palm tree that much sweeter. After all, relaxation feels that much more delicious after an adrenaline rush.

Today, Moe reads the fine print on her reservations. But she also admits that what started as a travel disaster turned into one of the best trips ever.

American Family Insurance offers customizable coverage to help you protect what matters most. And when it comes to buying your first home, it’s important to have the right insurance partner at your side, one that will be here for you through this big “adulting” moment. Insure carefully so you can dream fearlessly.

Give the Gift of ‘Oh Yeah’: The Elevated Sex Toy Gift Guide

When it comes to gift-giving, there are the presents that end up in the “I know you’ll regift this, but I also need to fulfill my social obligation and spend $20 on you” camp. (We see you, balsam-scented candles.) There are the personalized gifts from someone who has busted out the crafting supplies (or at least shopped on Etsy early enough for pre-holiday delivery). And then, there are the vibrators.

Um, what?

Here’s the thing: Yes, sex toys are personal. But they are also expensive, indulgent and embarrassing to buy for yourself. In other words, the perfect holiday gift. And I speak from experience as someone who has given more than a dozen vibrators to friends and acquaintances in my life, and no gift (except maybe the XBox I gifted to my brother in 2006) has landed better. I still remember how my friend Renee, 36 weeks pregnant and horny as hell, lit up when I brought a bag of vibrators to her baby shower and discreetly deposited them in her car.

Krista McHarden, a sex writer and sex toy expert, agrees that a sex toy can be a more heartfelt gift than, say, a fruit basket. “Of course it depends on your relationship with the person, but given in the right spirit, it says, ‘I love you and you deserve to have an amazing time between the sheets,’” says McHarden. 

Dirty Lola, a single-moniker sex expert, agrees. “When you give sex toys as gifts, you are giving more than just an object. You are giving a doorway to new experiences.” And who doesn’t want a doorway for the holidays?

There are some considerations when it comes to sex toys. It’s probably a bad idea to give one to your boss, but could one work for your grandma? Maybe. Here are some of the smartest, most aesthetically pleasing sex toys on the market — and exactly who to give them to. 

For your long-distance male partner

Tenga Flip Zero

Can a masturbating device for men be cute? Yes, it can. While it’s no substitute for the real thing, this discreet and compact vibrating device looks like a bedside lamp. But flip it open and add some lube and the magic commences. This gift says, “I know it’s not as good as the real thing, but you still deserve to have a solid orgasm when I’m not there.”

For your recently divorced baby boomer aunt

Fifty Shades of Grey Greedy Girl Bullet Rabbit Vibrator

FiftyShades_Rabbit

Fifty Shades Rabbit

While there are plenty of ways to achieve tech-assisted orgasms, this is a classic (and a cliché) for a reason. Yes, it’s basic, but it’ll get you off, fast. And if Auntie is taken aback, you can always say that you thought it was a back massager.

For your newlywed sibling 

FiftyShadesofGrey_Trio

Fifty Shades of Grey Trio

Fifty Shades of Grey Wicked Weekend Gift Set 

With a vibrator, a cock ring and an “open-ended texture stroker,” this multipack has something for everyone. The Fifty Shades of Grey label gives it a little less edge — it’s a gag gift that will also get your sibling and their spouse off and be way more welcome than a matching set of Mr. and Mrs. bathrobes. 

For the grandparents who have the Story of O on their bookshelf

Tango Tease Kit 

A kit full of erotic adventures, Tango offers “flirty games” as well as accessories (riding crops, blindfolds, nipple clamps, etc.). The founder of the brand is a Harvard grad who markets the box as a “pleasure-based curriculum.” It’s a great way to show grandparents what the kids are up to these days — and it may inspire them to learn some new lessons too.

For the couple you made out with in the past

Lelo Tiani 3 vibrator and Lelo Hugo remote control prostate massager

Had a three-way with a committed couple? We’ve all been there. This couples’ gift shows that you’re not the jealous type and have no desire to break them up. It can also suggest the possibility of an encore.

For your wanderlusting ex-roomie

Tenga Iroha Mini Fuji Lemon

It’s cute! It’s pastel! It’s waterproof! And the price is right. While Tenga creates luxury products that often cost over $100, this $25 marvel does the job discreetly. This gift says, “You deserve to get off anywhere in the world.”

For your friend with benefits

UVee Home Play

It’s consensual adult fun … but since you don’t know who else that person might be playing with, do everyone a favor by gifting this sex-toy-cleaning kit. The Home Play not only claims to kill 99.9 percent of harmful germs and bacteria but it also has three USB charging ports, so you can charge and sanitize at the same time. Safe and thoughtful? Win-win!

For the office white elephant Exchange

Lovehoney Oh! Vanilla Massage Candle

At less than $10 and with low-key graphics, this candle just makes the office-acceptable cut. After all, you don’t have to eat it as part of sex play. You could just light it and then enjoy it on ice cream later. And this type of gift is way more desirable than yet another mug-and-coffee set. 

For you

Crave Vesper

You deserve self-love. Designed as a necklace (with the option of custom engraving), the Vesper is a discreet vibrator that’s attractive enough to wear at holiday gatherings — and then use in private to release any awkward holiday party tension.

What Color Is Your Marriage?

There are so many ways to assess compatibility between couples. Love of Scrabble. Ability to go on a multiday road trip with minimal arguments. Similar tastes in street food. But a couple may not truly know they’re compatible until they have a brand-new house, four white walls and an endless array of Home Depot paint chips.

At this point? True differences start to emerge: She likes bold, he likes basic. She wants bright, he wants beige. Compromises occur. Bargaining is brought up. And before you can say “eggshell blue or ecru,” both parties are wondering whether they’ve made a mistake. Is it just paint … or a parable about wanting too much?

Red paint as a metaphor makes sense, but red paint as ambiance, while you eat your eggs every morning, does not.

But love is all about jumping into the unknown. So, as a couple, you make a decision. The risky, unexpected decision you might not have made if it was just you. You go big. You go bold. And you go for the brick-red paint for the kitchen.

Then? Then you begin painting. And painting. And painting. And the red keeps soaking into the kitchen wall, never quite covering it. Which is right around the time you realize that this might be a metaphor for marriage: Forever trying for the ideal. So, together, you have a flash of insight. Red paint as a metaphor makes sense, but red paint as ambiance, while you eat your eggs every morning, does not.

So maybe the experiment was just that. But was it a failed experiment? No, because you both learned a little about yourselves, about each other … and about just how much paint it takes to cover up white walls.

Here, Ken and Anita Corsini, a husband-and-wife design team and co-hosts of HGTV’s Flip or Flop Atlanta, share how choosing paint colors ended up making their marriage better. 

American Family Insurance offers customizable coverage to help you protect what matters most. And when it comes to buying your first home, it’s important to have the right insurance partner at your side that’ll be here for you through this big “adulting” moment. Insure carefully so you can dream fearlessly.