Small Mercies: Some Activities We Did That Felt Nice

When a walk got tired, we found some other stuff to do

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Small Mercies: Some Activities We Did That Felt Nice

The meditative and transformative power of a walk is undeniable, even when that activity is shrouded in fear. Taking a walk was a staple activity in the period of early quarantine and a defining activity of 2020, generally. But after enough time, the pleasure palls, and the walk becomes an obligation. To make up for the various annoyances and dread-filled months of 2021, we all stumbled upon activities that were walk-like, in that they successfully pushed back anxiety and boredom and made us feel good, however short-lived. The pandemic is relentless, but by this point, we are used to navigating its peaks and valleys. Here’s what worked this year.


At the very early stages of the pandemic, when no one knew anything about how long we’d be living in this mess, all of my usual crafting hobbies failed to hold my interest. Knitting usually scratches this particular itch, but all my beautiful yarns were eaten by moths, and so I had to find something else to do with my hands that wasn’t looking at my phone. Embroidery always appealed to me, and after tearing through the garbage Aida cloth provided to me by the kit I bought off Amazon, I bought tea towels in bulk and set out to make everyone I’ve ever liked a little present. When confronted with stressful situations, I find that there’s a deep well within me that wants to care for other people. Fucked up, I know, but this is how I did it. —Megan Reynolds

Monopoly Deal

I am a big board games person but as it’s been questionable to have groups of people in my apartment crowded around my small table screaming about rules, my husband and I had to look into more two-player activities. One of the games we’ve gotten the most use out of is Monopoly Deal, which has been around for a while, but we only discovered it this year. It’s like regular Monopoly without the difficulty of having someone be the banker and it’s still really fun with only two people. What I enjoyed most about it is that while I’ve never beaten my husband in regular Monopoly, I have been spanking that ass in Monopoly Deal. Happy spouse, happy house. —Shannon Melero

2000s Sitcom Trivia

Early in the pandemic, I transitioned from running on treadmills to running in the great outdoors. Eventually, I also switched over from listening to music to listening to podcast episodes while on runs. I discovered one particular podcast that’s consistently made me feel like I’m being swaddled up in a weighted blanket whenever I listen: Office Ladies. Hosted by The Office besties Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, the podcast takes you through every episode of the late NBC sitcom that ever aired, walking you scene-by-scene through every imaginable tidbit of behind-the-scenes trivia. When I started listening to the podcast earlier this year, I hadn’t rewatched The Office in years. The podcast encouraged me to not just rewatch the show, but to rewatch numerous others from the 2000s and early 2010s, and commit to uncovering all of the useless trivia I could find for each. — Kylie Cheung

Raised Monarch Butterflies

Photo:Caitlin Cruz

I love gardening, but after we did the initial above-ground landscaping when we first moved in, I kind of stopped adding to it. I like our flowers, our fruit trees in progress, and the vitex tree bush I searched all over Houston for. What else did I really need? It turns out what I needed was to raise monarch butterflies.

I live in the migration path of this beautiful butterfly, and it’s surprisingly easy to get started supporting the species. My girlfriend and I invested in a mix of milkweed plants that we kept in pots instead of trying to plant in-ground. This let us mix and match as a plant died or we needed to add a pollinator instead of more milkweed stalks. After six months, we finally got a caterpillar to build a chrysalis on our flowers. (I like to believe all our other caterpillars found other yards to thrive on and were not eaten by birds.) We protected this chrysalis with our lives. Take the dog out, check if the chrysalis is ok. Coming home from running errands and walking within 10 feet of the flower beds? Check the chrysalis. So, in late November, when the chrysalis started to turn black, we panicked.

We weren’t sure if it was the kind of black meaning it’s about to emerge or the kind of black that means it’s dying. It was a waiting game. Four days later, we found two monarch butterflies, one next to our chrysalis, drying out its wings. It was magical. We got out our nice camera and took glamour shots of it. And that second monarch? A few days later, we found its chrysalis in our flower bed! It turned out that we had successfully raised a second butterfly outside! It was the most exhilarating thing to see the butterflies join us. I am so excited to start in the spring by helping raise some monarchs inside as well as growing more milkweed inside and outside. Monarchs, tell all your friends that our backyard is the cool spot. —Caitlin Cruz


What could be better than turning off your brain and tuning out the world for the utter clarity of nothingness? Absolutely nothing!!! — Rich Juzwiak

Making miniature rooms

I hesitated a little before publicly revealing this particular avocation because let’s face it, it feels a bit like a hobby a serial killer might have in a ‘90s movie. And yes, it does seem odd that, during a pandemic that found so many of us feeling trapped inside small rooms, I sought solace in building even tinier rooms. But there is something indescribably satisfying about creating a miniature world from the ground up, moving around its furniture and odds and ends, and placing everything in its exact place for a three-inch-tall person who doesn’t exist but who might be home any minute. I’m not especially crafty, so I buy kits online that break the whole process down into manageable bits of cutting, folding, and gluing; I’ve only created four rooms so far, as each takes at least a month to complete. But I still feel an awe at all the little details—the library featuring ¾ inch long books with turnable pages, the kitchen and its cutting board sprawled with pieces of fruit so small and light that they blow away if I exhale too hard. Utopia is possible, scale is the only trouble. —Gabrielle Bruney

Obsessing over leca

Photo:Ashley Reese

Having house plants is not a trend for me, it’s truly a lifestyle, and one that I became even more dedicated to this year. Aside from rearranging my plants, buying a humidifier for them, and drilling even more plant shelves into my walls, I’ve become a convert to the beauty of leca. Leca, an acronym for lightweight expanded clay aggregate, is a planting medium of little clay balls that absorb and release moisture. They’re a great alternative to soil for plants that are prone to root rot as well as plants that are finicky about water. Plus, if pests are an issue, leca can help mitigate that a bit. You can read a straightforward guide on leca here, but basically you fill a container with leca, stick your plant in it, and water it so that it hits just under the plant’s roots. The plant’s roots will absorb its fill of water at its leisure, and you simply add more water when the water has been completely absorbed. Since leca doesn’t have nutrients in it like soil does, you have to add hydroponic friendly fertilizer to the water. So, yes, this takes a little more research. But I’m so happy with the results leca has had on my struggling plants, especially my Alocasia Polly. Its roots have never looked better! —Ashley Reese


You know what really does help your mood? Exercise. I was always skeptical, because most exercise over the course of my life has left me sweaty, red-faced, and uncomfortable, not to mention supremely self-conscious. Turns out it was simply a matter of finding the right exercise for me, which, as it happens, is lap swimming. I’m not a particularly fast swimmer, or a shining example of good form. Some days I just lazily wander up and down the lap lane. Nobody is putting me in the Olympics anytime soon. But that doesn’t matter! It’s just a way to be alone with my thoughts, no electronics allowed, focused just enough on movement that it’s impossible to spiral. —Kelly

Walking my dog on the West Side highway

After picking up my pup in September, I found myself entrenched in the lives of what Tinx calls the “rich moms” and taking part in a “rich mom walk.” The “rich mom walk” is more of an energy than a type of walk. Specifically, I feel like an Upper West Side rich mom, except I reside in lower Manhattan. I get up early, jog with my pup Miley over to the water, and enter another universe where city people work out outside, chatting with friends while wearing ankle weights. While on my rich mom walks, I too pretend like I drink a lot of water and sweat Tiffany’s diamonds. The luxury of starting my day with a crisp breeze slapping my face! I get to tune out the world while listening to a podcast (usually Hurdle by Emily Abbate). And I get to remind myself that I’m going somewhere—physically, of course, but also within my larger journey. As my frizzy curls spout out of the top of my head in every direction, perhaps I am an eyesore in comparison to the Lululemon monochromatic looks these women sport. It appears that the rich moms know the secret to a happy life, which is some space to breathe, a dose of sunshine, and a hell of a lot of money.Emily Leibert

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