Feb 2020. My first selfie with a facemask when it was “weird” and “is this necessary?”.

A year ago today I wrote a blog marking six weeks into my “new normal” (sick of that phrase but). Covid had hit our wee HK corner of the world pretty hard; we’re hours from Wuhan and it was during Chinese New Year – the greatest mass migration of human beings every year as 1 billion people are called home or else

I had been on a vacation in Cebu, scrolling the news and fielding questions from concerned friends and family offering to ship toilet paper and face masks from the States as the headlines blasted the growing chaos and uncertainty in Asia with this new flu-like thing, possibly from a bat-eating incident? No. Couldn’t be. Surely not. We’ll be fine in a week or two. We have flu outbreaks every year.

But when I landed back in HK, mere days before many international borders started closing, most of life shut down. I hunkered down and wondered, wide-eyed, at what was unfolding before me.

now we rock reindeer masks in March and reject your judgment bc reindeer are cool year round. oh and also MASKS.

Covid spread worldwide, as pandemics are wont to do, so feeling quite wise with my few weeks’ advance of experience, I wrote this list of “29 Things I learned/wish I’d known” about the Coronalife, and it went a bit viral. Like 100k people read it viral. Which was new and a big surprise for me. Had I known that would happen, I would have chosen cuter pics. Online dating is exponentially harder these days, friends!

On its blog-anniversary, I thought I’d revisit and update what I’ve learned and what I know now. Here goes. Put this in the time capsule, print it on a facemask or toilet paper. Edited with stars to update with my wisdom.

First published March 13, 2020.

I just completed my sixth week of this “new normal” – living at home as much as you can. I am still scared of all the unknown, but it has become manageable. The panic is dying down. There’s food, toilet paper, soap. I’m bored out my mind, work drives me crazy, I’ve gained four pounds, and I’ve cried more in the last six weeks than the last six years, but I know things will eventually be okay. I miss my friends and human contact, but I’ve grown accustomed to the social distancing. 

this was a new bit of history for me!

Working from home can be great. Teaching class involves spraying in dry shampoo, putting on a sweater but staying in my pajama bottoms. I haven’t put on makeup for weeks. After the first few days, where I was working about 18 hours a day trying to figure out virtual learning, I took breaks every few hours from work and cleaned out the house, completing chores I’d put off for months. Awesome.

I started making bread (which might explain the sudden weight gain because omg HOMEMADE BREAD with “Everything but the Bagel” sprinkled on it is my new fat kid trick.) My roomie and I watched more movies in a few weeks than we had in three years in this apartment. I up-skilled my teacher tech.

But I found that spending so much time alone, especially in this world with constant news updates and a climate of fear, scrolling Twitter and watching the world burn makes me super anxious. Worrying about the elderly, the poor, the people who work in industries so affected by the economic collapse is consuming.

I stayed up all hours wondering what the future looks like – when will I go back to school, when can I go home, will I get sick, will anyone I know get sick, am I taking this too seriously, am I not taking it seriously enough? I couldn’t stop updating news apps and checking work and working more and getting frustrated with all things big and small. None of which I could control.

Note what it was called at the time! This is our Hong Kong paper, South China Morning Post.
January 30, 2020.

I didn’t leave my house for weeks. This forced me to slow down to the point where I had to think, which I actually don’t like to do very much. Because then I figure things out like I have no coping skills. I don’t really have any hobbies that don’t involve a screen or running around outside. Or food. And I might not have it as all together as I thought I did.

And it turns out there’s a lot of time in the day. 

Time for me to realize I get sick of my own company, and a mask is the uncomfortable face bra, and my breath does smell, and I wasn’t washing my hands enough, and I touch my face ALL the time.

This was hard to deal with until I did a teacher-y thing, and decided to get more organized and proactive – I made a list. As many of you around the world – teachers, parents, students, muggles, start looking at the next few weeks (or months, because gosh, who knows) (*Oh, Rachel 2020, you sweet summer child! It’s been a year now!) of quarantine or social distancing, here are things I’ve learned and hopefully helpful tips:

  1. *You’re about to get to know yourself REALLY well. For better or for worse.  Relax into your own company as much as you can. When you find a limit or a breaking point, take note of it. If you don’t like it, if you can’t stand it, get some help. Or at least write it down to ponder later.

2. *Cover everything with grace and love. This is brand new worldwide nonsense – there are no TED talks or books to read on how to make it through Covid. We’re all just doing the best we can and it is hard. When people get weird, stay there. Forgive easy. Be open and honest. Tell everyone you love that you love them because hey, we just don’t know. 

Remember these days? Feb 2020. this used to be toilet paper and paper towels.

3. *Figure out the thing(s) that will cheer you up and lean in shamelessly. I started making video compilations of travel, my nephew, videos of my dogs and I watch them on repeat when feeling blue.

4. Don’t panic buy. In the beginning, there was a rumour that the factories in China that make toilet paper were going to stop making it in favour of making masks. People freaked. Then people bought so much TP, it went mouldy in their houses, which caused other problems. We created a crisis in a crisis. There will be TP. Or just take a shower after. Calm down. You also need everyone around you to have soap and hand sanitizer, which they cannot have if you buy all four hundred cases at Costco.

5. Get a routine going. Keep getting up in the morning at the same-ish time. In the beginning, there were some days I didn’t brush my teeth until I left for the gym, which is gross. It helps to stay in routine, to wash your face, to put on a bra, to set up a home office, and to set working hours. And know when it’s time to stop. *Present me wishes past me would have leaned into this more.

learning to love running.

6. Work out. Get outside every day. Chase that Vitamin D. *You never know when gyms will open or close, so invest in makeshift home gym stuff, free Youtubes of home workouts, or decide to run a 10k, like me!

7. Set small, productive, visually satisfying goals – make a list of things to clean and organize, one a day. Clean out closets, rearrange your shelves, check expiration dates. It feels amazing. 

8. Daily chores – *but actually do them every day. make your bed (mid-thirties and just now realizing the joy this brings), change your clothes, shower, clean your house a bit, as it will get dirtier now you’re home more. Floss. 

9. Cook things you’ve always wanted to. Make fancy pizzas (this just takes goat cheese), learn a new curry recipe, try homemade sourdough! It was so rewarding. *I’ve managed to ruin tortillas by trying to make them healthy, mastered focaccia, several desserts, chicken wings, and many kinds of dips. I love dips. I made a Thanksgiving cornbread recipe in March because I found some mix one day. It was a delight. Cook away.

and if you’re looking for something new to read . . . XD

10. Read all the physical books in your house before you download new ones. Then donate what you won’t read again. *I’m averaging about two books a week and love updating my Goodreads profile or racing the “time left” feature on my Kindle.

11. Watch movies. Challenge yourself with a theme. Film noir, cheesy musicals, all the Julie Andrews/Emma Thompson/Jim Carrey/Will Ferrell movies. It feels like a small accomplishment to tick things off a list. Include flavoured popcorn blind tests. Make homemade ice cream.

my preciouses enjoying a rainy day. I definitely did not sit in my chair and watch them enjoy it.

12. Get some plants. They’ll brighten up the indoors and give you something to talk to. And oxygen! Hashtag win. *Update: I now have over 30 plants. Tee hee.

13. Foster a cat! Adopt a rescue pup! You’ve got time at home now to train them. *Or develop an unhealthy relationship with your fish if your apartment isn’t suitable for fur babies. We all need something to love.

14. Get crafty. *I’ve finished cross stitch projects I’d forgotten about, dabbled in adult coloring books (um these are not adult-themed, or anything) and acrylics, painted gift bags, and written terrible poetry. I tried to hem a dress and watched Youtubes on how to properly apply makeup according to my eye shape, which at 36, I just learned was hooded. Make the world your canvas. I’m always on the lookout for an interesting hobby that keeps my hands too busy to grab a snack.

getting that FaceTime in :)

15. Talk on the phone. We’ve almost lost that art. As we spend more physical time apart, it’s important to remain connected. *This probably started strong at the beginning of Covid with weekly family Zooms and reconnecting with old pals for virtual happy hours. Revive it. 

16.  Do the mundane – organize that one kitchen drawer – we all know the one. Check your finances, make a budget, unsubscribe to old email lists, change the oil, clean out your purse, clip your fingernails short to repel germs. Check. Off. That. List! *This is proven to raise chemicals in your brain that make you happy.

all my former roomies know the absolute delight I took in defrosting this bad boy.

17.  Organize the details. Another tiny thing that gave me joy – organizing my iTunes. Capitals in all the right places, deleting songs I realized I hated, making playlists, filling in all information. Delightful. *Going through all the random boxes and stacks of “important” paper and throwing things out or digitizing to save space. Pure joy.

 18. Phone purge – Delete all bad photos on your phone, apps you don’t use or need, contacts you don’t want. While doing so, message a few people you haven’t talked to in a while. 

19.  Call your parents. 

20.  Dust off the puzzles and board games. Their time has come.

21. Go through your Pinterest boards and try something you “never have time for.” You have got it now. I’ve sampled recipes, workouts, wardrobe hints, makeup and hair tutorials and it’s fun!

I’ve started texting people anytime I think of them . . . like my old roomie every time I make shredded chicken because she HATED shredding and made me do it XD

22.  Cuddle up. Have candles and slippers and sweatshirts and things that are cozy. Wrap yourself up in feel good. Make the inside a sanctuary. Clean windows, make things smell good.

23. Do the self-care – whatever it looks like for you. For me, it’s Cheetos and wine (to disinfect my insides!) and Youtube compilations of kids getting puppies for Christmas.

24. Get physical. Get up and stretch. Unclench your jaw. Relax your shoulders RIGHT NOW. 

25.  Get healthy. Take supplements. Eat fruit. Drink water. You probably need more fiber.

26. Get away. When it gets to be too much – take a staycation if you can. Camp in your backyard, get a hotel, turn off all devices, whatever “checking out” looks like for you (and is safe).

got a little day away. never taking these moments for granted again.

27. Sleep when you can, if you can. Rest.

28. Clean your phone and laptop keys and water bottles and car consoles and doorknobs and the millions of things we touch all the time.

29. Prepare enough. Be sensible but not selfish. Make sure you have toilet paper and soup and canned things for a while, like you normally would. This is a good time to assess your readiness for an emergency. It is very clear that many countries cannot rely on their government for clarity, leadership, or empathy. So take care of yourselves and the vulnerable.

being tourists in our own town for the day.

30. Give thanks and pray. Make conscious choices to take care of each other, our earth, the systems that can keep us safe. Vote for responsible leaders who respect science, who care. Get vaccinated ASAP.

We don’t know what the next few weeks, months, or even years might look like. 

Take nothing for granted – take care of yourselves and each other.