Isolate and chill, fostering pups, and other ways Philly is coping during social distancing

Need ideas on how to keep your mind busy and stay social as places in the region increasingly feel like ghost towns? These people have some suggestions.

(Photos courtesy of Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Veitch/WHYY)

(Photos courtesy of Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Veitch/WHYY)

Spots in the Philadelphia region increasingly feel like ghost towns. Need ideas on how to keep your mind busy and stay social? These people have some suggestions.

Options vary in levels of commitment, but the sentiment is the same: We’re all in this together and doing our best.

Isolate and chill

For Amelia Ehrens, who is working her finance job from home in Philadelphia for the time being, getting through this social distancing period will require some lighthearted human connection.

“Just because we need to be socially distant due to the coronavirus doesn’t mean we can’t still be social!” she wrote in her Social Distancing Movie Marathon Eventbrite invitation.

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The movie? “Men in Black.” The location? The comfort of your home this Friday and Saturday.

Ehrens picked the “Men in Black” series because she doesn’t see how award-winning actor Will Smith can’t make you feel better during a pandemic – and because “Independence Day” wasn’t available on Netflix.

“Like [‘Independence Day’], it kind of resonates with me now, it’s like the whole world coming together to fight some alien invader,” she said.

The way the movie marathon works is people who RSVP will be invited to a chat, Ehrens will offer some icebreakers, and when the film starts, people can offer commentary.

“I think just trying to find these little ways where you’re still connecting and still, like, giving back somehow is really important to still feel like there’s a bigger purpose,” she said. “And like you’re still connected to everyone even though you’re here but apart from them physically.”

During a dry run Tuesday night, some 16 people, from as far as Massachusetts and Colorado, joined the chat to watch the movie “Hitch,” another Will Smith classic.

As someone who originally thought of COVID-19 as “just the flu,” Ehrens said she understands how young people could feel as if they’re having things taken away from them with the closing of gyms, theaters and dine-in restaurants.

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Though she worries that people who have a limited safety net are losing work as businesses close, she hopes having a virtual hangout will help ease that feeling for some people and encourage them to stay home.

“I’m trying to keep that in mind, like I’m shutting myself away because I don’t want to get other people sick. I’m young, like it’s not like I’m a high-risk person. So it’s not like I would probably suffer from it, but if I were it to pass it along, that’s really detrimental to somebody else.”

Should you want to host a social distancing movie marathon of your own, there is “Netflix Party,” a Google Chrome extension that lets you watch Netflix shows with friends. The app makes sure your group remains in sync during the show.

Foster a pet

A teacher in Philadelphia, Colleen McGettigan is used to having a robust day of work surrounded by students, followed by some gym time and other social interactions.

Wednesday was only the third day she’d had off from work, and she was already getting “stir crazy.”

McGettigan has been cleaning, running outside, and reading on her deck. She also completed a 300-piece puzzle in less than 24 hours over the weekend.

“It was actually kind of nice to just relax for a couple of days, but now I’m really trying to think of things I could do,” she said.

And McGettigan has found just the project that could keep her busy for the foreseeable future: a dog.

Work and social obligations made it so she and her partner never felt comfortable getting a dog, but with the pair working from home for now and with summer around the corner (when McGettigan has a more flexible schedule), it feels like the right time to help a pup in a shelter.

“I think it’ll just fill the void I would have otherwise for socializing,” she said. “I have a Skype friend date later tonight with some of my girlfriends, and there’s little things you can do, but having a tangible companion would definitely help my need for socialization.”

Between teaching the dog tricks and taking the dog on walks, McGettigan hopes she can pass the time away from her students quickly.

Tour virtually, apart but together

Though Sharon Pennock doesn’t know how she’s processing social distancing with her family in Havertown, she’s not short of ways to stay busy. She is losing track of all she can do with her family, however.

“I’ve seen a lot of people sharing a lot of great ideas, ‘You can do this, and you can do that,’” she said. “And they’re all divided up on all different social media platforms … and I’m finding that overwhelming. It’s wonderful, but then at those moments when I’m going to need an activity for my kids or myself, I’m finding it hard to keep track of those.”

As a stay-at-home mom for the past seven years, Pennock has spent her free time organizing with local disability advocates.

Using the skills she’s acquired volunteering, Pennock has put together what she and her collaborators call a “We’ve Got This: Pandemic-Proof Resource List” for people of all ages.

The Google spreadsheet had close to 300 links to online museum tours and other educational websites as of Wednesday. The options could be sorted by age and activity type (learning site, experience, etc.).

“I’m encouraging people to do things like go to a museum, one of those online museums, but be on the phone with your mom or the person you would have gone to the museum with in person,” Pennock said. “Use the phone or video chat to do things together, even if you’re in separate spaces.”

Pennock asked her mother, who is a senior and more vulnerable to COVID-19, to “invite her” family to a museum Wednesday.

Oldies but goodies: bake, garden, make erotic toys

Tanya Veitch used to bake with her grandmothers as a little girl, and it’s a hobby she continues to practice with her 8-year-old daughter in Philly because it soothes her when she’s feeling overwhelmed.

Though recently, Veitch has started to “stress bake” using recipes from Pinterest and cookbooks.

“Normally I only bake for the weekend because we try to behave during the week,” she said. “But right now, whatever helps us cope.”

When Veitch is not baking and giving away leftover treats, she’s gardening.

Dozens of people told WHYY News they plan to use this time to reconnect with nature one way or another, whether it’s hiking, identifying plants, going on outings with their children, or biking outdoors.

Several people said they plan to take up running outdoors and taking online workout classes now that their gyms are closed.

Seang Heng, also a Philly resident, is taking the time to practice his archery skills while he stays with family in New Jersey.

“It’s relaxing to me,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “I prefer that over video games.”

Other suggestions included trying adult coloring books or trying to play that video game you gave up on.

For Alison, who lives in Philadelphia, social distancing won’t be too disruptive.

“There’s been literal periods of one to two weeks where I’ve never stepped out of the house,” she said jokingly.

The isolation period offers an opportunity to double down on a hobby she’s had on the back burner for two years: making erotic toys.

Alison asked that we use her first name only, fearing her employer might not approve, but she does want people to know that being an introvert in quarantine is not as easy as it sounds.

“In a weird way, now I feel more obligated to do [my hobbies] because I am home,” she said.

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