The sanity list: 47 discoveries that have been getting us through the pandemic – more lifestyle

The best thing about 2020 may be that it’s over. The second-best (and maybe third-, fourth-, and fifth-best) is up for debate. The pandemic forced us to rethink our daily routines and find some level of sanity amid the chaos, so Bloomberg Pursuits polled the newsroom to root out the best pandemic discoveries: new services and products and activities that brought us joy, that improved the day-to-day-to-what-day-is-it-again of our lives.

There were baking suggestions, of course (“rosemary bread that functions as dessert, breakfast, and afternoon snack”). And, yes, puzzles galore (“you can dive in and out, so it’s great for a break from screens”). But there are also YouTube playlists if you miss the background chatter of an office, robot bartenders, and potties for your pet. There even is a pet. There are games that still make Zoom a delight, and a tea that drinks like a beer. How about an app to help you with your trees—and your tree pose? Scroll on through. 

Foliage Field Guide

With the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Edition, I have learned the difference between a sycamore and a London planetree, between a black oak and a white oak. I can spot a sassafras leaf. I stop on walks and stare upward. (I always did that, but now I have an excuse.) —Peter Coy, economics editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Sonic Escape

I loved working in coffee shops before the pandemic. It wasn’t just the cozy setting and caffeine fix but the sounds I thrived on: the soft chatter, the whirring of espresso brewing, the crackling of unfolding newspapers. Thankfully, YouTube is filled with endless hours of this auditory ambiance. Stuck in WFH purgatory, I slip on noise-canceling headphones and sonically transport to my neighborhood café or any number of soundscapes that brought me focus pre-Covid-19: a busy office, a shushed library, a clacking train. No YouTube clips will ever replace the comfort those surroundings provided in person, but they sure beat the lonely silence of my apartment. —Austin Carr, technology reporter, Bloomberg News

CBD Mask Sprays

This new product from a CBD essential oil company sounds gimmicky, and you will have strong opinions about the ones you don’t care for. But they’re a super smart idea: Incentivize wearing a mask by spraying it with a pleasant scent. I love the sugar cookie one, which is made for kids and has a warm, comforting spicy scent. It makes me actually want to put on my mask. —Kate Krader, Food Editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

Swedish Lawn Game

I’m not big on lawn games, I live in a fifth-floor apartment. But when my pod-mate introduced us to Kubb in April, it quickly became our favorite way to spend quarantine weekends in the park. Suddenly, I’m noticing lush grass, worn paths, shady trees—and how they impact my toss. The next challenge? Snow. —Lindsey Rupp, digital editor, Bloomberg News

Snail Mail

All the screen time at the height of the pandemic was exhausting. While I missed my friends and family, the last thing I wanted to do after work was another Zoom call. I started mailing handwritten letters over the summer and got personalized stationary from a local shop. Writing an old-fashioned note was not only therapeutic, it was a fun way to surprise loved ones. —Jacqueline Davalos, reporter, Bloomberg News

Keurig for Cocktails

Each time my mom and I press the button on this gizmo, the Bartesian, we’re at the bar with Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Our hack: We use the cocktail pods with soda water on dry days, and we still feel we’re at the beach sipping Long Island Ice Teas. Now, that’s a pandemic vacation. —Amanda L. Gordon, reporter, Bloomberg News 

Streaming Street Food

I often organize my travels around food and, especially since moving to Asia, street food. So when I first started watching Netflix’s “Street Food: Asia”, I was worried it might be cruel, all things considered. But it was soothing. After each episode, I chose one featured dish as inspiration to cook myself. —Megan Hess, mobile editor, Bloomberg Media

Buy Nothing Groups

These hyper-local Facebook groups have sprung up around the world as a way to curb consumption and knit community. Today, I met a chocolatier who lives around the corner and responded to my ISO for 1/4 cup of black cocoa—it’s apparently sold out everywhere due to Covid-related shortages—which may be the most neighborly thing I’ve ever done. (Run to the neighbor’s house for a cup of sugar, but make it social media.) I also gave away our old puppy supplies to someone newly fostering down the street. My local chapter has also started using the group to address food insecurity in our community, offering up the fruits of our stress baking or, more simply, pantry items that are going unused. I love that it’s a way to live more sustainably—I check with the group before buying anything that I’ll only use for a short while (like a scooter helmet my toddler is sure to reject)—and also to meet neighbors during a time that’s otherwise so isolating. —Nikki Ekstein, travel editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

Scientist

While we wait for science to save the day, I’ve been turning to Scientist. The music producer, born Hopeton Overton Brown, made a string of early 1980s reggae albums that are slow, pretty, and drenched in echo. I’ve never liked mellowness so much. —Max Abelson, reporter, Bloomberg News

Dungeons & Dragons

We started playing this in earnest over Zoom with myself, my two sons (aged 8 and 12) and my college friends and their kids who live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. It’s been great and a wonderful way to connect and have fun, too. There’s all sorts of campaigns; we started with one from a starter’s guide. One of my sons is a rogue, my other is a half-elf wizard, and I’m a fighter.  —Matthew Leising, finance reporter, Bloomberg News

Beer Without the Calories

One of my favorite breweries doesn’t actually make beer. Hoplark HopTea’s unique take on tea has the same hoppy taste as my favorite craft brews, but without the calories. A $45 a month subscription gives you access to a special 12-pack every four weeks (and other discounts). They also stock these awesome teas at Whole Foods. —Michael Leibel, social media and audience development editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Tony’s Chocolonely

It was really the “outworldliness” and “extraordinariness” that drew me to Tony’s Chocolonely, breaking my monotonous routine of being confined to the same four walls. The chocolate bar became my daily pandemic staple in the grimmest lockdown days and just as the intensity of working from home asked for some feel-good sugar kick. The wrapping’s psychedelic colors and irregular pieces transport you to Willy Wonka’s world. And the chocolate itself—rich and smooth, with unusual flavor combinations ranging from dark milk pretzel toffee to white raspberry popping candy—would make for an exploration. Its mission-driven maker works directly with West African farmers to produce chocolate that’s 100% slave free, making it a totally guilt-free pleasure. —Agnieszka de Sousa, food & agriculture reporter, Bloomberg News

Bike Share

Somehow, I spent most of my life not knowing how to ride a bike. New York’s lockdown gave me time to change that with a Citi Bike membership. Zipping around in a bike lane is a pleasure instead of a chore—I haven’t taken the subway since March. Now my sister’s learning, too. —Annie Massa, investing reporter, Bloomberg News

A Litterbox Alternative

We became pet owners for the first time shortly before the pandemic, adopting two kittens that brought us great joy—but their litter box did not. Then I stumbled upon Kitty’s Loo, an amazing device that trains your cat to use a human toilet. No more buying litter, never touch a scoop again, simply flush away as the law of evolution intended. But it takes time to train them, and you need to be present so that you can reward them with treats when they use it (and be around to clean up when they don’t), so WFH was the perfect opportunity. Our kittens learned to use it in about three months. Next, we’re hoping to train them to pull the flush lever. —Natalie Obiko Pearson, Vancouver bureau chief, Bloomberg News

Used Library Books

My son already had a sizable library of great children’s books, and then came the pandemic. Let’s just say we’ve had so many reading opportunities these past few months that we needed a few new titles. In addition to supporting our beloved local bookstore, I’ve expanded his collection with an assist from AbeBooks.com. I try to buy only used hardcover titles, most of which are decommissioned library books still in good condition. They cost only a few bucks apiece, ship for free, and feel great in your hands. —Joel Weber, editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Hoka Running Shoes

An unexpected consequence of my zero-commute WFH existence has been a whole lot of walking. I force myself to get outside and walk whenever possible—during conference calls, Zoom calls, whenever I don’t need to type while talking. That means I’ve been logging at least six or seven miles a day. That also means I needed much better footwear, and the savior of my knees and ankles has been my pair of Hoka Bondi 7 running shoes. (I still aspire to run. Someday.) They’re super comfy and have maximalist padding. Not for everyone. But for anyone of a certain age prone to joint pain, these shoes are worth it. —Jim Aley, features editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Moka Pot

When the coffee shops shut down I resorted to my dusty French press for a few weeks before a vague memory from a hiking trip saw us buy a Bialetti Moka Pot, a stove top coffee maker. It is the nearest thing you can get to espresso coffee without an espresso machine. The brewing process has become a cherished morning ritual, along with sipping the steaming cup of coffee that results. —Tom Metcalf, finance editor, Bloomberg News

Chess

Eager for an indoor hobby that could become a lifelong hobby, I downloaded the Chess.com app a couple weeks into the pandemic. I was quite young the last time I had attempted to play chess, so there was (and still is!) definitely a learning curve. The app has lessons, puzzles, drills, and even live games you can watch. You can also play against the computer or a friend. I got my mom and my boyfriend into playing as well, and it’s proven to be a great activity whether you’re across the room or across the country from one another. The Queen’s Gambit hitting Netflix this fall was icing on the cake. —Hannah Levitt, finance reporter, Bloomberg News

Virtual Escape Rooms

Since we ran a story about escape rooms going online this spring, I’ve beaten a handful of virtual versions with a couple of friends who are god-level escape artists. If you’re a crossword puzzle or Jeopardy! person and can handle a bit of cooperation, they’re a fun step up from Jackbox games that can make you feel, for an hour or so, as if you’ve also escaped our rolling global hostage crisis. Plus, you’re often supporting a small business that badly needs the help. —Jeff Muskus, senior features editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Fresh Bread via Instagram

Traveling vast distances for excellent fresh bread is totally reasonable, and I would absolutely have committed to a trip to buy the sourdough at Neighborhood Bread. As luck would have it, the two bakers behind the business, which was set up on Instagram after both lost their pre-pandemic jobs, deliver their excellent English muffins, cardamom buns, and focaccia themselves. A few months into it, the nearly inconceivable luxury of fresh bread delivered to my door still hasn’t, if you will forgive the (unforgivable) pun, grown stale. —James Tarmy, arts columnist, Bloomberg Pursuits

An Amazon Alternative

I joined a book club so I would be reading anything else but the news after work. It was the Black Lives Matter protests, when the Buy Black lists were going around Instagram, that finally broke me of my Amazon cheapskate-ness, and I started ordering via Bookshop.org. The way it works, it can select a specific bookstore (Black-owned, queer-leaning, one in your hometown, whatever), and then the full profit from your purchase goes to them; or you can just shop and it goes into a general slush fund that’s evenly distributed back to save these small businesses. Yes, it’s more expensive, and no, shipping isn’t “free,” but it’s fast, easy, and one small step toward putting my money where my values are. —Justin Ocean, deputy editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

’80s Card Game

After exhausting pretty much every card/board/puzzle game we could find, my brother came home with this $5 card game from the 1980s. Phase 10 certainly has twists, We get extra competitive and just when you think you’re about to move ahead, someone trips up your game plan. We can play for hours, and we always laugh. (Also, it helps we’ve got Johnny Drum bourbon in our glasses.) —Margaret Sutherlin, audience development editor, Bloomberg Media

Coffee Bean Subscriptions

I started ordering fancy coffee beans during lockdown as a mini splurge. That upgrade in quality gave me something to look forward to every morning to break up the daily slog of all things 2020. And now it’s become a staple of my new WFH routine. Totally worth it. Bonus: You’re helping out a small business at the same time. Many places, such as  Square Mile (in the U.K.), now do subscriptions and will ship to you; in the U.S., there’s Time and Tide. —Sarah Muller, deputy managing editor, EMEA, Bloomberg News

Sports Radio

I started listening to sports talk radio back in March, which is obviously ironic since, well, nobody was playing. The irascible Joe Benigno—a famously testy, long-suffering, die-hard blue-collar fan—emerged as my go-to voice on WFAN 101.9 FM in New York. “The toy store is closed,” he said in his broad New Jersey growl the day after the NBA season was put on hold. Instead of March Madness, he and his co-host Evan Roberts devised a separate tournament, The Benigno Bracket of Pain, which forced him to rate, often hilariously, which sporting event had caused him more grief over the years: the Mets’ trade of Tom Seaver, say, or the double-overtime Jets loss to the Browns in the 1986 playoffs? Leave it to a lifelong Jets, Mets, and Knicks fan—inoculated by tragedy, accustomed to misery—to help put things in perspective. —James Gaddy, editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

Down Dog App

The Down Dog app has saved me this year. They had a sale early on in the pandemic and for $40, I’ve been able to practice five days a week since March. I’ve lost 30 lbs, even with my pandemic-break baking habit! —Aeriel Brown, photo director, Bloomberg Businessweek

Gardening, With a Virtual Assistant

Going full-on geriatric, I tackled the mysterious plants lurking in my back garden, which I’d neglected ever since moving in seven years ago. Though my late father was an avid gardener, I am a neophyte. I was able to identify and research what was what by taking photos with this handy app called PlantSnap. I went rather snap-happy this summer looking for new plants during a vacation in Cornwall. I killed a few hydrangeas along the way and puttered around obsessively battling slugs, but I now know the difference between rhododendrons and azaleas (sort of). —Stephanie Baker, senior writer, London, Bloomberg News

Audible Subscription for Celebrity Memoirs

All right, so there’s no subscription to Audible specifically for celebrity memoirs. But I recommend that’s what you use it for. I’ve found that I’m so addicted to tuning out with podcasts about the news, I need an escape from my escape. And listening to a celebrity prattle on about themselves is like listening to an old friend jabber for a few peaceful, mindless hours. Start with Tina Fey, Rob Lowe (seriously), Mary-Louise Parker, Mindy Kaling, Michelle Obama, Jessica Simpson, Demi Moore, Tiffany Haddish, Jessi Klein, and Carrie Fisher. —Chris Rovzar, editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

Child’s Bike Seat

People in Berlin bike everywhere, and many parents have extraordinarily fancy bike contraptions for transporting kids. (Sometimes three at a time!) So far, we have only a traditional Hamax bike seat for our two-year-old, and that’s been great for making excursions while avoiding crowded public transportation. But how much fun would it be to have one of these e-chariots? —Caroline Winter, reporter, Bloomberg Businessweek

Catan Over Zoom

I learned to play this Monopoly-meets-Game of Thrones board game while staying with friends in Vermont in February, and bought my own set when I got back to Australia. Throughout the pandemic, the four of us (Christy and Eric in Vermont, Katja in New York, and me in Melbourne) have got together over Zoom and FaceTime to play for hours during their Saturday evenings/my Sunday mornings. Each of us duplicates the board, and we debrief about the pandemic, life, and our choices of food and beverages. It’s become the highlight of our weeks. —Jason Gale, senior editor, Bloomberg News

Homesick Challah

I moved with my family to Hong Kong at the tail end of 2019, and it’s an understatement to say that this is not the overseas adventure we’d anticipated. Covid-wise, we’ve been quite lucky, but even knowing how bad things are at home, there’s plenty we miss, including Saturday morning challah french toast. (Turns out challah’s not a staple of Hong Kong bakeries; go figure.) Then a friend pointed me to Joan Nathan’s challah recipe, first published in the New York Times in 2001. Working from an office usually gets in the way of Friday bread-baking, but working from home, even at a desk under my son’s loft bed, has its advantages. I halve the recipe so I can bake it in my tiny counter-top oven, and there’s still plenty left over for French toast. —Janet Paskin, senior editor, Hong Kong, Bloomberg News

Vermouth

As lockdown wore on, I may have realized three martinis in a night is not the best way to make time rush faster. That’s when I switched to just vermouth on ice. Not that rancid bottle of Dolin Dry that went with my gin (keep your vermouth in the fridge, kids!), but fancier, more craft brands such as Lo-Fi Aperitifs Gentian Amaro, a red wine-based bottle which completely changed my opinion of vermouth—so brisk! so complicated! so refreshing! Before long, I had bought up my local store’s supply, falling in love with bottles like Cap Corse Mattei Blanc, Cocchi Americano, Casa Mariol Vermut, and Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aero d’Or. And I’m still discovering more. —Justin Ocean, deputy editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

A Guidebook for Griffith Park

A new book about one of America’s largest urban parks from the founder of ModernHiker.com. Although I’ve lived near this Los Angeles oasis for decades, it led me to parts I didn’t know, from a remote wooden bridge on the Hogback trail to the peak of Bee Rock, a surprisingly arduous climb. “Discovering Griffith Park”  is full of history as well, from Playboy’s Hugh Hefner saving the Hollywood sign to the complicated life of Griffith J. Griffith, park benefactor and attempted murderer. —Chris Palmeri, Los Angeles bureau chief, Bloomberg News

Pirate-Themed Game

The least-expected silver lining of the pandemic has been Forgotten Waters, a witty and beautifully designed pirate-themed role-playing board game. Its online extension let me gather with my old Toronto crew for some grog-guzzling, booty-looting, and over-arrrr-ticulation. —Jeremy Keehn, features editor, Bloomberg Businessweek

Vinyl Records

The screens—online school, scrolling Twitter, streaming music and movies. What a relief late in lockdown to have come late to vinyl. For more than a decade, I’ve driven past a faded Seattle record store called Golden Oldies. One evening, I walked by and left with an armful of LPs. They’re marvelously tactile, resolutely non-digital—and they do sound better. I play them on a basic Audio-Technica AT-LP60X  but now find myself wondering about the Fluance and the Denon and the 2M Ortofon Blue needle … —Peter Robison, senior reporter, Bloomberg News

Walking, Walking, Walking

Restricted to a small circle around our house in London, needing to get away from the place where I now both live and work, I rediscovered the joy of walking. Early in the morning in the half-light, at dusk, on sunny days, rainy days, windy days. Slowing down and watching the seasons change, tentatively and then more effusively greeting other walkers, feeling a slightly bloody-minded shared sense of purpose (especially on days when the ground is slippery and the wind cuts through you, no matter how many layers you wear), finding a connection to where I live. Sometimes listening to a podcast, sometimes just the sounds of the park. Walking is also … free. —Rosalind Mathieson, executive editor, international government, Bloomberg News

Local Pet Rescue

Having a new furry friend to help occupy time, thoughts, and energy during the pandemic has been a lifesaver. Westminster Dog Show, here we come! —Hannah Elliott, car columnist, Bloomberg Pursuits

Posh Candles

We all need a bit more light in this year, so I started buying candles. My go-to brand has been Posh Candle, which make soy-scented ones. They come in jars that carry such inspirational phrases as “Black Girl Magic” and “Boss Lady” that have relaxed me during and after busy work days. Whether I’m burning it or just leaving the cap off, the candles fill my apartment with aromas such as brown sugar, lemon, and eucalyptus. What’s more, the company was founded by a Black woman. —Jordyn Holman, retail reporter, Bloomberg News

A High-Def Projector

When the movie theaters closed in March, I tried to watch films on my laptop, but all I could think of was how much better they would have been on the big screen. In July, my wife gave me the Epson Home Cinema 1060, a marvelous device enabling me to project streaming movies on the wall of my study. I mined the Criterion Channel for the works of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, China’s Jia Zhangke, and Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai, to name a few of my pandemic crushes. I became completely addicted. It was only recently that I realized that I don’t have to watch an incredible movie every evening. But how about tonight? —Devin Leonard, project & investigations reporter, Bloomberg Businessweek

Making Dutch Babies

Yes, I know, everyone became an Instagram-worthy chef during lockdown, but my skills in the kitchen are limited, and the pandemic wasn’t going to change that. So when the New York Times told me in May that I needed just five ingredients to make a Dutch baby—also known as a German pancake—I was intrigued. Turns out it’s easy to make, forgiving if you’re imprecise with your measurements, and open to alteration. Add apple pie spice to the batter? Why not. Top it with honey? Sure. What about marmalade? That works, too. Bonus: It looks pretty impressive popping out of a cast-iron skillet.—Daniel Taub, finance editor, Bloomberg News

Fancy PJs

Printfresh was started by Amy Voloshin, a textile designer and fashion entrepreneur, and the site describes its 100% cotton poplin designs as being “inspired by plants, animals, home decor and a penchant for the 1970s hippie and surf culture.” Who knows what that actually means, but I love its sophisticated, bright designs, as well as the fact that the pajama pants have pockets. I own a pair of their Unicorn’s Garden pajamas, which remind me of the unicorn tapestries that are in the Cloisters, and an indigo pair of their Bagheera pajamas, which are covered with fierce-looking leopards. —Suzanne Woolley, personal finance reporter, Bloomberg News

Biking for Pleasure

I’ve always enjoyed biking as a commute, but this year I rediscovered how much fun it is to bike for leisure. My partner and I drove for hours to find a bike shop with stock, but it was worth it. I got a Giant Contend AR 1. Every weekend we bike some gorgeous roads in the mountains of upstate New York, the Catskills of Sullivan County. The upsides to biking in the mountains are numerous; the downsides—the uphill climbs, the Catskills of Sullivan County? —Rakshita Saluja, equality editor, Bloomberg News

Livestreaming Public Radio

Everything got better when I stopped reading Twitter and started to use my phone to livestream the great Newark, N.J., public radio station WBGO. The DJs are the coolest; the whole vibe is totally chill. I swear it makes me a better person. —Christine Harper, editor, Bloomberg Markets

Composting Service

When New York indefinitely postponed its nascent food-scraps recycling initiative at the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like another damning omen of a city permanently changed. Every time I tossed a banana peel or teabag in the overflowing trash can, it was a reminder that a virus was running rampant and life as we know it was on hold. I investigated buying a pile of composting worms for under the sink, but even their army was too small for the roughage generated by my mostly vegetarian family of five. Then I heard about Groundcycle, a doorstep compost pickup service started by native New Yorker Vivian Lin in the spring. For $12 a week, her team will pick up your scraps and haul them to local farms to be turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer. For an additional $30, Groundcycle will swap your compost for a bucketful of organic produce from the farms you’re helping. Lin’s team will send you weekly totals showing your tallies of pounds produced (I’m now close to 90) and carbon tons offset. Power-washing my jumble of random veggies has become a soothing Sunday ritual, and it’s one of the small ways I’m attempting to combat the helpless feeling the pandemic has wrought. I never thought a bag of turnips would bring me such joy, but 2020 has been a year of surprises. —Devon Pendleton, reporter, Bloomberg News

Frida Kahlo Puzzle

I never thought I’d be into puzzles, and then my husband brought home this 1,000 piece Viva La Vida Frida Kahlo one, and I finished it in a week. It was so damn satisfying to put together something beautiful, “solving” something while the world outside was so crazy and sad. Bonus: It’s from eeBoo, a woman- and working mother-owned specialty toy company that commissions 100% original artwork. —Bernadette Walker, digital producer, Bloomberg Media

Bottled Cold Brew

Pre-Covid, going out to get a midday coffee with my work BF was the highlight of my day. Then the pandemic shut down almost all the coffee places in my neighborhood. So I did a taste test of storebought cold brews, and Califa Farms is absolutely the best: powerful and smooth, the coffee not over roasted. Also, it’s super convenient to just be able to grab it from your fridge. I need to transition back to supporting my local coffee places, but it will be hard to break up with Califa. —Kate Krader, food editor, Bloomberg Pursuits

A Speakeasy Grocery

This appointment only, locally sourced market—Tannat’s “speakeasy grocery”—kept us eating and drinking well through the darkest days of the pandemic (with the satisfaction that we were contributing toward keeping both this small restaurant and their local farmers and suppliers afloat). Some of the best wines and cheeses I’ve tasted, all with the white glove service that appointment-only brings. —Alex Gittleson, executive producer, Quicktake News

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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