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Socially! Distant! Fun! 5 Ways to Safely Connect with Friends and Family

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 16, 2020

The pandemic has many of us rethinking the way we connect with family and friends. Now that we're in the thick of the holiday season, this feels more and more important. Scheduling regular phone calls and video chats are a good start, but adding an activity, a common goal, or some other kind of entertainment can really make the whole exchange more satisfying. Here are five ways we've been making our virtual gatherings more fun.

1. Read-aloud Parties

Many teachers and grandparents have already discovered that reading aloud is a great way to virtually connect with the kids in their lives, but it works well with adults too. If your video chats with adult siblings or long-distance friends have gotten a little stagnant, try a read-aloud party. As we pointed out in this blog post last year, reading aloud is always a great way to connect with loved ones at any age. The perfect read-aloud book shouldn't be too long and dense. It should have riveting prose and thought-provoking ideas—the kind of book that leaves you craving a conversation about it. But the beauty of reading aloud is that it can work with any book you choose. In addition to the great read-aloud books suggested in our post, here are some additions for older readers:

  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill: A beguiling rumination on marriage, this slim volume is filled with shimmering moments of contemplation, along with quirky humor and piercing insights.
  • Anxious People by Frederik Backman: The bestselling author of uplifting, witty novels like A Man Called Ove returns to form with this ingeniously constructed story about a botched bank robbery.
  • Insomniac City by Bill Hayes: A funny, tender memoir about Hayes's relationship with Oliver Sacks in the last years of Sacks's life, this book reads like a conversation between the two brilliant, insightful men.
  • Educated by Tara Westover: Another memoir, this gripping account of a woman's experiences going from a hardscrabble, survivalist upbringing to earning a PhD at Cambridge is a wild ride.

2. Work on New Skills Together

Many of us have taken the opportunity of more free time at home to learn something new, like knitting, baking bread, or learning a new instrument. Take this a step further and make video dates with friends to share this new knowledge. Or maybe it's something you both want to learn. Do it together...virtually! Check out this blog post from earlier this year with some unusual crafting ideas. Another post from the spring suggested some other fun diversions to consider. And below are guides for some of the most popular pastimes.

3. Prepare and Enjoy Food and Drinks Together

Eating and drinking with friends is one of those pleasures that we have all been missing. Video happy hours can feel less than satisfying without this shared gastronomic experience. So how about starting with a virtual cooking/mixing party. After you finish making the yummy food and drinks you can all sit down "together" and nosh.

This takes some planning, of course, to ensure that everyone has the correct ingredients and recipes on hand. For a bevy of delectable beverages, try The New Cocktail Hour by Tenaya Darlington or find excellent nonalcoholic options in Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge. For an array of delicious hors d'oeuvres, check out Martha Stewart's Appetizers.

If you're interested in a full-meal deal, here are a few new cookbooks that are getting high marks, both for the yum factor and the ease of use. Modern Comfort Food is the newest offering from the always wonderful Ina Garten. Many of these dishes are inspired by the Barefoot Contessa's childhood favorites. Vivian Howard's This Will Make it Taste Good has been called "an essential work of home-cooking genius that makes simple food exciting and accessible." Both these cookbooks use ingredients that are easy to find, keep around, and cook with.

4. Watch a Movie Together

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally and Harry are watching Casablanca on TV, while they talk on the phone from their respective apartments. Things have changed a lot since those days, but sharing the experience of watching a movie or TV show from a distance is still a great idea. And it's a great option for watching all of our favorites, new and old, with friends and family. There are a lot of streaming options for this scenario, but if you don't subscribe to streaming services or struggle with internet capabilities for such an operation, we have a huge selection of titles available that you can purchase on DVD for home use. Ready, set, call your friends/family, and push play!

5. Have a Sing-along

Is yours the type of family that enjoys singing Christmas carols together? Do you have fond memories of gathering around the piano for a good old-fashioned sing-along? Consider a less old-fashioned version! It may be challenging to get everyone synced up on Zoom, but just sing super loud so you can't hear the others! (Ha ha.) Whether or not you have an accompanist, pick up one of your favorite songbooks—holiday-themed or not—and get everyone to dial in and make a joyful noise. Here are some of our top picks:

Hopefully there are some ideas here that will work for your tribe during these strange times. If you have any suggestions to add, we'd love to hear them!

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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