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People find ways to keep busy, have fun while social distancing

Four-year-old Scarlett Jerry learns her numbers on a home made Chutes and Ladder board made in the driveway of her home in Sheridan, Wyoming.

How do you pass the time when certain activities are restricted by social distancing?

For the last two months, this has been a question on the minds of many Americans as most the United States has operated under social distancing measures or stay-at-home orders. The COVID-19 pandemic has left people searching for new ways to stay entertained or indulge old and new hobbies.

Sewing was one of the first hobbies to make a comeback. Across the country the need for protective masks has increased. The New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) and several other medical facilities put out a call for mask donations and many sewers answered the call.

Before the COVID-19 health crisis, Sonja Liv Cool of Edina was already an avid seamstress. One of her main hobbies was designing themed dresses. She recently made one based on Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” She planned to wear it on a trip to Disney World, but then coronavirus hit.

Now, Cool has put her sewing skills to making masks. She is able to create a mask in under 10 minutes.

Jordan Gamache is getting back in music with his brand new Fender Telecaster.

“If you told me ‘I need ten masks in an hour,’ I could do it,” she said. “You’ve got to have a system.”

One strategy is to rip the fabric rather than cut. Cool said cotton will rip along the fiber line. This makes it easy to make several masks at a time.

The greatest struggle in making masks is finding elastic. Cool has put out a call for extra elastic and was pleased to find friends willing to donate material.

As a Registered Nurse, Cool has seen first hand the need for a supply of masks. She works at group homes in St. Paul. She primarily takes care of patients on ventilators.

“We have the most clients we’ve ever had because hospitals are really doing everything they can to get ventilated clients out of the hospital quickly and into homecare,” she said.

When not working at a group home, Sonja Liv Cool is often working on making masks or new theme outfits. Recently she combined the hobbies with a face mask to match her “Lady and the Tramp” themed dress. The dress and mask is made to resemble the table from famous spaghetti scene.

Masks are required for all staff at the group homes, which increases the demand for masks. Her group home was able to get some masks through donations and she and a few others began making their own, but the need is always there. Unfortunately there have been fraudulent suppliers promising masks and failing to deliver.

Fortunately, Cool was able to find some additional masks thanks to another one of her other hobbies. A friend who imports board games and Magic the Gathering Cards had access to a supply of masks in a warehouse. Her company was able to buy 1,000 from him.

“We’re getting masks in weird ways,” she said.

Many of the masks she makes are basic, but Cool has been experimenting with creative masks. She decided to make one mask based on her “Lady and the Tramp” dress. She is considering making more themed masks to match her dresses.

“It is a fun way to express yourself in the workplace,” she said. A “My Little Pony” mask makes people laugh. A Star Wars mask is a conversation starter. “That’s what we do as nurses. We make people feel comfortable. If there is something extra to make our clients smile, that’s great.”

Following the stay at home order, Carolyn Borgen rekindled her love of sewing by finishing a quilt she started 11 years ago. The family cats appreciate the quilts too.

When the stay at home order hit, Carolyn Borgen of New Ulm decided to take the opportunity to clean her home. She started with a craft closet and found a supply of fabric and her sewing machine. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently posted instructions on making face masks. She started making masks for those who needed them. In digging through the fabric she discovered a quilt she started 11 years ago but never finished.

Borgen said she started the quilt before moving to New Ulm. She packed it away and has since forgotten the pattern.

Borgen used to make quilts for family and friends, but had fallen out of the hobby.

“This was a big part of my life and I just forgot how much I really liked it,” she said.

With extra time on her hands, Borgen began experimenting to figure out her quilting mindset 11 years ago. This task has turned out to be good therapy.

Borgen admitted the stress and anxiety of the current health crisis can be overwhelming.

“By turning on that sewing machine and putting a needle to fabric it has helped relieve that worry,” she said.

Borgen finished the quilt she started 11 years ago and it will ultimately serve as a gift, but her next quilt will be one she keeps. With the quilting hobby reignited, Borgen said she will be keeping the sewing machine nearby even after the stay at home order is lifted.

When not sewing, Borgen has also continued teaching music. She teaches the string bass through the Suzuki school. Lessons are still available online.

“I am surprised how well lessons are working,” she said. Early on there were issues with phones and computers being unable to pick up low tones, but she found a work around. Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council gave a grant for teachers that allows her to get wireless headphones to help her hear students better.

“It has made the experience even better,” she said.

Music continues to be a popular hobby during quarantine. Before the pandemic Jordan Gamache was planning to get married, but the wedding date was pushed back until next year. Now he’s getting back into the guitar.

Gamache said he has been playing the guitar since he was 14.. During his stay at home he wanted to get in more practice so he purchased the best guitar he could imagine: a Fender Telecaster in seafoam green. Gamache likes it because it looks like a 1950s guitar, but with a modern sound.

Since acquiring the new guitar he has been practicing at least once a day. He’s currently working on mastering “Miserlou” by Dick Dale. It is a challenging song. It is a very fast song that requires a lot of quick pick work.

“I think I’ve got most of it down,” he said. His plan is to take a deeper dive into Dale’s full catalogue of songs.

Gamache’s next ambitious goal is to play Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” He has the intro down and one of the first verses. He is hoping to at least get the guitar solo down.

As Gamache practices the guitar, 3M co-worker Shawn Taggert is practicing the bass.

“I am trying to rebuild my calluses on my fingers,” he said.

Recently the bassline from Fallout Boy’s “Where Did the Party Go,” got in his head. “I thought, I could probably play that on bass.”

He was correct. Taggert said he now has the bassline memorized.

When not learning a new bassline he is trying to stay connected to friends. Online gaming has been one method of social contact.

“I never got into online games before, but it is different when you are quarantined,” he said.

The area of social distancing has made some people miss the simple connection of hearing other people talk. A popular trend is people reading stories online.

Brett Skeeter of Duluth has been experimenting with creating his own audio books.

“I work with kids normally and I realized I like reading out loud and coincidentally I’ve also been getting into audio books,” he said.

After listening to several audio books Skeeter got the cadence on how to read for a general audience. One of the tricks is to pause at the correct moment, usually around quotes. His focus has been finding stories in the public domain so he can post the readings to youtube.

Skeeter’s first video is for the William Faulkner short story “A Rose for Emily,” a Southern Gothic tale about an old shut-in. Skeeter said it was a chance to practice his accents.

“I liked the fact I was able to read it in one take,” he said. The entire recording is around 20 minutes.

Skeeter is considering which story to tackle next. He is working on an audiobook of “Charlotte’s Web.” After that he might take personal requests from friends.

“I have a couple who, for different reasons hate reading, but will do audiobooks,” he said “and of course if it is a friend or family member reading, people are more inclined to listen.”

Reading stories online has caught on in New Ulm as well. The State Street Theater has started posting videos on their facebook page of different readers sharing their favorite stories. These videos have also appeared on New Ulm Cable Access Television (NUCAT).

Conference streaming technology has allowed friends several states apart to communicate. Cody and Tiffany Jerry live in Sheridan Wyoming, but they are still able to play games with friends and family in Minnesota.

By combining Zoom conference technology with the Jackbox TV Party games, the Jerry family is able to play drawing based games.

Their four-year-old daughter Scarlett is also getting into the fun. She’s been unable to take part in play dates since early March, but her parents were able to develop a child-friendly drawing game the kids could play over Zoom.

Finding activities for a child can be a challenge, but Cody and Tiffany have gotten creative. To help Scarlett learn her numbers, Tiffany created a giant Chutes and Ladders in their driveway.

“We have her roll the dice and then count her spaces,” Cody said.

When not working on educational material, the family is holding movie nights. They set up their basement den to resemble a small movie theater complete with rows of chairs. All of Scarlett’s stuffed animals were invited to the screening of “Trolls 2: World Tour.”

Scarlett’s favorite character in the film is a living flute named Pennywhistle. Since there are no toys based on the character, Tiffany was able to sew a homemade Pennywhistle. The family takes the new toy on walks and photographs Pennywhistle in different settings.

Ask what they are going to do when quarantine ends, Cody said they’re going to Disney World.

“As funny as that sounds we were planning a trip before,” Tiffany said. The trip was planned for September, but might be postponed until later depending on how long this health crisis lasts.

The coronavirus has given people time to try new things and revisit old hobbies, but there is a universal desire for stay and home orders and social distancing to end. This way fun home based activities can go back to being simple hobbies.

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