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More than three months into staying at home, then staying safer at home, I’ve exhausted my at-home activities.

I’ve done all the puzzles and cleaned out all the closets. Bingeing old TV shows (like every episode of every “Star Trek” series on Netflix) is starting to lose its appeal. Well, almost. I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of “Star Trek,” but you get the point. You can only spend so many hours on the couch with the Enterprise crew, I don’t care how much popcorn and ice cream you have. I’ve kept up my reading and still squeeze in a short hike most days at a local park, though it’s depressing to see so many people walking, biking and trail running without masks. It may be summer, but we are still in the middle of a pandemic.

My springtime plans were crushed — a couple of concerts and my son’s graduation ceremony. This was the big one, too; after three master’s degrees, he finally got his Ph.D. We were going to Disneyland to celebrate. But my problems are trivial compared to what many other people are dealing with right now, so I don’t dwell on them. I have my health, and a home, and plenty of work to keep me busy.

Here on the northwest side, I have acres of wide-open spaces where I can stretch my legs and enjoy some outdoor, versus indoor, solitude. Many people are worrying about what’s going to happen when the unemployment runs out and their jobs don’t come back, and with the eviction moratorium expired, how they are going to pay the rent. They have more on their minds than a canceled Who concert.

So, like everyone else who’s as frustrated as I am by this lingering virus that won’t go away until everyone takes responsibility for flattening the curve, I’m discovering safe distractions that don’t involve a puzzle, the couch or the refrigerator to see me through the summer. Online classes have become my go-to side trip to break up the monotony. The best part about these distractions is, no mask required!

Here’s a quick roundup of my favorites so far:

• Scribe Writing School: Free on YouTube. The video series steps you through how to position, outline, write, edit, publish and market a book, both commercial nonfiction and memoir. There are even free templates to download and you can sign up for a free, live workshop. The disclaimer here is that I’ve done a bunch of work for this company but I don’t get any kind of kickback for telling people about their free video series or workshops. I’ve used their method to ghostwrite many books, and one of them hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller’s list. It works.

• Piano in a Flash: About $150 per eight-week course, less if you buy more than one class at a time. Scott “The Piano Guy” Houston of PBS fame provides online courses coupled with a lesson book and a “gig book” of songs to play. Questions about the lessons submitted to a chat box get a quick response, so you’re never left scratching your head about majors, minors, 7ths and inversions. As an adult learner who failed miserably in private lessons years ago, I’m delighted with Scott’s method. I was playing piano with both hands on the first day! It’s actually easy and fun, and I look forward to my piano time every evening.

• Duolingo language courses for English speakers: Free for the basic lessons and about $10 a month by subscription for premium, less if you pay for a year up front. This is my favorite online language site and phone app and I’ve tried them all. Choose from 36 languages including High Valyrian and Klingon. I’m still stuck on French, but seriously considering trying something “gamier” … or spacier! Qay’be’ (You’re welcome).

• If you’re still stuck on French too, check out the 1980s series “French in Action” on YouTube. The videos are free and you can purchase the textbooks and workbooks online, used or new, for about $5 to $35 each. The 52-episode drama teaches the language through immersion, the same way its creator, Professor Pierre Capretz, taught it at Yale University. Where Duolingo teaches you how to read and write French, this video series will teach you to understand the spoken language and speak it, too. I know it’s old, but it’s really good.

• United Taps Dance Lessons: Free on YouTube or shop for extra content on the website. Rodney Howell teaches tap dance step by step, lesson by lesson. These are dance classes you can follow, no matter how many left feet you were born with. Get yourself some tap shoes and a portable disk to practice on, close all the curtains, cast these shows to your TV set and join the happiest guy online for an invigorating hour of dance. You may never achieve Gregory Hines status, but you’ll work up a sweat with a step-stamp-stomp and a shuffle ball change – and actually enjoy it.

I hope you’re all finding safe ways to make it through the summer too. If you see me at Garden of the Gods or Ute Valley Park, say hello, OK? I’m the one with the mask on.

Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor, and freelance writer. She has lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side for more than 20 years. Contact Susan at

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