COVID safe ways to spend winter break

I am guilty of over planning, even when I’m planning time that is supposed to be spent relaxing. Admittedly, I don’t like going into a holiday break without an idea of how I’m going to fill my free time. When you are stuck in your house because of the pandemic, the weeks of free time can seem even more daunting if you aren’t able to have your friends over, or go to an in-person event. If you need some guidance about how to spend your time once you’ve submitted your last final, here are a few ideas.

Finish up holiday shopping

If you are celebrating a holiday over break and haven’t bought your loved ones a gift yet, take the first free day you have to get that done. If you are able to support local places when buying gifts, that’s even better. For those still in Iowa City over break, I love shopping at White Rabbit for myself and others. They sell plenty of gift-able things, like candles, stickers, jewelry, socks, cards, and masks. Artifacts is another great downtown business, and they recently expanded their store, so they have more vintage items to check out. You can support local bookstore Prairie Lights when buying a present for the bookworm on your shopping list.

Set up Zoom sessions with friends

You may have developed an aversion to Zoom after hours of discussion sections, but the video application can be a great way to virtually gather your friends. Among Us and Codenames are both free virtual games I like to play with friends over Zoom. We’ve organized several Zoom birthday parties, where a couple of us will put together a Kahoot with fun facts about the birthday person and we all take it together. We’re doing a Secret Santa party over Zoom, where we drop off the presents at each others’ house and open them on the call. I’ve also seen people on TikTok hold presentation nights where attendants share slide shows on any random topic of their choosing.

Get crafty 

Now is a good time to sit down with a tutorial and become an amateur at something that’s always interested you. Since March, I’ve started some very basic crochet and embroidery projects. If you are taking a hiatus from all learning over break but still want to feel artsy, keep it simple with some markers and a coloring book.

More cozy activities

If you aren’t feeling creative, sudoku, word puzzles and actual puzzles are ways to fill your time and take a break from screens.

I know towards the start of the pandemic a lot of people started baking bread, so these weeks off might be a good time to try out a recipe. Making food usually stresses me out, but I have found a scone recipe that hasn’t let me down or overwhelmed me, and the final product is definitely worth the effort.

Rummage through your parents’ things

If you are stuck in your childhood home, take the opportunity to swipe some vintage clothes that your parent isn’t using anymore. I know in the last few months I’ve incorporated a lot of my mom’s hand-me-downs into my wardrobe. I’ve also been listening to my dad’s records. See if your parents will let you go through their closet or storage bin; you might find something useful.

Speaking of clothes…

Now is a good time to go through your own closet and get rid of anything you’ve outgrown—physically or mentally.

Start planning 2021

Personally, I will be on painkillers after oral surgery on Dec. 31, and likely fall asleep before it’s time to ring in the New Year, which I think is a perfect end to 2020. However, the days leading up to 2021 would be a good time to make resolutions. I also keep a bullet journal where I organize my to-do lists, keep track of my daily mood and list my favorite songs of the month. I like having a personal, physical planner. I just bought a new journal for 2021, and the New Year could be the perfect time to start bullet journaling, if that interests you.


This one always is on my to-do list over breaks when I have the time to read whatever I want, but often gets pushed to the side. It’s worth a try though, and I’ll try to finish at least one of the books on my Goodreads list. I think the trick to motivating yourself to read for pleasure is to pick out a book that you will be entertained by, not one that you are forcing yourself to read.

But seriously…

You’ll probably end up binge-watching. When the inevitable happens, here are my recommendations.

  • “Russian Doll” (Netflix)
  • “Fleabag” (Amazon Prime)
  • “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Netflix)
  • “Big Mouth” (Netflix)
  • “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime)
Youtube Series
Netflix Comedy Specials
  • Everything John Mulaney related: “Sack Lunch Bunch,” “Oh Hello,” “New In Town,” and “The Comeback Kid”
  • Sarah Silverman’s “Speck of Dust” 
  • Jenny Slate’s “Stage Fright” 
  • Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King”
disney original Comfort movies
  • “Read It and Weep”
  • “Let It Shine”
  • “Lemonade Mouth”

Binge listening

I’ve found listening to podcasts feels more productive than watching shows and movies, since you can multitask while listening and you might learn something new. For light-hearted entertainment, I can’t recommend the podcast “I Said No Gifts” enough. The host is incredibly funny and it’s been one of my favorite things to come out of 2020. I’ve also gotten into true crime podcasts. “My Favorite Murder” has a huge collection of shows to binge and even though the subject matter is dark, the hosts are very funny and their casual conversational tone makes the stories easier to listen to. For more serious true crime storytelling, I recommend “Serial” season one, “Crime Junkie,” and “Criminal.” I listen to a lot of NPR, including “It’s Been a Minute,” “Ask Me Another,” “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” “Up First,” and “Code Switch.”

I hope you are able to safely enjoy winter break and enter the spring semester feeling reenergized.

Preparing for my first ever college finals week

The last week of classes begins tomorrow, and then I’ll just have a few finals to complete before my first semester of college is finished. As a high school student, college finals week seemed profoundly intimidating, like an academic marathon, but so far I haven’t been too stressed about them.

Two of the classes I was enrolled in this semester ended months ago, so I only have finals for four classes. Not all finals are created equal, so this weekend I planned out what I have to do for each class.

If you are a college student trying to get organized, or a high school student curious about what to expect from finals week, here is how I organized all the information I need to know before finals week.

I organized my notes in my bullet journal, but if you like to have things digitally, a Google doc or Google sheet would work well.

For each class I wrote the date of the final, as well as how long I have to work on it, since it varies from class to class. In one class, I have an exam that starts exactly at 12:30pm, but for another final exam the test is open between 10am and 10pm, though I’ll only have two hours to take it once I open the test.

One of my finals is just an essay, and another is a combination of multiple elements, so I also wrote down what format each final is in.

I also wrote down which days I will spend studying for tests and drafting essays. Closer to finals week, I will block off specific time for preparing for finals on my Google calendar.

Luckily, I don’t have any cumulative exams, which has also relived some of my worries about finals week. I have one essay that encompasses the whole unit, but I can choose what I want to include to support my thesis. The tests I am taking in finals week only cover the most recent units of my classes. I noted what information will be covered for each of my finals as well.

Finally, I wrote my current grade in each class to remind myself of how I am positioned grades-wise before the final.

I originally wrote out all this information on a Google doc, which is fine if you want easy access to your notes online. However, I keep a bullet journal where I organize my school work, so I transferred these notes to physical paper, which helps me see what I need to do visually. I also left a portion of the paper blank so I can add any extra notes or tasks that come up later.

It can seem overwhelming to think about all the work you have to do, but I find that just breaking the tasks down and organizing them is an easy first step that can make the work ahead seem more manageable.

Good luck with your classes!

Lets talk gen eds

Before I started college, I’d learned that general education classes were something to dread. For some high school students around me, a lack of required gen eds is what drew them to certain private schools. When I started putting together my first semester schedule, I realized all the panic around gen eds was overdone and unnecessary. For each category of gen eds, there is a wide variety of options and I was able to find several classes I was genuinely interested in taking for nearly every category.

As this first semester winds down, I wanted to share my experience with the three general education classes I took this semester.

I am enrolled in AFAM 2267/HIST 2267 African American History to 1877 to fulfill my Diversity and Inclusion gen ed requirement of 3 hours. My professor, Dr. Ashely Howard, is wonderful. I wish I could actually interact with her in class, but I enjoy her asynchronous lectures. This class has given me a more complete and less sugar-coated understanding of slavery in this country than I received in junior high and high school. The discussions often focus on how history is told and how using sources from white slave owners has an influence on how we understand history. The content focuses on history from more than a century ago, but it has given me more information about how systemic racism and inequities Black people experience in this county began before the United States was even founded, and I’ve been able to connect that to modern events. 

I am also taking THTR 1401 Theatre & Society: Romantics & Rebels to fulfill my Historical Perspectives requirement. I love this class. Like Dr. Howard, I wish I was able to interact with Professor Kim Marra in-person, because she seems like a lovely person. She always brings an upbeat attitude to the online lectures and really seems to care about her students, despite not really knowing us. This class has been so fun for me because I’ve been able to learn about historical events and social movements by reading the plays that came out of a particular historical context. In the discussion section my class will talk about the gendered, racial, existential, and political issues presented in the piece, and the ways theatrical choices in casting, setting, lighting, wardrobe and acting style are used to communicate a message. As someone who enjoys theatre and musicals, this has been an engaging way to learn about history. Next semester I am hoping to take another theatre class, Comedy and Society, to fulfill the Values and Culture gen ed requirement. Some of my favorite plays we have read so far are “A Doll House” by Henrik Ibsen, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, “Machinal” by Sophie Treadwell, and “Fences” by August Wilson. 

Finally, I am taking CS 1020 Principles of Computing to fulfill my Quantitative or Formal Reasoning requirement. This class focuses on computer hardware, software, and developing basic skills with code, spreadsheets, and presentation programs. Quantitative and Formal Reasoning is the gen ed that also houses a lot of math classes. As someone who is uninterested in calculus and algebra, I was relieved that there were other ways to complete these gen ed hours. I’ll be honest, this class isn’t riveting. I prefer my other gen eds and my Media Uses and Effects course for my major more, because I am curious about social sciences and understanding human issues. Still, the work in this class has been manageable and I appreciate the chance to learn computing skills rather than solving arithmetic problems. Labs are due almost every week and there are easy to follow written instructions and tutorials that show you how to complete them step by step. You also have plenty of time to work ahead on the labs and they do not take long. Other graded work includes completion of virtual textbook readings and quizzes on the textbook material. 

I am far from finished with all my gen ed requirements, but so far they haven’t lived up to the reputation that proceeds them as a huge burden. I appreciate that requirements for different categories of gen eds force students to consider classes they might not have looked at otherwise. Any high school student who is worried about completing these classes should look through the gen ed catalogue. Hopefully you can find something of interest in each category.

Making a voting plan for 2020


Holding up my mail in ballot and wearing an "I voted today" sticker.

I recently sent in my ballot, casting my vote in a general presidential election for the first time ever. The pandemic has complicated the voting process, but nevertheless I was excited to participate in the process. I chose to vote by mail because I got a request form in the mail and it seemed like an easy way to get my vote in ahead of the election, while potentially avoiding lines at a physical polling place.

If you are eligible to vote this election and have not figured out how you are going to do that yet, make a voting plan! That starts with registering to vote. If you want to vote at an Iowa address, you can do that on this website.  If you aren’t sure about your registration address or status, you can check that on the Hawk the Vote website.

Next, you should figure out how you want to vote. You can vote by mail, vote early at in-person satellite locations, or vote on election day, November 3. It is key to plan ahead if you don’t want to vote on election day. For mail voters, ballot requests (note: not the actual ballots) need to be received by Iowa county auditors by October 24. The actual ballots need to be sent back by November 2. You can track your absentee ballot on this webpage.

Picture of a notebook with an "I voted today" sticker inside.
I keep a notebook where I track the elections I voted in.

For more details on how to register to vote and the different voting format, here are some helpful links:

If you haven’t already, please take the time to check out these resources and figure out how you will be casting your ballot this election.

Masks: necessary and fun

When my high school classes went online and I started hanging out with my friends outside and six feet apart, rather than in each others’ homes on the same couch, I was still adjusting to the reality of the pandemic. One aspect that I hadn’t really accepted yet was that masks were the new normal and we might be wearing them for months. I was never against masks, I just hadn’t been in public at all since the spread in the US started, so I wasn’t used to wearing them. The idea of wearing a mask whenever I left the house for an unknown amount of time bummed me out.

Since classes started at the University of Iowa, I’ve been around others, and thus wearing masks, more than ever. I always understood the need for masks to keep people safe from COVID-19, but recently I’ve started having a lot of fun wearing them. I stocked up on reusable masks from Target and Old Navy with simple patterns and colors on them so I have plenty of options and can even match them with my clothes that day. I also bought a few from Raygun with sayings on them, like, “read the room.” Masks have become another accessory to consider when I’m getting ready, and I feel confident wearing one knowing I’m protecting others and tying my outfit together.

Saving lives should be enough of a reason to do something as simple as covering your mouth and nose, but by having fun with your masks you can make the most out of depressing circumstances.

I recently embroidered the simple cloth mask the University of Iowa provided. I always want to yell at people I see not wearing their mask properly, so I decided to let my mask do that for me by stitching, “cover your nose” into the fabric. If anyone is looking for an easy craft or a way to have more fun with PPE, here is how I did it.

I am by no means an expert at embroidering, this is only the fourth item I’ve embroidered. This is a simple project for any skill level, I think it would be an easy first project for someone trying to embroider.


  • cloth mask
  • embroidery thread
  • needle
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • iron or hair straightener

I thought I would use an embroidery hoop as well, but after trying it out I realized it would be easier to just hold the mask in my hand.


  1. Use the pencil to plan where you are going to embroider. I only embroidered on the top fold of my mask because that doesn’t cover my nose or mouth directly. I don’t think embroidering the mask is very risky because the holes you create are very small and are filled with the thread, but just in case the holes are big enough to let something out, the top fold it isn’t the crucial part covering your mouth and nose. For extra precaution you can attach an extra piece of cloth to the inside of your mask to make sure nothing is getting out. I also wouldn’t recommend embroidering in multiple folds of the mask because it could affect the way it stretches across your face.
  2. Stitch your design. Do whatever is appropriate for your skill level. I am very new to embroidery, so I did simple capital letters. If you look on TikTok or Pinterest you can find beginners stitches.
  3. Wash and dry your mask. I could still see my pencil marks after I embroidered my mask and washing it got rid of that. You should also wash any masks that weren’t packaged when you bought them before wearing them.
  4. Iron. Use an iron so the embroidery sits flat on the mask. If you don’t have an iron you can use a hair straighter.
  5. Wear it! Keep others safe and adhere to this step every day.