What's the best thing you've discovered while in self-isolation? From making movies to creating balcony gardens

'The National' staff share their favourite discoveries while stuck at home

Being stuck at home doesn't have to be a bore, there are plenty of things to discover at home. 
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As life continues in quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can sometimes feel a little static. However, there are still some positives to come out of being stuck at home – including discovering old passions and hobbies as well as finding some new ones to engage in.

Whether it's participating in a deep clean or just planting some seeds to grow in your home garden, The National staff have found plenty to keep busy. Here's a look at some of our favourite things we've discovered while in lockdown:

Kitchen Disco with Sophie Ellis-Bextor

British dance queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor has been doing a kitchen disco every Friday with her children, all boys, taking part. She does it on Instagram Live and performs her greatest hits (including Murder on the Dancefloor and Groovejet) plus a couple of guest tunes on a regular basis. It is a complex formula joyfully executed and a rare ray of sunshine in a confused world. Her husband, who manages the productions, comes on screen himself for the final number, usually in a silly mask. Her little ad-lib asides between lyrics are probably the best thing about it all.

Michael Barnard, sub-editor

Zoom chats with family

My parents have been living in Oman for decades now, my brother stays in the UK, and I moved to the UAE about six years ago. In a pre-coronavirus world, our family would find a way to meet up in person every few months and that doesn't seem likely at the moment. Which means that it literally took a pandemic to get the entire family together at the same time for a group Zoom session. But now, everyone has taken it in their stride. From quiz nights every Saturdays (with extended family joining in) to random virtual cooking sessions with the parents, group Zoom sessions have become a regular part of my schedule. I hope they are here to stay, well after this pandemic is over.

Janice Rodrigues, lifestyle writer

Learning that I can say 'no'

I am not usually very good at saying no. This isn't to boast about popularity, or claim to be the busiest person around. But between work, gym, seeing my family and my friends, it doesn't leave too much time for me to just be at home; to cook, read or watch Netflix – three of my favourite things to do. Self-isolation has, however, afforded me time to do all of those things, and forced me to say "no" to any and all plans. I am, of course, missing my loved ones and have had days when I am crawling the walls like the best of them, but time at home has been a funny little silver lining.

Farah Andrews, assistant features editor

Discovering how to play a new musical instrument

Being at home has given me time to turn an impulse buy into a bitten-off-more-than-I-can-chew musical challenge: learning the oud. Bought on a whim in Istanbul earlier this year, getting a tune out of this six-stringed, fretless bedrock of Arab, Turkish, Armenian and Greek music is harder than it looks. Online courses are one thing, but when you're dealing with an instrument that includes microtones (unknown in Western music), you really need a tutor in the room to shout: "Put your finger on that string. No! THAT ONE. " Nevertheless, it's a nice hobby, gets me using a different part of my brain, and if I can play the Arabic equivalent of Old MacDonald or Three Blind Mice by the end of all this, I'll be happy.

Declan McVeigh, sub-editor

Baking my own bread

Aarti Jhurani's home-made bread. Courtesy Aarti Jhurani
Aarti Jhurani's home-made bread. Courtesy Aarti Jhurani

It probably sounds cliched, but I've been a bit obsessed with making my own bread lately. I'm not much of a baker really. and have never tried my hand at this before, but self-isolation has opened a Pandora's (bread) box. I've tried my hand at making herbed focaccias, garden focaccias, Indian-style whole wheat pavs (buns), whole wheat multi-seed bread and even pizza base from scratch. For someone who bakes regularly, this may not sound like much, but as someone who has always been intimidated by baking, a fresh loaf I've made myself gives me immense satisfaction. I am now on a mission to bake my own sourdough (I bought myself a Dutch Oven this past weekend) and have a two-day-old starter that is thriving.

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor

Cooking with cast iron

Another thing I am currently obsessed with is cast iron cookware, especially since I am spending a lot of my free time in the kitchen. It is a healthier alternative to non-stick cookware and brings out great flavour, but it requires maintenance and there is a learning curve to using it correctly. YouTube has a wealth of information, and if you're new to this, or want some tips and tricks, I highly recommend Cowboy Kent Rollins's channel – a wise, old and funny man who has really helped made this transition easy.

Aarti Jhurani, sub-editor

The joy of hanging out with my cats

Evelyn Lau's cats Amy, left, and Georgie. 
Evelyn Lau's cats Amy, left, and Georgie. 

Working from home has allowed me to spend more time with my four cats. I find it interesting to just observe them since I don't usually have as much time to do so. They're just so cute when they're engrossed and meeping from excitement when they spot a bird outside or just lazily sleeping around the house. In fact, they sleep quite a lot – maybe even more than I realised prior to all this, but I do get quite a lot of enjoyment in just watching them be cats.

Evelyn Lau, assistant features editor

The pleasure of a deep clean

Keeping on top of the housework is a duty usually carried out quickly on weekends, with much resentment about it eating into my precious days off. But now, I've got time to enjoy leisurely making my apartment spick and span, from deep-cleaning the fridge to finally reorganising kitchen cupboards. They're time-consuming jobs, but the effort of performing them is easily outweighed by a sense of satisfaction at being productive.

Emma Day, deputy features editor

Growing my own home garden

Liza Ayach's home garden. Courtesy Liza Ayach
Liza Ayach's home garden. Courtesy Liza Ayach

As I needed someone near to talk to during lockdown, plants crossed my mind. They may not have ears but they can hear, according to scientists who found evidence that plants can actually hear the buzz of passing bees and produce sweeter nectar. I couldn't wait to plant in my humble balcony, which I now call my garden, and witness seeds grow. I felt as excited as a child when they sprouted, which ignited my passion to add more to my collection of plants. I'm a newbie,, but I think I will soon be able to prepare my favourite tabbouleh salad right from my garden.

Liza Ayach, translator

Creating my own stop-motion films

I love the Stop Motion app. My 7-year-old has turned her bedroom into a production studio for sweet little stories like Hide and Seek: Where Is Sunshine? and Halloween Anniversary: Mom and Dad Go on a Bus. Now she's adding live musical accompaniment and learning to edit. It's so much fun to play around with.

Melissa Gronlund, arts writer

Returning to an old hobby 

I've taken up drawing again after decades and enjoying it, but my lack of practice is really showing. I finished an art degree with the ability to draw accurately and with speed, but now, after two decades, I'm back to drawing how I did when I was 14. It's not terrible, but it's clumsy and more than a bit wonky. A good workman never blames his tools, but wondering if I can blame my eyes for seeing things wrong!

Ayesha Khan, podcast editor

Finally planting those seeds

James Langton's plant. Courtesy James Langton
James Langton's plant. Courtesy James Langton

I was lucky enough to cover the launch of UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri in Kazakhstan last September. In the hotel garden at the Baikonur Cosmodrome were several unusual plants, and on the way out I grabbed a few seeds and stuffed them in my backpack. Back in the UK, they remained forgotten until just before lockdown. Some soil and water and two months later...

James Langton, correspondent

Physically and mentally resetting 

Monopoly Empire, a new twist on an old favourite board game, has proved the genuine breakout hit for our household's lockdown days. Its quick pace and revised rules mean each game lasts only a few minutes and there is less grinding inevitability about Empire than there is with its original edition.

Exercise with a target in mind has also proved rewarding. We've spent recent weeks climbing tall buildings together by walking and running up and down our stairs at home. Last week our virtual hike was up the 342-metre Adnoc Tower, the week before it was the Empire State Building. One day we will make it all the way up the Burj Khalifa.

One of Nick March's bookshelves at home. Courtesy Nick March
One of Nick March's bookshelves at home. Courtesy Nick March

My lockdown library, comprised of all the previously unread books on the shelves, has delivered pretty much as I should have expected. I've read a few of those previously untouched books now and realised why a few more of them were left on the shelves for all those years.

Otherwise, we've explored some old favourite movies together, it turns out Dead Poets Society has aged far better than I imagined, and hungrily consumed The Last Dance, like everyone else on the planet.

Nick March, assistant editor in chief