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May 192020

Staying home keeps our community safe, but as is often the case, doing what’s right isn’t easy. Some of us are getting sick of spending so much uninterrupted time with the rest of our household, and some of us are getting a little goofy from spending all our time alone. Everyone is missing friends and family they can’t visit. Even as Otsego County gets the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting restrictions, it’s going to be a long time before things return to normal.

I can’t run Digital Drop-In Hours to teach you how to video chat right now, but I can offer up a list of resources and ideas, both high and low tech, for staying connected with our loved ones even while we have to be physically apart.

1. Have a long-distance movie night with a playback synchronizer.

If you and the person you’re missing have access to the same movie or TV show, you can sync up your viewing using Metastream (FAQ here). Metastream doesn’t share your screen, it just syncs up video playback for everyone. So if Kathryn and I both have Netflix and want to watch “Hollywood” together, seeing the same thing at the same time, we could use Metastream to do it. If only I have Netflix, then maybe we should see if there’s anything on hoopla we want to watch together or try some free videos on YouTube. Metastream has an in-built chat feature so you can talk via text as your videos play, or you can just call each other up.

Tired of movies? You could also use Metastream to have a night IN at the opera or the symphony. Dress up, video chat each other, and then use Metastream to sync up one of the many performances available online.

If Netflix is your primary source of streaming video, Netflix Party is a browser extension that works like Metastream, but just for Netflix.

2. Play games together.

There are tons of options for gaming with your friends and family far away, but let’s focus on some free options for now. has a number of classic board and card games, along with a Cards Against Humanity knock-off called “Remote Insensitivity.” Tabletopia is another online venue for playing board games. While some games are only available for paid subscribers, free users have a lot of options of fun, officially licensed modern and classic board games, too. They’ve conveniently listed all of their free games here. They also have a beginner’s guide to playing on Tabletopia here.

Fortnite is free-to-play on nearly every platform, and you can choose to play with friends, even friends who are using a different platform to play. Learn how here. Many older MMORPGs are also at least partially free-to-play, like Runescape, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or Lord of the Rings Online.

Now is a great time to start that tabletop game you’ve always wanted, and Roll20 can help by providing you with a virtual table and dice. Our one caveat with Roll20 is that their video and voice chat can be a little rough. You may be better off pairing Roll20 with your preferred group video or voice chat service, like FaceTime or Discord. (Need some help getting started with tabletop? Try some of the free rules systems listed here.)

If you are thinking of spending a little money, the internet is full of recommendations for the best online games right now. Looking through this library worker’s preferred gaming news site, you can use this guide to find online co-op suggestions and this guide to find online board game suggestions.

November update: Among Us, which is free on iPhone and Android and available for $5 on PC, is a fantastic way to make your next Zoom call more intriguing! Ferret out who among your crew of bean-shaped astronauts is actually an imposter sabotaging your ship. Perfect for fans of The Thing or of the party games Werewolf or Mafia. All you have to do is create the same voice or video chat you would normally and then follow these instructions for creating a private online game.

3. Take video chatting to the next level.

I don’t know about you, but everyone I know, myself included, has been leaning on video chat services to get our regular dose of socialization. Eventually, though, just sitting and talking can feel a little repetitive. Here are some things people I know have done to make their video chats more exciting.

  • Have a virtual wine tasting. (Or beer tasting, or soda tasting, or Oreo tasting…) Try to get your hands on a line-up of the same products, then meet up in a video chat with friends to taste them. This is a great opportunity for that one friend who’s really into craft beer to play guide to the rest of your friend group.
  • Have a dinner date. Cook roughly the same meal, or if you both live in the same area, order from the same takeout restaurant. Dress up, light some candles, and have a fancy virtual dinner for two.
  • Work out together. Would you believe this idea comes by way of my cousin’s middle schooler? Her group of school friends has been meeting virtually to exercise together. If they can do it, why can’t we?
  • Have a “PowerPoint Party.” Set a date with some friends to get together so that each of you can present a slideshow about some topic that’s interesting to you. They don’t have to be serious – this isn’t a school project! Convince your friends why your favorite terrible movie is good, actually, take them on a deep dive into the drama of your favorite reality show, or convince them why your favorite historical hottie should be theirs, too.
4. Go analog.

Not every way to stay connected has to rely on the internet. Here are some of the things we’ve been doing or seen other folks doing to stay connected offline:

  • Are you the type of person who watches people exchange long letters in your favorite period drama and think that must be so much more meaningful than a text? This is your chance to test out your theory. Start up a correspondence with a like-minded friend, an elder relative living in a locked down nursing home, or a stranger.
  • Get creative and try to put together care packages for friends and family that will fit inside whatever envelopes you have at home. What little tokens of affection can you squeeze in there that will make your recipient feel closer to you?
  • Create a family (or friend group, or church, or neighborhood, or…) cookbook. Send out recipe cards to your family and have them send them back filled with some of their favorite recipes.

    Don’t have recipe cards? Use index cards, or have them send recipes to you on whatever they have, whether it’s their own recipe cards or some silly stationary they got for free one time. Having these recipes written out in your loved ones’ own handwriting might just feel a little more precious than an emailed version.
5. Do something for the community.

You’re already staying home to limit the spread, so you’re well on your way to being a good neighbor! If you’re looking for other ways to still feel like part of a community, try some of these ideas.

  • Put your craft skills to use. If you’re a sewing enthusiast, you’re probably already making masks. But sewers aren’t the only ones who can use their skills for good.
    • Yarn crafters can make ear savers for essential workers who have to wear masks all day, or work on other, non-COVID projects.
    • If you’re more of a coloring book type of person, consider taking your coloring skills outside to the sidewalk to brighten up the day of anyone out for a walk. 
    • Paper crafter? Make window decorations to liven up the neighborhood, or make cards for essential workers or nursing home residents.
    • Woodworker? Work on some projects with a mind toward donating them to community organizations’ auction or raffle style fundraisers, or make some fairy houses for a nearby park.
    • Do your craft skills end at being able to use a pair of scissors? Good news! SUNY Oneonta can still use your help to make PPE.
    • Whatever your skill is, there’s sure to be a creative way to serve your community with it!
  • Help your neighbors. Think about who you know in the community who might need a little extra help right now. Is the nice neighbor next door you always chat with older and at-risk? Maybe they would appreciate it if you picked up their groceries while you were getting yours. Is mowing your lawn a nice getaway from the kids’ endless homeschool questions right now? Maybe one of your neighbors would appreciate it if you did their yard, too.
  • Fill out the census. One of the easiest things you can do right now to support your community is fill out the 2020 census if you haven’t already. The census count determines our representation in government and our funding, so it’s important to get every person in the area counted! Already done your census? Bug a friend.
  • Donate to a good cause. If your financial situation is comfortable, consider donating to help those who have taken a hit. Give to a local food bank (money goes farther than food!), a relief fund for workers in industries that have been hit hard, or just your favorite charity whose fundraising has probably decreased.

For more ways to help, check out the Oneonta Area COVID-19 Resources Facebook group. If you already are making or are interested in making PPE, check out the Oneonta Area PPE and Masks Cooperative Facebook group.

6. Use your library!

Last but certainly not least, we here at the library are working hard to help you stay connected. Take advantage of any of our resources – they’re all free!

  • Ariel has begun hosting a virtual book club every month on Zoom! This May, Virtual Book Club is reading The Gone Dead by Charlotte Benz, available through the library on hoopla. They’ll be meeting on May 26th at 7:00 pm to discuss the book. There’s still plenty of time to hop on board! Find out more here.
  • Attend one of Miss Kathryn’s Facebook Live storytimes. If your kids are missing their weekly trip to the library, this can give them an experience close to it. Miss Kathryn will still read to them, lead her storytime songs, and of course, always have Diesel nearby!

    Even if you don’t have kids missing storytime, popping in for a little bit can give you a nice, nostalgic trip back to when you were a kid at storytime – and because it’s on Facebook Live, no one needs to know you were having a bad day and listening to a kids’ storytime picked you back up.

    Storytimes were every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 10:00 am on our Facebook Page during the winter/spring session. This week is Miss Kathryn’s very last week doing storytimes before she takes a break to prepare for summer, but if you missed out, they’re archived on our Facebook Page here.
  • Families with children ages 6 to 14 can participate in our fun, challenge-based STEAM learning and reading program, STEAM @ Home. There are even prizes to be had! Complete missions like making an ecosphere or watching a STEAM education video to earn points. Checking off the right missions and earning points both earn you entries into two raffles. Read more about this program and get started here. Kids have until June 15th to record their progress!
  • Ancestry Online Library Edition is available to use from home while libraries are closed. Normally only available if you come into our building, this service gives you free access to many parts of Start digging into your family history. It could give you something to talk about at the nightly family Zoom meeting (or is that just my in-laws?), an extra reason to call an older relative who can’t have visitors, or just a private moment of connection across time.

    Personally, I found my grandfather’s draft card on Ancestry, complete with his signature. My grandfather passed away when I was too young to form any solid memories with him, but his signature when he was a young man looks uncannily like mine does now. I might have been sitting in bed on my laptop, but I also felt closer to my grandfather than I’d felt in a long time.

    Find your family moment here.
  • Overdrive and Libby, hoopla, and Flipster all have free reading material just waiting for you. Keep your own book club going by checking books out from Overdrive or hoopla. You could even start a book club with all your friends scattered across the country! Their libraries likely also have some kind of online collection.

    Flipster provides free access to many popular magazines, and those magazines are starting to run stories with their own ideas for staying connected or for making staying home more enjoyable. As just one example, Country Living’s June issue is all about making a summer at home great.

    Learn more about these services here.
  • We are hard at work planning a great virtual summer reading program. Be sure to keep your eye on our Facebook and our website or sign up for our newsletter to find out about new offerings.

What creative ways have you been staying connected with your friends and family? Share it in the comments below. It might just be that perfect idea someone else is looking for!

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