Animal Crossing: Real Life

Like everyone, it seems, I’ve been bitten by the Animal Crossing: New Horizons bug (where IS my net?). It has such a simple, peaceful format, with nice, achievable bite-size goals. It’s so pleasant.

It was about when I realized I was spending more time digital gardening than real-world gardening that I wondered, why not?

Let’s try to make real life as nice as our islands.

So here you go: AC achievements for your real life. Have fun and make your world a little better. Print them out and put a stamp next to each achievement as you go. You can even give yourself “nook miles” to spend on yourself!

  • Eat a piece of fruit
  • Plant a tree
  • Plant native flowers
  • Plant a shrub
  • Take a photo
  • Go fishing
  • Hold a celebration
  • DIY
    • a wreath
    • A bench
    • Artwork
    • A gift
  • Customize furniture
  • Send a letter to a friend
  • Give someone a present
  • Buy shares (or invest in your retirement plan
  • Research fossils
  • Google an insect you find outside
  • Tidy up
  • Change your wardrobe
    • Dress in something spooky
    • Dress in something fancy
    • Dress in something colorful
    • Try on a hat
  • Pick up litter
  • Call a friend just to say hi
  • Reach a savings goal
  • Decorate your room
  • Decorate your neighborhood (with chalk)
  • Go for a walk
  • Collect seashells/leaves
  • Catch a butterfly (and then release it)
  • Share a recipe
  • Shop at a local business
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Buy something that will be shipped to you
  • Dig up a rock
  • Put money in the bank/grow your money
  • Pay off a loan
  • Design a pattern
  • Plan a trip somewhere new
  • Make every day feel as cozy as a day in Animal Crossing!

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Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wholly original idea: a modern-written Victorian mystery with a woman at its center. Crocodile on a Sandbank took me a few pages to get into, but once I settled into the Victorian-esque prose (and spellings! and cultural norms!), it felt as cozy as a carriage ride. And the mystery totally fooled me!

Amelia Peabody is a self-possessed woman of means out to see the world. She’s Jane Eyre with money and a backbone. She finds herself a traveling companion (whose own backstory is too juicy to spoil) who more accurately reflects the damsel trope but who herself is also more than she seems. Together, they explore first Rome, then Egypt, following the real-world trend of Victorians gaining an interest in antiquities. They discover not only a pair of archeologists working on a newly-found tomb, but also a devilish mystery!

The book is charming, and very fun. It’s escapism that is happily nestled in reality, and while Amelia Peabody is fictional, the real history packed around the story is obviously well-researched and considered. It’s a thoughtful book that will make you thirst for adventure, carefully balancing modern culture with Victorian concepts. I look forward to reading more!



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Paint-by-Numbers Creativity

A ghastly paint by numbers canvas

I like to craft — I have a bookcase and two storage stacks overflowing with craft supplies of all sorts — and I like to get gifts I can “do.” But because I’m a craft generalist at heart, it can be tough to find a craft.

I got this paint by number set at Christmas and immediately sort of hated it. First, it’s a paint by number. Who does that past age five? I can do real art. There’s no creativity in paint by number; this was even the point of that movie Mona Lisa Smile. You’re just following orders at that point. Plus all the numbers show through when you’re done, so you can’t pass it off as your own work anyway; everyone knows you’re just filling it in.

Second, it’s a bizarre semi-abstract painting of four cats. The little paint pots are mediocre quality, and half the instructions are in Chinese, the rest in computer-mistranslated English. And the canvas is pretty big, like poster sized if you were planning on displaying it for everyone to see your definitely-not-paint-by-number artwork (wink wink).

So when I got it, I kind of laughed, wrote the thank you note, and set it aside.

But I had a baby, and then maternity leave ended, and the world ground to a halt because of zombies covid-19.

As my stress levels climbed, I started to feel like a tube of toothpaste, being squeezed dry of the creative energies I just assumed were an essential pet of myself. I felt desiccated and hollow. And I found myself thinking about that paint by number set. And eventually, I decided to stop berating myself for doing something embarrassing, and I got out the kit.

It’s hypnotic. I don’t have to think. I can let the overworked stress hamster in my brain run itself out while my hands just quietly and methodically fill in the voids. And I felt accomplished, while everything else was spinning out of control. I couldn’t control that, but I could find and color in every little blob marked 12.

And little by little, the ugly incomprehensible blobs started to turn into a picture. The act is soothing, and I will have something visible to show I had done something. It is lots of little victories.

I’m nearly done with it now. It still looks moderately hideous, partially because the cats swirl into each other and are garishly red, blue, and yellow and partially because I didn’t do a great job filling in the blobs. I probably won’t display it on the wall.

But I’m proud of it. It shows I kept going. I’m still here, still doing creative things, things are being created. And I can take some of that pressure off.

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Review: You

You by Caroline Kepnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Smashingly well-written, with the ability to pivot from stereotypically romantic to downright creepy within just a line. I really enjoyed it — but honestly, I couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t the book. It’s the crazy time. It is hard to read anything right now, but especially a book which erodes my faith in humanity and for which I know the major plot points (I was introduced to the book via the TV show on Netflix). I picked up this book to study its form, and for that, it is outstanding. It is delightfully twisted.
But I just don’t have capacity for delightfully twisted right now. I need cozy and sweet. Simple, perhaps fantastical. But I don’t want the world to feel as normal-but-dangerous as Kepnes makes Joe. Yes, I’m breaking up with this book, but it’s not you book, it’s me. It’s the world right now. It’s just not the right time for us to be together. May you have better luck out there in the hands of someone else, someone who can really appreciate you.



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Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was wading through another book, trying to ignore the pandemic in fiction, and the next thing I knew, I was in a bubble bath and rereading Neverwhere. I’m not sure how it happened; I just know it was right.

Neverwhere is a modern fairytale. Not a retelling or modernization of a fairytale, which has gotten very common, but an actual, real fairytale of the modern era. It is something you utterly new that also feels as roomy as a well-worn coat.

It also may be the best book for these uncertain times.

Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, a man who is remarkable only for the utter ordinariness of his life. But he is kind, and helps a stranger in need. Doing so, however, tips him out of the London he knows and into the bizarre and untamed London Below, a place for those who fall through the cracks. He finds himself on a quest, and there are evil henchmen, angels, a wizened earl and his court, temptresses, giants, and more. Everything is tinged with a feeling of not-quite-unease; it’s like what you know, but something is off, a popcorn kernel stuck under the gum, something to worry at. It’s engrossing, and the prose is peak Gaiman cleverness.

I found it reassuring, because no matter how bad it got — and woof, it got bad — I felt Gaiman tugging me along to the ending, and trusted that everything would turn out okay. When the real world feels so uncertain, it was lovely to be swept away to a magical world and to be so assured that it would be all right in the end. It’s a brain break, but not the drunk-on-a-beach kind of brain vacation. It’s more a thoughtful-conversations-in-a-pub sort. The kind you don’t always realize you desperately need.



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Stay Safe. Watch Out for Zombies.

To avoid the zombies, it is important that you stay inside and stay away from other people. It’s spread from close distances, so stay at least six feet away, from strangers, from friends, from family you don’t live with. Wash your hands; zombies hate clean hands. Plan ahead.

Two weeks ago, I was anxious about a lot of things. I was just returning to work after maternity leave, and taking on new work responsibilities while also trying to figure out schedules and how to feed my baby. I was so stressed I broke into hives the second day.

I’m not stressed about those things anymore.

Or rather, I am, but that damned coronavirus has made me and everyone else reevaluate our fears. Now I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid of the economic consequences of not going out, both for my family and the community as a whole. I’m afraid for my parents. I’m afraid for my baby, who is so small, who must be protected.

I feel guilty, because at first, when my daycare was closed for a week because of the pandemic, I was happy. It meant one more week of my baby not being away from the family. One more week we could watch for his first laugh, one more week to help him grow strong. One more week until I had to pick up that anxiety again.

Now it’s been closed for two, and will be closed for at least two more. Now the virus feels like it is swarming my life. Now I feel afraid almost all the time. It’s not some far-off possible fear; it’s pounding at the glass doors of the grocery store.

I’m having trouble reckoning with the virus. It’s invisible, it could be anywhere, and there is nothing I personally can do to fight it. So, recently, I’ve been worrying about zombies.

Zombies are a nice, healthy, irrational fear. Everyone knows they aren’t real. But they are visible, so you’ll know if you see one. They are something you can wrestle with, fight off, but it’s better if you can just avoid them. If your friend is a zombie, you know what to do. Everyone can be heroic in a zombie movie. And most of them end with hope.

It works out that many of the rules for zombies are the same as for an invisible, highly transmittable virus, but zombies are laughable to be afraid of, making them a nice bite-sized fear.

Stay safe out there. Watch out for zombies.

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Review: Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Wonderful modern sci-fi that feels classic — The Things They Carried set in a future where galactic soldiers fight wars with different alien races in every battle. Perhaps the anti-Star Trek: in this book, Earth is stagnated, and while space is widely discovered, every other species is out to get us in an alien-eat-alien world. It’s brutal, and the soldiers have to try to hold tight to their humanity.



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