Coping through the pandemic one gadget at a time
It isn’t until we face daily doses of anxiety and existential dread that we realize what kind of people we are. Are we stress eaters or cleaners? Stress nappers or binge-watchers? I, it turns out, am a stress online shopper.
Since March I’ve been dealing with the various stages of uncertainty and unrest by bringing new gadgets into the house. And now that it’s holiday shopping season, I’m here with honest reviews of the various items that have brought a bit of joy to my work-from-home, school-from-home, dance-from-home existence.
*Disclaimer: I am fully aware that while I am employed and my family is in good health, that isn’t the case for so many others. I am extremely appreciative of my situation and will be donating goods and rarely used items to Father Joe’s Villages and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.
Stage 1: “This will all be over in a few weeks”
Miroco Electric Kettle, $35
In the office, where surely I’ll be able to return to soon, making a cup of tea was as easy as turning on the hot water tap. At home, that process was taking 20 minutes thanks to the slow but charming whistling tea kettle. In quarantine, that noise became jarring and annoying, especially when certain teens and spouse turned it on before a Zoom meeting and then expected it to magically shut off somehow? Once, to prove a point, I refused acknowledge the kettle. It whistled and whistled until all the water evaporated and I had to turn it off anyway. So, yes, maybe I rage-bought the electric kettle, but now we get boiled water in about five minutes, it’s practically silent, and — most important — it switches off automatically.
Pandemic plus: Cuts down on my festering resentment.
Rating: 8/10 because if you don’t take out the leftover water, it stains.
Stage 1.5: “This will all be over in a few weeks” part 2
SimpleTaste Milk Frother, $9.95
Thanks to the electric kettle, my family went a bit overboard with hot drinks. Simple herbal teas turned into English tea with milk or chai tea lattes. So the next logical step in our beverage journey was to add a small, handheld milk frother. There’s no real justification for anyone to get this gadget except to brighten a dreary day with a frothy coffee or hot chocolate.
Pandemic plus: In a year like 2020, simple joys are everything.
Rating: 7/10, easy to use but frivolous.
Stage 2: “Wait, this is really bad”
Breville Toaster Oven, $150
In April, as our house also became an office, a school classroom and a ballet studio, we survived off a lot of avocado toast and bagels. But I constantly lived in fear that our rickety, hand-me-down toaster oven from the 1990s would go full “This Is Us” and burn down the house. Because this was my first, ever new toaster, I went a bit more high range and splurged on a Breville. Ultimately, I was won over by the very specific cook settings, including one for bagels, reheating pizza and ... cookies?! Who knew you could just pop in a few balls of cookie dough in a toaster?
Pandemic plus: My 12-year-old loves it so much, she no longer needs me to make her meals.
Rating: 9/10 because it takes a few days to figure out the high-tech buttons
Stage 3: “How long can this table double as a desk?”
Renwer Essential Oil Diffuser, $18
After over two months of working from the couch, the dining room table, the bed, the patio, it was time to create a more productive work space. That meant clearing part of a storage room to fit a small desk, and putting up an old curtain to double as a partition/Zoom background. Because I’d be sharing space with unused CDs, discarded toys, old newspapers and bags of outgrown clothes, I figured an oil diffuser could freshen up the room and also balance my many moods. Of course, I picked one that lights up in various colors, too. The cleansing eucalyptus and uplifting citrus oils (that I purchased separately) worked so well that within days, my 14-year-old stole it for her room.
Pandemic plus: Productivity and very cleansing breaths.
Rating: 7/10 because it’s a multi-step, sometimes messy process to clean and fill.
Stage 4: “Is it allergies or coronavirus?”
Pulse Oximeter, $29.99
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We use this anytime someone in the family sneezes, coughs or complains of a headache, sore throat or overall blah feeling. It gauges your oxygen level, but also tells you your heart rate. Sometimes, we have a contest to see who has the lowest one. I never win.
Pandemic plus: Prevents us from making panicked calls to the doctor.
Rating: 7/10 for being a bit temperamental and not always giving accurate readings on the first try.
Stage 5: “This is never going to end, is it?”
GoWise USA 7-Quart Air Fryer, $105
This was an impulse buy, inspired by watching too many TikTok videos late at night. Like, what happens if I put this raw egg on a piece of toast in the air fryer? Magical breakfast! What if you cut a hole in Pillsbury biscuits and put it in the air fryer? Doughnuts! I was not prepared for how giant this appliance would be and my 1930s-era home does not have the counter space. In order to use it, I have to move the toaster oven into the storage room/office. At first, I used it to heat up tater tots and frozen chicken, but quickly realized the toaster oven also does this. I did air fry a piece of challah with butter, so that was a fun and delicious five minutes. The best thing about the air fryer is that it doubles as a dehydrator and making dried apple slices is my new hobby.
Pandemic plus: Brings out creativity in the kitchen.
Rating: 4/10, fun and easy but not necessary and much too bulky.
Stage 6: “What is night? What is day?”
Fulext Bluetooth Sleep Headphones, $19.99
You know when you lie awake at night thinking all the things: injustice, disease, elections, are my kids going back to school, do red grapes taste different than green grapes, was I rude to that person last year, how long can I avoid the dentist? Those thoughts make sleep especially difficult, but I’ve been able to easily doze off thanks to the single most important gadget I own: bluetooth sleep headphones. Imagine a soft headband with tiny speakers sewn inside that lull you to sleep with whatever comforts you the most. The speakers connect to most devices, so you can fall asleep watching Netflix or listening to an audiobook or podcast without bothering or waking anyone up. Pro tip: listen to a podcast or book that’s equal parts interesting and boring (Jane Austen’s “Emma” and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography often do the trick for me).
Pandemic plus: Allows me to be a functioning member of society.
Items available on Amazon and other online retailers, individual prices vary.
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