Granite Staters get creative during COVID-19

Individual passions, once an outlet to pass the time, have become instrumental to the “Safer at Home” lifestyle

By Ian Lenahan via the Granite State News Collaborative

With a large chunk of free time initiated by the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Debbie Bassett, a Realtor from Newmarket, needed to keep herself busy at the beginning of quarantine. Having just finished painting two rooms in her home, she decided to keep her creative groove growing and tried her hand at painting rocks she found while tending to her family’s garden.


The cover of John Shaffer and his wife Lynn’s new cookbook that they created during quarantine. Both John and Lynn are pictured wearing face masks. (Courtesy)

Fully decked out in a multitude of hues, pastels and painted images, Bassett’s intricate brush work has served as an outlet to relieve tension caused by the uncertainties of the pandemic.

“It’s been fun and time-consuming but also helped relieve some stress over this current situation in the world,” she said.

It’s not just an artistic endeavor for herself, either. At the beginning of quarantine, Bassett’s husband and son hid some of her completed rocks, adorned with inspirational messages or funny notes, around Newmarket. Bassett noticed residents posting their appreciation for finding the rocks in local Facebook groups — a rewarding result for her newfound hobby.

“Again, being able to offer a bit of sunshine to someone’s day during such a difficult time makes me feel better,” she said. “I think it’s important that we all find ways to bring a little happiness into each other’s day, not just during a pandemic, but always.”

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, some residents in New Hampshire have spent life at home since March learning new skills, exploring newfound passions and accomplishing once-daunting tasks with hard work and perseverance.

Now, as the timeline of coronavirus’ landing on American shores reaches several months, such individual passions, once an outlet to pass the time, have become instrumental to the “Safer at Home” everyday lifestyle for some Granite Staters.

Published in the spring by the Clinical Neuropsychiatry Journal of Treatment Evaluation, “Stress and Coping in the Time of COVID-19: Pathways to Resilience and Recovery” authors Craig Polizzi, Steven Jay Lynn and Andrew Perry wrote that quarantine hobbies and other activities are a “robust predictor of increased psychological well-being and reduced posttraumatic stress symptoms.”

The authors referred to such coping activities as “behavioral activation.”

“They facilitate the ability to bounce back from negative experiences… reduce the psychological burden imposed by prolonged distress, and free-up cognitive resources to contend with everyday stressors and adjust to fluctuating situational demands,” they wrote.

For Bassett, her newfound craft helped take her mind away from current stressors.

“I don’t like not having something to do, so being home so much and not being able to be out doing the things I normally would be doing makes me feel down and anxious,  all at the same time,” she said. “Occupying my mind with a new hobby helps me focus on something else besides those feelings.”

Aside from Bassett, other hobbyists found solace through experimentation in the kitchen, such as Portsmouth resident Anne Weidman, a flavor enthusiast who cooked up a trendy recipe not often associated with New England cuisine: Sriracha.

“I saw a recipe for Sriracha… it had never occurred to me that Sriracha sauce was something you could make in a home kitchen. I was intrigued with making something that people in New England don’t often make at home,” she said.

Weidman, who says the kitchen became “the center of our universe” for she and her husband during the stay-at-home order,  purchased a bag of habanero peppers and fermented them in a dark kitchen cabinet. She decided the recipe was tasty enough to continue making, all from the comfort of her home.

“It’s very easy, my first batch came out perfectly and I’ve been making my own sriracha sauce ever since,” she added.

Weidman noted that, beyond adding a new skill to her kitchen repertoire, she was able to reconnect with a friend who is a hot sauce enthusiast.

“He has sent me many new inspirations for what to do with the sriracha,” she said. “I’m now making double batches so there’s enough to share.”

In Wakefield, John Shaffer, a retired school food services administrator, and his wife Lynn had previously decided that, at the onset of the new year, they would consume less greasy meals and cut back fast food in 2020. Then, once the pandemic struck and their culinary minds collaborated to create wholesome meals, a joke was raised: Wouldn’t it be funny to write a cookbook from all this?

Pretty soon, however, the joke turned serious. With schedules indicating nothing but free time, why not create a cookbook?


Portsmouth’s Heather Grace stands atop Mt. Liberty on Sunday, September 6. She and her friend have now hiked 12 of New Hampshire’s famed 48 4,000-footer mountains since they took up the hobby a few months ago. (Courtesy)

Taking home recipes, as well as recipes from television and online outlets and adding their own personal twist, over time the Shaffer’s created their own COVID-19 centric cookbook.

“We’d see something we liked and talk about how we’d change it. Why bread that grouper? We could season it, grill it, serve it with a garlic steamed spinach,” he said of their thought process. He later added, “We would write up a recipe and put it on file. Then we began joking. A COVID (-19) cookbook was born.”

Spiral-bound and acronym-minded, the book, titled, “Creating Our Virus Inspired Dishes: 19 to 100 recipes Cookbook 2020,” was published by Morris Press Cookbooks. (cq)

Shaffer said that he and his wife’s creation has been a way for them to grow even closer together.

“We would plan our meals accordingly. Every day became an adventure. Our meals would be comfortable, a collaboration, fun. It’s brought us so much closer. Our 36th anniversary is this October. We’re still having fun,” he said.

Heather Grace, another Portsmouth resident, said she hadn’t exercised regularly in over two years when a close friend reached out to her and said she wished her husband enjoyed hiking as much as she did. On a whim, Grace told her friend she’d accompany her on a hike.

Grace and her friend, bracing the elements, decided to hike up Mt. Jackson, one of New Hampshire’s 48 famed minimum 4,000-foot-high peaks. Upon summitting, they crossed over to Mt. Pierce and headed down. Grace quipped that, after nine-and-a-half hours and nine miles covered trekking through rain and mud, it looked like she and her friend had completed a Tough Mudder competition.

“We left at 5:45 a.m. that morning, started hiking at 8 a.m., finished 5:30 p.m. and got home around 8 p.m.,” she said. “It was an accomplishment and after that we were hooked.”

Since then, Grace and her friend have decided to shoot for a goal commonly on the bucket list of outdoors-centric Granite Stater residents and visitors — to hike all 48 of the 4,000 footers.

Since first reaching the top of Mt. Jackson and scaling down Mt. Pierce, Grace has come a long way regarding her knowledge on certain tips to ensure a pleasurable hike. She recommends less experienced hikers to purchase a Hike Safe Card, a card only applicable in New Hampshire, that can be applied in the event of an emergency rescue and will monitor rescue expenses. Furthermore, she believes it’s important to download the AllTrails phone app to read reviews of mountains and what it’s like to hike them. In her experiences, show up to the mountain before 8 a.m. to get good parking, invest in poles if you have problematic issues with your knees or ankles, splurge on good boots, bring lots of water and high energy, protein-filled snacks and talk to others who have hiked any trails you wish to pursue.

And what gives her the credibility to share such tips? Her yearning to achieve the 4,000-footer glory has kept her active: Over Labor Day weekend, Grace and her friend finished their 11th and 12th 4,000-footer hike, just a few short months since their hiking collaboration began.

A quarter of the way to the long sought-after goal, Grace has now completed hikes up Mt. Jackson, Mt. Pierce, Mt. Tecumseh, Mt. Hale, Mt. Moosilauke, Mt. Willey, Mt. Field, Mt. Tom, Mt. Osceola, East Osceola, Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume.

For Grace, the benefits of her new passion are plentiful.

“It’s been a way to get out of the house, socialize (with my hiking partner), and get in shape physically. It’s helped mentally to connect with nature, set a goal and feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

What started as a random quarantine activity has led to a marriage with nature, exercise and camaraderie with her friend and fellow hikers, a newfound hobby Grace will continue to work hard at.

“We’ve gotten better. We joined a Facebook page for people completing the (48 New Hampshire 4,000-footer) challenge to ask for advice. We purchased all the right equipment. We learn more each time,” she said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, go to 








Categories: COVID-19, News