Birthdays in Quarantine

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Welcome. Take five minutes today and let The Times’s classical music writers and some of their favorite artists convince you to fall in love with string quartets. I spent my five with the musician and producer Rostam Batmanglij’s pick, the second movement of Ravel’s Quartet, an easy courtship.

It’s been snowing here in New York City, complicating commutes for those who still have them, changing the view and the light but not much else for those sticking close to home no matter what.

There are 16 inches frozen over on the ledge outside my window, leaving the pigeons without a spot to roost. The red church spires are coated, barely distinguishable from the bluish-white of the sky. The woman next door who runs in place on her porch hasn’t made an appearance all week.

When there’s not much happening, we need to get creative. I wrote last week about Noah from Norman, whose 21st birthday trip to Las Vegas was put on hold. I recommended he do something special to mark his 22nd in a few weeks, but one reader had an even better suggestion: “Since our year ends with 21 now, every month has a 21 day in it and every hour of every day has a 21 in it, there are many possibilities to celebrate.”

Here’s how some other readers have observed birthdays during the pandemic.

  • “For my son’s 12th birthday, in October 2020, we planned a socially distant scavenger hunt. Each clue sent us to a different local family member’s house where they met us outside to wave hello and help find the next clue. Ultimately we ended up back home, where we had filled his room with balloons and his presents were waiting.”

  • “My wife and I have gone to see a movie in theaters on my birthday every year since we have been together. But for my 31st birthday this year we switched it up a bit: After putting the kids to bed, we made some stovetop popcorn and watched ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix from our couch. We joked that it’d be nice to have one of those theater brooms to clean up the Legos and stuffed animals in front of our seats.”

  • “For my 80th birthday, my four sons, 10 grandchildren, my brother and several friends celebrated me on a call where we could break out into small group conversations. California, Indiana, Oregon, Florida, Ohio, Scotland, Boston, Westchester were all represented. We looked at photos, sang, told ‘you wouldn’t believe what mom did’ stories for hours. After the party, the kids sent us dinner from one of our favorite New York City restaurants. I’m still basking in the glow.”

  • “My daughter turned four this week. We had a few of her neighborhood friends over for cake this past weekend on our deck. It was cold and rainy, and a true Covid-style birthday party. It was a good example of how we have become much more resilient than we ever imagined. Previously we would’ve canceled an outside gathering. This year we put up an umbrella, wore rain jackets and powered through.”

  • “My 40th birthday was set to be a rager. I had the venue and the DJ, hotels were booked and flights set. Then Covid hit, cancelling everything, obviously. So on the night of my 40th, alone in my apartment, I logged on to Zoom where two of my friends had put together an hourlong playlist for us to share, and we danced our asses off.”

  • “Just ten days after going into lockdown, I was celebrating my 83rd birthday. Normally, I would have taken treats to the senior center and enjoyed the day with friends. I was a bit down because we couldn’t get together. Then my younger daughter called to tell me to get out on the front porch and sit in the swing. She had arranged a drive-by birthday party with horn-honking and singing and shouting. My darling young neighbors who had just birthed twin girls shouted wishes from my front sidewalk.”

It’s not my birthday, but I’m going to make Samin Nosrat’s Goodbye Beans and check out Theater in Quarantine’s 32-minute “Blood Meal,” free on YouTube. According to the critic Elisabeth Vincentelli, the show “skillfully maps a familiar world where an invisible danger lurks everywhere.”

The architectural historian Barry Lewis, known for his fascinating tours of New York City with David Hartman on PBS, died this week. I’m going to check out their walk up Broadway, circa 1999, which I’ve never seen.

And while my cookbook club is on hiatus, I’m considering taking Pitchfork’s advice for starting a virtual listening club, a themed video meetup where a group of friends gather to listen to music together each week. Or I might just set up a hangout on JQBX, a collaborative listening app, where people can take turns DJing for one another.

What’s one thing you’ve watched, read, cooked or listened to lately that inspired or excited you? Write to us: [email protected]. Include your name, age and location, and we’ll share a list of recs in an upcoming newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a full life at home, on your birthday and every day, appear below.

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