“The Next Normal” explores the many ways in which the pandemic has changed how we connect, celebrate, and express ourselves. From inspirational advice on trying something new to tips on making the most of virtual festivities, this series is all about easing difficult times and looking on the bright side.  

Woman opening blinds

We have been through a lot in 2020. From the COVID-19 pandemic to social unrest, the year is one that will live in infamy. Despite the upheaval and 2021 not coming soon enoughthere were still some bright spots that came out of 2020.    

The pandemic helped reinforce our sense of community. Ashelterinplace measures began to loosen, we began disconnecting from technology and reconnected with our neighbors from six feet away. Whether it was in a park or in a driveway, wdusted off lawn chairs to sit and talk with one another. Though conversations mostly revolved around the pandemic (how could they not?), these friendly dialogues harkened to days of yore, when life was simpler, slower, when people were nicer to one another.  

Yes, we still used technology in 2020, perhaps ever more so. Conference calls, distance learning, virtual happy hours, checking in with friends and family living in other parts of the world. Who knew that being physically distant from each other would bring us socially closer?  

As we learned new ways to communicate with others, we also began looking inward. A fascinating aspect to our time in quarantine has been how we found new creative outlets to spend our time. We stepped out of our comfort zones to try new hobbiesWe learned crocheting and crafting, photography, gardening, even hosting podcasts, as well as all that bread baking 

We spoke with six folks, from teachers to nurses, about how they embraced their creative sides during the pandemic. Here are their stories.


Rolling in dough 

Kaitlyn Oldham of Beaverton, Oregon, was a full-time student, studying to become a sign language interpreter at Portland Community College when the pandemic struck. When her classes went virtual, she picked up the pace of her 2019 hobby, bread baking. “I ended up trying different flavors, like cinnamon raisin, lemon, olive and thyme. I even tried my hand at bagels,” she said. And after several disasters, she “managed to make a darn good loaf of brioche.”  

While Kaitlyn admits she struggled during 2020, she’s lucky to have been given the gift of time. “Even in this weird year of isolation, I’ve been able to bake with my husband, for my friends and family, and I’m lucky that I’ve had the time to perfect this.” 


Teacher becomes the student 

Fifth grade teacher Lauren Bertrand picked up crocheting this past October. “It’s nice to work on something where I can see progress,” she said. “It also gets me away from technology. I’ll sit down most nights for 30 or 45 minutes and do a couple rows.” In the summer, Lauren spent lots of time outside, but since the cold weather settled in, she needed an indoor activity to keep busy. Currently, she’s working on crocheting a blanket for herself. 

Nurse gets crafty with home décor

On Long Island, New York, registered nurse Corinne Karpf was also feeling the need to get creative in between her busy and demanding work schedule.  

“In April and May, to deal with stress of being a nurse, I started sanding wooden boards, staining them, and making welcome signs,” Corinne said. “I also repurposed wooden furniture. It was my therapy to deal with COVID.” Since then, her hobby blossomed into her own crafting business, Made with Grace and Faith, which has been flourishing since the spring. 

Travelers take you away with new podcast 


For two friends, executive administrative assistant Nicole Buckley and teaching assistant Deanna McCarthy, having more time to themselves allowed them to put their passion of travel to use. Since this passion is on pause right now, they decided to share what they’ve learned during their travels instead, with a spooky twist. 

“Deanna and I have always loved to travel together, and we’re also both obsessed with true crime and history,” Nicole said. “Because there are so many truecrime podcasts out there — and how many times can the same story be told?  we decided to start our dark history and travel podcast, The Quirky Tourist.”

Each episode highlights a different location the duo has traveled to and investigates the dark history of that area. This can include crime, murder, or haunted stories in places such as Salem, Massachusetts, Seattle, and Savannah, Georgia, which they say is the most haunted place in America. According to Nicole, each episode takes about a week to research and write, so having more time to focus on the podcast helped it launch. 


Teacher becomes a shutterbug 

Artsy and adventurous, special education teacher Kathy Brienze took up photography when her favorite museums closed. Walking through Sacramento, California, with her camera, she finds joy in taking pictures of everything from nature and people to cityscapes and street art. 

“I love museums, but since I cannot go to them and gather with friends, I spend my time walking and chasing light,” Kathy said. “I love photography because I have a desire to capture visual images.”  


Since the pandemic, Kathy has had more time to be reflective and pursue art, which is something she’s always been attracted to.  

Illustrator is drawn to gardening 


Illustrator Carol Tomanelli is having fun gardening throughout the seasons on Long Island, New York. “I am so amazed that I have such a green thumb,” she said. “I enjoy watching the bulbs and plants mature and watching my garden grow in the summer. I also plant bulbs in the fall so they can bloom in the springtime.” For her, gardening represents a rebirth of everything new.

Carol also likes to cook with many of the plants she grows, including chives, garlic, oregano, and basil. Design and presentation is something she values, so adding a pop of color to her charcuterie boards with a touch of homegrown basil is something she takes pride in.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful, but it has given us time to explore our passions and try something new or continue working on old projectsHowever you dealt with easing these difficult times, finding the good is more than therapeutic. It also teaches us something about ourselves while inspiring others. 


Nicole DiGiose is as an editor and writer for 1-800-Flowers and has previously been published in Electronic Products, EE Times, Chilled Magazine, and local newspapers based in her hometown. Jason Stahl is a senior editor at 1-800-Flowers.com. He's held similar positions at WONDERLUST, SPIN, Google, Men's Fitness, MSN News, and NBC Sports.

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