When you’ve been through tough times — and we all have — sometimes you just need a distraction or something that just makes you feel good to get you through it. We asked the staff of The Verge what they’ve treated themselves to in order to help make all the upheavals and lockdowns of the past year just a bit more bearable.
These are some of the things that made them smile over the past year. Hopefully, you’ve got something that made you smile as well.
World of Warcraft subscription
Nothing feels like an escape more than a world of Orcs, Mages, and Warriors. I’ve played World of Warcraft off and on throughout the years, but — faced with hours of Netflix, in-home workouts, and utter boredom during the pandemic — I decided it was time to re-commit to playing. Nearly six months into my renewed subscription, I’m thankful for it. The winter was long, lonely, and dreary, but I found a community in WoW that helped me mentally escape. I don’t know if I’ll continue playing once life starts returning back to normal, but I’m glad for the hours I spent in that magical little world. — Kaitlin Hatton
Blue Apron helped me get through lockdown (and continues to help) in more than one way. Early on, when going to the grocery store was about as fraught as a journey to Mordor, BA meant three fewer meals to shop for every week, which was a huge relief. It’s also been a low-effort way to help break up the “every day feels like Groundhog Day” monotony of dinner after dinner at home. I get to try something new but with pre-portioned ingredients and a recipe card holding my hand the whole way. Some of the meals have been more successful than others, and I’ve actually gained some confidence as a home cook — that’s huge for someone like me who can simultaneously worry that a piece of meat is both overcooked and undercooked. I don’t think I’ll keep the subscription in the long run, but I have a stack of recipe cards and a few more skills to rely on when I do decide to strike out on my own. — Allison Johnson
Circular knitting needles
Knitting is the only skill I have that’s never produced a catastrophic mental death spiral. And during a long year at home, I realized relying on straight needles — the things I almost exclusively associated with knitting when I started — is a sucker’s game.
Circular needles are designed for making round projects like hats. It took me way too long to grasp that they’re great for shawls, scarves, and other flat-knit stuff, too. Also, screwing together different sizes of needles and cords from an interchangeable set is inexplicably satisfying. I wish I’d bought this thing sooner — although my increasingly knitwear-laden friends and family might disagree. — Adi Robertson
Remodel your bed
I got sick — not with COVID — in November and early December, and come January, I was still pretty exhausted. I was spending more time in bed than usual, so I thought, “Why not make bed more pleasant?” First, I bought the Slumber Cloud Nacreous Mattress Pad, which has kept my temperature pleasantly even. Then Brooklinen’s Core Linen Set (in cream), which gets softer every time I wash my bedding and feels lovely on the skin. Finally, I added the Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Neck Pillow, which looks dorky but has been an absolute pleasure to sleep on.
I’m back on my feet again, but these purchases keep paying off. I don’t think I’ve slept so well or thoroughly in years. There’s nothing better than crawling into a cozy bed and drifting off after a long day. — Liz Lopatto
Fully Jarvis standing desk
I’ve required several unnecessary pick-me-up purchases during the pandemic, like a PS5 and an Oculus Quest 2. My latest purchase is the priciest yet, but it seems more logical. I just bought a Fully Jarvis standing desk so that I can actually stand up a few times during the day to get my blood flowing. There are several days per week when I really don’t move around as much as I should (even on the days I do move, I’m still not doing much), so I think this should help me out. If not, I can blame Jay Peters and Dan Seifert for being effusive about their Fully Jarvis desks in their What’s on your desk? posts. I haven’t even received the desk yet, so I’m anxiously awaiting it.
Will it be my most fun pandemic gift to myself? Probably not. For one, this desk can’t play Returnal. In seriousness, it’s one of the few things I’ve done for myself in the past year that takes my future well-being into consideration. That’s not easy to do these days, but I’m hopeful that I have this desk for many happy years to come and can look back on it as being my favorite pandemic gift. — Cameron Faulkner
A water kettle
Buying coffee equipment is like painting a house: the second you improve one part of your setup, it immediately exposes something else that needs an upgrade. So after switching to a Hario V60 coffee dripper for my home brewing, I quickly started lusting after a nice gooseneck kettle. Eventually, I picked the Hario V60 Fit Drip Kettle stovetop kettle.
I don’t think it’s the best pick for everyone — it doesn’t have a temperature gauge, and a lot of people prefer electric kettles over stove-top models — but it fits my needs perfectly. It’s got a nice plastic handle that doesn’t get hot as the water boils, it works on induction coils (which wasn’t a guarantee with Fellow’s otherwise beautiful Stagg kettle), and overall, it’s easy to control when you’re trying to deal with finicky pour-over coffee. Mostly though, I’m just glad it doesn’t have the weird ridged design of Hario’s previous drip kettle. — Jon Porter
A PlayStation 4 and Final Fantasy VII Remake
Like many fans of the original Final Fantasy VII, I followed the years of Remake’s development with the hope that it would actually hold a candle to the classic PlayStation RPG. And to my surprise, the game turned out to actually be good, and that pushed me to drop nearly $400 to buy a PlayStation 4 just so I could play the game.
That was a big chunk of change, and I worried that I would regret spending all that cash just for a single game, but it was one of the best gifts I bought myself all last year. Final Fantasy VII Remake was an absolute joy to play through, and it gave my wife and me hours of entertainment (and some memorable quips from protagonist Cloud Strife).
Ever since I beat FF7R, I’ve been working my way through the many fantastic PS4 games that I missed. I’ve also been lucky enough to snag a PS5 and an Xbox Series X, which are fantastic machines for older games, meaning that I’m now spending even more time catching up on the last generation of gaming. And it’s all thanks to taking the leap on playing Final Fantasy VII Remake. — Jay Peters
I moved into an apartment with a real person-sized kitchen at the beginning of the pandemic and found a renewed love for cooking. (I skipped the bread-baking trend.) That meant a lot of my favorite gadgets of the pandemic were things like my blender and my stand mixer. The gadget that really found the sweet spot between kitchen tool and super neat thing that scratches the gadget itch was the obscenely priced “pepper cannon” I kickstarted.
I spent a lot of money on this “pepper cannon” that is designed to churn out more pepper with every turn. It is an expensive device, and its only job is to grind pepper, which means it is absolutely not worth the money. But the Pepper Cannon is so thoughtfully designed and good at its job that I don’t really mind I spent $150 months ago to back the Kickstarter. My eggs are perfectly speckled with pepper, and my steaks look gorgeously seasoned before they hit the grill. I used to have to pour peppercorns into a mortar to bulk grind them down to dust for rubs and soups, but now I can just give the pepper cannon a few turns and be done with it. — Alex Cranz
Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch
Being instructed to stay at home made me feel less bad about not going to the gym, but there was a point in the pandemic where I really needed to get more exercise in my day. After playing hours of Animal Crossing on my couch, I realized the thing that was going to make me exercise was another video game: Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure fitness RPG. In the game, you are performing a variety of exercise moves using a pilates ring and a leg strap both attached to the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers while you defeat monsters. This has made it fun and easy to get a good amount of exercise every day just by walking into my living room. Since I bought it, it has been a staple in my morning routine. —Andru Marino
My greatest comforts usually come in the form of tinkering and putting things together. I had grand plans to use pandemic time to finally repair some Super 8 film viewers that had been languishing in my family’s attic for years, but it’s now been many months of, “Maybe I’ll do that this weekend.” Instead, I’ve invested in things that scratch a similar itch: puzzles. I know puzzles, jigsaw or otherwise, can be divisive (several of my friends vocally hate them), but for me, there’s no better self-soothing activity than spending a few hours hunched over a bunch of pieces while I listen to podcasts or music. I will pester my spouse with announcements that I’m “in a puzzling mood” and need to be driven ASAP to the local puzzle store, where I can select a sea creature jigsaw or a tiny model dinosaur skeleton that begs to be assembled and displayed on my shelf. I even splurged on the Lego Space Shuttle Discovery set and spent a full weekend achieving transcendence while aggravating my arthritis. — Kait Sanchez
Amazon Echo Show 8
Until the pandemic hit, I tried to visit my mother once a week or so. However, when lockdown hit, I realized that the visits would have to be put off indefinitely. So as soon as I could — in other words, as soon as I could visit briefly and with safeguards — I set her up with an Echo Show 8. This allowed me to do video calls with her more easily than having to direct her how to use Zoom (which may seem simple to us but is problematic for somebody who didn’t grow up with computers). It also lets her listen to music and get the weather just by asking for it, among other things. It made her life just a little easier, and it made me feel a lot more secure. — Barbara Krasnoff
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