What Stephan Pastis, Jean Schulz are doing to keep busy while staying at home

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By now we know the coronavirus has no sense of fun at all. With events canceled, venues closed and practically everyone ordered to stay home — and the daily news dominated by public health advisories — good times aren’t easily had.

The human race, of course, is wonderfully resilient. Block one path and we’ll find another. Isolated at home, most of us will find television the readiest remedy, and binge-watching passes the time easily. Once we tire of that there are some more ancient remedies, such as reading or walking, but not in large groups, of course.

We asked our readers, including a few local celebrities, two questions: 1.) What TV shows are you watching nonstop? and 2.) what other pastimes have you found to fill the gap now that large public gatherings are at least temporarily out of the question?

"I will be playing golf and tennis," Jean Schulz, widow of the famed "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz, predicted early on, before everyone was ordered to stay at home as much as possible and away from others when out in public.

After that, she added, “I have so many backed-up projects that it would take a month of Sundays to plow through them. But I am making a start, thanks to the latest orders.” Schulz said she really doesn’t watch television but she does read a lot.

“I can’t binge-watch anything but CNN,” said Gaye LeBaron, Press Democrat columnist and local historian. “My TV is too old to stream. But I’m catching up on my reading and, I have to say, enjoying a bit of a vacation of sorts, because everything on my calendar in next two weeks has a line through it. I think I’ll make some cookies.”

Santa Rosa’s Stephan Pastis, creator of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip and the “Timmy Failure” kids’ books, has learned to be terse from writing word balloons. When asked what he was watching, he simply answered: “Hahaha. ‘Barry’ on HBO.” The series follows the misadventures of a hitman who joins an acting class. It’s not hard to see how the dark humor would appeal to the cartoonist, whose star character is a cynical rat. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for Pastis.

“When you draw a comic strip in your studio all day, you’re pretty much sheltered in place as is,” Pastis said.

For Lisa Pidge of Kenwood, producer of the live local Laugh Cellar and Crushers of Comedy shows at various Sonoma County venues, the series to watch is Gwyneth Paltow’s “The Goop Lab” on Netflix.

“It’s a super interesting documentary about alternative ways of healing,” Pidge said. “It has a positive message about taking care of yourself, good diet habits and a different way of looking at your health overall. I’m also binge-watching ‘Mad Men.’ I love the midcentury era and all its style, plus the advertising aspect.”

Spencer Paul, general manager of the Russian River brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa, reports this is a frustrating time to be a sports fan.

“Normally, I would have the MLB network on at all hours, watching spring training programs,” he said. “But since the cancellation of the baseball season, I haven’t found my binge-worthy outlet, other than watching the American version of ‘The Office,’ which is a ritual regardless.”

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Some turn to music in times of trouble.

“I sure am catching up on music documentaries,” said Bill Bowker, KRSH Radio deejay, blues promoter and longtime friend of Sonoma County-based harmonica star Charlie Musselwhite. “The new film ‘Rebel on the Highway,’ with Charlie and (his wife) Henri Musselwhite making a stellar appearance, is now on Amazon Prime. I’m happy at home hunkered down for the time being.”

Retired advertising man and journalist Stuart Matlow of Healdsburg was inspired by the old TV series “The French Chef” rather than the more recent movie “Julie and Julia” when he said, “We’re cooking our way through Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’”

For artist and retired teacher Karen Lockert of Forestville, staying home doesn’t seem so bad.

“I don’t even watch TV but I do read,” she said. “And I have a little more time to be in the art studio. I will do some more serious spring cleaning in the house, storage areas and studio.”

Deb McGauley, who works in sales and marketing for Korbel Winery in Guerneville, initially looked to the great outdoors for solace: “Taking long walks at our beautiful regional parks, with and without the dogs. Now is the perfect time to explore our amazing Sonoma Coast and the many hikes and parks.”

Or it was, until the parks were closed starting last Tuesday.

“After I wept uncontrollably upon hearing the news that where we go for sanity and well-being will now be off limits, I guess we’re doing nothing,” she said Tuesday.

“We will do spring cleaning and play with the dogs in the backyard to avoid all the neighbors sharing a 3-foot sidewalk, now that our neighborhood parks are closed.”

For Sonoma singer-songwriter Joshua Spears, with all his gigs canceled, there’s not much to do beyond waiting it out.

“For the time being, live streaming is an option,” he said.

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or Read his Arts blog at

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