It always feels like we’re pining for more free time during the holiday hustle, but often, when we’re faced with a few days at home to ourselves, we’re too spent to figure out how to enjoy them. Inspired by the release of the all-new Madden NFL 12 from our friends at EA Sports, we decided to spotlight some rewarding holiday activities you can enjoy in your newly discovered down time. Whether you’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving at home this year by choice or by consequence, we’ve come up with ten ways (Madden included) to keep you entertained — and none of them involve stepping foot out the front door.
Settle in with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Cozy up on the couch and find out how it all ends by picking up the new Blu-ray release of David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 for the holidays. The final installment in the epic fantasy series picks up with the titular wizard on a quest to destroy Lord Voldemort’s elusive Horcruxes — the magical objects in which the dark master stored his soul in an attempt to achieve immortality. After taking its stars on a 14-year-long screen story, the last chapter of the series deserves to be seen in high-def. This three-disc set includes a DVD copy, as well as instant streaming with an UltraViolet Digital Copy, and a host of special features. Try not to shed a tear while you’re at it.
Click through for the rest of our home-for-the-holiday picks.
Volunteer… from Your Couch
You’re feeling thankful, and you want to spread the love — but the holiday haze prevented you from organizing a volunteer effort in advance. No problem: Zooinverse is here to help, hosting a variety of online projects organized by the Citizen Science Alliance. That means academic smarty-pants people and other groups across the map meld minds to produce fascinating projects you can contribute to. Want to help recover worldwide weather observations from Royal Navy ship logbooks around the time of World War I? Or maybe search for exploding stars? Register for free on Zooinverse’s website to pitch in, and embrace your inner science nerd.
Be Kind, Unwind
The reality is that, while the holidays are supposed to be relaxing, they’re often filled with ridiculous amounts of stress. If you want to nip all that bad mojo in the bud, try buddhify. The new app for iPhone and Android was released earlier this month and promises “an accessible introduction to mental training, to help users make the most of ‘dead time.'” Each guided meditation strives to improve focus, awareness, and intuitively enhance your overall happy-place experience. We can’t promise that you’ll meet your power animal, but you can continue using the app post-holidays while on the go — thanks to its 32 specially created audio tracks and other features tailor-made for your “modern urban life.” There’s even a two-person setting if you want to tap into the mind grapes of your fellow meditator — possibly Inception-style? Tune out the holidays altogether by downloading buddhify.
Bringing the fun back to the kitchen table is VintageBoardGames — a carefully curated selection of the strange and sometimes hilarious games of youth. (Pass the Trash, we’re looking at you.) It’s also a great place to discover unheard-of gems and get everyone in the family together for a lost pastime — at least until someone cheats, accuses you of losing some of the pieces, argues about the rules, throws a fit, and walks away. If the thought of owning someone’s used game of Trolls doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of brand new tabletop wonders over here. You can also breathe new life into your old games by purchasing a “boardgame remix kit.”
While other people are busy making tired, old turkey hand tracings, you can get craftier with this Green Space Travel Case that brings the great outdoors to you. Transform the interior of a vintage suitcase with a few basic materials (you can opt to use Astro Turf if the real stuff is hard to find) and commune with nature from the convenience of your living-room floor. We can envision you enjoying a “moist maker” turkey sandwich with this clever picnic carryall during the holiday and then using it in the concrete jungle later on. Visit Design Sponge to get the skinny on how-to and gather your materials now.
Wicked Good Reads
While Thanksgiving is always a busy holiday full of cooking and preparation for the big feast, there’s usually a lot of calm after the storm — time when you may find an opportunity to get in some reading. If that’s the case, we recommend sitting down with Out of Oz , the recently released final installment in Gregory Maguire’s deservedly popular Wicked series.
Maguire’s first novel was an alternate take on The Wizard of Oz that reimagines the classic tale from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, who really isn’t wicked — just misunderstood. The book was so beloved that it inspired the wildly successful Broadway musical of the same name. For this fourth outing, Maguire finishes up the epic series with a bang. War is brewing in Oz as the Emerald City prepares to march into Munchkinland, Glinda (the Good Witch) has been sentenced to house arrest, and Dorothy herself has shown up to complicate matters. Dig in and get lost in another world for a while, and check out other books we recommended reading this month.
Let Them Eat (Thanksgiving) Cake
Everything tastes more amazing when it’s made to look like a cake or pie. So if you’re home this Thanksgiving, you might as well have fun with your leftovers. We recommend serving up this bizarre turkey cake or a savory turkey and cranberry pie.
Only for the adventurous, the cake is composed of actual Turkey Day ingredients — layering all the usual fixings, and “icing” the entire thing in fluffy mashed potatoes. Top it off with a little sweet potato and marshmallow, and you have yourself an unusual centerpiece for the dinner table. Plus, it’s a fun cooking project to share with someone if you have company. The pie is a bit more understated, but still adventurous enough to shake things up. And if you don’t have control of the kitchen, you can always try these Thanksgiving-flavored gumballs instead.
Hit the Art Galleries… Online
We’re usually fawning over others during the Thanksgiving season — cooking, hosting, and generally trying to be as selfless as possible, since that’s part of the whole gig. During a low-key holiday at home, however, it might be a good idea to pamper yourself with something fun and educational (helps alleviate the guilt). If you’re not in New York, but want access to the Museum of Modern Art’s collection of works, treat yourself to MoMA Courses Online and invest in your art education. Fall registration is open for the museum’s program offering instructor-led and self-guided classes you can participate in at your leisure.
If MoMA’s not in the budget this year, it’s time to finally park yourself in front of the Google Art Project to explore and enjoy legendary museums and artworks around the world.
Consider All Songs
It’s been a while since we’ve heard new compositions from Kate Bush (this year’s Director’s Cut soothed some of our longing), but the veteran art rocker’s album 50 Words for Snow was worth the wait. Evoking the swelling stillness of wintry calm, the first few tracks unfold in no hurry — much like the wordsmith’s return to the studio. Head to NPR to preview the album before you pick up a copy on November 21. We promise it will be the perfect complement to a quiet, indoor holiday celebration with winter stirring on the horizon.
While you’re on the site, revisit NPR’s Emmy-nominated All Songs Considered . Hosted by Bob Boilen — a musician in his own right — the show features the Tiny Desk Concerts/a>, for which intimate video performances are recorded live at Boilen’s desk in the NPR office. It’s a great way to catch up on new music that’s been enjoyably stripped down in its presentation. Dig into the archives for a Swedish indie-pop acoustic performance by Jens Lekman and an intimate listen to the breathtaking vocals of Guatemalan musician Gaby Moreno.
If you want to keep your options open, find out what other must-hear albums have been released this month.
Get Ready for Some Football
Thanksgiving may be a time for family, Black Friday shopping coordination, and the NFL, but let’s face it — the games on TV fairly often disappoint. If you can’t stand the thought of watching Green Bay at Detroit or the hapless Dolphins at Dallas, fire up your gaming console instead and make your own pigskin dreams come true with Madden NFL 12 .
The latest entry in the venerable football franchise provides the perfect chance to settle those family rivalries once and for all. Not only is Madden NFL 12 a surefire way to stave off a tryptophan coma after days of feasting on leftovers, but it can also help you finally put that trash-talking cousin of yours in his place. This year, if you’re done trying to one-up each other around the dinner table, take it to the screen, and see who can really walk the walk (or run the run) as well as they can talk.
It doesn’t even matter what console you own, as the game is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation Portable, and even the PlayStation 2. EA and John Madden have you covered, so grab yourself a plate of reheated Turducken, and get ready for some football.
Have other holiday pastimes you’d like to recommend? What else will you be doing in your down time this year? Let us know in the comments below!