The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been difficult for all of us, and it’s essential that we care for our mental health. If you ask Michael Dennin, Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning, Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and Professor of Astronomy and Physics, he would tell you that having fun and finding ways to enjoy yourself is more important than ever. But what are the best ways to have fun while staying safe? Here’s what Michael had to say!

1) Support the Arts 

One of the things that Michael has been missing the most amidst the pandemic is visiting his favorite museums. Fortunately, as a member of the Heritage Museum of Orange County, he has still been able to go on virtual tours and enjoy special digital exhibitions.

He says, “Not only do I get access to interesting content and exhibits from the museum, but I also know that my membership is supporting a great local institution dedicated to preserving the culture and history of Orange County.” Michael suggests purchasing a virtual membership to enjoy what the museum has to offer.

If you’re missing live music, then check out some of the events that the Irvine Barclay Theatre is hosting. Currently, they are presenting Summer Jazz Lunch @ Bayside, a series of socially-distanced jazz events at the Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach. 

“I love supporting the Barclay by attending as many events as possible. I also appreciate that they are being careful and following appropriate health and safety guidelines so I can enjoy shows responsibly.” In addition to attending events, you can support the local arts scene by making a donation or becoming a member.

What is your favorite way to support the Arts? Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!

2) Try Zumba 

Because he is spending so much time at home, Michael has to fight the urge to become a couch potato. “It’s definitely been a struggle to stay active,” he laughs. This is why he has been on a mission to find fun ways to break a sweat. 

His new favorite exercise? “My whole family loves doing Zumba together,” he explains. “It’s a great way for us to spend time together, get our blood flowing and actually have a good time doing it.” Michael’s favorite Zumba instructor is Briana Starkman, and he encourages everyone to check out her YouTube channel to get moving!

He also highly recommends trying out a personal trainer. “I never thought I would get a personal trainer because I was intimidated,” he explains. Now, he can’t imagine getting through the week without his 30 minute workouts.

What is your favorite form of exercise? Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

3) Attend Virtual Conventions/Events 

As an avid fan of “Star Wars”, superheroes, Disney and everything in between, Michael participates in a variety of fun events in his free time. For instance, you might have seen him featured on History’s top show “Ancient Aliens” or heard him discussing the science behind popular TV shows and movies on the “Fascinating Gadgets, Gizmos, and Gear-Based Technologies” (FGGGBT) podcast with the Brain Trust that includes Daniel J. Glenn and Ben Siepser. However, the pandemic makes it a little harder for him to get out and about.

However, Michael is still finding ways to stay involved in some of his favorite conventions and events. “Recently, I was able to take part in the virtual San Diego Comic Con,” he says. “While I missed being able to walk through the convention center and be on panels in-person, I was still excited to watch them online and participate virtually.”

He points out that having the event online offers a great opportunity for everyone to participate and enjoy. Michael recommends visiting Comic Con’s YouTube channel to check out all of this year’s virtual panels, including the FGGGBT panel “The Mandalorian and his Many Gadgets.”

What is your favorite virtual convention or podcast? Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!

4) Play Your Favorite Video Games 

Though you might not expect it, Michael is something of a gamer: “I’m not exactly ready to join UCI’s esports team, but I can hold my own in Super Smash Bros!” He also loves to play Mario Kart with his family.

“Playing games is a great way to blow off steam and participate in a friendly competition. Things can get heated, but at the end of the day it’s about spending time with our loved ones and having fun,” he says. In Mario Kart, Michael races as Diddy Kong with the Super Blooper. He hopes to upgrade to a motorcycle soon—his kids always seem to win with those! In Super Smash Bros, he is working on mastering Pit, as it aligns with his newfound passion for archery.

What is your favorite video or board game? Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!

5) Give Back

While times are tough for many of us, taking care of others through philanthropy or volunteer work can help us feel connected with our community. This is why Michael has made it a point to give back to the causes he believes in. 

“One organization that is particularly near and dear to me is Team Kids,” Michael shares. “My daughter Melissa is actually interning with them this summer, and I couldn’t be prouder!” Team Kids is an Irvine-based nonprofit that strives to educate, support and empower children. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization launched Team Kids Unite: You Can’t Quarantine Compassion. This free, fully-remote program offers kids the opportunity to connect, spread hope and engage in service-based learning from the safety of their own homes.  

Michael recommends that anyone with kids take a look at Team Kids’ program and how it can benefit their family. Even if you don’t have children in your family, Michael encourages you to support the organization or another cause you feel passionate about:

Look around you and identify your community’s needs. If there’s something you can do to make someone else’s life easier—whether by donating to a program or volunteering your time—it will help us get through this pandemic. We are all in this together and, now more than ever, it’s important that we support each other.

What are some organizations that you recommend people check-out? Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!

As we all look for ways to get through this trying time, it’s important that we make our well-being a priority. Whether it’s doing exercise videos with our loved ones or reaching out to others in need, there’s a lot that we can do to have fun and feel good while staying safe. What are some of the things you’ve been doing for socially-distanced fun? Connect with Michael and let him know on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!