A History Lesson – Throwback Thursday

1918 flu ladies with masks

A friend sent me this in an email so I can’t credit the source, but it’s deja vu a hundred years later.   In 1720 there was the plague, in 1820 a cholera epidemic, in 1918-20 – The Spanish Flu, and now 2020 COVID-19 Coronavirus.  It seems history repeats itself every hundred years.

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

The Corona Diaries – Part One

If someone had asked a few years ago when I was an exhausted stressed-out worker bee, if I would like a couple of months off, to read, write and catch up on sleep, I would have thought it was the most amazing gift.  But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for….

Now that I’m retired and used to staying home more, my current COVID existence isn’t as dramatically different as it might be for someone accustomed to being out and about every day.   I’m coping okay so far – reading, writing, blogging, cooking, exercising, checking on my mother – but at seven weeks into lock-down, even the most contented of homebodies, may be starting to develop some degree of cabin fever. 

A friend suggested I keep a diary to record this tumultuous time.  I haven’t so far, but as my blogging topics seem to have dwindled to books and baking, (and even baking is on shaky ground now that the grocery shelves are empty of flour), perhaps a few observations about life in COVID Country might be in order.

Wheat field two (2)

A wheat field can be a beautiful thing……maybe I could grind my own flour?

And speaking of the country, it’s much easier to social distance in a rural environment than in a densely populated city like Toronto.  Our cases here in Canada reflect that, as the link below shows, with the more rural provinces, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the islands PEI and Newfoundland having far fewer cases than more densely populated Ontario and our pandemic hot spot Quebec.  As well as having more people, these provinces are home to two large international airports.  PEI and New Brunswick have had no deaths.  Saskatchewan and Manitoba have had only 6 each and have scheduled a staged re-opening.  

Link to Canada’s Pandemic Map.

As a country of 37 million, we have 62,000 cases and 4000 deaths (as of today May 6).   Locally, we’ve had 189 reported cases and 14 deaths, but none since April 20, out of a population base of about 100,000.   Forty of those cases and six deaths came from the same upscale retirement home, where a resident who was in contact with a church group which had traveled to Europe in March, is thought to be the seed case.   The situation in some of the nursing homes in Quebec and Ontario is so out of control that last week the government called in the army to help feed and care for residents in some the worst hit homes.  I’m extremely grateful my 94 year old mother is still living in her own home, and has her painting hobby to keep her busy. 

Was it only last summer we went to see The Tall Ships?  Who would think we would now be in such uncharted territory, trying to navigate this strange new world, where unknown danger lurks in every grocery store.  Well, you get the picture…

The Tall Ships - AMc - 2020

My mother has been painting ships.

Of course, there are things I miss – socializing, eating in restaurants, shopping.   We finally got a Homesense and Marshalls here, set to open the end of March, and I drove by it the other day and mourned all the unseen merchandise sitting there behind locked doors.  (And yes I know it’s selfish and shallow to be thinking about this when so many people are wondering how to pay their bills, but I’m thinking it all the same because shopping can be a pleasant distraction, even if you’re just looking at all the lovely things, and a little retail therapy may help to restart the economy).   By the time it’s open will we even need spring clothes….summer clothes….or will we be back into fall?    Let’s face it, we know we won’t be getting out of this any time soon.   It will be a summer of no music, art, or food festivals.  The local theater season and Canada Day celebrations have been cancelled, even the fall fairs are on hold, and if and when things do open up, will we be brave enough to go out or will we have developed agoraphobia?

Of course we can take solace in nature,

Daffodils

Even the daffodils are looking dejected….

but even your own backyard can get a little claustrophobic after awhile, especially in the hot hazy days of summer when you might wish for a cold dip in the lake.

sailboat race

Something to look forward to…

I’m also looking forward to gardening season and planting a Victory garden, especially the fresh lettuce.

romaine lettuce

Although it’s nice to have the time to do all the things you always said you’d do when you had the time……what if you don’t feel like doing them?   I have not yet resorted to spring cleaning my house – it’s dusty and the windows need cleaning but it’s still too cold outside for that.   The deck needs hosing down and while the patio furniture is out, no one has sat in it, as the whole month of April held hardly a day over 50 F.   The cool weather has extended into May with more of the same, and we may even have wet snow on Friday.    Some sunshine would be enormously cheerful.     

blue forget me nots

The pretty blue forget-me-nots are out.

I spend a lot more time on the phone these days.  In fact, I haven’t talked this much on the phone since high school, when those princess phones were all the rage….

Princess-Telephone

Sadly, I’ve also become a News Addict.  I always watched the 6pm local news, but now I must watch the 11pm National news too, and check the online paper and social media during the day for constant COVID updates.   No wonder so many of us are having COVID nightmares.   While we can distract ourselves during the day with activities, at night our brains are trying to process this constant bombardment of new information.  

I need to tune out and go back to reading before bed.  I’m thinking there may be an e-reader in my future, even though too much screen time makes my eyes sore.   I’m slowly working my way through those 18 books from the bookoutlet in January, but they’re all non-fiction and I’m dying for a good  distracting novel.   I’m hoping the library will be on the list of first places to open, that and hair salons.  (If you saw last weeks post on pandemic bangs, you’ll know why).  

My daily routine still includes mascara and under-eye concealer (otherwise I resemble a raccoon), clean but comfy clothes, and hair washed at least every 3 days.  I will not succumb to sloth….. 

I’ve been walking every day, missing just two in the past month – one where I did a 4-hour-2-grocery store marathon (does pushing an overloaded cart count for building arm muscles?) and one so windy with flurries that I just could not (April 21 – this is spring?).   There’s really no excuse not to now, as it gets me out of the house and into the fresh air.   Exercise also helps me sleep better, so I have more energy during the day to do nothing.  Plus, as I usually walk around my subdivision, I’ve met more of my neighbors, including several I worked with years ago who I never knew lived nearby.   It’s too bad we can’t have a proper visit, as we’re all social distancing of course.   

I cook more, spend less on food and eat better.   I wonder how many families have discovered just how much money can be saved by eating at home, saving restaurants for an occasional treat and not a regular occurrence.

Shrimp and Scallop Pasta

Shrimp and scallop pasta

While many of my daily routines may be the same, other things just seem bizarre – but bizarre is now the new normal.

In the past month I’ve been to the grocery store twice, the bank once, the full-service-no-way-am-I-touching-the-pumps-gas station once, and one restaurant for takeout.   The car was sluggish so I drove to the nearest city for the takeout, as it needed a good run and we were craving Swiss Chalet (rotisserie chicken).

Usually I enjoy grocery shopping, but am finding it stressful now that it’s become a marathon event.   I have a master list, written in order of location as with most of the aisle exits blocked off and one-way arrows on the floor, the grocery store has become a maze.   If you forget the butter, you don’t want to have to backtrack to dairy through the whole store.    My cart is loaded with enough “provisions” as my dad used to call them, for two houses for 3 weeks.   I find the customers polite and patient, but some of the staff are kind of rude.   One store is very lax, a box of gloves at the entrance if you want, and social distancing stickers on the floor, Plexiglas for the cashiers, but otherwise you’re on your own.  They trust you know how to behave like a responsible adult.   At the other store, it’s command central – the deli workers are now the traffic cops at the front entrance, barking orders right and left.   They even have a portable hand wash stand outside the store.   I was told (and not very nicely), that my own disposable gloves could have COVID germs on them and could not be worn inside, I had to use theirs.  I always try to pick the line with the nicer cashiers.   Nice people tend to stay nice in a crisis, but stress can bring out the worse in the others.  

I don’t know how they decide these things but at my mother’s bank I had to stand in the vestibule, while the people accessing the ATM machine walked right by me, closely by me.   Only one person was allowed in the bank at a time.   When it was my turn, I was escorted in by the normally cheerful teller, who was obviously tired of explaining the procedure.   My bank had a better set-up, kind of like a dance routine.    The teller stands back six feet behind the plexiglass while you step up and enter your pin, then you step back six feet to the spot on the floor and let her do her stuff on the computer, then she steps back again and you step forward to take your paper.   Normally I do online banking, but Income Tax was due, (Death and Taxes being the only two certainties in life).     

I’m grateful not to be working despite those emails from the college asking if I would like to reinstate my license to help out, just send $2000 and an application form.   No thanks – I’ve done my time.   My immune system is not great, I need to stay healthy to look after my mother and when I got H1N1 (2009 swine flu) I don’t recall anyone serenading me from their balcony for my months of service.   All I remember is the complaints –  we were so swamped with Tamiflu prescriptions coming in from ER that we couldn’t get to the regular work and there was no backup staff to call in, or even any backup plan or any masks or PPE at all, which is how I got H1N1 when someone coughed in my face.   And BTW, Tamiflu, which had to be started within the first 48 hours, only shortened the duration by a day or two, it was NOT a cure, although the government was happy to provide it free to everyone and their dog.   I don’t remember ever been scared to go to work though, as it was not as contagious or as deadly (only 428 deaths in all of Canada).    My colleagues now are dealing with complaints about the 30 day limit, instituted to preserve the supply chain but in the process tripling their workload, and trying to source back-ordered drugs such Ventolin, insulin and sedatives used in ventilated patients.   If the wholesaler only sends you two when you ordered twenty, how do you decide who to give it to?   Did I mention I’m glad I’m retired?     

Like everyone else, I’m grateful for all the dedicated medical and front line workers, especially the highly trained doctors and nurses who are risking their lives fighting this beast.   But I’d also like to include the unsung heroes who never get mentioned, like respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians and the hospital cleaning staff.   Recently our provincial premier announced a $4/hour pandemic wage increase for front line health care workers and yes, he forgot the respiratory therapists and the paramedics, two groups with the highest exposure.   I also worry about the people not getting needed surgery or treatments and those too afraid to go to the ER when they need help.     

I’m not surprised many of the nursing homes are struggling with not having enough personal support workers.   It’s a chronically understaffed, unappreciated job of mostly part-time hours.   Most homes are privately owned and don’t pay full time benefits, so they wonder how it spread from place to place?   The government enforced the one worker/one home rule way too late, the damage was already done.  The sheer number of deaths in long term care institutions has been a national tragedy, a wake-up call about a system which has been underfunded and understaffed for a long time.  (While PSW’s here make from $18-23/hr, the minimum wage in Ontario is $14/hr, and $18 is considered a living wage).     

Of course I’m lucky to be retired, and not to have lost a job.   But I wonder if this isn’t a bit of a wake-up call regarding the debt levels in our society, about having it all when you really can’t afford it.   Needs vs wants.  Living within your means.   The old standard financial advice about having 3 to 6 months savings set aside for emergencies.  And I’m not talking about the working poor who live paycheck to paycheck and can never get ahead, but middle class workers with good jobs, nice houses, new cars, annual vacation trips,  who drink $5 lattes everyday but have zero savings.  But then maybe I’m old-fashioned and grew up in a different era where credit wasn’t as easily available.  Having lived through a few recessions makes you wiser.

We’re lucky to have more social safety nets here in Canada, as well as free health care.   Not just Unemployment Insurance, but a Canadian Emergency Response Benefit of  $2000/month for 4 months, which was set up in April for those laid off as the UI department could not process the number of claims in a timely fashion.  Every day our prime minister comes out of his house (where he’s been self-isolating for well over 6 weeks now as his wife tested positive), and announces another plan – the Wage Subsidy plan for business – government will pay 75% of salaries if they keep employees on up to $847 per week per employee – money for students unable to find summer jobs ($1250/month, $1750 if they have dependents, $5000 if they volunteer for a charity or do farm work) – an increase in GST and child tax credits – loans of up to $40,000.   Last week he announced they’ll be paying 75% of the rent for small businesses and also helping charities with rent who have had to postpone their fundraisers.  What will be next – subsidizing Girl Guide cookies?   While many small restaurants and shops with short cash flow may need immediate relief, other larger, more established, profitable businesses may be able to ride it out for a few months, especially if they don’t want to lose their valued employees.  (The employees at my bank said no one had been laid off, and all continue to be paid for full time hours even if their hours have been reduced).   It might have been prudent for the government to see how many people and businesses actually required help at this early stage, before making such broad based decisions.   Note the Depression went on for a whole decade of poverty and unemployment – is a few months of restrained spending worth a $300 billion bailout, even if unemployment  temporarily increases from 5% to 9%?   Many recessions over the past 30 years had at least that amount, and they all bounced back.      

Lately I’ve been thinking about John F. Kennedy’s famous speech – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

While there have already been reports of abuse of the programs, (such as people enrolling their kids in the student aid program who have never worked a day in their lives), there are also those who always step up to help out.   When essential charities like the food-bank sent out a request for help, people were quick to respond.  Some health care workers are donating their bonus pay.   When the Toronto Zoo asked for help feeding the animals for six months the public donated $500,000 far in excess of the $100,000 they actually needed.   These were all public or corporate donations.  

And then there’s the CFL  – The Canadian Football League who asked the government for a $150 million handout as the football season will be cancelled, although they would settle for $30 million if it’s only delayed, not a loan mind you, no plan or promises to pay it back.   Does anyone even watch Canadian Football?   Every sports team with lost ticket revenue is waiting with baited breath to see what the answer will be…    

While all these government programs may be a necessary and welcome thing, I’m wondering who’s going to be paying for it all?   My dim recollection of Economics 101 is that you can’t just keep printing money, but maybe things have changed?   Many people don’t seem to get the connection between all the freebies and income tax.   Of course these are extraordinary circumstances, but we’re already a highly taxed nation with a high national debt load and saddling the next generation with even more debt isn’t exactly fair.   The millennials already resent us enough…(they think we had it easy, we didn’t – we just had less stuff), maybe they’d be happy to see a few of us die off.   While it may be popular to bash baby boomers, most of us didn’t start out with expensive houses either.  There was a thing called a Starter Home, a modest bungalow, and once it was paid for then you traded up.   (There was also a Starter Car – something second hand, fixed up).   Should I feel sorry for a double income couple living in a mansion who now can’t make their sky high mortgage payments?   While you might think I’m lacking in sympathy, I grew up on the poorer side of middle class, so if you’ve not had money, you’re more appreciative of  the safety net of having some in the bank for a rainy day….or a hurricane.  

One permanent outcome of this pandemic might be that people will reassess their current lifestyles and spending limits.  Will they be happier with less money but more family time?  Will working from home become the new norm?  How much stuff is really truly essential? 

It can be interesting observing people’s reactions to this crisis.   There are those who are carrying on as if everything is the same, the ostriches who seem oblivious and never turn on the news, (including the poor old man at Walmart who thought there was a sale on TP, and when told about the virus, asked if diarrhea was a symptom), the angry deniers proclaiming this is all a hoax, the protesters screaming about their rights and freedoms, and the Short-Fuse Freds who are always in a bad mood and take it out on anyone and everyone who will listen.

Our own opinions of the crisis can change over time.   Is the elderly lady with the shopping cart full of ten loaves of bread and 3 frozen apple pies, a hoarder?  In the early days, back when we thought this was just a two week quarantine, I might have said yes, but now – no – she’s just shopping for the neighbors in her seniors building.    Not sure about those pies though, they’re not good at the best of times, let alone for a Pie Pity Party. 

Older people who have the life experience of living through the Great Depression, WW2, rationing, outbreaks of scarlet fever and polio, a couple of recessions, double digit inflation and stock market crashes – have seen and survived a lot.   It seems horribly unfair that they are now dying in  nursing homes without a loved one there with them.   I feel sad for little children also, and hope their parents are able to maintain some sense of normalcy for them in these scary times.

The good news is – we’re not all going to hell for missing mass on Sunday.  The Bishop said so in the parish email cancelling all church services when “he granted the faithful dispensation from their Sunday obligation.”  Is there a Catholic alive who still believes this?   I hope they eliminate that hand shaking bit at the end permanently, worse germ spreader ever.

Even those of us who are introverts and prefer a quiet life, are in need of  some social interaction other than Zoom.   In the early days before the lock-down, I managed to avoid a screening of Parasite with subtitles, as the 300 seat theater just might be a breeding ground for the virus.   Now, with everything closed, you don’t have to make those excuses er…..decisions!  But on the flip side, we also don’t have anything to look forward to.   I’m wondering how I’ll feel after another month or two of this…and when things do open up, will the constant fear of catching it, be worse than staying home and being safe but bored.

I’ve been watching a new CTV series Transplant. – about a Syrian doctor transplanted to a Canadian ER, a world of contrast between a modern hospital and one in a war zone.   I’m also watching World on Fire – a British miniseries about WW2.   Although we may be at war with this horrible virus, we’re not in a war zone.  It’s all about perspective.  This too shall pass.   Just like Columbus, we need patience and perseverance to steer the course.  Calmer seas are ahead.  

The Tall Ships - AMc - 2020

PS.  If you have your health, and food and shelter, family and friends,  sprinkled liberally with books, music and nature – then you have everything you need.

PS.  My apologies for the length…..if anyone’s still reading.  Hopefully there won’t be Part Two.    I’ll leave you with an oldie but goodie…

Song of the Day:  Duke Ellington – Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

 

 

 

#April in Paris, #Pandemic Bangs – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story.

Pandemic Bangs -April in Paris

My neighbor made me a mask which happened to coordinate with my French striped top….so it’s time for my annual Parisian blog.

Pandemic Bangs

A mask can be useful as a guide when cutting your own pandemic bangs – just cut straight across, a quarter inch above the mask.

April in Paris - Macron

You cannot however eat a macaron wearing a mask….

Coffee

or sip a cafe creme….but you can save money on red lipstick.

Pandemic Bangs

Or you can just let your bangs grow and go out on Halloween as Cousin It!

 

The Literary Salon – On Edge

On Edge - book - Andrea Petersen

We’re all on edge these days.   We live in anxious times and the new worries associated with COVID-19 have made things much worse in a very short period of time.   It seems only yesterday that life was normal and going to a store or restaurant wasn’t a dangerous activity which could cost you your life.   I drafted this blog a month ago before the current crisis exploded, but perhaps it is even more timely today.   This months’ literary pick is by Andrea Petersen, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who has lived with chronic anxiety her entire life.  

On Edge: A Journey Through AnxietyOn Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen

 

 

 

The Publisher’s Blurb:

A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, honest account of living with anxiety.

A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuro-scientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.

Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.

About the Author:    Andrea Petersen is a contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal, where she reports on psychology, health and travel.  During her 18 years as a staff reporter and editor at the Journal, Andrea has covered a wide variety of beats including telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and aging.    On Edge – A Journey Through Anxiety is her first book.

Why I Liked It:

This was one of my bookoutlet bargains, an online site where you can spend hours just browsing, and in this case I was trying to get my basket to $100 so I could get $40 off.   Certainly I’ve known and counselled many patients about the benefits and side effects of the drugs which are often prescribed in the treatment of anxiety, but I’ve never read a memoir about what it’s like to live with it day after day, so I found this book to be an interesting read. 

While most of us think of anxiety as a sporadic or episodic condition associated with a specific event, (like COVID-19), this book delves into what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety disorder.  Patients with.generalized anxiety disorder worry even if there isn’t anything concrete to worry about, as the mind of a patient struggling with GAD can always find something to catastrophize about!   Despite her many low points, the author has led a very successful life,  although her boss at the Wall Street Journal was unaware of her struggles until the book was about to be published.  Worriers can often excel at masking their condition.  She was also fortunate in having a supportive family and friends who understood her condition.   I liked how the author’s history was woven into the various chapters on drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy, research and genetics, so it was a personal story and not just a recounting of scientific research. 

The fight or flight heightened response is an evolutionary adaptation for survival, left over from the caveman days, when our worries were of sabre-toothed tigers and where to find the next meal.   While we in modern times may have new and different things to worry about, like is it safe to go to the grocery store, it’s amazing how adaptable the human mind can be to the new normal, and how it can rise above a current catastrophe and find a way forward.    Something to remember in these, the worst of times.   

PS.   There are many non-drug coping mechanisms that can help soothe an anxious mind and stop the cycle, number one of which is distraction.    Keeping your mind occupied with something creative can be a wonderful distraction, and if you can’t shut your mind off at night, then I find getting up and reading to be a good activity, preferably a non-fiction book.    Basically, any mindless activity such as gardening, painting or reorganizing something is also wonderfully blissful.  What is your coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety in these crazy times?       

Home Alone Chocolate Pudding

What to write about when you’re home alone, especially when your secret stash of chocolate has run out?   Like many bloggers I get most of my blogging ideas from my daily activities, but since my calendar is now as clear as the newly recovered Venice canals, such planned activities as the apple blossom orchard tour, the Jane Austen tea party or the visit to the Van goth exhibit are all off the table for the unforeseeable future.   But we all have to eat…..and chocolate has an excellent reputation for cheering people up.   

I was moaning about the Easter Bunny not visiting my house this weekend, so a chocoholic friend send me a recipe for a microwave chocolate pudding just like mom used to make.   This makes one large portion, or two small ones.  You can repeat for how ever many family members you are stranded with on your COVID life raft.   The best thing is you probably already have all the ingredients in your kitchen, so no need to risk your life by going to the grocery store, although I did add cornstarch to my list – does cornstarch have an expiry date?  

Mix together 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 3 tbsp sugar, either granulated or icing sugar, and add 3/4 cup of milk.  I used regular sugar.  Whisk until well blended.    

Chocolate Pudding

Microwave, COVERED, 90 seconds on high.   Remove, whisk again, microwave another 90 seconds.   Add 1/4 tsp vanilla after cooking.   Best served warm, but refrigerate if not eating right away.

This makes one large portion but was very rich so I split it into two ramekins.

Chocolate Pudding

If you want to double the recipe, then microwave the whole thing for an additional 90 seconds, or just make a separate batch.    Adjust the cooking time for the size of your microwave – 90 seconds for an 800W microwave, for 1000W microwave try 75 seconds at a time. 

Adjust the amounts of sugar and cocoa to your liking, depending on your brand.   My initial recipe called for 3 tablespoons of cocoa, but it was way too chocolatey, so I decreased it to 2 tablespoons, and even that was more than sufficient with my fancy French cocoa.  I might try a bit less next time.  I also used a LEVEL or calibrated tablespoon measuring device to measure the dry ingredients (something I seldom do), so I would know for the future what proportions worked best.   Whisk well or you will have lumps of cocoa in the final product.      

hot chocolate

The COVID Easter Bunny

As my friend, who has surely forgotten my lack of cooking expertise, did not specify re covered and as I’m always one to admit to my cooking disasters, my first attempt, using a large cereal bowl covered by a paper towel resulted in the pudding spilling all over the sides onto the microwave plate, requiring much swearing and many paper towels to clean up, so make sure you use a large enough ie a quart size bowl.  (I made this same mistake the first time I made microwave strawberry jam so I should have known better).   The next time I used a Corning-ware casserole dish with a glass lid and put the cover on slightly ajar – no mess.  

Yummy, quick and so easy, especially on the days you’re craving chocolate, plus unlike a box of chocolates, there are no left-overs to tempt you later. 

PS.   I much prefer butterscotch pudding but the brand I bought for years, which required heating on the stove and was the staple of many a Sunday night supper, was discontinued long ago, so I tried to make this same recipe with butterscotch ice cream topping and light brown sugar but didn’t get the measurements quite right – it looked and tasted like a very sweet very pale caramel glue.   Oh well, lots of time to experiment these days.    Must remember to add Easter Bunnies to my next “mission impossible” list – they’ll be on sale too!   Happy Easter, or Passover, or just have a good weekend!  

PS.   I’m only doing a grocery store run every three weeks now.   If we run out of something, we just improvise or do without, mostly the fresh produce, milk etc.   I really stock up but I’m also buying for my mother who still lives in her own house at 94, and I am grateful she decided she wasn’t ready to move yet as many of our COVID deaths have been in nursing/retirement homes.   My mother grew up during the (1930’s) Great Depression and WW2 remembers people being out of work and getting ration coupons for sugar, meat etc.   Her family always had enough food to eat, but she had classmates who did not.  So although we may be frustrated with the current situation, we’re all safe in our own homes with food on the table.   A small dose of perspective…..

 “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”  – a Depression era saying.   

March Madness

March has always been a crazy month – volatile, unpredictable, kind of like the stock market at the moment.   You can expect snow, sleet, rain, howling winds, warm breezes, sunny days, gray skies or all of the above.   Despite the Rodent and Company’s optimistic predictions for an early spring we have not had very many warm days and the few we did have were overcast.   In fact March came in like a lion with a big snowstorm, so hopefully it will go out like a lamb.  (It did not….3 C – 37 F today).

snow

Thankfully, the snow melted quickly, like the wicked witch of the west – revealing snow drops a few days later.

snow drops

I have a lovely view from my kitchen window as my neighbor has about ten clumps of them scattered around the base of an old tree, like a little fairy woodland.

The daffodil shoots were up the first week, growing by leaps and bounds. 

Our imaginations can leap forward to this vista of sunny yellow.

daffodils

On St. Patrick’s Day we had grocery shelves reminiscent of the great Potato Famine, 

empty shelves potatoes grocery store

but a spring rain changed the grass to Shamrock green overnight,

green grass

which was then covered up by more snow on March 23….ugh….

daffodils with snow

This is Spring?

The library might be closed due to COVID-19, 

Library closed

but the crocuses in front of it were open for business.

crocus in front of library

The robins were back,

Robin bird

and the tundra swans crossed the border early because our Prime Minister had ordered all international travelers home!

Tundra swans Lambton Shores

They winter in Chesapeake Bay and rest at the Thedford Bog, an Ontario marshland, before flying on to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. 

The March winds were brisk and perfect for kite flying.   There were rare sightings of children in the park trying this ancient activity, well their dad was trying.   They looked too young and seemed more interested in examining the ground as toddlers like to do, while the dad was busy untangling the string.    (No picture as he couldn’t get it airborne).

Airborne - kites - AMc

“Airborne” by Joni’s mom

I’ve never seen so many people out walking before, entire families have taken up the joy of exercise and their dogs are happy too.   I met Millie a Golden Retriever puppy who was ecstatic at being in The Great Outdoors, but at 12 weeks soon tired of walking and had to be carried home.  

We might be out of bread and soup,

but they will return, just like these old faithful perennials.

Dandelions

These dandelions need to practice social distancing….

On March 25, there was finally a day warm enough to sit on the front porch, sheltered from the wind, with a magazine and a mug of tea.   It’s so nice to feel the sun on your face after a long cold lonely winter (the Beatles).  

lawn chair and Victoria magazine

While the stores and restaurants may be closed and the grocery shelves empty, we can replenish our souls with nature and rejoice!   May the Gods of Spring place a pox on COVID-19!

PS.  As other people have observed, this crisis may be the Earth’s way of healing from all the climate change, by calling a time out – a message from Mother Nature.    

 

 

 

 

 

Girl Put Your Records On

       One of the few things I miss about work is that the daily commute guaranteed me an hour of music every day, half an hour in the morning to rev up and half an hour after to wind down.   As I drove along a rural highway with no stop signs I could set the car to auto-pilot and zone out.  Now the only dose of music I get is my on my I-Pod if and when I walk – not a good track record so far this year although I enjoy it if I do.   My playlist might be classical, big band, oldies but goodies, 60/70/80’s, country,  or musicals but that small dose of music always lifts my spirits.   If I’m in the car running errands I don’t even turn the radio on as I don’t like much of what’s played.   I have an older model Honda, so no Apple Car Play or Sirius, nor do I Spotify, stream or bark instructions to Alexa at home.   I guess I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to music. 

While cleaning out the basement this past winter I came across a stack of old records, which I searched through recently for a copy of Tapestry by Carole King – there was a tribute show at the theater which had sold out.  Every teenage girl in the 70’s owned this record, but it must have belonged to my sister with whom I shared a room growing up (although there was a line dividing said room), as no copy was to be found.  

Included in this treasure trove of oldies but goodies are three albums dating from the fifties which belonged to my mother.    When I say albums, this is what I mean,

leather bound books with sleeves containing individual 78’s.   For those of you unfamiliar, 78’s were the old thick breakable records which only held one song.   There was an A side and a less popular B side.   Looking through them, I remember a few of the songs, but I have no idea if they are worth anything now or even what to do with them.

78’s were eventually replaced by 45’s (smaller versions with one song and a plastic thing which fit the hole in the middle), and 33 LP’s which were the extended play albums with many songs which the boomers may remember growing up.   While I’ve been on a few Is-Your-Record-Worth-Anything sites, they all want you to register and list and describe your gems which must be in pristine condition.    My memory of these is that they were  worn and scratchy even then – they certainly look well-used.   

I thought I might listen to a few for old times sake, as I still have one of those Sears Record/Tape/CD combo units in the basement somewhere, but apparently you can ruin the stylus on a 33 record player by playing an old 78.  I’m also somewhat ashamed to admit that my Pioneer turntable and speakers from university is down there too.   My parents bought it for me in second year as they had bought one for my older sister, but I had 32 hours of classes and labs and was hardly ever in my room other than to sleep and study.   The Pioneer set-up cost a pretty penny back then, roughly the same price as tuition I recall.   Some years ago I had some interest in it from a younger colleague whose hobby was frequenting record-stores – in retrospect I should have sold it to him, as there it sits in the original boxes taking up space, large speakers and all.  

I promised JP, a fellow blogger (link to JP’s blog) that I would report on my basement findings, so here goes.   Now I should mention that JP is a jazz/music expert, as well as being a lawyer and a contrarian (his words).   The Button Up Your Overcoat song on my recent coat blog, served as the muse for his post on the many recordings of that song from 1929 to the present day.  Although I’m not much of a jazz person, I particularly enjoy JP’s dry sense of humor.   His posts Dear Queen Elizabeth,  in which he writes a letter to the Queen suggesting that he and his Mrs. change places with Harry and Megan, No Fair, in which he once again fails to attend his state fair despite living a few miles away, and the brilliantly written Quitting the Newspaper, a step by step guide to cancelling a subscription, are among the funniest I’ve ever read.   As we all need more humor and music in this time of COVID craziness, be sure to check out his blog. 

No pressure, JP – I don’t think any of these ancient relics are jazz – except maybe Baubles, Bangles and Beads (Side A) and Somebody Bad Stole Da Wedding Bell (Side B).   

records old - Baubles Bangles and Beads

Although I’ve never heard of Georgia Gibbs, I vaguely remember this song, so it must have been one of the ones we played a lot, plus it looks quite beat up.

There’s some Gene Autry – Have I Told You Lately That I Love You/Someday You’ll Want Me to Want you, and of course Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas.    These were so popular, they can hardly be worth anything, kind of like Michael Jackson’s Thriller – everyone had them.   Many copies means less money, honey. 

Then there’s old Bing.    Silver Bells/That Christmas Feeling, Silent Night/Adeste Fideles/Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and Dear Hearts and Gentle People/Mule Train, from a movie soundtrack, Chattanoogie Shoeshine Boy/Bibbidi-Bobbii-Bo – was that from Cinderella?

records old - Rosemary Clooney

And of course, Bing reminds me of Rosemary Clooney.    I always loved her in White Christmas, but the best we can do is This Ole House – something which would have come in handy when I was renovating.   Hey There is on the flip side.

records old   Tennessee Waltz

Tennessee Waltz, but alas not by the popular Patti Page, but by Jimmie and Leon Short.   Long Gone Daddy is on the B side. 

Burl Ives – Blue Tail Fly and I’m Going Down the Road and other side Big Rock Candy Mountain, again from a musical Sing Out Sweet Land.  I only know Burl Ives from his Christmas classics.   

records old - coconut song

I do remember I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts, (Fred Heatherton), but my version was from a seedy bar, The Brunswick, which we would occasionally frequent near campus.   Beer was 50 cents in the more upscale upstairs and the downstairs entertainment by one of the regular patrons dressed in a long grass skirt, was well – best not described but you can imagine from the lyrics, and this was long before the days of karaoke.   

records old  Perry Como

Here’s another one I remember, the alphabet song, A – Your Adorable – Perry Como, When is Sometime on B side.    

That’s it for what I recognize.    The rest are: Old Shep/My Queen of Prairies,  The Life and Death of John Dillinger/Awaiting the Chair (both Wilf Carter), The Cry of the Wild Goose/The Donkey Serenade (Tennessee Ernie),  Riders in the Sky/Single Saddle (Vaughn Monroes), Soldiers Joy/Flowers of Edinburg (Don Messier), Anniversary Song (Larry Douglas), Peg of My Heart (Floyd Sherman),  Deck of Cards/Somebody Else Not me (Phil Harris), Bouquet of Roses/Texarkana Baby (Eddy Arnold), Cruising Down the River/Sunflower (Russ Morgan).   There’s A Bluebird on your Windowsill (Elizabeth Clark).   Blue Skirtz Waltz/Charlie was a Boxer (Frankie Yankoose and his Yanks).    Many of these are backed by orchestras, and others sound like country and western, but I don’t remember my parents listening to much C&W, well not until Kenny Rogers.   My mother has no recollection of any of these.  They didn’t have much money in their early married years, so perhaps these were bargain bin finds or one hit wonders.   She does remember watching Hit Parade on Saturdays nights, and there is one record that just says Popular Hit Parade – Go On With the Wedding/Lullaby of Birdland and Why Do Fools Fall in Love/Chain Gang, with no singer’s name.   I find it odd that none of the records are dated, although many of them were minted in Canada, often Montreal, and certainly there are no album covers to provide clues as they are stored in individual sleeves.    

I do remember most of the children’s music, probably because I was not yet in school but in charge of keeping my younger brother entertained.   I have a  vague memory of these being played on a small portable record player which even a young child could operate.   Later when in the 60’s we had a tabletop record player with built-in speakers, and later still one of those big wooden stereo cabinets with an 8 track player. 

records old Horace the Horse

Horace the Horse was always fun, as it’s all about perspective folks.   Poor Horace was sad that he was the last horse on the merry-go-round, but when he turned around, he saw he was actually the first!   (link to song)

records old childrens

Pete Petersen’s House, was also a favorite – I remember it as a fast-paced tune.    Did You ever See a Lassie, On Top of Old Smokey, Oh Susanna, Clementine – the names alone bring back a flood of memories. 

records old - musicals

Cue forward to the 60’s and the first album I bought with my own money – Oliver – I wore that record out.    Music musicals were big that decade.   

records 45's sixties hits

We bought 45’s as they were cheaper, and you didn’t get stuck with a bunch of filler songs you didn’t like.     Black Velvet Band – Irish Rovers.  This Guy’s in Love – Herb Albert.   Harper Valley PTA (the lyrics were considered scandalous).  Pleasant Valley Sunday – the Monkees.   Abraham, Martin and John (my grade 8 teacher was a hippy and music was her poetry).

old records albums 60's

My parents listened to adult contemporary:   

records old - Christmas

And who can forget the old Christmas albums, Andy Williams and Sing along with Mitch which came on Saturday nights. 

Then came the 70’s and the Cadillac of Stereo Systems which was the envy of all my dorm-mates.  On Friday nights if we stayed in we might break out any of these, but more likely they were played during the getting-ready-to-go-out part of the evening.

records old albums 70's

The 70’s decade started with Rod Stewart and ended with disco.

records old albums 70's Thriller was probably the last album I bought.  

old records albums - 70's and 80's

I know these are worth anything, as visit any record store and there are tons of them.   We’ll have to wait another 100 years, I guess. 

By the mid-80’s tapes and Sony Walkmans were in and yes, they’re still down there too, along with a box of CD’s.   The question is what do I do with all this old stuff that nobody wants?   I know I could advertise them online but I try to avoid those Kijiji-like sites ever since that poor man got murdered here trying to sell his truck, and now with social distancing and all.   So back down to the basement they all go.   In the meantime, this post has reminded me that I need to have more music in my life – “Girl put your records on, tell me your favorite song….”

Corinne Bailey Rae – Put Your Records On. 

The Literary Salon – The Great Influenza

In view of the current fears about the spread of coronavirus COVD-19 this month’s literary salon will feature a New York times bestseller first published in 2014, The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry.   The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 was first recorded in army training camps in the US in the spring of 1918, spread to Europe with the mobilization of the troops and eventually infected about one-third of the world’s population, killing an estimated 17-50 million people worldwide (mortality rate 2-3%), more than the number who died in the war.    While most patients will likely get a mild version of COVID-19 and recover quickly, when you think about the 2-3% mortality rate, the implications are staggering considering how many more people there are in the world today.   For more about the 1918 pandemic see Wikipedia link and CDC link. 

 The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in HistoryThe Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest P andemic in History by John M. Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Publisher’s Blurb:

At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, The Great Influenza is ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. John M. Barry has written a new afterword for this edition that brings us up to speed on the terrible threat of the avian flu and suggest ways in which we might head off another flu pandemic.
About the Author:
John M. Barry is a prize-winning and bestselling author and noted historian with such an extensive C.V. that I scarcely know how to summarize it.    Here’s a link to his website –link.
Observations:
My interest in reading this book in 2014 was sparked by the 100th anniversary of WW1.   I was preparing some information for a museum display of the Great War and came across this postcard of a hospital among my great uncle’s war memorabilia.     
WW1 Uncle Charlie hospital
This eventually led to a blog where I traced his journey from Canada to Britain, France and Germany and back again.   Uncle Charlie had caught the Spanish flu in 1919 and was six months recuperating in a British convalescent home before he was well enough to be sent home.   His prolonged illness was most likely complicated by being gassed in the war, as those with bad lungs always seem to suffer the most with influenza once it enters the respiratory phase.  
Family Portrait

John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

As well I had a great aunt, Jenny, (the girl in the middle front row beside her father), who died of the Spanish flu, leaving behind two young children and a grieving husband so angry at God he never darkened the door of a church again.   Jenny’s name is engraved on the bell of the parish church as she was one of the young girls who helped to raise the most money for it’s installation.  
Having been stricken with the H1N1/swine flu myself in the fall of 2009, one week before the vaccine was available, I am grateful to be retired now.  Certainly it was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life, for the longest.   Two weeks of misery, off work, followed by four weeks of weakness, while working, although never in any danger of dying despite some SOB, and I do remember exactly the middle aged woman who coughed all over me, as she was wearing flannel PJ’s.   I worked one block from a busy ER so we saw a steady stream of patients in for the antiviral Tamiflu,which was provided free by the government, and when the drug company ran out of the suspension for kids we made it from scratch just like in the old days.   It annoyed me greatly that I, the Queen of Hand Sanitizers, was the only person in my workplace who came down with it, me and one ER doctor, but H1N1, like the 1918 flu, seemed to strike younger healthy people and could in a perfect cytokine storm (inflammatory overreaction of the immune system) sometimes lead to multi-organ failure.    Of course we had antibiotics and ventilators to treat the respiratory complications unlike in 1918.   And then there was SARS in 2004, with all of those unnecessary deaths in Toronto as the health care system did not even know what they were dealing with until it was too late.      
While I don’t remember the specifics of this book, as it was six long years and many books ago, I do remember it was a fascinating read, but then I’m always up for a good non-fiction book.   Of course I may be biased, but you don’t have to have a medical background to enjoy it as it was written for the average lay person.   It was evident the author was a noted historian as the book was meticulously researched and presented.   It won the National Academies of Science award for the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine and is a highly recommended read, whatever your reasons for wanting to know more about pandemics.   
At any rate it might be something interesting to read from a historical point of view, while we are all encouraged to shelter in place.    (As all the libraries are now closed here for three weeks, I note that both Amazon (book and kindle version) and the bookoutlet site have it for half price).   
I remember thinking at the time well if we do have another pandemic, we’ll be better prepared….and of course we are in some ways, but here we are again, a hundred years later, the best of modern medicine facing off against another smart wily little virus.  May science and cool heads prevail.   Stay in and stay safe! 
Coronavirus   COVID-19