Another Covid winter – I can’t believe I’m writing those words. With the arrival of vaccines last spring who would have thought we would still be in this mess, and getting worse, and now with the Omicron variant spreading faster than a wildfire should we be distancing twelve feet apart instead of six?
Did anyone watch the simulated video where the cloud of Omicron virus emitted from a cough launched itself airborne twelve feet and then hung about in the air like some menacing green Grinch, waiting for an innocent victim to walk by. They then repeated the simulation with a mask on, and those wily particles still escaped from the sides and top. I’ve since upgraded to N95’s, if I can find them, although when I had to visit the ER department with a family member on Boxing Day, they made us remove them and don one of their flimsy blue ones.
Yes, I spent Boxing Day and the day after, in the ER dept, for a non-COVID matter, and we consider ourselves lucky to have escaped with only a six hour wait each day. The second day was for an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot (negative) as they were too busy to do it on the holiday, and then a three hour wait for results – twelve hours in total, in a cubicle breathing in potential COVID germs. It was a scary thought, and I spent the week after counting down the days until we could be considered safe again. This was just before the Omicron tsunami hit, and the staff were barely coping then. I hate to think what will happen when things get worse and they can’t get enough staff…not just in health care but in any essential worker category.
We were lucky enough to get our third COVID shots in early December before Omicron even existed. They allowed me to get mine early, as my mother’s caregiver, although technically my age category wasn’t eligible until two days later, but then a week after they announced anyone over eighteen could, and the Hunger Games of Online Booking began. So, they’re telling people to get boosters, but no one can get one, at least in a timely fashion. Rapid tests are equally scarce. Parents are scrambling to get second doses for their kids before school starts again. I know high risk people who are booked a month from now, and feel fortunate to have gotten that. The health unit ran out of Pfizer and they are substituting Moderna again, which causes a problem when you have to provide proof for travel. Meanwhile the provincial government, in a priceless pass-the-buck news conference suggested to “just walk into” your local pharmacy. Without an appointment? The same pharmacies who are struggling to cope with the Christmas medication rush and flu shots and are already short-staffed? (Have I mentioned lately how glad I am to be retired.) Mine has stopped taking waiting lists – with 250 names already, and only receiving a paltry 60 doses a week, it’s rather pointless.
With only about a third of the population here having received their boosters, it’s hard to know where to lay the blame, the federal government, the provincial government or the local health unit? They are just now starting to add in more clinics to get the essential workers done, including health care workers, long term care, teachers, police, fire, ambulance – to me this seems inexcusable.
Needless to say, I’ve had a few sleepless nights, and am now back to just skimming the news again – you want to be informed, but not deluged with doom and gloom, especially before bed. For those who are struggling with these difficult times, check out last week’s book review – Wintering – by Katherine May.
I do feel somewhat hopeful that things will be better by spring, and that we will have achieved herd immunity, similar to what happened with the Spanish flu – two rough years, then two years of sporadic cases until it ran out of people to infect. Of course, it could mutate again, and we’ll be back at square one – take your pick – depending on if you’re a pessimist or an optimist. Some days I’m both.
It reminds me of studying microbiology in second year. Our lectures were in the old Banting and Best building at U of T in a room filled with rows of wooden desks, which I’m sure were there when insulin was discovered. I always liked being in that lecture hall, as I loved history. I once read a biography of Banting and Best and found it fascinating. Type One diabetes was a death sentence back then – one of their first patients was a 13 year old girl – imagine being able to save someone from the brink of death with a substance you had extracted from an animal pancreas. In my early working years, insulin was still sourced from Beef and Pork. It wasn’t until the 80’s that it was genetically manufactured to match the human type. Anyway, microbiology was taught by an old professor with a thick East European accent who used to snort into the microphone, the occurrence of which used to make us laugh hysterically, but in all seriousness, it was an interesting course and we learned about exponential growth, replication, mutations and all the things in the news these days……it’s funny your recollections forty years later. Science has conquered many things over the years, and will eventually conquer COVID too.
Since cases have skyrocketed here, and there seems to be no stopping it, other than taking the usual precautions and staying in, I’ve armed myself with books, (see next weeks Winter Literary Review), jigsaw puzzles, DVD’s, and even signed up for Netflix – although I’m not that impressed with what’s on – most of the movies they suggest based on My List, I’ve already seen. If anyone has any recommendations please leave a comment.
The only good thing about the winter so far is that the weather has been fairly decent, unlike other parts of the country which have been deluged with snow and cold. We’ve had a few inches now and then, barely enough to make a snowman, which melted quickly as many days the temps were in the 30-40’s. A mild December is always a bonus as it shortens up the winter. Now, in the depths of January, it’s been colder but we’ve hardly had any snow, certainly nothing worth shoveling. I like it when it’s not too blizzardy out, as I tend to feel claustrophobic in snow storms. I don’t want to go anywhere, but I like to know I could if I needed to.
They had been predicting such a bad winter that I decided to get new tires for my old Honda – way overdue but the mechanic kept saying they were okay as long as I did do any long-distance driving??? (really – like where?) So my big expedition for the month was hanging out in the relatively deserted waiting room of Canadian Tire (a gigantic hardware store with an automotive division), where I felt reasonably safe, but not brave enough to visit the adjacent mall.
Of course I had to wait for the tires to come in (supply issue – what else is new), and then had them put on the week before Christmas (the mall was a zoo), and then had to go back for the alignment as they were too busy to do it that day, which was a blessing in a way, as I found a car part in the driveway, (never a good sign), which turned out to be a wheel weight, requiring a wheel re-balance. If the snow hadn’t melted I wouldn’t have noticed it. I also had them check the battery. So now I feel safe with my new old car – if only there was someplace to go…
I haven’t set any new goals or bucket list for this year, as I have in the past, as what would be the point, we have so little control over the circumstances. Masks have been mandatory here for two years, and some degree of lock-down depending on the stats, but there’s little to do even when restrictions are lifted.
I’m still walking every day, except for a few slippery days, for the fresh air and exercise but mostly for the immune boost – admiring the decorations and lights, and listening to my daily dose of music.
This catchy tune was on a Lincoln car TV commercial recently. It really has been a most unusual year…..but I have hope for the future.
PS. How are things in your neck of the woods? Do you know anyone who has had COVID? I’m starting to know of a few people who have had it, more friends of friends than people I know specifically.
I am finally fully vaccinated……but not without some drama.
I last wrote The Corona Diaries at the end of The Winter of Our Discontent, but you might call this installment The Promise of Spring which didn’t quite materialize, and hopefully not the start of The Summer Which Never Came?
It’s been a depressing several months, the weird and wacky weather, the long frustrating wait for vaccines to get us out of this mess, the hope for better days ahead, when they all seemed more of the same, and all the while the world was blooming with loveliness.
May and June are my favorite months, but somehow this year they got cluttered up with much delayed appointments – doctors, dentists, lab work, vision, both for myself and my mother. Then there were the maintenance things like car, A/C, computer and spring cleaning maid service. (I still can’t believe the earliest appointment is mid-August – guess we’ll have to live with the dust for awhile longer). Having received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine on April 20 I felt it was safe(r) to re-book some of this now and get it over with, but it seemed like every day when the weather was perfect for sitting outside there was something on. The rest of the time it was either too hot and humid, too cold or too rainy. So much for spring. Now after two weeks of drought, we’ve had two weeks of rain – so much rain that the backyard is a tropical resort for giant mosquitoes, one of which bit me on the leg resulting in several days of itchiness so intense I couldn’t sleep, so I’ve retreated inside again….like a hermit going back into it’s shell.
As there were um…..comments about the last post (A Reading Sabbatical) being too long, I shall spare you the drama (and accompanying word count) of the vaccine process, other than to say that I long for the days when they just lined us up for a jab with the needle.
Actually when I was in grade two in 1963 we were lined up for the oral polio vaccine, which was even better, as they dispensed it on a sugar cube. We never had sugar cubes at home so the sensation of that dry granular square in my mouth was such a strange thing that the memory has stayed with me.
After five months of lock-down, even I, the most contented of homebodies, have been enveloped in a cloud of gloom and doom lately. Now that I’m fully vaccinated and can go out, there’s nothing much to do – every outdoor summer event was cancelled months ago, including the fall fairs. We are now entering stage two of reopening, with the stages spaced at cautious three week intervals, assuming case counts remain low and vaccination rates continue to increase.
I’m tired of cooking, but with no indoor dining until August, I’d rather wait until my birthday when I can visit my favorite steakhouse, a place with tablecloths and candles and frigid air-conditioning, and be served a meal someone else has prepared and will clean up after.
Non-essential stores have reopened too, at 25% capacity and after the initial crowds disperse, I’m looking forward to some retail therapy, if only to browse and buy socks. I have a whole list of things which need replacing – things you have to look at in person not pictures on a website.
And I’m sure once I get a haircut next week I’ll feel better and be ready to face the world again with more optimism. My bangs have achieved Cousin-It status and it will be nice to be able to see through my new glasses. I haven’t had my hair this long since I was a teenager, and while I kind of like the hippy look, the darker graying roots simply must go.
For this latest quarterly installment of The Corona Diaries, I’ve borrowed the title from a 1961 novel by the American writer John Steinbeck, best known for his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. The Winter of Our Discontent, centers around a protagonist, Ethan Hawley, who labors as a grocery clerk in a store once owned by his rich and illustrious Long Island ancestors. A man of honesty and integrity he sells his soul in a series of successful but unethical get-rich schemes, hoping to satisfy his restless wife and teen-aged children who want more material goods than he can provide. He becomes suicidal, but is saved at the end by a talisman his daughter slips into his pocket.
I read this book in high school, because our strict but otherwise excellent English teacher required a monthly book report on one of the classics. I’m not sure why I chose this one. Perhaps the title appealed to me, as Canadian winters tend to be long. Certainly, as a 15-year-old I found it hard to relate to, as nobody in my world was suicidal, (young people weren’t back in the 70’s), but in truth all I remember about it was there was something about a grocery store and the scene of his despair was near the ocean, which I wanted to view some day.
Steinbeck in turn borrowed the title from the opening speech of the Shakespearean play, Richard the Third, from which the English teacher thankfully spared us.
“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York; and all the clouds that lour’d upon our house. In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths…..”
A catchy opening phrase, but the subsequent lengthy passage deals with politics, war and who gets to be king, and while I’m sure it was profound, I disliked Shakespeare too.
None of this has anything to do with COVID, although I suppose you could spin a connection that Ethan Hawley was an essential front-line worker, there’s still a lot of political divisiveness raging, and mental health issues are becoming epidemic the longer the pandemic drags on….but basically I just liked the title.
For many people it has been a winter of discontent, but I’m an introvert so I’m still doing okay…keeping busy….reading lots…..walking every day except for one brutally cold week in February when I could not force myself to leave the warmth and comfort of the house. (Skin freezes in twenty minutes in sub-zero temperatures.) Cocooning in the winter is nice, but I’m wondering if I’ll remember how to interact with other people in person.
But I have to admit I’d be a lot happier if I could get a COVID vaccine. The vaccine roll-out here has been slow, as not having any vaccine manufacturing facilities left in Canada, we are at the mercy of the EU supply chains.
It’s a case, of slow and steady does NOT win the race…..against the variants.
While I’m grateful that my mother, in the over 90 group, was able to get her first shot in early March, with her second booked for five weeks later in April, unless it’s cancelled, I’m not happy that the government recently decided to stretch the dosing interval to FOUR MONTHS, for everyone else in an effort to get more people vaccinated, including for the 80 plus group. While they were able to give the nursing home residents and workers, and health care staff two doses initially as recommended, everyone else has to wait until July for the second dose. While I understand the rationale behind this, it’s a big gamble, especially with new studies showing that immunity in the older population is substandard to begin with and may not last as long. Every day now, so much new information is emerging, it’s hard to keep up with it all.
As for the vaccination clinic itself, well…..that’s a rant best left to Facebook, if I was the kind of person who posted on Facebook. Where else but in Canada would you have to wait until the ice came out of a hockey rink before you organized a mass immunization clinic. The general inefficiency of the previous set-up has now been replaced by a new model involving pods of 15 (maximum of 60 in the now ice-free arena) where you register and sit in your pod and the immunizer person comes to you, aiming for a goal of one patient per minute. A great idea, and I’d give the local health unit credit, but they stole the (hockey hub) model from the Gray-Bruce Health Unit.
Unfortunately I was disqualified from getting the vaccine as an essential caregiver, as I do not share the same residence as my mother, even though I am there almost every day as she is 95 now, BUT if she was in a nursing home and I visited her once in awhile, then I would have qualified? (Ministry of Health rules) But at least I will not worry so much now that she will have some level of protection. Otherwise I am waiting patiently for my age group to come up…..they are decreasing by fives.
On to more pleasant things, like food. There has been entirely too much dessert eating going on here lately…
So many English trifle parfaits were consumed that we ran out of peach and strawberry preserves. I felt like the pioneer woman who ran out of provisions before the end of winter.
I’m still doing the every 2-3 week grocery run, as we have basically been in various stages of lockdown since Christmas. We had two weeks in the orange zone in late February, so I was able to get a haircut, but locked down into gray again shortly afterwards. Lots of cases and variants rising – we’re just starting the third wave.
I fear that by the time I get the vaccine, (and then which one, which is a whole other topic), it won’t work as the strains will have mutated so much we’ll have to start over again. The Spanish flu took four years to die off, (1918-1922) with the first two being the worst due to WW1 troops spreading it between countries. Sorry to be so depressing….
I still have my old biochemistry book in the basement somewhere, but I’m grateful I no longer have to study it. I remember it as a killer course involving stuff like memorizing the Krebs cycle. I’m happy I can now keep my brain active by doing jigsaw puzzles.
Someone gave my mother one of her paintings as a puzzle (a great gift idea – simply upload a photo and order online at piczzle.com) and I helped her out a bit and found it fun. The store shelves were empty of puzzles after Christmas, but I managed to snag one on sale at the bookstore. It’s the kind of mindless activity which is meditative and addictive at the same time….you sit down to do a few pieces and soon an hour has passed.
Speaking of paintings, her art exhibit comes down mid-April. It’s been up for five months, but the museum has been closed for 3 ½ of those, so very few people had the opportunity to see it, which is a shame as it was such a nice display. Another museum called last week and asked if we wanted to do a show this year as they will be re-opening soon, but I think I’d rather wait until next spring. I really can’t see going to all the work of setting up another show, until we climb out of this mess.
Winter is over and spring, my favorite season, is here. I don’t want to miss it this year, so the blogging schedule may be a bit erratic. This past month has been pleasant walking weather, with the grass greening and flowers popping up all over. The robins are back, bringing with them the promise of warmer days ahead…..after Thursdays snowstorm!
Like many other people, I’m just not in the mood for Christmas this year. Call me Scrooge, call me the Grinch – let’s just fast forward to January.
Many years ago, I read a book called Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. (goodreads link) It was a departure from his usual legal thrillers and in this short novel, the protagonist, fed up with the fuss and expense and drama of their elaborate and ever-expanding Christmas celebrations, announces to his wife his intention to skip it altogether. Spoiler alert – of course, he didn’t really skip Christmas, they just had a scaled down version of it, a simpler celebration, more in honor of the true meaning of the season.
Many people will be having smaller Christmases this year with just those in their immediate bubble, and some people will be staying home alone. While it’s nice to have a bit of a crowd around at Christmas there’s something to be said for quieter times too. Christmas is often a sad time for those who have lost loved ones or who are alone and lonely, but pretending to be jolly when you’re not, can be exhausting too. If you have to get in the Christmas spirit, because other people are depending on you to be a merry little elf, this song may help, because we all need a little Christmas, even if it’s just in small doses.
I love the lyrics to this song, “Haul out the holly, Put up the tree before my spirit falls again, Fill up the stockings, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.”
Feeling better now…perhaps a bit more gleeful?
Part of the problem with getting in the festive mood this year is that so many of our yuletide traditions have been modified or cancelled. Who would have predicted this time last year that we’d be in the middle of a pandemic, and simply singing a Christmas carol would be forbidden – all those droplets spewing forth possible germs – yuck. Other activities have adapted, so in Part Three of The Corona Diaries lets take a look at a few of those old favorites and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, or maybe even improved – yea more cookies for me! Fortunately the parts of Christmas I love the most, the lights, the decorating, the music and the food, tend to be COVID-resistant.
The Festive Special:
Swiss Chalet has been offering their Christmas Special for over 30 years now. It usually starts in mid-November as a kick-off to the season, in order to capture those hungry shoppers smart enough to do their shopping early. This Canadian restaurant chain is known for their rotisserie quarter chicken dinners, and for three dollars more the Festive Special gets you a small scoop of (box) stuffing, a thimbleful of cranberry sauce and a gift box of five Lindor/Lindt chocolates.
This years TV commercial features a little girl excited to see Nana and Papa and then a shot of the family dining inside the restaurant, cut to the Door-Dash guy delivering a meal to the grandparents, and then the family zooming with them via an I-Pad on their respective tables. Creative marketing at it’s finest. Ours was take-out this year, and the cranberry sauce was as skimpy as ever, but the chocolates were good. You can’t go wrong with Lindt Chocolates, even if you have to pay for the the free ones.
Musical Interlude – because mid-Nov. is still a bit too early for non-stop Christmas music. Anyone remember this song by the Queen of Soul? (youtube link)
Nov 25 – Santa Claus is Coming To Town:
The Santa Claus parade may be canceled, but Santa’s coming to a neighbourhood near you! While many Santa Claus parades have become stationary drive-through events or are being conducted on football fields sans spectators and broadcast live (the annual Toronto parade), in the smaller cities and towns, the parade may come right to you. I had forgotten all about this, until I heard the sirens and looked out and saw all the little kids in the neighborhood running down to the corner. Kind of negates the idea of not congregating, but Santa can’t cover every street in town. This year’s parade was really scaled down, only one float and two firetrucks, but Santa was on one of them. Go Santa!
The Salvation army buckets are out in full force, but not manned this year, although some had the new tap and pay feature. Other charities have adapted too. Although there were no toy drive drop offs, just cash donations, Christmas for Everyone is still doing food and toy hampers, as the need is greater than ever this year. The Legion and church offered take-out turkey and roast beef dinners as a fundraiser and sold-out in days – because who isn’t sick of cooking?
Christmas Shopping: (or you’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch)
I remember one year buying presents for 32 people – talk about insanity. Only half of those were for family and the other half, friends or employees. I was a department head and decided I would buy my staff a small gift, personally geared to their interests – I ran myself ragged shopping, and I don’t like Christmas shopping at the best of times. I only did that one year, the next everyone got the same holiday candle and Tim Horton’s gift cards. Work was always so busy that time of year that eventually I learned to shop early in the fall and would not go near the stores at all in December. A hospital can be a sad place at Christmas and I can’t imagine how the staff are coping now, burnt out and exhausted, with all time off cancelled due to lack of staffing.
I didn’t do ANY Christmas shopping this year – a few small gag gifts from the dollar store, but I did not go to any store for anything other than essentials. Being retired now and our stats still good, I thought I had all kinds of time, but I left it too late and by then the numbers were ticking up and they were telling people to stay home. The few things I bought online had to be returned, so I just gave up, as Canada Post couldn’t promise delivery after Dec 3. I don’t like online shopping anyway, preferring to actually see the item first, and on my one return-and-dash trip to the mall, it was so crowded I felt unsafe and left after half an hour. So this Christmas will be money stuffed in an envelope – not even gift cards. I didn’t realize until recently that Visa gift cards expire if you shove them in a drawer and forget about them – yes after a year they start to subtract a monthly fee. There’s nothing wrong with cash, you can take it to the bank and deposit it, and I had cash lying around I hadn’t used from the spring – so now it’s used up! Easy-peasy!
Dec 1 – Mad for Plaid:
My sole purchase for myself, as you need to treat yourself at Christmas too, was these plaid face masks.
I asked a neighbour where she got hers and she said Old Navy and she liked them as most masks were too big for her narrow face and these have side loops you can adjust, so I got a pack of the Christmas plaid ones on sale – $11 for 5. Plaid is festive at Christmas and matches my plaid scarves from those new coats I blogged about last year, now sitting in my closet with no place to go. (link to Joni and the Amazing Technicolor Coats). You might think it’s too much plaid but style icon Kate Middleton wore one, so that’s good enough for me, and I find anything plaid immensely cheering.
Dec 9 – Baking:
Speaking of treats, we all have to eat, so why not treat yourself to Santa’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies (link to blog). I only make these rich decadent cookies once a year at Christmas and normally would make several batches to give away, but this year I don’t have to! I made my first batch in early December – 28 cookies I don’t have to share! Well, I shared some…..but still…more for me! Baking is also a good way to use up all that flour you stockpiled in the spring with the best of bread-baking intentions.
Dec 12 and 15 – Deck the Halls:
I was late putting up the decorations this year, so I didn’t put up as much, either inside or out, as in a few weeks I’ll just have to take them all down again, and that’s always a downer. I’m keeping it simple. A few wreaths outside, no lights, but candles in the windows. I know everyone is going overboard with lights this year but they sold out early and I forgot to ask the electrician when he upgraded the hydro if I could still use the front outdoor socket.
Instead of buying those overpriced pine arrangements I stole this idea from my neighbor, after watching her out my kitchen window one morning, hacking branches off her pine tree with pruning shears. Saves money ($35) and the rustic look is in. I just love the plaid ribbon, and the cattails were from a ditch.
My mother’s evergreen tree willingly donated some branches,
so I did one for her with a few dollar store decorations from previous years.
And then one for my front porch.
Personally I think there should be a law against those blow up decorations – if you’re already feeling deflated this Christmas, a sight like this doesn’t help.
Someone in my neighbourhood has so many of them on their small lot that I lost count after thirty. There should be a bylaw – two per household, and only if you have little children.
A Charlie Brown Holly Bush:
My holly bush is keeping it simple too. I planted four of these one year, one male and his harem of three, but two died and the surviving one is really just a Holly Golightly twig. As they’re sandwiched in between a row of lavender and a row of rose bushes (not one of my better landscaping decisions) they never really did well. But one sprig of holly is all you need for atop the store-bought Christmas pudding.
The Sound of Music (check), White Christmas (check), that one with the annoying kid with the BB gun (check) – my mother loves A Christmas Story, it reminds her of growing up in the Depression. I haven’t watched Scrooge or It’s A Wonderful Life, but they’re always on Christmas Eve day.
I started listening early, as motivation to walk – fresh air and music. As well as the usual Christmas favorites, I’m enjoying some of the old Christmas hymns I remember from Christmas Eve services. (link to blog – Joy to the World – Christmas Playlist) There won’t be any midnight mass here this year, certainly no choir, just an early service you have to register for online, and a video broadcast link later. We usually tune into the church channel with the Basilica from Washington DC, if they are allowed to have it this year?
I always enjoyed this Christmas reggae song by Boney M – very uplifting.
The Reason for the Season:
If you’re feeling frazzled, like the jolly guy here, clinging to the tree, remember this too shall pass, and remember the reason for the season. Keep those traditions you can and those that have meaning for you and let the others go for this year. Peace and goodwill to all. Wishing everyone a Merry Little Christmas!
PS. Will you be staying home for Christmas?Are there any Christmas traditions you are especially missing? Any new ones you have started?
As Jane Austen famously said, “Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.”
(Jane was writing to her sister Cassandra, who fortunately saved 160 of her letters, for they tell us much about her life in the early 1800’s. Unfortunately, she destroyed the majority of the correspondence, reputed to be in the thousands, after Jane’s death, likely to protect her reputation. Jane’s witty and barbed comments make for amusing reading now, but may not have if you were the subject of her satire.)
Caught up in the minutiae of her daily existence, Jane probably felt there wasn’t much to write about – much like my life at present. First there was the spring that wasn’t, then the summer that wasn’t and I’m sure the rest of the year will be more of the same. It feels like things are in a holding pattern, but this is the new reality of living in the time of COVID.
I started the Corona Diaries in May (link to first installment), back when the pandemic was still fairly new, with the intentions of recording a personal history of life during lockdown. Here’s a recap of what’s happened in the not-terribly-exciting months since then.
THE SCAVENGER’s MISTAKE: (otherwise known, by the grass-cutter, as that damn table….)
Before plastic surgery to fix the sagging side…
May 21 – While out for my daily walk I noticed a discarded table put out for pickup. It was at the end of a driveway along the river McMansions, so it was of high quality, solid cedar wood with a hole in the middle for an umbrella. (I live at the poorer end of town but like to walk there for the shade trees). Now, I’ve been known to scavenge the odd thing or two on garbage day. It’s truly amazing what people will throw away, like this corner picket fence, which ended up sheltering my rose bush from the snow plow,
They threw out the $300 arbor too?
and a wrought iron cart which found new life in my garden after a coat of paint.
Lime green spray paint
Nobody seemed to be around but I noticed my mother’s grass-cutter doing a lawn nearby with his riding lawn mover, so I waved him over and enlisted his help in carrying this perfectly good table three doors down to his truck, and then later from his truck to my back yard. I did hesitate, because I remembered “The Summer of the Patio Stones”, but that was ten years ago and my back had been fine since and he proclaimed that it wasn’t very heavy and I didn’t want to be a wimp and I really wanted the table. I could envision it painted light blue under my shade trees, and a Jane Austen tea party in progress sometime in the COVID-free future.
(photo sourced from Pinterest)
(Maybe Serene Blue, like this chair I painted in chalk-paint?)
Was it worth it?
No! No! A thousand times No! I spent a miserable month with back pain, living on Tylenol Arthritis around the clock. As I could not sit or lie down comfortably, there was no blogging done and little computer time. I could not even focus on reading, so I lay on the couch like a tragic heroine from a Jane Austen novel (possibly the overly dramatic Marianne Dashwood, from Sense and Sensibility) and felt sorry for myself. Well, at least it isn’t COVID, I thought, trying to cheer myself up.
A COVID TEST IS MORE PAINFUL THAN YOU MIGHT THINK:
By early June I was dealing with a couple of other health issues, one of which involved a fever – intermittent low-grade when the Tylenol wore off. Despite a fever being such a rare occurrence for me that I can’t remember ever having one, even when I had the H1N1 flu, I was not worried about having COVID – fever, headache, fatigue and some abdominal pain, but no chest, SOB or cough and I could still taste and smell food.
Any day you wake up and can smell the coffee is a good one…
On Day 4, after doing the COVID assessment test online and speaking to as assessment nurse, I booked an appointment at one of the drive-through testing centres – way more painful than I thought. It’s supposed to hurt the nurse said, when I complained, it means you got a good sample. It felt like he scraped the inside of my nose for ten seconds. I had to pull over on the drive home to see if it was bleeding. It wasn’t, but it hurt for about half an hour more. Luckily, the test results were available online within 48hrs – negative. Well, that was a relief.
A few more days of misery ensued, in which I suffer from both back pain and mystery illness, which seems to be getting worse. On Day 7, I started an antibiotic and felt much better after 48 hours, so likely not COVID as the response to the antibiotic was so quick.
Still, there was that nagging worry, reinforced by a nurse who said, everyone presents differently and my neighbor who casually remarked, how do you know you didn’t test too early? Is that the kind of thing you say to an already paranoid person? So, I got retested on Day 14, mostly for peace of mind so I could visit my elderly mother whom I had not seen for several weeks, and it was negative too. The second test hardly hurt at all, a mere pinch, by the exact same tester.
Whatever I had was certainly strange and unusual, as I never get headaches or fever. While I was not sick enough to go to ER, and felt well enough to drive the fifty minutes to the testing center, what if you weren’t? It’s definitely not ideal for someone to be in the car with you, especially if there is a long wait time. If the tests only have some degree of accuracy, depending on viral load and whether you are testing too early or too late, is a negative test a positive reassurance or a false one? Even antibody levels may not be all that reliable as they are reputed to wane quickly after a mild case. Ten days seems to be the critical time period for many patients, where you’ve either recovered or end up in the hospital on oxygen. If my antibiotic response was just a coincidence at the ten day mark, and I did have a mild case where did I catch it? I had been at the hospital lab a few days before for thyroid blood-work, the grocery store and the hardware store where the teenage clerk sneezed behind the plexiglass before shoving my receipt into the bag. So many unknowns, it’s mind-boggling. At any rate, I slept a lot and was lethargic for another few weeks but am now back to my regular low energy-normal and grateful to be recovered from whatever it was, plus the back pain had departed by then too.
With the back pain/health issues/general lethargy/hot weather, there was no daily walking, no gardening and no flowers bought at all, as I couldn’t even lift a watering can. Also no table painting, or other painting projects, or deck cleaning or window washing either, and certainly no house work! Freedom 55 in a sense…it was a month of nothing.
THE VICTORY GARDEN WAS A BUST:
My total Victory garden expenditure was $8 – for three types of lettuce and one tomato and cucumber plant. The cucumbers were stunted, tough and full of seeds, but I still have hope for the beefsteak tomatoes. I harvested two of the lettuces, the third unknown variety was so bitter even the rabbits wouldn’t touch it. I prefer romaine but couldn’t find any, nor asparagus which I had wanted to get started this year but I was able to harvest my rhubarb for the first time. When I went to pick more, there was a nest of baby bunnies underneath the rhubarb leaves. As there was a lot of rabbit fur lying around and I’m not into sharing with the wildlife, I left the second crop for them. They eventually hopped away, but next year I need to replace the fence.
Poor little things sheltering in place…
We had some pleasant days in June, perfect for reading outside on the swing, but I had nothing good to read, so I looked at pretty pictures in Victoria magazine. (I collect the back issues, as I find them inspiring. In my next life, I would like to work for this magazine.)
And then Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
THE LIBRARY REOPENS
June 9 – the Library reopened for Curbside Pickup and I got 6 books the first week. They brought them out to you in a little paper bag to minimize handling, so I now have a collection of paper bags to recycle. I miss the librarians, but it’s too hard to chat through a mask through a car window. I was still too miserable to read then but am back to reading one book a week.
It was like Christmas in July…
June 21 – I had recovered enough by strawberry season to drive an hour to a farm to buy a flat of berries to make two batches of freezer jam. Normally I would go to the Farmer’s Market, but it’s overcrowded at the best of times. I took my mother along for the drive, as she needed to get out of the house. She enjoyed the drive through the countryside and remarked how green everything was, and I felt guilty for not getting her out more often, but where exactly is it safe to go when you’re 94? She misses going out for groceries. At least she still lives in her own home. Imagine all those seniors confined to the same small room in nursing homes for months on end, and the amount of cognitive decline. The retirement home we had toured last year, ended up with ten COVID deaths this spring and it was one of the better ones.
(pioneer provisions for the winter)
HAIRDRESSERS SHOULD BE DECLARED ESSENTIAL WORKERS:
June 26 – I was reunited with my hairdresser. We were both happy – I was happy I could see out of my eyes again, and she was happy to be out of the house, but as I was her only client for 2 ½ hours (cut and color) she can’t be making any money. The price went up by $10 to $75, but I would have paid much more. They’d only been open a few days so she did have to remind the other stylist not to come near the sink with her client while I was rinsing, and informed two customers, who walked in ignoring the sign, that masks were required. No more waiting room – you stay in your car until they come and get you. I do appreciate a strict business owner.
PORCH VISITS RESUME:
On July 1 Canada Day, I was well enough to receive my first porch visitor, (unless you count the bunnies). I brought out my blue Moroccan dishes and served key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies and a pineapple punch.
It was good to entertain again, even if not at a table. We sat on the deck, socially distanced, for four hours, as it was a perfect summer day, warm with a nice breeze. The remainder of July was so hot and humid you couldn’t even go outside, let alone entertain there. We’ll meet again someday, when it’s cooler…
(This song by Vera Lynn, who died recently at age 94, was popular during WW2 and could be our new COVID anthem.)
THE WEATHER: (every diary should include a good dose of complaining about the weather.)
Since then hot and humid has ruled the day. The majority of days in July were over 30 C (90 F), with humidex often close to 40 C, and not much cooler at night when the mosquitoes reigned. Two weeks of no rain meant I had to lug the garden hose around one evening, thus ensuring several itchy nights. What did we do without A/C? We wilted like Jane Austen heroines…..
SHOPPING RESUMES: (sort of….)
Speaking of inelegance, I’m still schlepping around in my yoga pants and t-shirts. I haven’t dressed up once this summer or been fun shopping, but I’ve expanded my repertoire of stores to include Michael’s (framing, but still out of canvas boards), the hardware store (home of the sneezer and special lightbulbs), Winners (had to use the washroom, one of few open) and the Dairy Queen (twice, once with my mother who enjoyed the treat), where the young man making my milkshake told me he liked my mask with the paw prints. (I didn’t even know they were paw prints, as it’s reversible). But horror or horrors, a visit to the Beauty Boutique revealed that they were out of Estee Lauder Night Repair, a product I have used for over thirty years. (Thankfully that face mask hides wrinkles too.) In common with so many other things, once it’s out of stock, it’s out for months. Lesson learned, I scooped up the last eight boxes of my favorite Yardley English Lavender Soap at Dollarama, and noticed a lot more bare shelves since my last visit there in March. I also popped into Reitmans to check on my missing (capris) order, before they go bankrupt, but I didn’t try buy or try anything on, although I saw some cute summer face masks. I resisted as summer’s already half over, and surely we won’t be dealing with this next year?
I’m still being cautious, mask and gloves and disinfectant, but am not as paranoid about going out as I was in the early days. I still hate grocery shopping, even more so now that the hot humid weather makes the mask more suffocating, but I’m going weekly now to take advantage of all the fresh summer produce, instead of every 3 weeks. I speed walk through the aisles during the off hours and try to avoid the nose-wiping-with-hand/nose-blowing-but-failed-to-disinfect cashiers. I know it’s allergy season, but medical-me is horrified by these things.
THE GREAT MASK DEBATE:
We can turn to Jane’s wisdom again for advice on this thorny topic.
An adaptation of Jane Austen…
Perhaps the matter can be simplified into two camps – worried pessimists (I’m sure I’ll get it and die), versus sunny optimists (the odds are against it and I’ll live). This debate has been settled recently by city council finally mandating mask wearing indoors in public spaces, with the inevitable protest ensuing outside city hall.
TO EAT IN OR OUT?
I’m tired of cooking and eating the same old thing. We’ve had takeout a few times but have not been brave enough to visit a restaurant patio yet…likewise dining in when that happens. One, it’s way too hot, and two, you can’t convince me (see above scenes) of the safety, when so many people have hygiene fatigue. Many of the pop-up patios seem crowded, and being surrounded by ugly wire fencing, barrels and a few potted plants in some parking lot is not my idea of an appealing atmosphere. Now I might be tempted if it was more like Paris, with bistro tables and a red awning, or something with a water view.
Coastal living photo
THE NEW VIRTUAL REALITY: (or think like a millennial)
July 16 – The museum curator emailed that my mothers art exhibit is still on for this fall, and she’d like to hang it earlier than planned. I’m surprised, as I had assumed it would be on hold until next year, but as we’re going into Phase 3 they are planning ahead on having galleries and museums open soon. (This is a 3 month show we had committed to last summer, as these things book up well in advance). I had already completed most of the prep work back in January and the paintings are finished, but I still need to do some framing and art cards, after the curator makes the final selection. (There is only space for 25 out of 40 paintings so I’m glad it’s not me choosing). Of course, thinking like an old-fogy, I can’t imagine anyone going to a museum right now, but she assured me that if we have to lockdown again in the winter, the exhibit will go virtual. Spoken like a true millennial! So, that’s something for my mother to look forward to – although there won’t be an open house, she might even get more exposure online. (For readers unaware of my mother’s amazing story, she started painting again at age 87 after she gave up driving. I entered her in a gallery contest for local artists and she was one of three selected, so she got to show her work for the first time at the age of 90. This will be her third exhibit since then.)
We have been lulled into a false sense of security here, not having had any COVID deaths or hospital admissions since June, and relatively few active cases. We were down to 5 cases, but recently climbed to 25 as more things reopen, but it is still manageable with testing and contact tracing. All of the nursing home outbreaks are over as well and visits have resumed. While things may be better stats-wise, it could flare up again at any moment. The very randomness of this virus is the scariest part – once it stealthily enters a place, one case can become ten and then a hundred and soon it’s snowballing out of control, and now the dreaded back to school decision is looming and with it cold and flu season not far behind.
July – All spring, appointments have been falling like dominoes, one after the other. I’m now in the process of standing them back up again – hearing, vision, dentist, medical tests. A trip to the hospital’s ambulatory care for a minor skin procedure was so efficient it should run that way always. (Absolutely zero waiting – screened, registered, escorted to room, doctor there two minutes later). I’m trying to take advantage of this little lull to get things done, as it’s better to get all these appointments in now before the next wave hits….because we know it’s coming.
Finally, if we have to go into lockdown again, after enjoying this bit of summer freedom, remember Jane’s words of wisdom….
Dear Readers: Thank you for still reading…..next week’s blog will be much much shorter, but Jane may be making more guest appearances in my blog, for she really has a quote for everything!
(All Jane Austen quotes and illustrations sourced from:)
Since many of us are still living like good little hermits these days, I thought Hermits cookies would be a good topic for this weeks blog – which might also be my last blog for awhile depending on how well it goes with the new WordPress editor next week. I didn’t like the new Block editor when I tried it last spring (see Blockheads post) and am not in the mood for a new learning curve. Wordpress might think this is a good time to switch (or begin the migration as the Happiness Engineer called it), because we are all stuck at home, but call it computer fatigue or lockdown fatigue or whatever, I need less not more screen time right now.
Back to the Hermits – Webster’s dictionary defines a hermit as: “a)one that retires from society and lives in solitude especially for religious reasons : recluse, b) a spiced cookie.
Hermits are an old-fashioned recipe dating back from to the mid-1800’s in North America, or even earlier, possibly originating in the hermitages of the middle ages. They refer to any kind of spiced cookie containing dried fruit such a raisins, currants or nuts. They may have white or brown sugar and come in either bar, square or drop cookie format. They’re made from ingredients you might already have in your pandemic pantry, which along with the addition of cinnamon, cloves and spices produces a soft cookie which keeps well. Nutritionally, their sweetness comes from raisins and dates, and nuts are a good source of omega-3’s and protein.
There are various theories about the origin of the name. Some sources say they were called hermits because they looked like a hermit’s brown sack cloth, (the ones containing molasses). Others say the spices become more distinct with age, making the cookies taste better if they have been hidden away like hermits for several days. Very likely the oldest recipe goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where the basic ingredients would have been in common use at bakers’ tables. The terms for those abodes— “hermite” from the Old French or “heremita,” from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by their inhabitants. Another possibility is that the Moravians, a German Protestant religious group known for their thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called “herrnhutter” in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like “hermits” to an English-speaking cook. At any rate, they are spiced cookies based on raisins and nuts…..so let’s get to it!
My recipe today will be from my mother’s bible of country cooking, the Purity CookBook, first published by the Purity Flour Company in 1911. Her edition dates from 1945 and is well stained, and is in fact held together with that old Canadian standard – duct tape.
As well as main courses and desserts, it contains a large section on canning vegetables and making various jams and jellies. Nothing of course is low in fat or calories as those were not deemed important back then. When it was re-issued in 2009, I bought a copy for myself, which you can see is still in quite pristine condition.
Here’s the recipe:
This did not make 5 dozen….more like 30 cookies….
and the ingredients…nothing fancy, although this version includes dates.
I used butter instead of shortening, and not as much, 1/3 cup. My Allspice container said it was a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, but allspice can also be a spice (from a plant berry) on its own. If Allspice is not in your spice rack, Google has plenty of references for substitutes, including one on one cloves, but I find cloves strong, so best not to overdo it.
The finished product:
My mother was not much of a cookie baker, as my dad preferred pies and cakes, so I don’t remember her making these very often when I was growing up but I always enjoyed them when she did. (She was more likely to make peanut butter or chocolate chip). Back in the 1990’s, I worked at a rural hospital where the dietary department still made much of the hospital food from scratch. Hermits were often on the cafeteria menu for morning coffee break, as were scones and homemade cinnamon buns. I hadn’t had hermits in years, so imagine my delight on seeing them at the bakery in my local grocery store last year. They’re baked up fresh, although from a mix ordered in, according to one of the staff, and they have regular customers, mostly older folks like me who remember them from childhood.
Of the three versions I’ve sampled, they’ve all have been a bit different, mainly in the spices department, but I think the bakery’s is the best, and probably comparable in price to homemade, ($5.49 for 12 large cookies), nuts and raisins being fairly expensive here unless you go to one of those bulk bin places. The key is the right combination of spices. Despite buying two dozen from the bakery, we ran out before the next grocery run, so I had to resort to making them from scratch. Mine did not taste the same as the last time I made them but I suspect my nutmeg was too old. That would have required a trip to the store, and I’m more like a hermit crab these days, scurrying around doing my essential errands quickly so I can return to the safety of my own home.
Stay in your home and stay safe!
We all might be getting a little crabby these days from too much sheltering in place, but a sweet treat always helps! Remember to savor – according to the Petsmart website, hermit crabs take small bites and eat very slowly, usually at night. Enjoy!
Postscript: Do you have a favorite cookbook you use or may have inherited?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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,
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.
Something to look forward to…
I’m also looking forward to gardening season and planting a Victory garden, especially the fresh 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.
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….
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
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.
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